I feel a strong sense of deja vu, almost as if I’m reviewing the same movie twice. Welp, I essentially am. Both this film and Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet are re-edited from the same film, Planeta Bur (Storm Planet or Planet of the Storms). Both are produced by Roger Corman. How and why this happened I am unsure. If I had to guess, Roger Corman may have needed some money. A cheap way to get some back then was re-releasing a film rather than produce a new one. But you only re-released a film that you though enough people would go see to recoup distribution costs. New films typically did better. Thus, we have this anomaly, produced just two years later.
Corman tasked director Peter Bogdanovich with editing the film and directing new segments, essentially creating a new film, despite the fact that most of the dialogue is largely the same. Bogdanovich decided not to be credited under his real name, instead going by Derek Thomas. Coincidentally, Curtis Harrington, the director of the previous version also chose to be credited under a pseudonym. Another note of interest, this film also includes scenes from another Soviet science fiction film, Nebo Zovyot which itself was edited into Battle Beyond the Sun, also produced by Roger Corman, with additional scenes directed by a young Francis Ford Coppola.
This version takes many more liberties with the material, not the least of which is the titular Prehistoric Women. American International Pictures would not buy the film unless they added some women into the story. Bogdanovich’s biggest contribution is the scenes concerning the new women characters. Lead by actress and sex symbol Mamie Van Doren are a group of Venusian blondes with white spandex pants and shell bikinis. There are a number of scenes from their perspective. They are roped into a story after their god, a pterodactyl they call Ptera is shot and killed by the astronauts. In the previous version, and I assume the original, this pterodactyl scene was just an insignificant bit of action, done and over with. In this one, there is an entire lore built around it. It’s pretty clever actually. There exists another scene in both versions where the astronauts find an idol under the water that kind of resembles Ptera, so it works. What doesn’t work is the new scenes with the aforementioned Prehistoric Women. At no point do they ever interact with the actual characters of the film. They just use their magic to make things difficult for the crew, at least that is the conceit. Now, I know it’s hard to incorporate new characters into an edit of a preexisting film, but they could have tried. Godzilla: King of the Monsters made more of an effort to incorporate Raymond Burr into proceedings. Worse still is the complete lack of character these women have. We never learn anything about them. All we know is their god was murdered and they want revenge. You could remove them from the story and you would lose nothing. Actually, that version already exists. It’s called the original. The only character they interact with is the remains of robot John when they begin worshipping his lava burned corpse (yeah, I neglected to mention last time that John met a fiery end). Although anyone could tell it’s not the same exact John.
There are other not insignificant alterations of the story as well. Namely, the character of Marsha, the liaison to the astronauts in Prehistoric Planet is omitted. All that remains of her is the name, which here is the codename for their ship. Then there is the year. 2020 in the last film, 1998 in this one. Odd that they would move the date to such a year. Surely we were bound to have robots named John and ships that could take us to Venus by ‘98. The commonality between the two is omission od any reference to Soviet Russia, although this overtly states that the mission is an American undertaking.
The story does actually have a better structure. In the last version when the two astronauts and robot John get marooned on Venus, it’s not really treated like a big deal. The other party knew that could pick them up later, and so continued on with their studies of the planet. They were mostly unaware of the plight of their compatriots. This time, so scenes are reorganized and dialogue is changed to make the trip seem like a rescue mission and does add some tension to the film.
The tension was needed because the previous film bored me to tears. This one’s not much better though. In many ways, it’s much worse. Every time those women are onscreen, the film stops dead. It’s just not interesting, and that sing-songy moaning that happens every time they appear gets really irritating. In fact, there is this incessant droning sound in the background during the entire time they are on Venus. Both versions are hard to follow. I couldn’t tell you what the character’s names are, which is why I just refer to them as the astronauts or the women. The filmmakers knew this movie was confusing, and that’s why they added the intrusive but necessary narration. It’s a shame they couldn’t just make the dialogue more engaging, or get some voice actors that could deliver it better. And on that note, while Prehistoric Planet the dubbing was quite good (in fact, I couldn’t even tell it was dubbed until I researched it), this time it is very noticeable. I don’t know why either. Most of the dialogue is the exact same. If I had to choose between the two, it would definitely be Prehistoric Planet.
The most interesting thing about watching these two movies back to back is seeing all the little differences. It’s the same film, and they are pretty similar, yet they do take different approaches with the material. However, I can’t say I’ll ever watch them again. What I may do is watch Planeta Bur. You can tell that was a competently made little flick. It’s iconic in a way. Perhaps it was popularized though these versions, but still. You can see it’s stamp on number of other more notable sci-fi films. I’ll check it out someday, just not anytime soon. I’m done with this movie for awhile.