Cosmos: War of the Planets (1976)
This is a muddled, confusing, badly edited and occasionally completely unwatchable Italian science fiction movie, a rambling wreck of a film that tries so desperately hard to be impressive but fails miserably on almost every count. Still, I kinda liked its funky vibe. While bad, it's campy fun and certainly worth the five hours I spent watching the movie and writing this review.
Cosmos: War of the Planets was first released in 1977, riding the massive groundswell caused by Star Wars. Since that time, it has bounced around under various names, including Cosmos 2000: Planet Without a Name, Battle of the Stars, War in Space and even Battaglie Negli Spazi Stellari(!). At some point it was cast down into public domain hell and was picked up by b-movie pimps Brentwood Home Video, who released it on cheap-ass DVD under the name Cosmos: War of the Planets. This is what I will be reviewing today.
As best as I can determine, each of the various versions is cut in different ways, and the dubbing is often radically different. Characters and proper names are changed with each version, and even the glorious IMDB differs greatly from the movie that I have in my hands. While this is unfortunately common with these low-rent imported movies, it does make writing a review without the benefit of subtitles more of a challenge. For the record, I'm watching the Picturmedia Limited version that runs 89 minutes.
Along with 1977's Star Wars, our movie was heavily influenced by the Star Trek empire of the late 1960s, which was insanely popular in syndication. Certainly more is owed to Star Trek than Star Wars, and as you watch the film you can't help but be struck by the similarities. In fact, I'll probably offend rabid Trekkies by having an irreverent Star Trek theme to this review. Let's see how this works out...
BTW, our movie should not be confused with another film from 1977, the Japanese sci-fi epic The War in Space, which also made the rounds under several alternate titles, including both Cosmos and War of the Planets.
And now on to our show...
"Celluloid...the final frontier...these are the voyages of the starship La Enterpriza...Its 89 minute mission...to explore strange new hair gels...to seek out new calzones and new pasta dishes...to boldly go where no Italian has gone before..."
As with the original Star Trek series, Cosmos: The War of the Planets revolves around Captain Kirk...er, Captain Kirkini. In our movie the captain is played by 43-year old American actor John Richardson, a big tall strapping man with impressive pectoral muscles and bad teeth. Richardson's main claim to fame will always be 1966's One Million Years B.C., where he played the leading man Tumak opposite ultra-babe Raquel Welch and her gravity-defying fur bikini. Other than that role, he mostly slummed in European productions and never really broke into the Big Time.
Since I mentioned her...
We open in typical Star Trek fashion, as Captain Kirkini is being berated by a Starfleet Admiral for being a Hot-Headed-Outlaw-Breakin'-All-The-Rules-Space-Princess-Bangin'-Prime-Directive-Ignoring-Rebel kinda guy. Captain Kirkini apparently doesn't like taking orders from M-5, the Starfleet central computer (here named the "WIZ"...really.), and even punches a superior officer who had M-5 give him an order...or something. I actually don't understand what happened here, but that's ok, it's not important to the rest of the movie. Just know that Captain Kirkini is a Man-Who-Operates-By-His-Own-Rules.
His main problem at the moment seems to be his distrust of the M-5 computer, which everyone else in Starfleet seems to trust completely. The M-5 was designed by Doctor Richard Daystrom (hehehe...) and is shown to us as a huge computer bank covered with glitzy blinking lights and flashing multi-colored bars. Kirkini's hatred of computers extends to smaller computers onboard spaceships, which he disregards with impunity while in space, and probably even Texas Instruments calculators. We never really learn why Kirkini has such a problem with M-5, or computer brains in general, but that's probably not important either.
The M-5 super-computer!
The Admiral is pissed, and should really just relieve Kirkini of his command, but instead decides to send him off to the "Vega system" to do some light work. The Admiral claims that M-5 would order him "eliminated" as a dangerous officer, but he knows that Kirkini is very qualified, just a bit of a reckless bastard.
Hmm...ok, I guess we are now in the Vega system. A lot of insanely fast and confusing editing cuts in this movie, hard to really tell what is going on. This entire film is full of these irritatingly vague and incoherent moments, suggesting that the original director's cut was like seven hours long but the studio demanded it be trimmed down to an hour and a half. You literally have to watch it twice or three times to figure out what some of the scenes are supposed to be about. I gave up after two viewings...
We see the spaceship La Enterpriza cruising through space. They're approaching a drifting deep space gamma ray-collection satellite that's in need of repair. The La Enterpriza (called the "MK-31" here) is a fairly detailed model ship, shaped like an Apollo rocket with two engine nacelles bolted on. The model is so good, in fact, that I'm sure it was stolen from some much-better movie.
The La Enterpriza!
A quick bit on the crew of the La Enterpiza. They all wear gray and red tight-fitting jumpsuits, with matching red felt skin caps (!) that really look like they were stolen from the musty prop rooms of Lost in Space. Apparently, each crew section (engineering, security, etc...) has different shaped red chest panels to tell them apart. The men's outfits have tops that hang down very low, and with wide belts they look a bit like miniskirts. The women's outfits are very tight, which really show off their butts and legs. We only get to know the ten-man bridge crew, but we get the impression that there are many other crewmembers that we don't see. This is also a politically correct command crew, with a black man, an Asian woman, and even a Frenchman.
Now, since it's still early, we have to have something to prove to us that Kirkini is indeed, all that and a bag of chips. You have to actually show him being all daring-do and brave of heart so that we will buy into his leadership for the rest of the movie. So they send an engineer out to do EVA work on the busted satellite. Monitoring from the ship, Kirkini warns the man to watch out for that battery acid in that thingie that he's using to fix some other, broken thingie.
Nice matte shot, real nice.
After twice (!) disobeying Kirkini's direct order to stop working on the satellite and return to the ship, the man indeed damages the battery and acid bubbles drift onto his spacesuit's arm. The man starts screaming and moaning bloody murder, even though we're told that his suit won't be compromised for over three minutes. Perhaps he's just reacting to the fear of moment, or didn't read the script properly, or maybe just overacting in the Italian style. Regardless, the man is now stuck out in space between the satellite and the La Enterpriza, his suit thrusters conveniently misfiring.
With just under two minutes to go, Kirkini himself (!) dons his spacesuit and heads out to save the poor man. Don't they have people to do this? Why didn't anyone else volunteer for the job? And why did Kirkini look over his shoulder at some woman and smile broadly before heading for the airlock? And how did he manage to get from the bridge to the airlock room, change into his multi-piece spacesuit, decompress the airlock, float out, grab the dude, float them both back inside, and recompress the airlock all in about two minutes? I hate this movie.
Anyway, in the nick of time, Kirkini hauls the man into the airlock and they rush him to sick bay. Hmmm...what the hell? They make this big deal about how the man would die once his suit was compromised, right? Well, we see in the sick bay that his arm is all gooey and burnt, suggesting that the acid leaked through. And we also saw the timer pass the point of decompressions, right? So, why is the man still alive? Did Kirkini do something that preserved his life, something we neither saw onscreen nor heard about? What happened? I guess this is part of the mystique of being Captain Kirkini, you just do the impossible.
Fast forward about six months. We see that the crew of the La Enterpriza is still doing their routine duties out in deep space (whatever those are, I think it involves cruising around checking on various data-gathering satellites, mind-numbingly boring work). Suddenly, they begin to pick up strange signals from the far reaches of space. They try and figure them out themselves, but they can't connect the dots. Kirkini even suggests that their onboard computer "has got to be drunk". They then turn over the matter to Starfleet Command, who has also been picking up the signals.
Starfleet Command is not amused.
So back at Starfleet Command, the staff analyze the strange signals from space. Watch as the actor playing the Colonel blows his line completely, but the cameras keep rolling. Smartyhead computer M-5 concludes that the signals are from an "alien intelligence that knows all" and which poses a threat to Earth. They decide to sent a spaceship to investigate the signals and eliminate the threat if needed. So the nearest spaceship to the origin of the signals is...wait for it...the La Enterpriza. Ugh, why is the La Enterpriza always the only ship in the quadrant? How big is Starfleet? Do they have like three ships, and one of those is in the Jiffy Lube?
So they call up Captain Kirkini and order him to go check out the signals. Well, really they just suggest that he possibly check them out, if he has the time and doesn't mind, really. Kirkini basically says, "Forget it!", his crew has been out for six months and they're scheduled to return to Earth very soon. Starfleet Command offers to give them all extended leave and possible promotions if they go on the mission, but Kirkini still says no.
Hmm...I guess Starfleet has changed it's rules regarding the chain of command recently. From what Kirkini is insinuating, a "new rule" allows ship captains to now wantonly disobey any order given by the M-5 computer, and there is nothing that Starfleet Command can do about it. In fact, captains can apparently disobey commands from human Admirals, as well! How the hell are you supposed to run a space business if there's no chain of command?
"Why do I even bother?"
Finally, some woman comes on screen, transmitting from Starfleet Command. At the sight of her, Kirkini grimaces noticeably. A quick insert shot of one of the female crewmen, who we will learn later is banging the captain, as she looks all jealous and petty tells us that the woman back on Earth is perhaps a former lover of Kirkini's (Doctor Carol Marcus? hehehehe...). She manages to convince Kirkini to put the matter to a democratic vote of the full crew. We never really hear what the crew decides. It doesn't really matter in the end, but it's just another loose end that makes for a frustrating watching experience. If the crew outvoted the Captain, that would be interesting.
That is bad hair.
Now we get some interlude moments where we learn a bit about interpersonal relationships on the La Enterpriza. We see that sex in the traditional form of sweaty bodies playing hide the weasel has been replaced by hooking yourself up to a "Cosmic Love" machine (really, that's what the label on the machine says) and having sexual fantasies played in your mind. You can set some parameters on the machine, apparently, including the time duration and if you want it "violent or gentile". Kinda kinky, I guess, but why would anyone choose this over good ole' fashioned boot knockin' is beyond me.
Gettin' busy in the future.
We also see that it's ok for the captain to have sexual relations with another, junior member of the command staff. Captain Kirkini is boinking Yoeman Randachetti, and doing it the "natural way", if you know what I mean. Randachetti is a thin, attractive woman with crew-cut blonde hair. She's played by thirty something Italian actress Yanti Somer. Overall, Somer had a fairly weak career, but did appear in two other trashy Italian sci-fi films that I plan on reviewing next, 1978's War of the Robots and 1979's Star Odyssey.
The real thing.
Ok, back to the "thrilling action". Radar scanners report two "shining points" approaching fast, and Kirkini calls Red Alert, all crew to the bridge! As the two "strange metallic bodies" near, they query the computer for answers, but it can only confirm that they're not natural formations and they're not Earth ships. They even ask M-5 back at Starfleet Command, but it can't give them any better clues. A visual shows them to be typical flying saucer looking craft, all fuzzy with the poor blue-screening.
With little recourse now, Kirkini orders the phaser banks charged up and the photon torpedoes loaded. Here they come, bolts of deadly energy are exchanged and one of the alien ships is destroyed. The La Enterpriza, however, takes some damage and begins to spin out of control. The internal gravity controls are damaged (I guess) because now the crew struggles against the "five g's of internal pressure" in the cabin.
Space Invaders, eat your heart out!
I should note here that the La Enterpriza clearly fired first, with absolutely no provocation. What this means for the rest of the movie is yet to be seen, but we hope this shoot-first mentality is not "new" Starfleet policy. It's really hard to seek out strange new worlds and new life when you blast away at the first ship you see.
Back on Earth, we see a very strange scene. A media circus has developed in Starfleet Command as "newspapermen" crowd around the Admiral waiting for word of the strange signals and the mysterious alien ships. In a not-too-subtle poke at the frenzy of the Italian media (I guess), the reporters have already formulated their own sensational headlines, regardless of the lack of facts or the denials of Starfleet. "Alien invasion!" "The Earth is in grave danger!" "The beginning of the end!" cry the reporters back to their editors, surely whipping the public up in a frenzy of subscription renewals.
Reporters of the future.
Back to the La Enterpriza, still struggling to repair the damage. Finally overcoming the centrifugal force (don't ask), they manage to hit the auxiliary ignition button to straighten out their spin. Hmm...you'd think they'd have computers to do this, eh? Even an F-16 can pull itself out of a spin, why can't this ultra-advanced spaceship?
The danger passed for now, they check on their ship. Chief Engineer Scottiocchi reports that the "B circuit in the main generator" has been damaged and needs to be replaced. They're now on auxiliary power, meaning that their speed has been reduced to a fourth and they can't contact Earth. BTW, what happened to that other alien flying saucer?
Hmm...what? It seems that there is a planet nearby...I guess. With the loss of power, the La Enterpriza is now being pulled down towards this planet. A little exposition would have helped here, maybe something earlier to tell us they were near a planet? Indeed, we see on the screen that there are two planets, or maybe a big planet and a smaller moon.
Anyway, down and down they're pulled, soon to be smashed on the surface of the planet. Captain Kirkini keeps frantically calling for the "vaporizers" to fire, but the crew seems to be ignoring him, claiming that it's "too late now". Such insubordination! The whole crew seems pretty relaxed considering they're about to be squished, nor to do they appear too excited about trying any last ditch efforts. They just seem resigned to their fate. Must be an Italian thing, might explain 1943.
Suddenly, the ship stops (!), held fast by an "anti-gravitation force of unknown origin". Held now "500,000 feet" above the planet, the La Enterpriza is trapped in orbit. They check out the planet with their sensors, proclaiming it to be "dark, cold, inhospitable..."
Captain Kirkini makes the call to land on the planet, using the "landing module". Hmm...I thought they were held in orbit by the anti-gravity wave? Did I miss something? Anyway, the nose of the La Enterpriza separates like an Apollo moon lander and drifts away towards the planet's surface. It lands like Apollo as well, on four stitly legs, and the crew unbuckles.
The planet is Class M (hehehe...) and has an atmosphere similar to Earth, meaning they have no need for bulky spacesuits which would cramp the actors' style. The land is rocky and desolate, like our own moon or maybe western Kansas.
An away team is assembled, comprising six men and three women. Following official Starfleet regulations (ha...) all the senior bridge crew, including the captain, leave the ship and wander about the dangerous unknown planet. Carrying dorky metal gadgets and blinking electronic widgets (including unmodified highway road lanterns and K-Mart-quality metal detectors), the nine leave the lander and start walking around. Hmm...seem to be in a rock quarry somewhere near Rome...and it's cold out here, because some of the girls are nippin'.
While the rest of them poke around with the rocks and dirt, Ensign Suluigi wanders off from the main group alone. We see what's going to happen here, don't we? The hapless man stumbles across some rocks lit by kleig lights with colored lenses, then finds a large Styrofoam arch shaped like the symbol for Pi, and then happens upon a clear plastic half-globe in the rocks backlit by lightning machines and eerie synthesizer music. Hmm...this is confusing, but it looks like when he walked under the giant Pi arch, he was "transported" into another area of the rock quarry.
Suddenly, a nasty robot clanks down the rocky slope towards him! It's dark, but not dark enough to mask the laughably lame robot suit the stunt man is wearing, looking like something a fifth-grade drama class would whip up for a production of Santa Claus versus the Martians. It does have these cool Cylon-like glowing red eyes. The robot moves slowly (and I do mean slowly) towards the cowering, yelling man, who despite having a pistol on his belt, just huddles and cries like a little girl. We don't see it onscreen, but we are sure that Ensign Suluigi bites the dust here.
Back with the rest of the away team, they hear his pitiful screams of pain. The Captain forms a search detail and they rush out to find him. They run down into the rock quarry in the dark, heading for the glowing rocks and the big Pi arch. Behind them, the robot picks off one of the women, Lieutenant Uhurangello, who was lagging behind, smacking her over the head with his metal arm. The others keep running, oblivious to loosing one of their number. Passing under the Pi arch, they are also teleported into the cave (yes, now we learn it's a cave, which doesn't explain how they heard Ensign Suluigi's screams before).
In the cave with the glowing half-globe they realize that Lieutenant Uhurangello is missing. They also check their sensors and determine that the strange signal that they picked up long ago is coming from inside this cave!
Ok, so there are four of them in the cave here, Captain Kirkini, Yoeman Randachetti, and two other men. They wander through the cavern a bit, which is well-lit by several hidden blue-lensed lights. It's a bit unclear, but I think they're looking for the exact source point of the signals, which their hand-held instruments tell them is in here somewhere. Either that or the Horta...
Suddenly, they're jumped by several dozen half-nekkid green-painted alien dudes! Wow, flashbacks of George Melies' A Trip to the Moon from 1902... I'm not sure if they realized they were ripping off this classic, or were trying to do an homage, but it's the first thing that pops in your mind when you watch this scene. Anyway, there's some fisticuffs as the aliens corral the humans, Kirkini getting in some especially good licks.
A much, much better movie.
Then a deep voice booms out, coming from a tall alien dude who is clearly the leader. This is "Amok, the Sage", whose mouth strangely doesn't move when he talks. This is explained weakly as telepathy, "my voice is pure thought that reaches the mind...brain waves make telepathy become sound." Right, sure.
Amok, the Sage!
The Sage then proceeds to give them 90 seconds of quick exposition to explain everything. It seems that long ago this race was highly advanced and built a master machine to control all the other machines and build more. One day, the master machine revolted and ever since the remaining people have been forced to hide in these caves, regressed to an "animal state". That killer robot ("the black peril" "the immortal monster") hunts them, trying to exterminate them.
Hey! This is The Terminator! Damn you, James Cameron. That master computer is Skynet, the people are us, and the killer robot is an early T-100 series Hunter Killer. Well, I guess every director is a movie fan himself, and he can't help but take inspiration from other films.
The humans decide to help these people, which seems in their mutual interest. One of the green aliens steps forward, this is "Etor, the Chief" and he will lead them to the old dead city of the ancients. This was apparently where their ancestors lived before Skynet took over. It looks a lot like some plastic models on a table with a flashing mood light on a flat screen behind it... They would investigate, but the ruins are radioactive. Wow, it must really be cold inside this cave, you can see the actors' breath in every shot. Not so bad for the humans in their full-body suits, but had to suck for the extras playing the green aliens, dressed in nothing but body paint and skimpy loincloths.
Etor, the Chief!
So, Kirkini determines that they need to get back to the lander module so they can use the La Enterpriza's computer to analyze the situation and plan out an attack. Etor the Chief seem a bit leery of this (why?) but he agrees to let them go if Yoeman Randachetti stays behind with them (?). Kirkini agrees and they leave for the lander. He might want to think about this, he's about to leave his hot girlfriend with a bunch of half-nekkid men who might not have seen a female in generations. Hmm...cross-species lovin'?
But as they're about to leave the cave, the T-100 clanks up to the entrance and starts firing energy beams! The green aliens scatter and the humans return fire with their pistols. In a short firefight, one, maybe two, of the green aliens are killed and the T-100 proves immune to any sort of pistol fire.
The robot attacks.
Eventually, somehow they escape and make it back to the lander. Inside, they query the computer and it comes back with mostly probabilities and assumptions, but little hard facts. It does suggest that Skynet has a self-destruct button, "probably red" (!!!!), that if pushed will make it go boom. What's the statistical probability that all self-destruct buttons are colored red? Wouldn't it suck if they get all the way to Skynet, push the red button with their dying breaths, only to get a hot cup of mocha latte?
Ok, let's leave our action for a minute to go back to Starfleet Command. Thankfully tying up a loose end that was bugging me, we hear that the second flying saucer has been detected in the Arctic region where it landed. It seems that "sector HF-203 is refracting the passage of any kind of wave." They speculate on why it landed here, but don't have any better idea that we do.
Back now to our heroes. While the rest of them are inside the lander, Ensign Chekovanni is outside on guard duty, singing an old drinking song to himself (I belong to Glasgow, dear old Glasgow town...). The T-100 has followed them back to the lander, apparently, because we see it fry poor Chekovanni. Just then, a wicked sand storm blows up, blasting the area with high winds and swirling dust. The T-100's sensors are whited-out (I guess), allowing Captain Kirkini and two other men to make their way back to the cave. It's doubtful that they even knew the T-100 was out there, but once the sentry turned up missing they should have been told by someone.
Anyway, back in the cave, Kirkini and Spockacecco head over to this metal plate on the ground and stand on it. This is a "transporter pad" (UAC teleporter?) that zips them to the main computer room of Skynet. Hmm...I guess their hosts told them about it, eh? The room is fairly bare, with just a massive computer bank on one wall and a fake starfield effect projected behind it.
That's a lot of flashing lights...
As they approach, the Skynet computer beeps and whirrs to life and begins talking to them in that cliched Omnipresent Master Computer Voice that you've come to expect. The computer tells them what they already knew, that the people built machines to serve them, and something they didn't know before, that an "alien attack" caused the machines to take over after the people were ravaged by nuclear weapons used in that attack.
Skynet was damaged in this alien assault, and now is operating at limited capacity. It can control itself and the complex, and the killer robot thingie, but little else. What it needs is someone to fix a burnt-out circuit, and that's why it lured the La Enterpriza here. Ah...now I see, Skynet sent the signals, and then disabled the La Enterpriza's engines in the attack, then tractor beamed it into orbit, knowing that someone would come down for it to use. Skynet also says that the locals are too dumb to be of use, but since we later see that all he needs is someone to lift about three ounces of plastic and metal and move it about four feet, this makes no sense.
The red button!
Skynet flat out tells them that once they fix him he will "conqueror the galaxy with an army of invincible machines", so surely they wouldn't actually fix it, right? Right? Well, I guess not. Captain Kirkini dutifully goes up and switches out the burnt-out circuit board with a new one that was helpfully lying nearby. As he does, he spies a "red button" on the face of the computer. He and Spockacecco talk about the button, only slight worried that Skynet can hear them discussing their plans while standing a mere nine inches from it.
So the new circuit is in and, as it warned, Skynet is now fully operational! Dumbass humans. They make a try for the red button, but are driven back by laser fire. Hiding in a niche in the wall, Kirkini comes up with a daring (if asinine) plan. Using some chunk of equipment off his suit, and Spockacecco's belt, he makes a sling. After making a David-and-Goliath reference that Spockacecco doesn't get, Kirkini steps out, swings the sling around a few times and perfectly nails the small red button from across the room with the first try. Nice.
Skynet starts to implode in a typical shower of sparks and white smoke. The two men dash to the teleporter pad and are zapped back to the cave.
Back on Earth, we hear that the flying saucer in the Arctic has exploded on it's own. Hmm...ok. Why?
Back at the lander, we see two dudes walking about on guard duty. They spy a body lying nearby, where one wasn't before. It's Ensign Suluigi, the dude that was supposedly killed by the T-100 when they first landed, only now he's just injured. And then, Lieutenant Uhurangello stumbles into view, blood on her head, but very much alive! They bring these two inside the lander and take them to the sick bay.
Kirkini and the other three make it back to the lander as the planet begins to blow up (why?). They have with them Etor, who is soon to become the last survivor of his race. As the lander takes off, the planet flames up in a collage of stock footage volcanic eruptions and solar flares. The lander reconnects with the rest of the ship and the La Enterpriza sets course for Earth.
Oh, hell, it's not the end. It should have been the end, a nice, relatively tidy ending that we could all be happy with, right? But no, they had to give us a twist ending!
We see that Ensign Chekhovanni (the sentry who we though was dead at the hands of the T-100) is alive, if not altogether well. He has been somehow infected by the machines and is now a shambling, foaming-at-the-mouth, puss-oozing-sore-covered, caveman-grunting, abnormally-strong killing beast. Chekovanni kills four crewmen with his bare hands, before engaging in a wicked fight with Etor. Some really cool fisticuffs here, I must say, with the actor playing Etor clearly trained in some martial arts. In the end, Captain Kirkini ejects both Chekovanni and Etor into outer space through what I guess was an emergency airlock.
Oh, fuck me, it's still not the end. As the crew celebrates, Kirkini asks the computer how long until they reach Earth. The computer answers back, but in the voice of Skynet! Double-twist ending! Kill me!
The End. And I mean it this time.
Written in September 2005 by Nathan Decker.
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