Since we’re in the midst of a two-week Star Wars blow out in celebration of Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, and our “Ape Week” gala in commemoration of Disney announcing their production of a new Planet of the Apes sequel, is forthcoming (the simian fun begins December 29!), we need to take a look at the career of an impressive and successful indie filmmaker who has worked on low-budget homages to both franchises.
New Hampshire’s Brett Piper (Arachnia) is a self-made screenwriter, director, and special effects artist—and proud, self-professed purveyor of “schlock”—who eschews modern CGI for “old school” special effects, such as matte paintings, miniatures, and stop-motion animation. (Dude, you had me at “old school!”)
While Piper’s written, directed, and created effects for eighteen of his own films released from 1982 to 2019, he’s also designed effects for other directors, such as the Ape homages of fellow low-budget indie filmmakers, Mark and John Polonia (we’ll be reviewing the Polonia brothers’ films Empire of the Apes and Revolt of the Empire of the Apes as part of “Ape Week”).
But for this review, let’s take a look at Brett Piper’s debut film: a futuristic adaptation of Jules Verne’s 1874 novel, The Mysterious Island. Hey, if Disney can reboot Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as The Black Hole, then why not a deep-space version of another Verne’s tale? And if it all looks a lot like the Apes rip Planet of Dinosaurs (1977) . . . then it probably is (and that’s a good thing!).
Just keep in mind this Star Wars rip is a grassroots amateur project: it is, in fact, a home movie shot on a shoestring budget—with even less of a shoestring than John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s USC student film, Dark Star (1974). As Sam opined in his review of Piper’s Arachnia (2003): If Piper—and the Polonia brothers—had been around for the regional era of exploitation, each would be making drive-in flicks in the ’70s or direct to video films for the VHS ’80s.
So let’s get the guffaws out of the way.
Yes, we see filament lines suspending the ships. Yes, the sound sometimes unsyncs. The acting is questionable. Is that two-headed snail monster a riot? Do the stop-motion and matte effects send Jim Danforth (The Thing, They Live) running for the exits? Does this home-grown space opera make Alfonso Brescia’s Star Odyssey look like an Oscar Winner?
Oh, hell yes. And it makes Starship Invasions (1977) look like a Lucas Films’ production.
And you know what: I love this movie. (I dig this movie just as much as Sean and Patrick Donahue’s Richard Lynch-starring sort-of-apoc romp, Ground Rules.)
I love Mysterious Planet a hell of a lot more than the Roger Corman star drek that is Space Raiders (ugh, that film!). Why? Brett Piper overflows with that same Tommy Wiseau-heart and has John Howard’s tenacity. Sure, their respective films, Mysterious Planet, The Room, and Spine have their (many) flaws, but they each have a special, endearing quality that’s absent from most—if not all—major studio offerings. (And you can add Flywheel (2003), Alex Kendrick’s Christian-message debut film to that list.)
The story is a simple one: Piper leads a “wretched hive of scum and villainy” mercenary crew. After a space battle, their ship encounters a “space-storm” (via—this time, will give you a pass*—an acceptable budget-saving voiceover), and they water-crash on a primitive, uncharted planet. They soon encounter strange, prehistoric life forms (the snail, and the later flying dragon that reminds of 1970’s Equinox, are both actually quite impressive considering the film’s budget), the inevitable scantily clad jungle girl, and the planet’s ruler: an ancient, super-intelligent computer (Ancient computer? Hey, wait . . . that sounds a lot like Brescia’s Cosmos: War of the Planets) who warns the planet will be destroyed by an asteroid storm.
The questions and answers are simple with this film: Did you enjoy The Evil Dead demon-romp precursor, Equinox (1970), John Carpenter’s debut student film, Dark Star (1974), and James K. Shea’s Planet of Dinosaurs (1977; a review as part of “Apes Week” is on the way)? (I did!)
Well, that’s what Piper brings to the table with his, to be quite frank, impressive debut film (that also carries the alternate title of Star Odyssey!?!). His other “Star Wars” films are the much improved adventures of that scruffy nerf herder, Harry Trent: Galaxy Destroyer (1986; aka Galaxy) and its sequel, Mutant War (1988). All three films are internationally distributed and dubbed, each finding loyal fan bases in France and Germany. (The full films and clips of each can be found on various video sharing sites.)
“You did alright, kid. Good job,” backpats Academy Award-winning stop-motion effects animator Ray Harryhausen to the wide-eyed comic book and sci-fi and horror film geek, Brett Piper. “Don’t get cocky. Now get back to work.”
Brett Piper’s latest sci-fi offering—in conjunction with the Polonia brothers—is 2019’s Outpost Earth. You can check out the trailer, below, and learn more about Brett Piper’s work on his Facebook Fan Page.
And we’re not done yet! We’ve been rolling out the “Star Wars” film reviews since the 16th and there’s more “Star Wars” film reviews coming up until the 28th, then it’s “Ape Week” at B&S Movies.
* You know me and my pet peeves with voiceovers (with a character’s “inner feelings”) and words-on-screen set ups.
Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker is currently playing in theaters and was released theatrically on December 20 in the United States.
The latest film from Brett Piper . . . Outpost Earth. A full review proper is on the way in the coming weeks. (Oops! We finally did it!)
And, we are still not done yet! We dedicated one of our “Drive-In Friday” featurettes to Brett Piper and screened four of his films, including Queen Crab and Muckman. Yeah, we love ‘the Pipe ’round these analog wilds.