Ape Week: Planet of (the) Dinosaurs (1978): Not “Planet of the Apes”

How desperate and unashamed were studios at grabbing a slice of the Star Wars pie? Well, take notice of Star Wars’ famous X-Wing Fighters and Millennium Falcon going into battle against dinosaurs—and artist Frank Frazetta—in a first-draft script that was punched out in three days.

Of course, Planet of Dinosaurs was rushed into production to capitalize on Star Wars revitalizing the space opera sub-genre of science fiction, and the studio took no chances: they lifted the plotting from 20th Century Fox’s other franchise: Planet of the Apes. So rushed was the production, actors had to audition with prepared monologues because the script still wasn’t finished prior to the start of filming.

As with the 1968 POTA original: a space ship crew—only co-ed and adorned in outdated Space: 1999 one-piece spandex, with the females conveniently packing two-piece bikinis—experiences a malfunction and makes a water crash landing. They soon find themselves stranded on a planet ruled, not by Apes, but by Jim Danforth (When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, 1970) and Doug Beswick (Evil Dead II) stop-motion dinosaurs.

Unfortunately, to get to Danforth and Beswick’s ingenious, up-against-a-low budget mattes and trick photography, one must endure a poorly directed story plagued by amateurish actors prancing around Vasquez Park in the California desert—a geographic area noted for its use in several episodes of Star Trek: TOS, “Arena” from the 1967 season, in particular.

Yes, Planet of Dinosaurs is an admittedly pleasant slice of childhood nostalgia for the Star Wars generation. However, those now higher-standard adults will admit this Dino-infused Apes rip-off makes Dinosaur Island (1994), Jim Wynorski and Fred Olen Ray’s joint-exploitation rip-off of Roger Corman’s Carnosaur (1993), really look like Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993)—just as Corman intended. To say Planet of Dinosaurs makes Destination Moonbase Alpha, Invasion UFO, and The Starlost each look like Star Wars is an understatement.

That the science-fiction but-not-outer space Dinosaur Island is itself a rip-off of Untamed Women (1952), with homage-rips from other rickety dinosaur flicks of yore, such as Prehistoric Women (1950) and Hammer Studios’ One Million Years B.C (1966), is another B&S Movies review for another time far, far, away. We love this movie so much, Sam took another crack at it back in March of this year.

“Get your stinking, pigeon-toed quadruped off of me, you damn, dirty dinosaur!”

 In an X-Mas footnote: Did you know that Fred Olen Ray is in the Christmas movie business? In recent years he’s produced, written and/or directed a series of holiday films that aired on the cable channels Hallmark, ION, Lifetime, and Up. His most recent film, A Christmas Princess, inspired by the Meghan Markle and Prince Harry romance, is currently airing on ION.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.

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