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Savage Planet (2006)

Savage Planet (bears in space!)Starring Sean Patrick Flannery, some other people I’ve never heard of, and more stock footage of grizzly bears than you can shake a stick at!

Directed by Paul Lynch


Folks, I got three words for you:

BEARS IN SPACE!

Holy smokes! What the hell were the makers of Savage Planet smoking? Even by the increasingly low standards of Sci-Fi Channel original movies, Savage Planet reaches a plateau of stupidity few Sci-Fi Channel original movies even attempt or succeed at achieving. Again:

BEARS IN SPACE!

And the filmmakers didn’t even bother to make them mutant-looking bears, nor could they afford the CGI to make the bears interact with the film’s actors. Instead we’re bombarded with a barrage of stock footage of actual grizzly bears in the wild either charging forward or standing on their hind legs growling, stock footage that is pretty much recycled over and over only at different angles and in varying degrees of close-up. Scratch the opening line of this review; I’ve got six words for you:

STOCK FOOTAGE OF BEARS IN SPACE!

I knew from the opening minutes of Savage Planet that I was going to be in for one doozy of a movie. Two explorers are foraging about a forest-covered alien world called Planet Oxygen, named so after being discovered by Oprah Winfrey – or not. The male explorer leads the way while the female behind him slices through the brush with a machete. You’d think if it was that bad then she would be leading the way, but then if she was, then she wouldn’t be able to accidentally lop his arm off. Indeed. She somehow manages to not look at what she’s cutting and takes part of his arm off with the machete. Reeling in agony, the guy accidentally falls through a hole in the ground. Upon landing, the blood-gushing stump of what’s left of his arm ends up in a puddle of green goo bubbling up from the ground of this underground cavern. He pulls his arm up and watches it magically regenerate before his eyes. It’s a miracle. What is this miraculous green slime with its amazing regenerative healing powers? He’ll never know because that cavern he fell into happens to be the den for one of those dreaded space bears. Non-regenerative death follows. Cue opening credits.

Oh, yeah, I knew I was in for a full-blown cornucopia of schlock with Savage Planet.

It’s the future. Earth is currently an environmental hellhole. People have to wear oxygen masks outdoors. Yadda yadda yadda… A corporation has detected an Earth-like planet – dubbed Planet Oxygen – far across the galaxy that could be the salvation for the human race. They’ve also developed a teleportation system that can transport people and equipment across the galaxy. Yadda yadda yadda… Sean Patrick Flannery is Kane, the leader of the small expedition consisting of the shady corporate boss, the boss’ dullard scientist wife who clearly has the hots for Kane, the boss’ fatso lawyer, and some other scientists, soldiers, and medics that have bear food written all over them. Yadda yadda yadda… Something goes wrong, killing the last person to transport to Planet Oxygen and leaving them stranded on the planet with only limited supplies and ammo. Then the tech guy in charge of the teleporter (that looks like a high-tech bird feeder, mind you) vanishes, their crooked boss who clearly is not telling them something also abandons them in a time of crisis, and it turns out the planet is so unstable it will eventually self-destruct. Yadda yadda yadda…

It also has a lot to do with finding some of that regenerative green space goo. There’s a hilarious flashback where we see the boss and the teleporter tech viewing the last transmission sent back by the first expedition. The footage is the exact same footage we saw in the pre-title sequence. How were these ill-fated explorers able to film this footage from a third-person perspective? Ah, the mysteries of the universe. Now the unscrupulous corporate honcho has tagged along with another exploration team to personally find some of that magical healing muck, bring it back to Earth, reverse engineer it, and use it to save the human race. Oh, and become the wealthiest, most powerful man in the history of the universe for doing so. There’s only one thing standing in their way:

STOCK FOOTAGE OF BEARS IN SPACE!

Savage Planet (bears in space!)Scuttle the plot and screw the characters; the only thing that really matters is that Planet Oxygen’s seemingly only inhabitants are bigass brown bears. According to one scientist, who will herself soon become a human picnic basket, the bears are supposed to be along the lines of the colossal prehistoric bears from Earth’s past. Thanks to the stock nature footage they just look like ordinary bigass brown bears. This same scientist will also reveal that these alien space bears are indeed smarter than the average bear, which I guess is supposed to explain why they often wait until characters wander off alone to attack or specifically target and drag off injured members of the group. These bears must have been starving to death too because we never see any birds or fish or other animals to sustain the appetites of these intergalactic prehistoric space bears.

Here’s how the makers of Savage Planet handle the typical encounter between our insipid explorers and one or more of Planet Oxygen’s space bear population:

  • Sounds of growling
  • Startled reaction shot by actor(s)
  • Stock footage of a bear rushing forward
  • Panicked reaction shot by actor(s)
  • Stock footage of a bear either growling menacingly or standing on its hind legs and growling
  • Actor(s) begin shooting at the bear
  • If being shot, close-up of bear torso with digital bullet wounds inserted
  • Stock footage of a bear on hind legs falling forward
  • Actor(s) stop firing and look calm
  • Freeze frame of a bear sprawled out on its back or face down on the ground
  • The only deviations from this formula will be if the actor is required to stand too frightened to move, at which point they will be killed, or if they attempt to run away, at which point they will most likely be killed. Sometimes a character will be making a break for it and suffer a non-fatal phantom bear swipe; something that looks like a blurry claw will very quickly fly across the screen behind the actor, causing him to fall with a slash wound across his back.

    The numerous space bear encounters throughout Savage Planet play out pretty much the way I’ve just described, and it never fails to not elicit unintentional laughter. I’ve argued in the past in regards to Sci-Fi Channel movies that if they don’t have the budget to properly CGI the monster(s), then why even bother making the movie at all? With Savage Planet, they not only didn’t have the budget to properly CGI the monsters, but even Nu Image with its cheap-o shark movies never sank to the levels that the makers of Savage Planet did. Not only is it stock footage of actual bears, they recycle this same stock footage over and over – often reversing angles, sometimes not even bothering to try and make it not look like the same bear footage we’ve been seeing over and over. All of these encounters will feature an inordinate number of jump cuts and extreme close-ups. And it’s quite apparent that the actors themselves had little clue what exactly they were supposed to be interacting with when these scenes were shot. In fact, I bet they were positively mortified upon seeing how it all got edited together.

    Aside from that, there appears to be one single scene where they actually had a bear on the set, four seconds worth of CGI bear footage, and several quick shots in which characters are grabbed or slashed with bear claws that are so obviously hand puppets it’s impossible not to laugh.

    Savage Planet (bears in space!)While the death scenes are often surprisingly gory, they’re still no less laughable. These bears really love to decapitate and disembowel people. Well, at least their hand puppet claws do. For example, a puppet bear claw slashes one unlucky individual’s head clean off, and the director decides to focus on the headless corpse as it falls to the ground squirting out blood like a malfunctioning water fountain. I should be horrified or repulsed. Nope, I’m laughing. Another gets his skull crushed, but the fake bear hands make it look more like this person is getting his skull squashed by a pissed off Chewbacca.

    Despite being stranded on an alien world spiraling towards self destruction and being hunted down by otherworldly bears, there’s a surprising lack of urgency in the words and actions of these monumentally screwed interplanetary explorers. Teleporter malfunctions causing one of their teammates to arrive without any bones in his body, seeing the decapitated head of another teammate rolling down a hill right at your feet, finding the remains of the previous exploration team you weren’t told about, realizing you may have been double-crossed by the man responsible for getting you in this mess to begin with, being constantly stalked by man-eating, intergalactic grizzlies – they never seem nearly as terrified or concerned as one would expect people in such a predicament to be. In fact, two of the male leads often find themselves sitting acting like they’re on a date with two of the female leads. Aside from a few brief shouting matches, these people are remarkably casual about the life or death situation and seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against them.

    The film’s highly inappropriate piano music score doesn’t help matters either. This is supposed to be a sci-fi horror movie, but the score sounds like it came out of a PBS documentary. The faux-Jaws chords struck whenever there’s a looming bear threat also give an air of comedy to the proceedings.

    The traditional sci-fi elements are nothing special yet perfectly acceptable for the sort of movie it’s trying to be, hampered by occasional slow points where not a whole lot happens. Whenever the STOCK FOOTAGE OF BEARS IN SPACE! goes on the offensive, Savage Planet is an absolute howler. Considering we are talking about BEARS IN SPACE!, perhaps I should call it an absolute growler?

    I suppose as preposterous as Savage Planet is, it still might have worked if it had been done in the style of a Jack London wilderness survival tale with science fiction overtones. Hell, for all I know that may have been exactly what the screenwriters had in mind before the Sci-Fi Channel execs got their grubby claws on the script. Or maybe they intended to make a whacked-out retread of the 1977 “Jaws in the woods” flick, Grizzly, only set on an alien world that just happens to look like the Canadian wilderness. Whatever the filmmakers intended with this film is moot since Savage Planet plays out like a joke from “The Colbert Report.” What with Stephen Colbert constantly warning us of the current bear threat and that phony sci-fi novel he claims to have written, the Sci-Fi Channel execs should have struck a deal with Colbert, renamed the Sean Patrick Flannery character, and called the movie Savage Planet: A Tek Jansen Adventure. At least then the ludicrous nature of the film would have seemed more intentional.

    2 1/2 out of 5

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    Jon Condit