Independent, no-budget cinema is always a gamble. You never really know what you are going to get. Sometimes you get a great story from a creative staff that has vision, and what they lack in money they more than make up for in energy and effort. More often than not, however, what you get can scarcely be called a film; it is something that may have vision, but the execution is so bad as to make it nearly unwatchable. Now, where does Planetfall, uh, fall? Definitely somewhere in between, but with strong leanings towards the unwatchable.
The story is centered in the space western genre that has been mined by the likes of Firefly and Oblivion, and clearly inspired by the likes of Star Wars and Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. However, as enjoyable as the premise is, it is sunk by bad dialogue, bad acting, and poor effects — only the last of which is a forgivable sin. I can overlook poor effects if the overall story can convince me to believe in them — there has to be an energy, the film has to sell the look, and this doesn't quite do it, though I cannot truly fault a no-budget film for having bad effects. They tried and for the most part succeeded at accomplishing what they set out to do. Now if the dialogue and acting had been better, this may have been a different story.
The setting is a planet that has been torn apart by civil war. The war is being waged between those with psychic abilities and those without, and at the center is a drug which enables or enhances those psychic abilities. Now the final shipment of that drug has crashed in the wastelands of the planet. A number of different groups are heading out to the wastelands to find said shipment of drug.
First there is a bounty hunter named Lux, who teams up with an old partner/lover, not because she wants to, but because she needs the money this could bring her. Then there is Wendy, a roguish bounty hunter who is currently running a scam with a wanted felon, but when word of this drug hits her radar, she enters the hunt. Lastly, there is a group of psychic mercenaries that desperately want to find the shipment. Everyone involved has secrets and other desires surrounding the search, but the script is poorly developed and I really had no idea what any of them were really trying to do.
The movie runs 90 minutes, but feels more like three hours. The acting is so completely bland that I could not find any interest in the characters' stories. Each one moved along their path, getting closer and closer to their goal, all as I cared less and less. The bland acting and the dialogue were more than enough to cancel out my brain's desire to figure out what was going on, nothing seemed all that interesting. At times it was a struggle to keep focused, with much of my viewing time spent wandering around the scene, looking at the effects rather than the story, and I do not feel that I really missed much.
As poor as the story and acting were, I have to applaud those involved in the effects and prop creation. For a movie that seems to have had a budget of $30, they were able to accomplish a lot. The effects are of a decidedly lower quality than the latest ILM or WETA outing, but they are done by people who believed in what they were doing and were trying to create an otherworldy feel, which they did. As for the props, they looked good, they were suitably made to look like futuristic weapons and clothing of the west. Congratulations to those who worked on this end of the picture.
Released by Heretic Films, this is an ambitious release for such an unknown film. The disk is filled with extra material, centered on an hour-long making of documentary called Planetfall: Perils and Pleasures of Fiscally Feasible Filmmaking. I watched some of this, and it is interesting in how they went about making this film, from the genesis of the concept to the finished product and all of the pitfalls encountered in low budget filmmaking.
There are a series of deleted and extended scenes, none of which would have improved the film. A travel documentary made in exchange for shooting privileges called Pickwick Mill: A Guided Tour with Alan Struthers is here, as is another location featurette, Discovering Rosemount Ruins. There's a silly little segment on director Gianni Mezzanotte (alter-ego of director Michael Heagle), My Name is Still Gianni. There is a brief look at the propsmakers, which is quite interesting, called Fans of Style: Designing Planetfall included. Legendary low budget director Ted V. Mikels, who appears in the film, has a lengthy interview included. Finally, there are three – yes three – commentary tracks, one with the director, the other two featuring a pair of primary cast members. The disk is truly loaded and offers some insight into the world of shoestring cinema.
Bottom line. While I cannot, and I mean cannot, claim to like the movie, I have to applaud what they were able to accomplish in terms of the effects, but feel the concept held so much more potential. This can only be recommended to the hardcore shoestring cinema fan, all others should steer clear.