So-So Planet 51 Gets a Boost from Much Better Movies
- Friday, November 20, 2009
DVD Release Date: March 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: November 20, 2009
Rating: PG (for mild sci-fi action and some suggestive humor)
Run Time: 90 min.
Directors: Jorge Blanco, Javier Abad
Voices by: Dwayne Johnson, Jessica Biel, Justin Long, Gary Oldman, Seann William Scott, John Cleese
Since we're approaching that time of year when critics start making those "best-of" lists, I think it's safe to say that most of what released in 2009 easily proves the adage that dates all the way back to Ecclesiastes 1:9—ultimately, that there's "nothing new under the sun."
While recycling old ideas was basically status quo, surprisingly enough, borrowing from other otherworldly space-age flicks including Stars Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and Alien actually elevates Planet 51's overall enjoyment factor.
Considering that the scriptwriters never really made the most of the somewhat original concept they started with, namely having aliens being deathly afraid of the humans (rather than the other way around), the sly references to far superior sci-fi fare prevent Planet 51 from being a total dud. In fact, it's sort of fun waiting to see what they'll spoof next.
But in a year where there's been so many alien adventures vying for our attention (see monsters vs. aliens, race to witch mountain, aliens in the attic, 9 and more), there still needed to be something more compelling to really set Planet 51 apart.
With subpar storytelling and lackluster animation, not to mention a clear lack of enthusiasm from its celebrity vocal talent that includes Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jessica Biel and Gary Oldman, there's simply not enough here to make it a must-see.
Set in a decidedly 1950s-esque world populated with little green people with four-fingered hands, webbed feet and no noses, those living on Planet 51 often believe whatever they see at the local cineplex, namely that humans are always looking for a few good alien minds to control.
Then adding fuel to the fire, an actual living, breathing human shows up in his auto-piloted spaceship, a dim-witted, narcissistic astronaut named Chuck (voiced by Johnson, although I never would've known because he sounds so different). Even though he has no intention of harming anyone and comes across as nothing but friendly, what the green people see is nothing but one ugly creature intent on hurting their peaceful planet. So they start fleeing—immediately.
But once Lem (Justin Long), a science geek who just scored his first professional gig, actually starts spending time with Chuck, he quickly realizes that his people are wrong and hopes to convince them of Chuck's good qualities.
Unfortunately, everyone is too busy trying to escape from Chuck to hear, let alone give much thought to Lem's findings, which eventually gets him into one sticky situation after the next. But even in the movie's more dramatic moments, there's a whimsical, madcap spirit that prevents things from ever growing too dark or serious.
Sprinkled in with all the silliness, the kind that would be quasi-entertaining to anyone younger than, say, 10, there are few valuable insights, too. Revolving around familiar, well-covered territory like friendship, not judging people too quickly (or harshly) and the importance of figuring out why we believe something, rather than simply accepting a truth we really haven't researched ourselves, Planet 51 is definitely deeper than some kiddie fare goes, but isn't exactly revelatory.
And sadly, that statement pretty much sums up its value in terms of overall entertainment value, too. There are a handful of qualities that make Planet 51 out of this world, but far more that don't, unfortunately. Trust me, those matinee dollars would be far better spent seeing something else.
- Drugs/Alcohol: A young child starts chugging cough syrup when his mother tells him to drink it before the monsters get him (once a "monster" really does show up, well, that's when he starts drinking it in mass amounts).
- Language/Profanity: A couple of rude words that aren't technically expletives, plus the substitute of "frickin" for the "f" word.
- Sex/Nudity: When Captain Charles T. Baker changes back into his spacesuit, he's naked in front of the alien kids, one points out how the male anatomy is "a weird place to put an antenna." The camera also liked drawing attention to the ample cleavage of several of the female characters.
- Violence: There are a few gun fights and suspenseful action scenes where several of the characters are in peril. But really it's more cartoonish than truly scary.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, around the world in 80 dates and blessed are the meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her website.
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