Planet Terror appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. How in the world do I objectively critique a film with so many intentional flaws? Carefully, I guess.
As the prior statement implied, the major issue here came from print defects. Terror wants to look like a flick that’s been run through the projector about 2000 times. That means plenty of blemishes, scratches, streaks, breaks, gaps and misfires. Every single one was put there on purpose, so it becomes a mistake to really call them “print defects” – they’re stylistic choices. I can’t say they distract because they fit the goofy nature of the production, but they certainly crop up with great frequency.
Otherwise, Proof looked quite good. Sharpness only occasionally betrayed any concerns. A few shots came across as a little soft, but the majority of the flick seemed well-defined and concise. No jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and I noticed no edge enhancement.
Colors tended to be a bit oversaturated and heavy, but this was another stylistic choice. Toxic green was the dominant hue, all intended to match the poison gas. The movie wanted a dense Seventies feel and it achieved that goal. Overall, the hues appeared pretty warm and rich, and they matched the tone of the movie. Blacks were deep and dense, and shadows showed really nice delineation. Because so many of the “flaws” were intentional, I couldn’t fault the transfer for them. This was a solid reproduction of the film.
As for the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Planet Terror, it also succeeded – though I’d have preferred a more limited scope. Personally, I think the flick should’ve better embraced its Seventies inspirations and gone with a straight mono mix. That’s what a movie of this one’s ilk would’ve boasted 30 years ago; the decision to give it a worn-out Seventies look but a modern sound didn’t make sense to me.
Despite my mild disappointment with that choice, I can’t knock the results, as the track seemed very strong. The soundfield boasted many opportunities to open up the action, and it did so well. With all the gunfire, explosions and other moving elements, the effects made sure to put us in the center of the mayhem. All five channels received good usage, as the track blasted at us from start to finish. This was an active, involving soundfield.
At all times, audio quality excelled. Speech was consistently natural and concise, without edginess or other issues. Music sounded terrific, as both songs and score seemed lively and dynamic. Effects fell into the same range. Those elements were accurate and vivid. I found a lot to like in this mix.
As we shift to the extras on this two-disc set, we begin on DVD One with an audio commentary from director Robert Rodriguez. He provides a running, screen-specific chat. He starts with a few notes about the Machete trailer before he gets into the script and its development, working within the “grindhouse” motif, cast, characters and performances, music and editing, sets and locations, changes made for the longer cut of the film, effects, and a few stories.
I really enjoyed past Rodriguez commentaries, and this one continued that streak. I do have to admit, however, that Rodriguez doesn’t provide the same whirlwind fact-a-second tour we usually hear. He’s still informative throughout the chat, but he goes silent more often than normal – primarily because he almost never slows in his other commentaries – and he just seems a little less involved than normal.
Regard these criticisms as nit-picks, though, as even half-speed Rodriguez is still more interesting than 99 percent of the other directors out there. This is another good chat with plenty of useful notes. (I do hope someone tells him that an “anecdote” is a story, not a shot used to cure an illness, though. It’s a little embarrassing when he says “anecdote” instead of “antidote” twice!)
Another audio option comes to us via an audience reaction track. This lets you feel like part of the crowd as you watch the flick accompanied by the recorded hoots and hollers from a Terror screening. And when I say “you”, I mean “you”, as in “not me”. If I watch to watch a movie at home, I don’t need to hear the reaction of some yahoos. Anyway, it’s there if you want it.
In the International Poster Gallery, we find 35 stills. Most of these cover Terror, but we also get a few ads for Machete, the currently non-existent flick advertised during Grindhouse. We also locate the International Trailer for Terror and a few more promos under Sneak Peeks. That area touts Death Proof, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, 1408 and Black Sheep.
Over on DVD Two, we find six featurettes. 10-Minute Film School actually runs 11 minutes, 52 seconds as Rodriguez as he discusses various effects like Cherry’s leg, aging the film and tints, stunts and a few other visual elements. Though much of the information repeats from the commentary, the presence of demo footage makes “School” valuable. We get to see the different stages and work done to bring the elements to life. The combination of good notes and cool footage allow “School” to become a strong program.
For the 11-minute and 49-second The Badass Babes of Planet Terror, we hear from Rodriguez, and actors Rose McGowan, Marley Shelton, Stacy Ferguson, Electra Amelia Avellan and Electra Isabel Avellan. “Babes” looks at the movie’s female characters and the actors who play them. Again Rodriguez repeats some info from his commentary, but the show broadens out enough to become engaging and useful.
Next we learn about The Guys of Planet Terror. In this 16-minute and 31-second piece, we find remarks from Rodriguez, McGowan, Shelton, producer/actor Quentin Tarantino, and actors Freddy Rodriguez, Naveen Andrews, Josh Brolin, Michael Biehn, Jeff Fahey and Tom Savini. “Guys” offers a male version of “Babes”. It offers the same pros and cons, so it’s another good show.
Casting Rebel goes for five minutes, 33 seconds and features Rodriguez, Shelton, Brolin and actor Rebel Rodriguez. We hear a little about how Rodriguez cast his own son in the role and the kid’s performance. There’s nothing much new in this short piece, as most of the info comes up during the commentary.
After this we go to the 13-minute and 17-second Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror. We hear from Rodriguez, McGowan, Shelton, Freddy Rodriguez, stunt coordinator Jeff Dashaw, and special effects coordinator John McLeod. The featurette looks at various stunts, some weapons training, and other action elements. Plenty of good behind the scenes footage helps make this another fun and informative piece.
Finally, The Friend, The Doctor and The Real Estate Agent fills six minutes, 41 seconds with notes from Rodriguez, Shelton, Brolin and actors Skip Reissig and Dr. Felix Sabates. We hear about some of the non-professionals who act in the movie. Once more, Rodriguez’s commentary renders this one somewhat superfluous. It’s fine on its own, but you won’t find much that you don’t already know.
Theatrically, Planet Terror seemed like the better half of Grindhouse, but in retrospect, I no longer like it as much as its partner. Terror throws enough at us to entertain through one screening, but when seen again, its grossness and one-dimensionality wears thin. The DVD offers intentionally flawed picture that nonetheless matches the filmmakers’ intentions. Audio seems great, while extras fill out the set in a good manner. I can recommend a rental of this since I think the film entertains the first time through, but I don’t feel it holds up to additional screenings.