** (out of 5)
November 20, 2009
Dwanye Johnson as CAPTAIN CHARLES T. BAKER
Jessica Biel as NEERA
Justin Long as LEM
Gary Oldman as GENERAL GRAWL
Seann William Scott as SKIFF
John Cleese as PROFESSOR KIPPLE
Studio: Tri-Star Pictures
Directed by: Jorge Blanco
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There was a time, and it was only just a couple years ago, that being a computer animated film was a definite mark of quality. This had to do with the fact that it was a very new process, and the main competition was with the Pixar and DreamWorks PDI studios. Since the industry has matured, and smaller studios have dipped their toes in the CGI water, the quality has shifted, and not every CGI release is going to be great.
Sure, a movie can look fantastic, but it no longer is a given that the story, characters and other filmmaking elements are going to be that good. (Of course, some movies like “Delgo” fail on all the levels.)
For what it’s worth, “Planet 51” looks pretty cool. It’s relatively cartoony, and the CGI process looks pretty neat. Even the animated version of the human doesn’t look creepy or weird, which is not always a given. However, the film itself really isn’t that great.
The story takes place on an alien world that inexplicably emulates our own 1950s culture, so much so that the aliens have a level of naivete about science and the universe that they believe space is only a few hundred miles long. The inhabitants of this planet are filled with fear about alien invaders, for no other reason that they assume the invaders will eat their brains and make them zombies.
One bright, sunny day, an American space capsule lands with Captain Charles T. Baker (voiced by Dwayne Johnson) ready to step out and claim the land for the planet Earth. He’s dismayed and terrified to learn that despite his roving robot had reporting there to be no life on the surface, it’s teeming with little green paranoid men. The alien government seizes his capsule, and it’s up to a friendly alien teenager to help him escape the planet.
There are so many places this movie goes wrong, in terms of story and character. When Baker first encounters teenage alien Lem (Justin Long), they just gasp in wonder, “You speak my language!” with no further explanation. I know it’s silly to have alien races speak perfect English a la “Star Trek” and “Stargate: SG-1,” but I’d rather have no acknowledgement of this issue than no explanation.
But this is indicative of the lazy writing behind “Planet 51.” Not only is there forced situations and scenes that don’t even make sense in movie-land (like the roving robot only bringing rocks back, thus implying there’s no life on the planet), but the film paints Baker as a bumbling doofus who doesn’t even understand science.
“Planet 51” makes no sense, simultaneously trying to spoof 50s sci-fi cinema and going for a fish-out-of-water slapstick comedy. The story has no natural flow to it, and the characters often make little sense in their actions, with the example being some aliens just acting like they’re mind-numbed zombies for no apparent reason.
Kids will enjoy this wacky ride through an alien world, but a brilliant Pixar movie, this ain’t. If you’ve seen “Space Chimps,” you can expect the same level of quality. It’s not excruciating, but it’s entirely forgettable. “Planet 51” seems more at home in a block of cartoon programming on television than in the multiplex. Sigh… perhaps it will play better on home video.