As a 70s kid I spent lots of time watching the spooky late night movies on UHF television. In the days before DVRs, DVDs, VHS or even Beta, this was the only way to see many of the obscure monster movies or sci-fi spectaculars mentioned in such research periodicals as FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND or THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS. So just imagine it's 11pm, way past your normal bedtime, you've just adjusted the rabbit ears for the seventy-eighth time, and now begins tonight's feature, brought to you by Gallery Furniture ("Hey! Ask for the Wolfman!").
Perhaps the "quilted - for softness!" logo of tonight's feature, THE PHANTOM PLANET, brings back shuddering memories of seeing this featured in a very special episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. But before Mike & the bots were forced to endure the film, yes, even before legions of sleepy-eyed kids challenged themselves to stay awake for the entire movie, there was... PHANTOM PLANET, THE COMIC.
Yes Virginia, there IS a Phantom Planet comic. BUT. Does it live up (or down) to the promise of Phantom Planet, the Movie? Let's find out.
Up, down, sideways - with the first panel of crewcut, dress-uniformed Air Force space jockeys squinting and panicking, we know we're in for quite a stiffly-drawn, incoherent ride to the Phantom Planet and back. You launch tomorrow morning Frank! And since a day on the moon lasts 27 Earth days, you've got at least two weeks to get ready!!
Soon the needle-nosed, finned, streamlined Pegasus is blasting through the vacuum of space, where streamlining and directional surfaces are completely useless, hoping to sort of tool around aimlessly until they happen to see something that looks out of place. That's some good scientific research planning there, guys.
Frank's co-pilot Ray used to be a minister, and then his wife died, and he took his Doctor Of Divinity degree over to the Air Force and they made him a spaceman. I guess ministers and astronauts share a lot of classes. It's important to know that Ray used to be a minister because it explains why he delivers the film's most famous dialog, a weirdly philosophical sequence that makes no sense until you know his backstory. You know the line I'm talking about...
Go on, say it out loud. "You know Captain, every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and the best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful. If you just take the time to look at it."
While in outer space the Pegasus is crippled by both a meteorite strike and the failure of two of its "rocket tubes". This means both spacemen are forced to venture outside the ship, into the vacuum of space, untethered by any safety lines, with only their "leaded boots" keeping them firmly anchored to the spaceship's hull! Because... lead... heavy... um....
Ray's minister training comes in handy when he's jolted from the side of the ship, doomed to suffocate and die drifting alone in space. Even his leaded boots couldn't save him. Tragedies like this could be avoided if these astronauts were, I dunno given the safety training a first-day trainee sewer worker gets. I'm just sayin'.
Safely back in the spaceship, Frank notices the OPEN HATCH and immediately realizes something terrible has happened - all the air in the ship has rushed out into space and he's dying of several very painful and messy physiological malfunctions. Also, Ray has gone to wherever it is the good and the beautiful and the wisest and the best go. Buzzzz.
I dunno about you guys, but the first thing I do when approaching an unknown asteroid is to grab the tape recorder and start recording everything that's happened so far. It helps the dimmer members of the audience get up to speed on all the crazy spaceship-meteors-wisest-and-best action. And now on with our story.
Tripped by Lilliputians! That's the kind of bold action we expect from America's spacemen.
Meanwhile back on the Moon, the Colonel waves his fist in defiance at the devil or the man or the Phantom Planet! For hours!
And on that Phantom Planet, Frank Chapman finds he's shrunk to the size of a tiny toy doll, helpfully clad in tiny toy gym shorts! I bet he's glad he brought those along.
Wait a minute... big throne, bearded guy, day of judgement... this is a Jack Chick comic, isn't it. I knew it.
Seriously though, here we are on another planet populated by stone age midgets... what we need is some big chunks of expository dialog!
Thank you comic, we're up to speed. Mindreading through voice pitch, sexually agressive brunettes, mute blondes being reached by the Earthman as no man has reached her before... where are we going with this, Phantom Planet?
Turns out Rehton the Phantom Planet is such a precariously feeble little aggregate of space rocks that just one more spaceship landing or taking off would cause the entire asteroid to blow up in a giant explosion. You'd think this comic is setting us up for something that might happen later! And now, Frank Chapman of Earth, you are free to go. Just don't blow us up.
If only Frank Chapman knew that the Colonel was planning on personally leading the search party to bring him back! Then maybe he wouldn't be succumbing to the charms of Liara. On the other hand, she says she'll be a faithful mate. And nothing really matters! Why not.
"We gave up space flight, to live a simple life of simple pleasures. Working with our hands, loving good women. Have you chosen a woman yet? I'm kind of fixated on that, the woman thing."
Showing the firm determination and quick decision-making skills of America's Spacemen, Chapman lets Pushy Brunette push him around.
Annnd... cut away from the sexy seduction scene to a shot of the long, pointy rocket penetrating the void of space. Wow, okay thanks, who's got a cigarette?
Doomed to live out my tiny life on this remote asteroid! How can I manage to make my existence even slightly bearable? OH HELLO THERE, BLONDE MUTE GIRL WHO IS STRANGELY ATTRACTED TO ME.
"... two promotions, and moon base. I'm not boring you with all this talk about things you've never seen and places you will never go to ever and know nothing about whatsoever? No? Good."
Uh oh, turns out bigamy is a crime THROUGHOUT THE UNIVERSE. Bad luck for the Mormon space program! YES I WENT THERE.
Challenged to a gravity-rod death duel by Herron, the comic treats us to an ambitious sequence involving a giant rock being held aloft by the struggling brawn of Chapman vs Herron. How well does the film portray this thrilling scene?
Not nearly as well. The cheerleaders are a nice touch, though.
As an American Spaceman Comic Book Hero, Chapman decides he'll be merciful in victory. And does this ever impress the ladies!!
That night Herron sneaks into Chapman's room to kill him, but has a change of heart and decides to help Chapman escape by getting him to his space suit and letting him drift around in space until the Air Force finds him. In other words, Herron's come up with a murder plan that looks a LOT more like accidental death. Good for you Herron!
The only fun on Rehton- besides the love of a good woman- is throwing rocks at the captive Solarite, seen here in one panel. In the actual film the captive Solarite escapes and menaces people for a while because you can't have a movie like PHANTOM PLANET without a monster menacing somebody in at least one scene. The movie has the guts to show us the monstrous Solarite in every chilling detail.
There you have it folks, the horrible Solarite. Some scary stuff, eh kids?
Thankfully the Rehtons triumph and the Solarite space fleet, which is represented her by darts thrown by some guys down at the local bar, and in the film by pieces of Colonel Sanders' Extra Crispy Fried Chicken, is smashed against Rehton's force field. A triumph for little guys everywhere!
And what's this? Colonel Shake His Fist For Hours has made good on his promise to personally lead the rescue mission? Get into your suit and start breathing that oxygen, Chapman, it's time to go home!
COULD IT HAVE ALL BEEN A DREAM? Rehton, Sesom, Solarites, two chicks at once? One of these things is MORE of a dream than the others, even for Frank Chapman.
And there she goes. Rehton and all the tiny people, blasted into bits by the unthinking landing and blastoff of Colonel I will Find You. So ends the thrilling saga of THE PHANTOM PLANET. Don't forget your leaded boots, astronauts, and remember; every year of my life I grow more and more convinced that the wisest and the best is to fix our attention on the good and the beautiful.
If you just take the time to look at it.
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