Humans just love hurling themselves into the cosmos, and now that America has a swell moon base (because it is 1980) humans can journey even further into distant space. But when one of the rockets goes missing, a rescue mission is sent, with Captain Frank Chapman (Dean Fredericks) at the controls. The journey is dangerous, as asteroids hurtle around the ship and end up causing it some serious damage. Chapman loses his copilot and finds that his rocket is out of control and hurtling toward one of the larger chunks of space rock.
But he does not find a space slug on this asteroid; instead the atmosphere causes him to shrink down to a handy pocket size. There he meets the Lilliputian people of the planet Rheton. They are lead by the wise Sesom (Francis X. Bushman). There is the sultry Liara (Coleen Grey), the pretty but mute Zetha (Dolores Faith) and the angry Herron (Anthony Dexter). All Chapman wants to do is return to earth, but that may not be so easy. You see the evil Solarites are waging a war against the people or Rheton. Chapman is caught in the middle, and he may have no hope of ever escaping The Phantom Planet.
|Frank is the first known Poke-naut!|
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an astronaut more annoyed to be in outer space than Captain Frank Chapman (even Captain Cameron from Star Trek: Generations seemed more eager to explore the unknown). I’m not sure if it is Fredericks acting or the script or maybe a combination of both, but Chapman just doesn’t see any wonder or awe in space travel. He’s brave, yes, but he’s also kind of a jerk. His first act upon meeting alien life – he attacks it! He is annoyed that the aliens have different rules than the good old U.S. of A! He’s miffed that he isn’t given free reign to wander around the alien world and touch anything he wants. He’s grumpy when two super hot space babes are drooling all over him. And he whines that Rheton isn’t just like Earth. He reminds me of the annoying American tourists who go overseas and complain that the McDonalds doesn’t taste just like the one back home.
|For Makonnen it is all about the good and the beautiful.|
Speaking of maidens, the two ladies of the story do a pretty good job with the roles they are given. Coleen Grey plays the sexy and manipulative Liara very well. Fans of MST3K will recognize her from The Leech Woman. She serves as Franks main source of information about the world of Rheton. She obviously has the hots for him, but mostly because she likes strong men, and Herron just isn’t doing it for her. Not hard to see why since Herron is almost as big a wet blanket as Frank is. Again, I’m not sure if it is the script or the acting, but Dexter doesn’t give the character much life, other than really, really hating Frank.
|Liara is the beautiful and Zetha is the good.|
Francis X. Bushman is probably best known for his role in the silent production of Ben Hur. He certainly has a bit of gravitas and he brings that to role of the wise elder Sessom. He makes the Martian wise man in Santa Claus Conquersthe Martians look like joke. But I do wonder if his performance inspired the similar character in Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space. The other big name (although he was unknown at the time he made the film) is Richard Kiel. He’s in a huge goofy costume and he spends most of his screen time trapped in a futuristic jail cell. I kinda feel bad for Kiel, since he is walking around very gingerly. I’m betting he couldn’t see a darn thing in that outfit. Unfortunately his shambling around and careful motions make him far from frightening. The only monster I’ve seen move slower was Tor Johnson in The Beast of YuccaFlats.
|Flaming popcorn attacks the extra crispy piece.|
But special effects don’t make a film. The story and some of the scientific concepts are what end up scuttling this one. The plot is very predictable, not a bad thing in itself, but our lead is so unlikable. I just want to slap Frank when he starts whining about how Rheton is not like the USA. Well duh! You’re on another planet! Isn’t that why you wanted to be an astronaut in the first place? With this guy being the focus of the film, it’s hard to get too invested in his fate.
|Just to keep things honest, Frank admits that not everything|
shrank in proportion.
In the final analysis, The Phantom Planet isn’t a great movie, but it falls right in the middle of other rocket movies of the era. It certainly could compete with 12 to the Moon or Project: Moonbase, but lacks the interest and dynamics of something like Moon Zero Two or even The First Spaceship on Venus. Still there is more than enough for Mike and bots to work with.
|Somewhere under all that is a very young|
In fact it had been a while since the crew had watched a film in this genre, so I think they were ready to go. The riffing comes pretty strong and steady throughout the film, and fits the pacing that was typical during the Sci-fi Channel years.
|The shoving the bar event will never make|
Mike and the bots have some fun with the asteroids and The Phantom Planet itself. They can’t decide what kind of food they look like, but they come up with all kinds of suggestions. Tom declares them “Honey bunches of DEATH!” and Mike thinks that “Those nooks and crannies really hold the butter.” Then when the doglike Solarites attack, Crow feels that “if the planet didn’t look like a chicken McNugget then the dogs wouldn’t attack.”
|"I think he's running a little rich there."|
During the big finale, as Frank is growing back to normal size, he has a montage of the previous 80 minutes flash back into his brain. Including the scene that happened right before the montage started. Crow gets very irate and yells, “You can’t flash back to something we saw ten seconds ago!” Sad to say, I’ve used that line when watching many movies since then. Note to directors – please heed Crow’s advice. He knows what he’s talking about.
|Mike doesn't seem concerned about the|
good or the beautiful at this point.
|Our hero, about to complain again.|
So I end up give this three good and beautiful mute aliens out of five.
This episode is available on the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection: Volume 8.