Fans were thrilled to hear that directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarnantino were collaborating on an old-fashioned horror double-feature called "Grindhouse". Surprisingly, the lengthy film didn't get quite the reception that it expected, as some audiences reportedly left part way through the double feature because they weren't aware that two films were included. Given the reception, the films were then broken up for their European release, as well as on DVD, which has upset some fans who wanted to see both films together as originally intended.
The second film to hit DVD is the first film of the two, Robert Rodriguez's "Planet Terror" ("Death Proof" is already out, and there is a $5 coupon for it included here for those who haven't gotten that yet.) "Planet" is the more action-oriented of the two films, and concerns a biological weapon getting out after a deal goes wrong between Abby (Naveen Andrews, of "Lost") and a rogue Army officer (an uncredited cameo whose identity I won't reveal.
Meanwhile, a Doctor (Josh Brolin, who plays the role exactly spot-on) who has to deal with the patients coming in with strange symptoms has started to wonder if his wife is sneaking around behind his back. El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez), a drifter with a mysterious past, has come back into town and meets up with his old gal pal, a stripper named Cherry (Rose McGowan). Cherry loses a leg when a zombie gets her, which is replaced soon enough with a gun to try and fend off the approaching zombie crowds.
As for the zombies, their numbers grow increasingly higher as those bitten eventually turn to bloodthirsty zombies themselves. Eventually, we're left with Cherry, El Wray, a couple of cops and a few others trying to fight their way out of a very bad night. As a badass, fun zombie flick, the movie works: it doesn't take itself overly seriously, offers up some pretty good action sequences, good performances and - in an era of quite a few PG-13 horror films, "Planet Terror" is certainly rated R for a reason.
The performances are solid, and even some of the lesser actors do a superb job playing up the tone of the movie. McGowan makes a pretty good femme fatale and Rodriguez is turned into an engaging action hero. Brolin is wonderfully creepy, and Tarantino even finds his way into the film for a cameo. Director Robert Rodriguez has guided the cast through this material quite well and has managed to get some terrifically gross effects on a low budget, too.
The only aspect of the film's visuals that goes off-the-rails is the fake wear that has been digitally applied to make this look like a print that has been to about 50 too many theatres. Whereas Tarantino's half of "Grindhouse" used the fake wear enough to give it a "look", Rodriguez goes overboard and it sometimes becomes distracting. A "reel missing" gag is amusing, though.
This is the "unrated, extended" edition, which runs 105 minutes.
VIDEO: The film is presented by Genius Products/Weinstein Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. One big note: the scratches, marks and other debris on the elements that are occasionally seen are intentionally added in to give the film the look of a 70's horror picture that has been through a lengthy run at run-down theatres. Rodriguez has done this to a greater degree than Tarantino did for his portion of the film, as "Planet Terror" looked more "fake worn" to me than "Death Proof" did. Other than that, the picture looked as intended: sharpness and detail are just fine, and no edge enhancement or artifacting were spotted. It's hard to say that this presentation looks good, because it's not supposed to, but it does appear to be accurate to the intent.
SOUND: The film's soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Although the audio is also intended to have a low-budget feel (and there are some little pops and other little instances of distortion added in to give the film's sound the same worn feel as the visuals.)
EXTRAS: Robert Rodriguez offers an audio commentary for the film. As per usual, the director's commentary is quite insightful and informative, offering an organized and engaging discussion of nearly every aspect of the picture. We hear about casting, trying to stay on a low budget, effects, schedule and working on the score. The director also points out the small changes between the "Grindhouse" cut of the film and this extended edition. We also get an "audience reaction track", which essentially is a recording of an audience cheering and whatnot during a screening. The first disc also offers an international poster gallery, international trailer and sneak peeks for other titles from the studio.
The second disc starts off with another edition of the director's famed "10-Minute Film School". This time around, the director talks about different touches that were used to keep the budget down so that there would still be money left for Tarantino to make his half of "Grindhouse". Over the course of the featurette, we see how both the physical and digital effects were done to keep costs down (the cast and crew was excited that they would be going to Mexico to film temples and a nearby beach, but it was only the director that went to film - the cast that was supposed to be in a beach scene were standing in a sand pile in a parking lot with a green screen background - the temples and beach were put in later.)
"The Guys of Planet Terror" and "The Badass Babes of Planet Terror" are short featurettes that look into the cast. We also get "Casting Rebel", which looks into the director's kid getting a role in the movie. Finally, there's also looks at the film's stunts ("Sickos, Bullets and Explosions: The Stunts of Planet Terror") and casting the director's friends ("The Friend, the Doctor and the Real Estate Agent"). The commentary and the "Film School" featurettes are excellent, but the remainder of the featurettes are very average and rather thin.
Final Thoughts: As a badass, fun zombie flick, the movie works: it doesn't take itself overly seriously, offers up some pretty good action sequences, good performances and a lot of gross effects and zombie mayhem. Recommended.
The Film B+