How the MST3K gang missed this one I do not know.
When a starship explodes, a handful of survivors escape in a shuttle and crash on a planet inhabited by dinosaurs. It's a promising premise for a b movie. In almost every respect, however, this 1978 film, obviously inspired by the success of Star Wars, fails to deliver anything save for slavish imitation and unintended laughs.
The ship, named the Odyssey, features Star Wars nodules and Enterprise nacelles. The crash has been copied from Planet of the Apes. The first monster attack occurs in the water and echoes the events and music from the opening of Jaws. The dinosaurs have clearly been inspired by Ray Harryhausen's work, and they can be killed with spears and weapons dipped in the ridiculously quick-acting poison taken from a convenient species of berry. The score makes heavy use of synthesizer. The costumes look like unlicensed Space: 1999 sleepwear. The only thing this film fails to steal is the quality of any of its sources.
That's correct. Space: 1999 looks like a masterpiece next to this motion picture.
The opening space effects are actually quite bad, but the dinosaurs have been brought to life with excellent stop-motion. Unlike most of the actors, the effects wizards would have successful careers. The model animators also knew their history. Planet of the Dinosaurs features the second-ever appearance of a rhedosaur, otherwise known as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. It makes a nice tribute. Alas, the beasts seem less impressive when they interact with humans. Digital compositing did not exist in 1978, and even big-budget films from the past do not blend footage seamlessly. It does not help, of course, that few of the cast can actually act.
The casting director clearly preferred looks to talent. While Max Thayer made a career for himself and James Whitworth was all over period exploitation flicks, most of the performers did few other films before or after this one. It's pretty clear why.
Despite the story's SF action flick potential, the plot plods predictably along, and more than once the characters do really stupid things guaranteed to draw another monster attack—- which, in all fairness, is the only reason the audience came to this film.
Spoilers, if anyone cares
The ending flashes forward some years in the future, where our two surviving couples raise their young children and wonder if they'll ever be rescued. One of the women looks back on their quaint space hippie commune and says that "somehow, it doesn't matter anymore." Um.... Honey, in another generation, it's going to matter quite a bit.
If you ever wanted to see women in disco sleepwear and guys with 70s porn 'staches battle model dinosaurs, then you must watch Planet of the Dinosaurs. Like the great terrible lizards of the Cretaceous, it represents the end of an era. Hollywood would stop making this particular sort of bad movie days after the credits rolled on this one.
For all its ineptitude, this is a piece of cinematic history.
Director: Joseph K. Shea
Writers: Jim Aupperle, Ralph Lucas
Effects by Jim Aupperle and Doug Beswick
James Whitworth as Jim
Pamela Bottaro as Nyla
Louie Lawless as Captain Lee Norsythe
Harvey Shain as Harvey Baylor
Charlotte Speer as Charlotte
Chuck Pennington as Chuck
Derna Wylde as Derna
Mary Appleseth as Cindy
Max Thayer as Mike