B-Movie Inspirations: Dark Planet (1997)

Rating: R

Coming across this in my Netflix list, and I thought “how bad could it be with Michael York?” Come on! Logan from Logan’s Run? 1997 was a time when CGI sci-fi flicks were coming out a dime a dozen and many of them had halfway decent effects. Babylon 5 was at its peak. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was hot also. Putting all that in perspective, I really thought this movie had potential.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here is the Netflix teaser of the movie:

Reeling from the destruction of World War VI, planet Earth is dying. When scientists discover a potentially habitable planet, a brave navigator leads an exploration mission. Soon, however, political treachery threatens the mission and the crew.

Conceptually, the plot has potential. It was in execution that it failed. The thing that turns people off is the special effects. So poorly done, it reminds me of cardboard cutouts being slide across a canvas.  I am not entirely sure they were CGI but if they were, it was bad, really bad.  The 1970s Italian cheesy movies I watched had better special effects.  However, I made the best of it and tried to watch it for the story.  At points, it was rather good but still budgetary issues prevented them from exploring the true potential of the world the writer created.

It is 2638 and there are only two factions left on Earth after 6 world wars (3 of which occurred in the past 200 years) – the dominant militaristic Alphas, a genetically engineered superior race, and the “mutated” Rebels (they could have come up with a better name than that).  Earth is dying.  You find out later that humanity is dying out.  The two warring factions have to come together for one final mission to save what is left of mankind.  A rogue pilot and apparently a war criminal naked Anson Hawke stumbled across a wormhole somewhere out there in the depths of space and on the other side, he found a livable world.  A team of Alphas and a team of Rebels are assembled and with Hawke’s help plan to traverse the wormhole to lay claim to that world.  Unfortunately, deep seeded mistrust and hatred take over and things go badly.

In the end, it is revealed that the Alphas want to launch a satellite on the other side of the wormhole to make it impossible to navigate unless you have certain codes or tech that allows you to bypass the satellites interference.  This of course will make the wormhole useable by only one side.  The heroes have to stop the launch of the satellite before they reach the other side.

Not only are the special effects bad, but the dialogue is bad too.  Plot devices are laid out in contrived and entirely too convenient times and thus filling plot holes just in time. I like the idea behind the plot, but like I said the execution of said plot was extremely poor.  Michael York is good in it but the rest of the actors need work.  Some of the others that I expected to have bigger parts did not.  Actors like Ed O’Ross and Phil Morris (look them both up and you will recognize them or you will recognize their work) played much smaller parts than I expected and could have added more story to the movie if the writers had let them.

 

ff_d_14753_0_darkplanet

Despite all that, there are still some RPG plot gems in this movie that I got out of it.

  • Finding a new home – There are a lot of sci-fi settings where humans have one way or another rendered Earth useless and go out among the stars searching for a new home.  Most assume by that time, humans have figured out faster than light travel.  But what if we haven’t?  Where will we go?  This is a subtle central theme to the movie.  Because of all the wars we have gone through, we never discovered faster than light travel.  This wormhole is humanity’s only hope of escape from our own solar system.  This is a cool setting waiting to happen.  Even though this movie executed the mechanics of the story poorly, the concept has a lot of adventure potential.
  • Factions Fighting Over Essential Technology — I read a brilliant book by Timothy Zahn named The Icarus Hunt. In it, a ship holds the key to breaking the monopoly a particular race holds on a particular essential technology.  Several factions fight over it.  I used that idea in one of my campaigns a long time ago.  This movie has two factions (which is kind of boring in my opinion) fighting over the only means to escape a dying home world. All onboard one ship.  This can easily be done in any setting.  The key is the factions and the setting.  Is it s steamliner in a modern or modern historical setting, a sailboat in a fantasy setting or a starship in sci-fi setting.  Either way, cooping up 3 or 4 factions in one place for a period of time is just asking for trouble.
  • Wormholes to Somewhere – A mysterious wormhole opening up somewhere is an adventure in and of itself.  In any setting, it could take the adventurers to a new world.  It can be used to cross genres.  Or it could be a trap set by a bad guy.  The central gimmick of  the movie and TV series Stargate was a wormhole.  It has all kinds of potential if used right.