To put this film in context straight away, it's made by a bunch of Scottish lads from Aberdeen who filmed the entire movie in eight days on the freezing beeches of Balmedie for a mere GB£8000.
Now that is in context for you let me tell you how good this is. It's perhaps the best low budget SciFi film I've ever seen. It has a strong story which is told well, it features surprisingly non-amateur actors, some convincing special effects, and looks like a film that cost ten times what it did. Most importantly I was actually taken in by the story.
The first thing that strikes you are the opening special effects and music, they combine to give a convincing attempt at the higher end of special effects. What is produced is more akin to early Babylon 5, but that's still saying a huge accomplishment for what they've this film. As the fim continues I did feel the effects were less convincing, perhaps because they all featured humanoid characters, but never enough to take you take you out of the film. Remember, the budget for this film is incredible, we're not expecting Star Wars.
What takes it leaps forward is the combination of how these shots are directed and how the music is combined. Rather than sitting back and watching the models being moved around screen there's been a lot of thought put into where the camera should be and how it should take you into the action. When these elements are brought together there's a distinct space adventure feel, and it does capture you as a real feature film and not a low budget, amateur movie.
One of the best areas this has been done in is the location. It has all been filmed on a local beach near Aberdeen, and for those of you who don't know Balmedie or the North Sea, it's freezing! There's a fabulous job done of making the beach seem believable as a distant planet, which is just another example of the strong and positive work behind the film.
The film tells a simple story of a crew of privateer soldiers who are transporting a precious cargo of one single prisoner. Suddenly, near an uncharted and unknown planet raiders appear out of nowhere, destroy the ship, and force the small group of survivors to the strange planet. Left stranded they begin to witness some strange occurences, and before long they are caught in a battle that is for much more than just their lives.
What is apparent is the quality of the acting. Some of the actors are very convincing, and once I got used to the unusual aspect of North East accents being in a Sci-Fi film, I was taken in by some of their performances. Engineer played by Scott Ironside, 2nd in command played by Patrick Wight and, at times, the Captain played by Mike Mitchell, were the best performances in the group. I have to say Mike because you should see the size of that guy!
That's not to say the other actors aren't good, no they are quite good, but they do have that non-professional feel to them. There's no bad acting though and we do have to remember the budget and the fact it was all locally made.
This is a key thing to remember. The film can't be compared against The Departed (review), this is a first time feature with some first time feature actors, and it has to be viewed and reviewed as such. Comparing it against a standard budget film just wouldn't be fair. Yet it does do a great job of putting itself in higher consideration.
These filmmakers have captured some of the essence of feature making and pulled that into this film, and in some areas they out perform some Hollywood films. For example the story never over explains itself and tries to verbally cover every avenue of the story, a typical Hollywood annoying trait, it does try and credit the audience with a degree of intelligence. The marines are just that soldiers, and so lines like "I don't know. You need a scientist for this, I just fix things" allow characters to stick to their roles and never try and point the way for the audience.
That said there are times when there needed to be a little more than there was. For instance there could have been a little more to flesh out the character of the prisoner, and to give the audience a greater understanding of the levity of the ending. For me it did turn into a monster picture at that point and the work done to give it a weighty plot which would carry a much greater significance than the characters would understand, seems lost. The effects and the creature take over and there's some confusion as the plot feels slightly abandoned.
Overall I was quite amazed at what had been achieved with local talent, locations and such a small budget. These guys have produced a very competent Sci-Fi that does exactly what it says on the tin. Sure it's no Alien or Predator, but give them that kind of budget and some of that talent and I wouldn't be surprised if they could do just that. Well done to these guys, it makes me proud to have been an Aberdonian.
Making of Feature
Also supplied on the DVD is perhaps the best example of a Making of feature that I've seen. It delves into all aspects of the two week shoot. It's exteremely insightful and entertaining, actually it's quite funny in places, and you really get a sense of who these guys are.
The accents are very strong though, so if you have trouble with understanding the Scots dialect then you will surely struggle with a thick Aberdonian accent. However it's well worth it. Watching this feature added so much to the experience of the film and really gives you an understanding of how much went into the film, not only in time and effort, but in the filmmakers passion as well.
One of the most interesting parts of this is the explanation of how they have been totatlly shunned by Scottish Screen. This is an organisation that is supposed to help the Scottish film industry, but just seems intent on churning out budget Hollywood pulp about Scotland. As long as it has kilts, ceilidhs or violence, as is said at one point on the feature, then they're interested.
These guys were told that Scottish Screen were not interested in them because they dealt with professionals, not homemade videos. So the lesson here is if you want to get started in Scottish filmmaking you have to have millions for your budget and an entire Hollywood crew. At one point Mark Stirton points out that they weren't just saying they weren't interested in the film, they weren't interested in anything they were doing. Now for an organisation that is supposed to promote Scottish filmmakers that's extremely short sighted. Thank the lord that they managed to get this made without them and have proven them so wrong.
There is talent in Scotland, and these guys are showing it can come from the most unlikely of places.
UK IMDB Film Details
The Planet official site