Planet 51 Review

Planet 51 knows nothing of Earth. The inhabitants have never heard of it, and think the galaxy is only five hundred miles long. However, major Earth corporations have oddly sprung up on 51, complete with their same familiar branding, logos, and colors. Kelloggs advertises on comic books, and Volkswagen powers their hover cars.

That is just one part of Planet 51 that lacks creativity. The artists and writers behind this chose to make the society like a version of 1950s America, allowing for subtle and not-so-subtle references to the decades love of alien invasion films. The key problem with that is the planet simply becomes Earth, only with green people and the xenomorph from Alien as a pet.

That does sort of explain why cocky, arrogant and oddly unlikable Earth astronaut Charles T. Baker (Dwayne Johnson) takes so easily to this extraterrestrial planet. Their customs, actions, and lifestyles are the same as those on Earth. We never see the “adjustment” phase, the one where the new guy struggles with the technology of the day, or has the awkward moment when he fails to understand the customs of these foreign people. Sure, he freaks out at the sight of an alien, but bonds quickly and the adventure abruptly begins.

Everything on Planet 51 is oddly round. It is not so much a visual motif to make Charles stand out as it is a rather repetitious design. Even the planet’s clouds are circular. Comic books have a needless circle in their corner. Maybe it is an attempt to make the world seem friendlier as to not scare children, although when you have to explain what the corks are going to be used for afterwards, that softer design is rather pointless.

There is a bit of potential in the concept here, playing with a fun role reversal, and undoubtedly the trailers did their job at selling it. As a 90-minute feature, Planet 51 lacks legs, where as a 30 or so minute short could have crammed the frame with in-jokes and references. Here, they are spread thin after the first act (which contains a fun, accurate little reference to the ‘50s creature feature classic Them!).

Planet 51 is free of the heavy-handed messages teaching kids to do right, refreshing in a way. That does make it sort of difficult to explain to a younger set why the arrogant, bull-headed astronaut never learns anything, but as pure escapism, the action and green aliens minus pants (except the females?) will probably keep their minds busy enough.

Movie ★★☆☆☆ 

The opening shot of Planet 51 is of a night sky with the moon shining on the bottom of the frame, and that leads to some extensive banding. Not the best way to start an AVC encode. Thankfully, aside from a few marginal instances of the same banding elsewhere, this one is a stunner. Sharpness is superb, delivering the details of the environments beautifully. From the concrete textures to the individual blades of grass, this spectacular display of high-definition content never lets up.

The aliens themselves are flatly designed. Their skin offers little to gawk at, although subtle color gradiances with spots are clearly noted. Their clothes, where applicable, fully resolve every stitch. Charles’ space suit contains some small objects that are equally impressive. Long shots of the alien city are jaw dropping, filled with trees and visible buildings deep into the frame.

Contrast is suitably bright, and the black levels deliver a rich, dimensional image. Colors, while not as heavily saturated as, say, a Monsters Inc., still carry a vibrant natural quality. Alien green offers plenty to gawk at. The image is free of any nasty digital artifacts such as ringing or edge enhancement.

Video ★★★★★ 

Sony offers a crystal clear uncompressed DTS-HD effort that is aggressive, forceful, and vivid. There is little doubt directionality is top tier. Tracking from side to side, front to back, or across the sound field is dead on. Separation between channels is flawless, whether during the action sequences or during basic dialogue as a character chats while walking side to side.

Everything is in perfect balance, the beefy LFE work never overpowering the high end. Charles’ ship landing is spectacular, with the roar of the thrusters deeply extended into the low end, and the flames cleanly hitting the five available channels. The score and dialogue are well prioritized, best exampled during the finale as an entire structure begins to collapse, mixing all available elements.

The score is rich and full, if not memorable in any way. Clarity is superb, and it bleeds nicely into the surrounds for a fine immersive quality.

Audio ★★★★★ 

Three extended scenes begin a basic, boring selection of bonus features. The World of Planet 51 is a showcase of all environments used in the film. Life on Planet 51 follows the usual promotional path of making-ofs, followed by a brief look at the characters.

Six progression reels is the best technical piece you’ll find at 16-minutes long. A music video montage, dull shooting game, trailers, and typical Sony BD-Live support remain.

Extras ★★☆☆☆ 

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