Many fans were understandably upset when it was announced that the two features that comprised GRINDHOUSE would be released separately on DVD; the biggest complaint was that by breaking them apart, as well as removing the fake trailers between them, you'd lose the vintage double-bill feel that the movie was supposed to recreate. However, PLANET TERROR (Robert Rodriguez's half, which I enjoyed far more than Tarantino's unbearably talky DEATH PROOF) captures that tone just fine all by itself.
Most of you reading this have already seen it or are familiar with the movie's plot (which is rather simple and straightforward, in keeping with the films it's paying homage to), so I won't rehash it here. What sets PLANET TERROR apart from its lesser counterparts is that instead of simply rehashing the trappings of the drive-in/grindhouse era and calling it a day (witness the plethora of indie flicks coming out that ape the artificially-aged look, as if scratching the shit out of the negative was all that was neccesary), Rodriguez goes that extra mile, imbuing his film with a depth that most grindhouse directors could only dream of having. Sure, it's still lightweight entertainment, something to watch with your brain on autopilot, but Rodriguez understands that just because it's fluff doesn't mean it can't be good.
It's the characterization here that elevates the people of PLANET TERROR above the cardboard ciphers of other B-pics; from the crowd-pleasing presences of Rose McGowan (who I harbored a wicked crush on for days until I realized I was really in love with Cherry Darling) and Marley Shelton to the semi-comedic pairing of Michael Biehn and Jeff Fahey (both of whom could've turned their roles as bickering siblings into parody, but instead manage to wring a little poignancy out of their relationship), the cast comes across as real people in a supremely fucked-up situation. Interestingly, we learn very little about mysterious bad-ass El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) yet he's still more three-dimensional than similar versions of the man without a past.
From its dirty-blues soundtrack to its spectacularly disgusting special effects (though I could've lived without the husky, bristly thighs of Quentin Tarantino, thank you very much), PLANET TERROR is just a flat-out fun movie to watch. I was a little disheartened by the reliance of digital effects--used primarily due to the breakneck pace of the shooting schedule--though it wasn't until I saw Rodriguez's Ten-Minute Film School that I realized just how much CGI trickery was used, most of it too subtle to detect (or distract).
I can't remember which, but some hoity-toity film critic had listed GRINDHOUSE among the best of 2007, and though I commend him for ranking a movie with a go-go dancer with a machine-gun leg alongside THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, said critic spouted some gibberish about its retro-cool look as a metaphor for the unforgettable nature of film. Whatever. You and I both know that Rodriguez and Tarantino have an unabashed love for cinematic black sheep, and when the directors of PULP FICTION and SIN CITY get together the end result is going to be not only worthwhile, but one for the ages.