Journey to Planet X is a documentary about Troy and Eric, a pair of middle-aged Florida scientists who have a shared hobby of shooting fantasy and sci-fi films on the weekends. The passion and enthusiasm are there, but the blue screen effects that Eric creates on his computer are obviously low-budget and outdated — like early 1990s video game awful, and the acting is even worse. But for movies produced on no-budget with outdated equipment, they don’t look much worse than low-budget direct-to-DVD Roger Corman films. The documentary follows them as they embark on their latest and most ambitious project, a science fiction movie titled Planet X.
The bond between the two men is strong despite their different personalities. Eric, who started making films years ago, is a hoarder and laser tag enthusiast who simply enjoys making the movies for the enjoyment of the filmmaking process. To Eric, this is all a hobby. Troy, who started acting in Eric’s movies and eventually became his filmmaking partner, is much more serious. To Troy, these projects are a springboard to launch a movie career. Troy is a self-described perfectionist who is very critical of the project’s flaws, at one point saying, “I don’t want to make anything substandard. What good is making art if no one sees it?”
For the first time, the duo decides to storyboard their movie and Troy asks his friend, comic book artist Shawn Martinbrough to draw them, and the documentary sets up the movie’s potential by showing the images while Troy and Eric tell the film’s story with compelling, effective professional music by composer Jonah Rapino. This presentation shows that the film itself has a solid story and potential. The two decide to also hold auditions instead of just hiring bored-looking models off MySpace, which is Eric’s usual method of casting (and the auditions hilariously range from the awful to the overenthusiastic). After one year of pre-production Planet X is ready to shoot and we see the two through the production of the movie. The actual filmed result… well… you have to see it to believe it. Suffice to say while it’s far better than their previous films in terms of production values, it ends up being unintentionally campy and humorous.
Every documentary needs some sort of compelling conflict: the conflict between Steve Wiebe and Billy Mitchell in The King of Kong, Morgan Spurlock verses the fast food industry in Super Size Me, Michael Moore versus his own inability to separate truth from liberal or conservative spin (I’m just saying). The major issue with Journey to Planet X is that the documentary really lacks a central conflict. While Troy is obviously a lot more ambitious than Eric, Eric’s go-with-the-flow, “everything looks great attitude” deflates any possible conflict between the two. Eric recognizes that Troy is more dedicated (it’s even evident in the way they dress — Troy even comes to the set in a shirt and tie while Eric comes in a t-shirt) and allows him to take the lead.
As a result, directors Myles Kane and Josh Koury (who learned of the duo when they submitted a previous film to Kane and Koury’s Brooklyn Underground Film Festival) use two rushed shoots (one in a frozen food locker and one while dawn is breaking) as a play for drama, but since Troy and Eric don’t strive for perfection anyway the stakes aren’t that high. These scenes were dramatic in Lost in La Mancha (which chronicled Terry Gilliam‘s failed attempt to shoot a Don Quixote movie when everything that could go wrong did go wrong) because that was about professionals losing thousands of dollars a day when the shoots went wrong. The Planet X shoot isn’t remotely close to that level, even if the passion is there.
As the premiere approaches and Troy invites Kat Anderson of the Geek Film Festival (who he hopes will accept the film), the documentary begins to resemble Christopher Guest‘s mockumentaries Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show as Troy begins to see this as an opportunity to finally get recognized. Like the characters in Guest’s films, Troy is so invested in the movie’s potential success that it begins to consume his rationality.
Journey to Project X is a solid documentary about film production on a limited budget and the lengths people are willing to go for their hobbies to become validated, but without a significant conflict it instead becomes a celebration of Troy and Eric’s enthusiasm and partnership. While I hope more people will be inspired by Troy and Eric instead of laughing at them, I imagine it won’t be that way. That’s unfortunate, but as the two say toward the end of the film, even if someone is laughing at you they’ll still end up leaving feeling happy and enjoying themselves. Perhaps that’s the wrong attitude, but if it’s good enough for Troy and Eric, it’s good enough for me.
Rating: A fun documentary that really could have been more compelling (6.5/10)
Tribeca Film Festival Screening Times
Monday, April 23 8:30PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 4
Saturday, April 28 1:00PM AMC Loews Village 7 – 2