Planet Earth (1974) is a post-apocalyptic film set in 2133. Following a nuclear holocaust the USA has been replaced by a series of self-governing nations who are being guided towards more enlightened social systems by the technologically sophisticated city of PAX. When one of its citizens is injured in a confrontation with aggressive mutants Dylan Hunt is sent on a mission to rescue a missing surgeon (the only person capable of saving the injured man). Dylan allows himself to be captured by the Confederacy of Ruth, a female dominated society where the women have enslaved the male population by lacing the food with a drug that makes the men docile and afraid of women.
The futuristic city of PAX with its educated population sees itself as the guardians of the post-apocalyptic world. PAX is the vision of a rational Modernist world and while it does superficially resemble the ‘Domed City’ in Logan’s Run (1976) with speedy tube trains and gleaming white spaces it believes in a compassionate and humanistic view of the world in contrast to the ‘Domed City’s’ AI controlled technocracy. The Confederacy of Ruth is a dystopian upside-down world where gender politics has run out of control. The inverted power hierarchy resembles Planet of the Apes — in both these dystopian worlds the men are kept in holding pens fit for animals. The Planet of the Apes influence even stretches to the title: Planet Earth.
As a TV pilot Planet Earth was intended to be the first instalment of a new Star Trek-like series. Dylan Hunt and his PAX team could travel via the underground shuttle train from one post-apocalyptic society to another. In each of these episodes the team would come into contact with a new society and fresh problems to solve. The violent mutants (a kind of futuristic motorbike gang) could be used to bump up the threat levels when required.
The man problem of the story is that the stakes are low and PAX itself is never under any threat. The initial excitement of the team’s fight with the mutants is never topped and the rest of the film seems flat by comparison. The City of PAX with its advanced technology is never explored (probably due to budgetary reasons). Instead, the audience has to make do with a nondescript location shot and the shuttle station studio stage-set. To make matters worse, Dylan Hunt’s team doesn’t mesh together convincingly.
Planet Earth epitomises the liberal optimism of 1970s America with PAX as a futuristic United Nations pushing for social progress and peaceful co-existence. But, as a production with a limited budget and a sub-par plot Planet Earth lacks a wow-factor. Viewed from today’s perspective it reads like a dated historical document of its time, a comic over-reaction to the gender politics of the 1970s, wrapped up in a reassuringly conventional message.