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A Transmission From The Lost Planet Hollywood

A Transmission From The Lost Planet Hollywood (photo)

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When its first movie-themed restaurant opened in New York on October 22, 1991, the name Planet Hollywood was just a cute moniker. Twenty years later, a visit to Planet Hollywood really does feel like a trip to an alternate Earth, where the 1990s never ended, digital effects never reshaped mainstream movies, and Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger are still the biggest movie stars in the world.

I was at the Planet Hollywood in Times Square yesterday for a press junket; it was my first time inside any Planet Hollywood in at least a dozen years. But back in the day, I was a regular PH customer. All through the 1990s, I probably ate at at least half a dozen different Planet Hollywoods on two continents. I don’t remember much about the food — which is probably for the best — I just loved the point in any meal when my parents would let me and my brother walk around and look at all the props and costumes from movies. It was a big deal at the time; my “Planet Hollywood Disneyland Paris” T-shirt was one the prized possessions of my teenage years. Can you believe I didn’t have a girlfriend until after I graduated high school? Me neither.

I fully acknowledge that I was a pathetic dweeb, worthy of all the wedgies and book checks I received as a kid. But you have to remember that Planet Hollywood was born of a era before DVDs special features and Internet video. Nowadays, we have access to “movie magic” at our fingertips. Every great movie has its own comprehensive making-of documentary and commentary tracks. If I’m too lazy to walk over to my DVD shelf to pick one out, I can probably find what I’m looking for in the web with a few keystrokes. But back in the ’90s, going to places like Planet Hollywood or the old Universal Studios theme park were some of the only ways to see and learn about this stuff.

Planet Hollywood was just one member of a whole fraternity of weirdly themed restaurants in the 1990s inspired by the success of the Hard Rock Cafe. The apparent goal of these establishments was to see who could find the least appetizing ambience for tourists to eat popcorn shrimp in. During the height of the theme restaurant craze in New York City you could go chow in a oil-soaked racetrack pit (The NASCAR Cafe) or a mad scientist’s torture lab (The Jekyll and Hyde Club) or even in a sweat-soaked locker room (The All-Star Cafe). “Honey, your chicken fajita sandwich smells so good, it totally drowns out the odor of Dennis Rodman’s game used Reebok Pumps!” Deeeeelish.

Most of the theme restaurants are gone, but Planet Hollywood endures. The branch in New York City — one of only 14 left in the world out of dozens during its heyday — is actually housed in the old All-Star Cafe location (PH’s parent company owned both chains). Walking into it was like walking back into my childhood, and not just for all the nostalgic connections I had with the place. No, the restaurant looks almost exactly as it did back then, with most of the same memorabilia. Apart from a couple costumes from the recent movie “Beastly,” and Jason Statham’s jacket from “The Mechanic,” I didn’t see a single item on display from anything made after 1998. The juxtapositions were jarring, with legitimate pieces of movie history (like Jimmy Stewart’s camera and telephoto lens from “Rear Window”) sitting right next to head-scratching footnotes (like Salma Hayek’s spangly hat from “54”). In a dark corner upstairs, a Jackie Robinson Brooklyn Dodgers jersey hung next to Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen’s power suits from the original “Wall Street.” All the pieces I remembered from my childhood were still there. Schwarzenegger’s T-800 costume and makeup from “Terminator 2” still greeted you at the entrance. Sylvester Stallone’s cryogenically frozen body from “Demolition Man” still hung, nakedly and unappetizingly, from the main dining room ceiling.

In other words, you don’t take a trip to Planet Hollywood anymore; you embark on an archaeological dig. And the restaurant seems to encourage that vibe with dark, dingy lighting, even on some of the props — I felt like I should be wearing one of those flashlight pith helmets as I walked up the dim staircase to the main dining room, past the giant piano from “Big” and a phaser from “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.” When Planet Hollywood opened, these weren’t relics; they were representations of cutting-edge filmmaking technology. Now they’re souvenirs not just from a bygone era in the restaurant business, but in the movie business as well.

The owners of Planet Hollywood surely made some missteps along the way to two different bankruptcies, but they’ve also been laid low by forces beyond their control. In the pre-DVD age, Planet Hollywood was a magical place. Where else were you going to see a giant model of the Death Star from “Return of the Jedi?” Now documentaries about the making of “Star Wars” air on basic cable four nights a week. They’ve been hurt even more badly by the rise of CGI, which have by now totally replaced the kinds of analog special effects that Planet Hollywood fetishized. Sure, Planet Hollywood celebrated the sometimes crass and comercial world of mainstream filmmaking. But the stuff they displayed represented the remarkable work of skilled artists and craftsmen who rarely got the recognition they deserved while they toiled away in model shops and effects studios.

Today’s blockbuster don’t leave behind as many trinkets to commemorate their creation. Everything’s made with computers; there’s nothing tangible to hang on to. What are they supposed to hang from the ceiling from “Revenge of the Sith?” A giant green screen? One of the hard drives that rendered Yoda? No wonder there’s so few post-1998 SFX props on display. They just don’t exist in Hollywood anymore, let alone in Planet Hollywood.

Dated though they may be, there are some truly impressive pieces at Planet Hollywood if you’re a big enough movie dork to appreciate them: Redford and Newman’s costumes from “The Sting,” a Slimer from “Ghostbusters,” Matthew Broderick’s hideous leopard print vest from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” At first I felt like they deserved a better fate, maybe hanging in a museum somewhere. But then I thought, what better testament to the faded glory of movies past than a Planet Hollywood? I didn’t eat anything — which is probably for the best — but I’m going to recommend people go and check it out for themselves. Yesterday was the first time in my life I actually felt like I was time travelling.

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Final Countdown

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at IFC.com

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Rev Up

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Give Back

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

It’s the final countdown to Christmas and thanks to IFC’s movie marathon all Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, you can revel in classic ’80s films AND find inspiration for your last-minute gifts. Here are our recommendations, if you need a head start:

Musical Instrument

Great analog entertainment substitute when you refuse to give your kid the Nintendo Switch they’ve been drooling over.

Breakfast In Bed

Any significant other or child would appreciate these Uncle Buck-approved flapjacks. Just make sure you’re not stuck on clean up duty.

Cocktail Supplies

You’ll need them to get through the holidays.

Dance Lessons

So you can learn to shake-shake-shake (unless you know ghosts willing to lend a hand).

Comfy Clothes

With all the holiday meals, there may be some…embigenning.



Get even more great inspiration all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC, and remember…