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.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.



Stan Diego Comic-Con

Stan Against Evil returns November 1st.

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Photo Credit: Erin Resnick, GIFs via Giphy

Another Comic-Con International is in the can, and multiple nerdgasms were had by all – not least of which were about the Stan Against Evil roundtable discussion. Dana, Janet and John dropped a whole lotta information on what’s to come in Season 2 and what it’s like to get covered in buckets of demon goo. Here are the highlights.

Premiere Date!

Season 2 hits the air November 1 and picks up right where things left off. Consider this your chance to seamlessly continue your Halloween binge.

Character Deets!

Most people know that Evie was written especially for Janet, but did you know that Stan is based on Dana Gould’s dad? It’s true. But that’s where the homage ends, because McGinley was taken off the leash to really build a unique character.

Happy Accidents!

Improv is apparently everything, because according to Gould the funniest material happens on the fly. We bet the writers are totally cool with it.

Exposed Roots!

If Stan fans are also into Twin Peaks and Doctor Who, that’s no accident. Both of those cult classic genre benders were front of mind when Stan was being developed.

Trailer Treasure!

Yep. A new trailer dropped. Feast your eyes.

Catch up on Stan Against Evil’s first season on the IFC app before it returns November 1st on IFC.