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HUMOR: Beneath the Valley of the Planet of the Bicycles
In this story, a lone astronaut/automobile lover finds himself trapped on a bicycle-loving planet. He desperately fights a one-man battle to change the world.

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Auf deutsch: Der Planet der Fahrräder

Movie Review: Beneath the Valley of the Planet of the Bicycles

Note: I watched this movie late at night, so I might have a few details wrong.

This classic begins with an astronaut on a space ship heading far out into galactic space.  He speaks about his great love of motoring in his SUV and his anger towards politicians, catalytic converters, traffic jams, buses, taxes, welfare, global warming, and liberals.  Obviously, he has left on this trip in hopes of finding another planet where he is no longer trammeled by considerations of other people's feelings, well-being, or even survival.  However, I couldn't help but wonder how he expected to be able to drive his vehicle on a desolate planet which would lack drive-in's, gas stations, and garages.

At any rate, while I was in the other room, making popcorn and pouring a drink, three of the astronauts crawled out of their cocoons while the fourth crumbled to dust, the ship crashed, the astronauts climbed out, fueled their dune buggy off of the nearly empty ship's tanks, and started driving across the desert in a desperate search for a gas station, pool of oil, or whatever (they evidently had plenty of popcorn and beverages themselves, so food was not a worry).

Then followed sixty minutes of watching them driving across the desert while getting into insanely boring arguments.

Then, they suddenly left the desert to find large numbers of dune buggies and motorcycles being driven by road warriors through a new corn field.  Just as they were about to join in a drag race with some of their new "friends," the sound of bicycle sirens were heard, and the dune buggies and motorcycles began racing around in complete confusion, driving through the corn, running off of a cliff into the stream below, or smashing into trees.  In the mad rush, the astronauts' vehicle turned over, one of the astronauts was killed and the others injured.  But the real shock was when the pursuers became visible: they were riding bicycles!

After our astronaut was captured, he discovered that he was living in a crazy, upside down world in which motor vehicles were against the law!  He and the other cagers were thrown into cages (for some reason, a dumb-looking valley girl was thrown into his cage with him), and his astronaut buddy was given a lobotomy for saying that motor vehicles were better than bicycles. According to the people on this planet, bicycles had evolved from the more primitive motor vehicles.

But our astronaut was determined to prove them wrong.  He decided to break out of jail, find some fuel, escape in his own vehicle (all the dune buggies and motorcycles had been pulled into town by horses and were being cut up into scrap one at a time), discover a good source of fuel, organize his own road warrior band, and convince everyone else that motor vehicles were superior by driving down city streets late at night at high speeds.

However, each time he tried to escape, he was caught, mainly due to his inability to travel very far without his motor vehicle (I missed one or more of these escape attempts because I was using the john).  They always ended in a fist fight.  One of these times when he was caught, he uttered the famous words, "Get your hands off of me, you dirty cyclist!"

As a result of his remarks, he was now brought to a trial for his life, the trial being a real mockery of justice.  He kept claiming that automobiles were superior and that they lead to a better life while his judges kept claiming that motor vehicles were inferior and bicycles had been developed later to solve the problems that motor vehicles had caused.  As a result of this confrontation, he was sentenced to death.

Two events resulted from this trial:  First, one judge came by to offer the astronaut a pardon if he would reverse his position.  The judge admitted that some of the astronaut's statements had been correct but revealed that the desert had been created by motor vehicles and stated that the reintroduction of motor vehicles would destroy what remained of their world.  He said that the death penalty had been agreed on because it was the only way to silence the astronaut; they did not really wish to kill him: they wanted him to recant.  However, the astronaut refused to compromise, saying that he would rather die than live in a world without automobiles, a statement that would have another twist later in the story.  Second, some of his jailers were so outraged by this extreme punishment that they helped the astronaut escape and even provided him with enough fuel (alcohol) to drive out into the desert.  However, they did not intend for the valley girl to escape with him, something he insisted upon (which might suggest that the two had discovered some mutual chord of understanding, in spite of apparent extreme differences).

Originally, the desert had been the last place where our astronaut would want to go, but now he believed he might find fuel buried beneath it, and so he headed straight for this "forbidden zone." Of course, there were many chase scenes and attempts of the bicycle people to catch him, but I fell asleep for a while and missed most of these scenes, fortunately.

In trying to escape his pursuers, the astronaut (who now looked a little shorter) found a tunnel down which he could drive his vehicle.  The tunnel led to underground city streets.  The streets themselves were packed with huge automobiles with big tail fins.  Evidently, the vehicles had been caught in a final, massive traffic jam.  Inside the cars were mummified bodies and skeletons, indicating that the people had died in their vehicles when their fuel had run out.  Supposedly, the city was shortly afterwards covered by drifting dust.

The astronaut was able to proceed by driving his narrow buggy down the sidewalk. He was searching for the cause of the traffic jam, hoping to discover some fuel.  Finally, he found it, a huge Esso station, with high billboards behind it announcing gas rationing.  As he pulled into the station, he saw the smaller signs announcing that the last of gasoline was gone.

At this moment, our astronaut suddenly realized for the first time that he was on his own planet and just a few generations into the future.  And just as suddenly, I understood why he would be content with a valley girl.  After all, everyone had been talking in English, writing English, and even using fairly contemporary English slang and expressions.  In addition, all the plants, animals, and humans had been exactly the same as those on Earth.  Somehow, his being dressed as an astronaut had led me to believe he had some scientific understanding of the world.  Only someone born in the US, inherently ethnocentric, and completely unscientific in outlook would expect everyone on another planet to use contemporary American English and for all the living creatures to be identical to those found in the USA.  Evidently, just the idea that people would consider bicycles superior was enough to convince him that he was on an alien planet.

Nonetheless, it was a great shock to him, and he cried out as he beat his dashboard, "They did it; they did it!  The fools!  I never thought that they would go so far!"  I wondered, what was it that they had done?  Then, he cried out in a loud voice, "They established gas rationing!"  Evidently, his belief was still that limited fuel supplies and global warming were purely imaginary and that the end had been brought about by the environmentalists rather than by the polluters.

I must have fallen asleep again.  He now had been captured by some mutant ninja turtles who lived in the city and who worshiped the bomb.  He told the valley girl that the bomb they worshiped was a doomsday device, how nutty they were to worship it, and how he was afraid they might set it off.  Of course, talking to her was like talking to a brick wall, unless you said something she could understand, such as, "Gee, those tight jeans are cool!" or "We're almost out of bubble gum!"

However, at that moment, a desperate fight began between the ninja turtles and the bicycle people, who had come in search of the astronaut, afraid that he might find a source of fuel.  In the middle of the fight, as soon as the astronaut had a chance, he rushed over and pushed the button, exploded the bomb and destroyed the whole world.  I'm sure he felt that, after all, if you can't drive your car, what else is worth living for?  A world without automobiles deserves to be destroyed!  However, his behavior contradicted his earlier statements about the nutty bomb worshipers.  Evidently, he felt the nutty part of their behavior was that they had worshiped the bomb rather than using it.

In the morning, I nursed my headache and analyzed the movie.  My first conclusion was that it is a waste of time to try to find any meaning in a Hollywood movie.  I would suggest a late-night bike ride out into the countryside as giving greater insights into reality.  My second conclusion was that the "hero" of Beneath The Valley of the Planet of the Bicycles was the typical hero of the 50's and 60's, an ultra-right wing, anti-establishment extremist who was far more willing to get into a fight or blow up the world than to try to resolve matters rationally and through compromise.  We would more likely find such a character as the leader of the National Rifle Association than as an astronaut, I hope.  The movie shows the bicycle people as being more violent and aggressive than the astronaut, yet I have never seen two cyclists (or any other adults, for that matter) resolve their differences with a fist fight.  My third conclusion was that so many of the details of the movie were so completely unbelievable that it would be a waste of time to try to sort them out.  However, I did not find it hard to believe that the bicycle will still be around when the private passenger combustion engine motor vehicle is a distant memory, no matter what happens.  Of course, auto worshipers will cherish their machines until they completely disintegrate (as auto worshipers and automobiles are currently doing in Cuba).  But the earth has only limited resources, and we are pushing that limit.  Whether we agree to some restrictions now, in order to extend the period of auto use and to limit the damage to our biosphere and climate or whether we allow unrestricted use until the last drop of oil is gone and Mother Nature has gone mad, the days of the fossil fuels are numbered.

Somewhere in a cave in some future time, when, I hope, earth above is full of flowers and trees and birds and bees and is not a desert, a group of clandestine worshipers will gather around the last, long-hidden gas guzzler to dream about tooling down the road and running cyclists off of the road.  They will drink the ritualistic cans of beer and puff the ritualistic cigarettes and morn the days when men were men and the law of the jungle gave the right of way to the strong and the powerful.  And they will swear a violent oath: "When I grow up, I'm never going to let anyone tell me what to do!"  Then they will hurry home before their mothers notice that they still haven't done their homework.


Coping with Global Warming  A serious view of our environmental problems from a cyclist's viewpoint. Elsewhere

Cycling Through an American Town  Three stories by Michael Ayers on the future of the automobile.

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