Fantasia Fest 09: ‘Alien Trespass’ into 50’s B-movie Territory

17 Aug

 

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Alien Trespass (PG) 90 min. Directed by:  R.W. Goodwin. Written by: James Swift and Stephen P. Fisher  Starring:Eric Mcormack, Jenni Baird, Robert Patrick, Dan Lauria, Jody Thompson, Aaron Brooks. Cinematography: David Moxness. Original music by:Louis Febre.

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Well, I’ve been quite busy lately and unfortunately the Fantasia movie reviews ended up taking a backseat to scads of summer coursework. Now  that is behind me and I have vacation looming on the horizon, so I’m taking this brief week of free time to try and catch up on all the stuff I’ve been sitting on. Let’s get to it, shall we?

In the time between when I saw Alien Trespass and the writing of this review, the movie itself has already come to DVD and Bluray. If you are so inclined, you can skip all of this and go grab a copy yourself or stick around for a few more paragraphs. I promise to keep it brief.

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Bottom-line is this one’s only gonna hit the sweet spot of a certain cross-section of movie geek; the retro sci-fi/horror fan whose bread and butter is 1950s-to-60’s B flicks. It’s pitched as a mock-up of all those earnest but intensely cheesy ‘thrillers’ that featured invaders from another planet coming down in Styrofoam ships to melt our collective brains with weaponry that looked like it had been concocted from discarded toilet paper rolls. You know the kind. Stuff like Invaders from Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and It Came From Outer Space. Some were terrific, some were alot of fun, and some were hilariously bad. All of them shared a naive and hopeful spirit that was common to the time period but almost non-existent in today’s climate.

The appealing thing about Alien Trespass is that instead of staring down condescendingly at those bygone films (like the wretched Lost Skeleton of Cadavra did) it replicates their style and spirit in a way that seems almost reverent. The science is flimsy at best and completely made-up at worst. Some scenes show newspaper clippings with subtle misspellings and sequences where we see the extras sitting around waiting to be frightened. Oddly, the spaceship sequences don’t look completely artificial and they have a certain retro majesty to them. The only thing that truly keeps this film from being one of its brethren is the fact it was made in 2009 and that it’s in color.

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The color is really the film’s one  novel contribution. The only way to previously watch a movie like this was in black and white, and due to the fact most of those oldies were cheap and lacking a skilled cinematographer, it typically wasn’t the best use of that medium either. So, when AT begins with a scientist heading up into the mountains to check out a falling star, I was surprised to see that the surrounding night-time desert has the vibrant look of a technicolor dreamland. Cherry-reds and navy-blues and deep, deep purples pop up out of the frame and the film feels different from its predecessors because of how cheerful it looks. It’s the tasty frosting on a campy cake of homages.

 There isn’t much to say about the story except to note that someone has taken great pains to make sure that any thought  alien to the 1950s was shut out. There is no hip post-modernism, foreshadowing or using the plot as a metaphor for current concerns(although you will find plenty of era-appropriate parallels). You could have seen the plot coming a mile away back in 1954 and now it’s not even a consideration. I just assume it’s there to reassure certain audience members that all those rubbery looking, cyclopean slugs and shiny saucer-man aren’t just chasing the teeny boppers and clueless policeman for their health. The script is one silly, contrived line after another and it must have been great fun to write. The film’s modest and forthright spirit comes through in the writing and it evokes that era perfectly. There is a big speech about mankind’s promise and their flawed nature conflicting with one another that has a spark of sincerity to it. Its been a long time since I even listened to something like that in a film and longer still since anyone expected it to be taken seriously. And of course, R.W. Goodwin, X-Files veteran, doesn’t want the audience to take it seriously, but he does want us to understand that once upon a time someone did.

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Alien Trespass rolls out a fun little cast that’s up to the challenge of  the film’s copycat style. Eric McCormick is clearly playing the bad actor playing the scientist. Meanwhile, Dan Lauria and Robert Patrick, who both physically look like they were born to be policeman in the 50s, seem to really be the people they are portraying. Its an odd mix, and it keeps the movie from just being a pointless exercise in spoof or so straight-faced that it becomes boring. The monsters are called Gotas, and they look like what would happen if Playdough mated with a pineapple . There is another alien, a sort of intergalactic space marshall, named Urp(never mentions if his first name is Wyatt) who takes over McCormick’s body and later looks like  the streamlined model of DTESS’sGort.

If you have ever sat down on a saturday evening and enjoyed one of these movies, or happen to have actually seen a few when they were in the theater, theres a good chance you will enjoy whats been done with Alien Trespass. Certainly, it hasn’t anything original to say, but thats not really the point. It plays by the rules of a different time period’s popcorn entertainment and in doing so  it reminds us of the hopes, dreams and fears of that time. In some ways, theyaren’t so totally different. Goodwin’s film is like a good natured road-map showing our own cinematic evolution while remembering fondly a time when the creatures weren’t so scary, the heroes a little more dopey and the gal in the polka-dot dress might have big hair but she could fight aliens with the best of them.

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Alien Trespass does what it sets out to do and then some. It might not be as good as the real thing, but its certainly more accessible to a modern audience, and it accomplishes what the recent remakes of classic sci-fi features have failed to do. It reinforces our affection of the originals. I think it would make a great family movie viewing. It might take a bit of pardigm shifting, but about halfway through, when the Gotas have entered the theater during a screening of the The Blob and Jenny Baird runs in with salt and pepper shakers in her hand, I anticipate you will be hooked.

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One Response to “Fantasia Fest 09: ‘Alien Trespass’ into 50’s B-movie Territory”

  1. hagiblog August 19, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    I’ve gotta put this on my list because I love those old flicks. It didn’t matter how good or bad they were, I still loved them all!

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