Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alien Trespass - If you loved The Blob ...

Think about science fiction movies in the 1950s, The Blob for example, or the recently remade The Day The Earth Stood Still. Director R.W. Goodwin thinks about them - a lot. Alien Trespass isn't really a spoof, although it winks back across fifty years more than once. It isn't quite an ordinary homage, although Goodwin, with writers James Swift and Steven Fisher, value the genre and the era. Alien Trespass is more like a game or a challenge - I can beat you with one hand tied behind my back - or in this case, we can make a good sci fi pic while simulating the same social conventions and limitations of budget and technology that our forebears faced in the 1950s.

Alien Trespass simulates the 1950s extraordinarily well. The film opens with a newsreel, the celluloid crackles and the the light scatters as if a projectionist is changing reels. The not so special effects include a flying saucer made from a miracle substance that appears to be plywood, an alien marshal sheathed in aluminum foil and, getting every dollar onto the screen, an alien outlaw who seems almost, well, rubber like. It's not just the special effects that capture the 50's feel. The dialog is spiced with ironic puns that the actors ignore - not a spoof, but a true to the genre phenomenon that made Mystery Science Theater possible. The leading ladies, Jody Thompson, as Lana Lewis the wife of Professor Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) and Jenni Baird as the waitress/heroine, exude sex appeal while hewing to the Legion of Decency code. The sound track features the eerie yet tonal whine of the Theremin.

Okay, so Alien Trespass does a great job following its own rules, is it worth seeing? The characters are limited - possibly a deliberate nod to convention, but one that hurts this movie just as it did much of the science fiction in the 1950s. A capable cast doesn't have to do much heavy lifting, although Baird and Thompson manage to stand out.

The story is predictable, but it's enough to hold your attention. A flying saucer crashes and two passengers emerge, an alien monster and the marshal transporting him. The marshal must recapture the monster in a small Western town before the monster multiplies via cell division and devours the earth. The first few monster scenes are genuinely scary. Eventually the town learns that not all aliens are monsters. Alien Trespass sheds no new light on earth or mankind. Here again, perhaps a choice, most of its 1950s forebears were not great stories, not classic sci fi - but why not choose to make a picture with a few deeply drawn, memorable characters and an original story that has something to say. Why not a "new classic", Mr. Goodwin? You can play with one hand tied behind your back and still go for the win.

If you loved The Blob, you'll love Alien Trespass. If not, it's probably still worth renting on a slow night. Take The Blob - adequate story, campy humor, Steve McQueen - not all bad. Add a cup of nostalgia and two tablespoons of irony derived from shooting the same type of film, at a remove of fifty years in an era when computer graphics sometimes swallow the genre alive. The result is entertaining, if not thought provoking.

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