Saturday, March 7, 2009
After the recent re-interest on all things geek be it fantasy, sci fi or superhero, it's about time we got to properly honoring the science fiction film of the 50s in a new, original way. And don't worry, I'm not talking about The Day The Earth Stood Still remake. No, no. I'm talking about a quality movie. Alien Trespass to be exact, a new film from X-Files vet R.W. Goodwin. It's an honest to god throwback to 50s sci-fi that nails the genre from start to finish. Variety called it a "spoof", but I disagree. It has tongue in cheek humor and plays around with anachronisms, but also completely honors the genre its homaging. All the classic archetypes are in place - the goodie goodie teenagers, the friend in a leather jacket, the scientist, the gorgeous woman who helps our alien hero and so on. And these actors play the style to a tee, committing completely.
Before I go on, it's important to note the conceit surrounding the film, just as fun and clever as the film itself. The idea is that in the 50s, producer Louie Q Goldstone made an epic science fiction picture starring Eric McCormack's grandfather, M. Eric McCormack and it was gonna be huge, some saying it featured the best performance of M. Eric's career. Then due to a dispute, the film was shelved, never to be released. Now, years later, the film canister has been unearthed and the movie will be released for the very first time. Complete with archival interview footage and press, a featurette detailing all of this was screened both at New York Comic Con & Wondercon and is now available online.
More after the jump
This idea, that the film is genuinely from the 50s, pervades throughout the entire film and whole audience experience. It feels completely from that era, through only a slightly modern lens. I've heard the phrase "Retro-Vision" tossed around to describe the movie, and I think that's spot on. . Goodwin’s take is that they simply didn’t make enough of these movies back in the 50s, so he decided to make one more. Watching Alien Trespass is like stepping away for 80 minutes into a universe we just don't get enough of nowadays. And don't be surprised if afterwards you find yourself craving a burger and a shake at whatever 50s themed diner you can find. Cause I did. It was an odd sensation actually.
But back to the film. Set in 1957, ALIEN TRESPASS chronicles a fiery object from space that crashes into a mountaintop in the California desert, bringing the threat of disaster to Earth. McCormack plays a scientist, Ted Lewis, whose body gets taken over by Urp, an otherworldly federal marshal, in attempt to capture an escaped alien (the one eyed dildo we’ve heard so much about) and save the Earth. McCormack is spot on in his portrayal of both the staid scientist & the fish out of water with a mission alien and every scene he’s in is a joy to watch. McCormack definitely provides most of the laughs, due to his excellent comic timing & delivery. Jenni Baird, as Tammy, the heroine waitress, is also a highlight. She nails the acting style while staying completely truthful and I think is an actress to watch. Other highlights include Dan Lauria & Robert Patrick, who genuinely seem as though they are having a great time and nail their roles in the process. The only weak spots in the acting come from the trio of teenagers, Penny, Dick & Cody. Luckily for them, the poor acting seems oddly appropriate. For all I know, the three of them are brilliant actors, pretending to be bad actors. Though something tells me that isn’t the case…
Now I wouldn’t call this movie a barrel of laughs, but that’s not what it’s going for. Any film the humor has is “deliberately inadvertent”, as Goodwin’s called it during the various convention panels, mimicking the humor that comes from classic 50s films when we watch them today. The Day the Earth Stood Still is not a comedy. Neither is Alien Trespass. Any humor there is, is supposed to stem from the fact that the film takes itself completely seriously. It doesn’t even focus on the “bad parts” of 50s science fiction. It simply tells the story from the POV of that era. This is what makes the film feel totally unique and ripe for a cult following.
So who would enjoy this movie most? Fans of classic Science Fiction, for sure. This is who the film is truly made for. It’s a faithful homage, through and through. But anyone, especially those who understand what this film is and where it’s coming from, should also have a great time. It really does feel like going back in time, between the music, the old school effects and moments like Lewis’ wife enticing him to bed, only to cut to them asleep, fully clothed, Lewis in head to toe flannel pajamas. Subtle throwaways like that were some of my favorite moments in the film.
Who wouldn’t enjoy this movie? Those looking for a spoof or a parody or those who don’t know what they are stepping into. This movie is not for everyone, that’s for sure. See, Alien Trespass also mimics older movies in the sense that it isn’t full of quick cuts. The pacing is rather slow and while I don’t mind and see it as an element of the time it’s referencing, I can see it being an issue for some.
Overall, I found this film to be unique, fun, sweet, full of sound stage charm and a delightful 80 minutes at the movies. It’s not for everyone, but is definitely worth seeing.
(Plus between all these convention appearances, I’ve totally fallen for the talent behind the scenes and the passion that Goodwin and his actors have for the film. They’ve been a nice contrast to the McG “Enough of my yammering, I’ll let the movie speak for itself, but only after I yammer a little bit more about how I awesome I am” bit that’s also come out of every recent big convention. Those of you who went to New York Comic Con & Wondercon know exactly what I'm talking about.)
For convention coverage: Alien Trespass at Wondercon & New York Comic Con