So, what happens after the invasion? What happens to mankind once the alien overlords finish destroying our major metropolises and render our resolve hopeless? Do we fight back? Are we enslaved? Does the extraterrestrial conqueror suddenly become a victim of a bumbling world bureaucracy? Maybe they are killed off by the flu? Or a standard staph infection? Or St. Vitus Dance. Whatever the case, the intervening days/weeks/months are often filled with the kind of action movie magic the cinema specializes in. Between the villainous visitors from another world and the steely response by some still hopeful neighbors, the ability for ET to overrun the rest of the population is always predicated on the available technology and the type of hero wielding it.
With the release of the critical lambasted Winter 2011 release, The Darkest Hour, on DVD and Blu-ray, it’s time to look back over the entire history of the people vs. planet invaders genre and determine the best examples of same. Instead of focusing on those films where massive motherships eject hundreds of smaller vessels into the Earth’s atmosphere, the better to wipe out the indigenous population and suck up all the natural resources, we are talking about those titles were homo sapien goes after extra-terrestrial, toe to… whatever an alien might have for feet. The result is a list that comes dangerously close to mimicking one we did back a few months ago, though it’s clear where the Independence Days end and where something like our number two selection step in. Indeed, the difference can be best described as more ‘hands’ on.
The premise finds Earth inhabited by a collection of stranded space creatures, most the size of a small house. They’ve been quarantined south of the border in Mexico, and that is where we find our leads, a journalist and a spoiled socialite. He’s trying to bring her back to safety. She just wants to be home. Together, they learn what life is like in the sectioned off areas, as well as the purpose behind the aliens existence on our planet. The confrontations are casual and quite chilling.
Big monster from space drops in on NYC and a group of Gen-X Yuppies capture the chaos on their video cameras. Utilizing the found footage approach to excellent effect, the film clearly illustrates our inability to successfully deal with a deadly, skyscraper-sized invader from another world. Sure, some of the shaky-cam stuff can be a bit of a drain, and the rescuing the damsel in distress element is equally trying, but the systematical dismantling of Manhattan is well worth the price of admission.
During the direct to video craze of the mid ‘80s, filmmakers knew that even the most outlandish idea would have some heft home theater legs once the title hit VHS. Thus we have this clever, satiric take on the old invasion films of the ‘50s, except this time, the aliens looking like demonic clowns. Even better, they use standard carnival/circus fare—popcorn, cotton candy, balloons—to wreck their havoc on the horrified human population. More funny than frightening, it’s still an eccentric entry into the genre.
Leave it to Robocop‘s Paul Verhoeven to turn the fascist fascination of sci-fi legend Robert A. Heinlein into something even more totalitarian. Half the time, we feel like we’re watching outtakes from a futuristic Triumph of the Will. Still, the all out war waged between man and bug is so brilliantly handled, complete with some of the best F/X work of CG’s infancy, that we can overlook the veiled militaristic message. Besides, who doesn’t want to see Neil Patrick Harris as a pseudo SS psychic?
Coming completely out of left field and winding up one of the year’s best, this metaphoric South African thriller is like the 1958 racial expose, The Defiant Ones, except this time, we have a bumbling government bureaucrat paired up with an interstellar “prawn” that may or may not be willing to help him. Like Monsters, it’s been a while since aliens have landed on Earth and since then they have been marginalized and quarantined in “ghettos”, given to random abuses by the powers that be. When forced to cooperate, both sides become suspect… and with good cause.
// Notes from the Road
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