X-Files alum R.W. Goodwin takes a stab at recreating his favorite genre but why? and for whom?
Alien TrespassDirector: R.W. Goodwin
Cast: Eric McCormack, Jenni Baird, Robert Patrick, Jody Thompson
US DVD release date: 2009-08-11
Alien Trespass is director R.W. Goodwin’s homage to the classic sci-fi B movies of the ‘50s and ‘60s. It’s obviously a labor of love, and so it feels mean to criticize its intent, but while it hits all the right notes in creating an archetypal example of the genre, one has to wonder why Goodwin thought anyone would be interested in seeing a modern version of a bygone film style that simply recreates rather than updates.
The movie let’s its viewers know its source of inspiration from the get-go, using a preceding fake-newsreel which claims that Alien Trespass is a film that was locked up and disowned by its movie-mogul financier back in the ‘50s, due to concerns it would fare poorly at the box office. But luckily for the audience, a copy is now available, and so the “feature presentation” begins.
Set in a small town in the Mojave desert of 1957, the plot begins by focusing on local celebrity astronomer, Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack), who despite his egghead-in-the-backroom demeanor, has a neat little life with his sultry, dark-haired vixen of a wife (Jody Thompson) in their perfect little picket-fenced home. His life is thrown off-balance, however, when a mysterious object crashes into a nearby mountain, and Lewis goes off on his own to investigate what could potentially be the “discovery of a lifetime”.
The object turns out to be a disabled alien shape-ship (a flying saucer, of course) which contains two passengers: a dangerous, ever-hungry creature called the Ghota, and an interstellar “Federal Marshall” named Urp who is trying to transport the Ghota to a place where it can be safely locked up.
After the Ghota escapes and goes off into the desert to find (human) flesh to eat, Urp is forced to possess Ted’s body in order to travel into town and save the townspeople, and possibly the planet from the unleashed monster, who is capable of frequent asexual reproduction, which could lead to a swarm of the one-eyed, big-tentacled horrors overrunning the Earth.
Urp finds an ally in Tammy (Jenni Baird), a waitress who dreams of moving to the big city, and has a bit of a crush on the astronomer whose body Urp is borrowing. They also get help from a group of teenagers who can’t convince anyone that they were really attacked by an alien invader, and they are alternately aided and disbelieved by the local cops, whose chief (Dan Lauria) is just trying to make it through two more days on the job before retirement.
Alien Trespass does all it can to evoke the style and tone of the B classics like The Day the Earth Stood Still (not the Keanu version) and Forbidden Planet that inspired it. The Ghota is clearly a man in a very-rubbery suit, and anytime someone is driving across the desert, the projection-screen showing the moving landscape behind the car is made as obvious as possible (one of the film’s funniest moments has McCormack walking in place ‘along the road’ as Tammi ‘pulls up’ to pick him up). There’s also a lot of inspiration from later eras here, as the cut-scenes reflect nothing so much as Star Wars, and shades of Back to the Future (and pretty much any light-hearted ‘80s action movie) suffuse the character types and verbal humor.
Overall, it’s a well constructed homage, but the question looms: what is the point? Sure, they had some great ideas in these old movies, and the cheesy-effects were actually probably pretty inventive at the time. But that doesn’t mean we need to recreate them now if we have nothing new to offer, does it? The only other purpose of such a step-by-step reconstruction would seem to be for the sake of humor, a la Eight Legged Freaks or Mars Attacks! But the film doesn’t really riff on any of the tropes of the genre, it just copies them.
True, it is kind of funny to watch the actors deadpan their way through all the ‘50s clichés, but there are none of the little digs at them that would serve to expose some of their absurdity, as there was in Mars Attacks! Maybe part of the problem is that none of the actors in Alien Trespass are particularly well-known.
It’s fun to see Jack Nicholson portray a cold-war type president with mock-seriousness, because you know he’s capable of A Few Good Men, and that contrast makes the joke stand out that much more. The only really familiar face here, besides McCormack, is Terminator 2: Judgement Day’s Robert Patrick (who worked with Goodwin on The X-Files) who while playing a skeptical member of the police force, somehow seems to beg the audience to take him seriously rather than wink at them. Unfortunately, it’s obvious that humor came a distant second to reverential reproduction in terms of a goal for this movie.
I once read an angry complaint by a music journalist that went something like “just because you listen to cool bands, that doesn’t make your band cool!” In other words, everyone loves Pink Floyd dude, but that doesn’t make your Light Side of the Sun CD worth my $10. Unfortunately, I’d have to say the same for Alien Trespass. It’s nice that Goodwin loves these movies so much and has such a keen eye for their details, but if I’m going to spend my hard-earned cash on a DVD, at least give me something new, please.