TV movies are generally less well-produced and less innovative than most studio or independently produced films and Alien Apocalypse is no exception. Yet, even beyond it's low level production values and other made-for-TV aspects, is there anything that can especially recommend Alien Apocalypse? Let's find out.
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For the past 40 years Ivan (Bruce Campbell), Kelly (Renee O'Connor), Aida (Neda Solokovska), and Chuck (Michael Cory Davis) have all been in space on a space probe mission. As they return to earth, they all have high hopes for it's being a utopian wonderland of fantastical proportions. Yet these hopes are dashed almost as quickly as aliens tend to invade when main-character types leave the planet.
As they explore their surroundings, the astronauts discover that an alien species has invaded, immolating almost all human life with neutron bombs which conveniently leave untouched one of Earth's most plenteous resources, and something as precious as gold to the aliens: The trees.
With humanity enslaved and all hope seemingly lost can these four astronauts inspire the remaining humans to break their bonds of slavery and rise up against their cruel insectoid overlords? Or will they too be drawn into the Alien Apocalypse?
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In no other film has the word "star" had more significance than it does here. Bruce Campbell is simply an amazing actor. Not because he can recite Shakespearean monologues on command or mug with the likes of Sylvester McCoy or Jim Varney, but because his presence in any movie is as durably radiant as the spacesuit he wears throughout this flic.
All kidding about his uniform aside, Campbell has absolutely excellent bits, including this exchange with a bounty hunter (BH):
Hey scum bag - you forgot something. [Shoots with cross       bow.]
[Pained.] You said you're a doctor...you're supposed to heal       people.
I am. Your stupidity is terminal. And now you're cured.
He also delivers his lines with conviction. With better effects and makeup, it would be easy to accept that he was in fact in the middle of the apocalyptic situation depicted in this movie.
Plus, Campbell's character Ivan totally proves to be a bad enough dude to not only find The President (Peter Jason), but also to save him. And not from some sort of terrorist cell or alien kidnapper, but from his own despair and lack of self-confidence.
On that point, the role of The President in this movie is also well played by Peter Jason. His performance communicates all of the shaky uncertainty that his character feels in every one of his little tics and gestures as much as it does his lines.
Aside from these two stellar performances, Alien Apocalypse is no stranger to decent pacing. In part, it's ability to get and hold interest comes in part from the bunch of characters recruited on the way to The President. Plus, when the movie doesn't generate interest based on action or plot development, it does so unintentionally through ridiculously choreographed or directed scenes, or over-enthusiastically delivered lines.
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However, though much of the movie's dialogue is delivered in a humorous fashion, there are some lines that will make even the most hardened bad movie afficianado wince. Just such a one comes when Ivan uncharacteristically says the following in response to a warning that the countryside is full of bounty hunters:
"You know those bounty hunters are fags, I can get past them."
Then there's the matter of the aliens themselves. They're menacing, in their own way, but since their likes have been seen and thoroughly trounced in any video game from the fifth generation of consoles it's hard to take their threat seriously.
Underlying these problems though are structural issues that the movie neither addresses nor pokes fun at.
The space probe mission was gone for 40 years. 20 years into their absence, the aliens invaded, and so 20 years later the shuttle lands and earth is in ruins.
Now, because the aliens used neutron bombs, this makes some sense - they could easily devastate large swathes of the planet with such instruments of destruction. But, as far as I can tell, such bombs would not have any or much effect on the survivor's social memory (all issues of trauma aside). This is the biggest problem with the movie.
Why? Because it's been 20 years since humanity's been enslaved, but only a handful seem to remember what things like "doctors" are, and no-one seems to realize that the aliens are beings that can be killed or harmed - just like them.
This would make sense if every one of the surviving humans were evangelical Christians of a sect that believed that god would send cleansing angels down to earth, leaving only the saved to be the angels slaves, but whether or not the survivors are all part of a single group is never established. The best guess that can be offered is that they're just ragged remnants.
And speaking of being ragged, after just 20 years it's hard to imagine that everyone would be dressed in soiled rags. Do neutron bombs destroy things like clothing warehouses? After a few years of alien enslavement would humanity be so depressed that they'd just stop changing their clothes?
More generally, within 20 years of enslavement would humanity lose its independent spirit to such an extent that their alien overlords would boast of the humans' innate subservience? Since this movie was made in 2005, the lack of any social media or mobile device reference is excusable, but no technology is noted as having survived the bombing.
Pressing the matter of technology further, aside from neutron bombs and what appear to be high-tech air-cannons, the aliens don't seem to be that advanced. They live in what looks like a giant beaver dam on land, and worship a giant termite in the sky. Their religion certainly could have been more developed, or their relationship with humans could have been so that we'd get more of an explanation for this fashion accessory:
Yes, all of the slaves wear oversized medical masks so that they can't talk.
It's an interesting idea, but it's also the epitome of everything that's wrong with this movie: a complete lack of explanation where one is necessary either for sense or the sake of connecting the movie's sometimes disparate elements. Running with the concept of these masks, it's never addressed why the slaves should have their mouths bound but not their hands or feet.
Was the human voice supposed to be harmful to the aliens in some way? Since the movie refuses to make connections between elements of its setting and plot, we'll never know.
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Alien Apocalypse is a movie that has some great actors, some well-delivered lines, and a few interesting characters. But these elements aren't put together into a cohesive whole.
Hokey effects and make-up aside, the movie lacks a threat. If you sit and think about the movie's premise it quickly becomes clear that it's fundamentally flawed. The basic premise that aliens come to earth for our wood is fine, but it's presented in a strange way here. For example, we're never told why wood-eating aliens need to have it processed into 2x4s. Is that how wood grows on their planet? Are they addicted to processed foods?
Moreover, the temporal aspect of the plot makes little to no sense. The human spirit wouldn't be crushed after 20 years of alien enslavement, especially not in the Pacific Northwest, (near Portland, OR). Nor would such a brief period of bondage lead to a widespread lack of memories about such things as doctors and handshaking. What the heck have people been talking about for the past 20 years?
Granted, making the time span longer would mean that the president would be dead, but since most people don't believe that the aliens can be killed for completely unexplained reasons (surely those who were born before the invasion would remember and know that, as Ivan says, "everything dies") they'd probably still think he was around anyway. Plus, having astronauts come back to earth from space is a classic way to introduce time travel plot elements.
Though time travel could be in play, we never are told if the 40 years the astronauts were gone is equal to 40 years on earth, though that is the implication.
Bruce Campbell is definitely a high point in this movie, but even he isn't able to save it. But then, few are they who can pull of being covered in spurting green goo with poise and dignity I suppose.
So, Freya, just fly right over this one. Let it lay where it lies, for it's best use is as fertilizer in the Field of Fallen Films. Perhaps, one day, from the decay of it's ridiculously flawed execution of a mediocre premise will sprout a new hope.
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Next week in the blog watch for more creative writing, a new editorial, Annotated Links #16 and #17, and for Part Three of All-Request August: A look for the loveable in Squirm.
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