NEXT EPISODE: JUDGMENT DAY! JUDGE DREDD (1995, DANNY CANNON) & DREDD (2012, PETE TRAVIS)
The ides of March are upon An Alan Smithee Podcast this month and we’ve got the madness! March is also, of course, the month of Mars, the Roman god of war who namesake is shared with our neighbor, the fourth rock the sun. This gives us a great excuse to pick from about a hundred movies set in, on or near Mars and do it twice. Check back in two weeks – the ides of March, the 15th – for another pair of Mars movies!
Our first pair of the month is a twofold evocation illustrating a generation of children’s terror regarding visits from the outside in shorthand as Martians. Ray Bradbury this twice-told tale is not. If the movies have taught us anything, it’s that any potential inhabitants of Mars wants to kill us.
Invaders From Mars (1953, William Cameron Menzies) is a real modern American folk legend, one of the earliest and craziest films about alien visitors as soulless conquering spies and murderers, all wrapped up in the hallucinatory imagination of terrified innocent. 1953 was also the year of The War of the Worlds and the images contained in these films would define the alien invader genre forever. Surreal, gripping and discreetly goofy in a low-budget way every so often.
After influencing a generation of genre filmmakers, the Invaders returned in Tobe Hooper’s 1986 remake of Invaders From Mars. Despite an eclectic, effective cast, slick direction and a wittily sardonic screenplay by Dan O’Bannon and Don Jakoby it failed to find its audience. We, the martian ambassadors at Alan Smithee Podcast are only too glad to sing its neglected praises.
BEWARE THE IDES OF MARCH: MISSION TO MARS (2000, BRIAN DE PALMA) & RED PLANET (2000, ANTONY HOFFMAN)
Have you heard the news, makin’ all the headlines? An Alan Smithee Podcast is workin’ overtime, going bit by bit one way or another and diggin’ into the Chevy Chase quasi-classic Fletch…and its fully reprehensible sequel Fletch Lives.
Chevy Chase’s detractors have always had their work cut out for them: the diminishing returns of the Vacation franchise, the many starring roles he bombed in (Under the Rainbow, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Cops and Robbersons) the five fabulous weeks of The Chevy Chase Show…Chase’s fans, however, are usually split on which was his more successful comedy persona: the smart-alec lothario or the doofy husband. Fans of the latter are stronger proponents of Vacation and Funny Farm while fans of the latter gravitate towards his Weekend Update run on Saturday Night Live or role in the ensemble of Caddyshack as his best work. For fans of the latter, Fletch may well be the apex of his career. For 90-some minutes he dryly narrates, wisecracks and plays dumb through a story that’s rooted in the mystery genre just enough to take seriously, but with a tone that’s lighthearted enough to work perfectly as carefree entertainment. It was all downhill after this for Chase, as every subsequent film and appearance felt like an impossible attempt to meld the smarmy and the bourgeoisie sides of himself into something for everybody.
Fletch actually has a shelf life beyond fans of casual or hardcore fans Chevy Chase. In the nearly 30 years since its release, obsessing on the film’s wealth of quips and one-liners has become a calling and a joke onto itself. This blurb from The Onion in 1999 describes an Area Insurance Salesman celebrating his 14th year of quoting Fletch:
Cutler, who also goes by the name “Dr. Rosenrosen,” dead-panned, “Never mind, just bring me a cup of hot fat and the head of Alfredo Garcia.”
This possibly inspired the New York Post to write an actual short piece about Fletch fandom just a few months later, with some keen insights as to its durability from its makers:
Chase thinks that the movie continues to appeal to college students because of “the cheekiness of the guy … everybody at that age would like to be as quick-witted as Fletch, and as uncaring about what others think.”
The same glowing article also ends with a withering comment from screenwriter Andrew Bergman, however, summing up how Chevy and Michael Ritchie screwed the pooch four years later:
Bergman says that if Chase “hadn’t screwed up the second one, he could have been Clouseau – he could have done that part forever.”
“The second one” is of course Fletch Lives, one of the most execrable bad comedy sequels we’ve ever viewed for An Alan Smithee Podcast – even worse than Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise. The problems are so myriad that it would take less time to describe what the film does right – like casting Chevy Chase again – but those were some bad four years in between and even that decision is debatable. The world got one more Harold Faltemeyer score, and Hal Holbrook got a paycheck, but was it worth it? To quote yet another newspaper on this would-be news reporter comedy franchise, Vincent Canby got it exactly right in his New York Times review:
“Fletch Lives looks less like Fletch 2…than Fletch 7, the bitter end of a worn-out series.”
Ten years after Fletch Lives there was serious talk from Kevin Smith about relaunching Fletch with Jason Lee as the young Irwin Fletcher, and possibly Chase narrating the tale in flashback – a prequel based on Gregory MacDonald’s prequel novel Fletch Won (Won/One, geddit?) The project has changed hands on the writing, directing and starring fronts a half-dozen times since then, with everyone from Ben Affleck to Zach Braff to Dave Chappelle(!) being considered. Another ten years after the first rumblings for the return of the wisecracking reporter, any news that Fletch will, indeed, live another day still seems rather unlikely. Why? BECAUSE FLETCH LIVES WAS THAT HORRIBLE. A very informative Entertainment Weekly article outlines the whole sordid saga here.
NEXT EPISODE: THE LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1960, ROGER CORMAN) & PLEASE DON’T EAT MY MOTHER (1973, CARL J. MONSON)
The Blues Brothers is one of the great all-time overrated “great” ideas (and movies) of all time. Andrew and I wanted to like it, truly we did, but even if the gulf between overhyped expectations and the film itself weren’t so yawningly wide, there’s nothing but sheer scale to recommend – the amount of music, the amount of stunts, the multitudes of wasted cast members – all of which were compiled along the edict of “more is more.” In this way John Landis was somewhat visionary towards the way the film was developing in the new decade of the 80s. The Blues Brothers is the terrible poverty of imagination heralded by “Star Wars,” applied to a non-fantasy film, and to a comedy about “blues men” for heavens’ sake – historically the salt of the Earth. This is a bad live action cartoon before the second dialogue scene has elapsed.
“The Blues Brothers” aren’t real characters; they’re a premise conceived so two white comedians got to do live Karaoke of old music they like. Nothing wrong with that, but expanding that nothing premise into a two-plus hour film is, let’s say, overconfident. This hasn’t stopped any film based on a Saturday Night Live sketch since, which is another grievance to hold against Messrs. Ackroyd, Belushi and Landis. To cover up the lack of content – they don’t even bother developing Elwood and Jake Blues into anything but two dimensional caricatures – there are endless guest stars in every scene, and where there aren’t guest stars, there are explosions and car chases courtesy of Landis, who at this point was still at least two years away from the day his lack of talent killed three.
The wholly superficial nature of the film, with its repeated catchphrases (“We’re on a mission from God” does not does not get any funnier the tenth time), repeated music cues (the Peter Gunn theme is admittedly catchy) and stunts for their own sake are all supposed to be offset by egomaniacal reason behind the film’s creaction: to “re-focus attention” on blues music (as Landis phrased it on the eve of its 25th anniversary.) Ah, the White hipster’s burden; bringing black culture to other, less cool white people than yourself. These delusional jerks actually thought James Brown and Aretha Franklin wouldn’t sell enough white tickets if Landis hadn’t poorly directed cameos for them.
By perpetuating this farce with the lesser (Jim) Belushi after the latter Belushi left this unhip coil, Ackroyd was just as much to blame for the excruciating continuance of the Chicago-deep-dish-style White-guy-”Blues” movement. In the late 90s, after probably his first exhaustively failed attempt to spearhead “Ghostbusters 3″, he resorted to the maybe the feeblest nostalgia cash-in in movie history: Blues Brothers 2000, a 20th anniversary sequel made two years too early and with even less goodwill than if they’d attempted to remake the original film tomorrow. Which, come to think of it, ought to be any day now.
“Blues Brothers 2000″ is every bit as pointless, poorly made, and frantically stocked with guest stars and musicians to mask the pointlessness – except Landis and Ackroyd no longer have even the reckless confidence of youth at their backs.
Sacred cows AND dead horses get what’s coming to them in this highly iconoclastic episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.
NEXT EPISODE: GODZILLA SPECIAL! GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS (1956, ISHIRO HONDA & TERRY MORSE) / GODZILLA (1998, ROLAND EMMERICH)
In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, Andrew and I run wild across the universe with a couple of loose space babes. They both start out a little cold – one of them’s made of metal – but after we shove our opinions down their throats regarding how badly their movies suck, they warm up to us plenty. It’s called “negging,” refer to your pick-up artist manual for a detailed explanation. Then, of course, I take things too far and ask Fonda if she’d tortured any POWs with the pan-and-scan version of Barbarella lately, turning the mood. Stratten also cools down a bit once she remembers she’s been dead and murdered for 30 years.
This is one of those times when our nominally “good” movie is only less worse than the “bad” one, but the pairing of these two broads was too good to resist. It’s a head-slappingly silly mistake, because Barbarella is probably one of the more infamous bombs of the 60s; a seemingly imaginative yet actually highly calculated attempt to cash in on several cultural fads of the time: sci-fi adventure, comic book camp, “free” “love” and Henry Fonda’s acting progeny. You can’t blame Dino De Laurentiis for thinking that these gimmicks would mesh together, and perhaps they would have if the story or script had anything remotely interesting about them. Terry Southern and Roger Vadim have a lot of potentially clever ideas that flitter and flame out within seconds, proving that drugs tend to hamper otherwise good writers more than they help them.
Flash Gordon is practically a masterpiece of production design and witty dialogue by comparison, to give you some idea of how badly Barbarella misfires. At least Dino learned something in the interim. Actually, Flash Gordon actually came out the same year as our second feature of the episode, Galaxina – a title inspired by Barbarella, if not the story. Or lack thereof.
Galaxina is just as vacuous and lazy in terms of actual content, but with far less talent involved. Robots learning to love is one of science fiction’s oldest tropes, so Sachs (who wrote as well as directed) wasn’t necessarily in a bind to begin with. You’d think if the star of your film was Playboy Playmate of the Year 1980 Dorothy Stratten and she’s the robot who learns to love, you kind of have your work cut out for you and can simply enjoy peppering the dialogue with double entendres and concocting sexy scenes of awkward robolove between man and machine. Yes, you’d think. Apparently Sachs felt that such material was beneath him, and basically ignores Stratten for the first half of the film while he establishes, re-establishes and re-re-establishes a trio of bumbling space jockeys in what feels like a failed pilot written by someone who couldn’t get a job on Saturday Night Live even after Lorne Michaels left.
The infuriating catch to this lack of Stratten-sleaze is that when she finally makes the scene, we don’t get so much as a side boob and the proto-Spaceballs parodies are only getting worse. The cleverest thing in the whole waste of celluloid is an alien hooker with three boobs, strongly suggesting that at least one person who worked on Total Recall has seen Galaxina. Given how clumsy and rote the predictable parody scene of Alien is, it probably wasn’t Dan O’Bannon’s idea to include an homage in kind. Who did Sachs think he was, not delivering on the tagline that in the 31st century, man finally created a machine…with feelings!(?) This bozo wrote and directed The Incredible Melting Man. If you’re going to make an exploitation film, know your audience.
Galaxina “introduces” Dorothy Stratten as per the opening credits, even though she’d starred in the softcore lesbian erotic thriller Autumn Born, a film which undoubtedly featured her in the nude and was probably better written as well. Stratten belongs to that unfortunate club of actors and actresses more famous in death than life, and will go down in movie history only for this and Star 80 – the 1983 biopic depicting her murder, in which she’s played by Muriel Hemingway. Pairing that with Galaxina as the good-movie counterpoint would’ve been smart, but hey, we’re not all that smart sometimes.
NEXT EPISODE: BLUES BROTHERS SPECIAL! THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980, JOHN LANDIS) / BLUES BROTHERS 2000 (1998, JOHN LANDIS)
In the late 1940s, a strapping lass with the power to fly around in above-the-knee skirts helped usher an entire generation of boys into puberty before Batgirl ever slipped on her tights. Then in November 1984, the silver screen finally welcomed her – Supergirl! The maiden of might, cousin to Kal-El, a heroine to fight for truth, justice and the American way.
Less than one year later, DC Comics killed off Supergirl in the October issue of a 12-part miniseries created to
kill off unpopular characters organize continuity of the DC superhero universes into one single timeline. A mere coincidence? You will believe a girl can fly, and her movie can stink.
Like any other superhero, Supergirl has been resurrected and had her origin story re-invented on a nearly bi-weekly basis as grist for the publishing mill. No matter how silly the character may be in the future, it’s doubtful she’ll ever be handled as daftly as in Muppet Show scribe and screenwriter David O’Dell’s treatment. Titular gal Helen Slater isn’t really to blame – she looks and acts the part as least as well as any comic book convention cosplayer. The fatal flaw is the sheer weightlessness of his sci-fi/fantasy oriented story, combined with massive chunks of missing exposition trimmed by the producers and a host of bland or over-the-top supporting characters (especially Faye Dunaway, channeling Joan Crawford again as the villain) make Supergirl such a chore that it’s safe to say no reappraising cult will ever coalesce around this forgotten entry in the dregs of post-Superman, pre-Batman superhero flicks.
Enjoy this Alan Smithee Podcast commentary track in which we grab onto the red cape of courage and cling for dear life, bitching all the while.
NEXT EPISODE: CARRIE SPECIAL! CARRIE (1976, BRIAN DE PALMA) & THE RAGE: CARRIE 2 (1999, KATT SHEA)
In this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast, we party like its 1985 and try to keep our intellectual hats on – much like the authors of our two films, Real Genius and My Science Project. As discussed in our Revenge of the Nerds episode, there was a formative period in the decade of Reagan towards the social acceptance and respect for geeky, gawky intellectuals, at least so far as they could get down and party like the rest of us. This bra bomb better work, Nerdlinger!
Real Genius has built a considerable reputation as a cult comedy classic, surprisingly so, in that the film was not a financial success at the time and remains relatively unknown today. However, most everyone who has seen one or two scenes of Val Kilmer retains fond memories of his peak comic abilities, cast in the mold of the Bill Murray anarchic-slacker archetype who has ruled movie comedies arguably until present day.
Kilmer represents the best that archetype can be in Real Genius, a smart aleck who is actually smart, loves the ladies, defends the underdogs, and is not opposed to authority per se, but to authority figures like William Atherton who – whaddya know – was also a dickish authority figure in Ghostbusters the year prior.
Real Genius also was ahead of its time to the degree that some of the nerds in the film are quirky in ways that are true to life, rather than possessing cheap sitcom quirk, whether they’re Michelle Meyrink’s OCD nerdette or Robert Prescott as the bully-nerd Kent. Gabriel Jarret’s main character is also a sensitively portrayed wimp, and he probably hates Val Kilmer forever (geddit) for stealing the show and taking center stage on the awful theatrical poster, which misconstrues the film as some kind of madcap yuppie misadventure.
From a smart film pretending to be dumb to vice versa, My Science Project is a film with a lot of confidence and no brains whatsoever to get in the way of Fisher Stevens. Released by Touchstone, the story definitely has a kind of Disney-esque whimsy that could have made an entertaining movie for kids in more competent hands. Unfortunately, writer-director Jonathan R. Betuel of “The Last Starfighter” writing fame (and “Theodore Rex” infamy to come) doesn’t seem to know whom he’s making the movie for, let alone why his own film even needs to exist.
The main characters are high schoolers with less believable personalities than the cast of Saved By The Bell and despite the film’s Ghostbusters inspired poster promising a special effects extravaganza, the titular science project doesn’t begin to go haywire until halfway through the run time. Which means there’s plenty of time for the one-dimensional characters to twiddle their thumbs as Dennis Hopper earns a paycheck and star John Stockwell wishes he were still being chased by Christine.
All this, plus a tyrannosaurus rex (Bethuel really likes dinosaurs), props for the underrated Jonathan Gries (a basement dweller in Real Genius), and serious consideration of how special effects usually hurt comedies rather than help them in this young, fast and scientific episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast.
NEXT EPISODE: SUPERGIRL (1984, JEANNOT SZWARC) AUDIO COMMENTARY TRACK!
What is Steven Spielberg’s fascination with screaming children? Are they the best avatars of innocence to exploit for audience sympathy? Does he consider children his audience? Is the audience for a Spielberg movie the adult who’s a child at heart? The arrested development case? Are they one in the same? Did the special effects of Spielberg’s productions give baby boomers a sense of childlike wonder and amazement? Did that make them want to stay there, in that safe place? Did they feel secure? Did they ever feel like adults in the first place? Did Spielberg movies give cultural legitimacy to the boomer aesthetic of the eternal adolescent? Did E.T. blow John Carpenter’s The Thing out of the water because audiences didn’t want a science fiction movie for adults? Did Poltergeist really need to come out eight days after E.T.? Did Spielberg really need to fuck two leading American horror directors at once?
Was Poltergeist a horror film for adults? For children? Was the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Tobe Hooper, chosen to direct Poltergeist and make it a film for adults? Was Steven Spielberg nervous about entrusting a PG-rated horror film to the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Did Spielberg ask Hooper to make changes? Did he tell him? Did Spielberg direct two films at once? Has there ever been a single accurate report as to the controversy of who “really directed” Poltergeist? Would the average citizen of Hollywood have more to gain by boosting Spielberg, or the director of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre after the film was a hit? Would you trust Tobe Hooper around your children? Would you trust Steven Spielberg? What if there was a helicopter involved?
Do you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in curses? Do you think a movie can be cursed? Did you know that many people who worked on Poltergeist died? Did you know that three people who worked on Twilight Zone: The Movie died before the movie was even finished? Did Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen see Poltergeist? Did they see themselves as the next screaming Spielberg children, swept up in flashing lights and wind machines? Is Spielberg a religious man? Does he have a sense of his Judaism beyond the social isolation and Holocaust nightmares of imagination? Did any Jew of the Baby Boom generation? Do practicing Jews believe in the secular new age afterlife presented without reference to The Creator in Poltergeist?
If Spielberg is not a practicing Jew, is he superstitious? Is that why he wasn’t involved in Poltergeist II: The Other Side? Did Poltergeist II really need to be made? Did the story lend itself to a sequel? Did Michael Grais and Mark Victor watch The Exorcist II: The Heretic for inspiration before writing the screenplay? Should they have been allowed to continue in the film business after Poltergeist II? Might we have been spared the script for Cool World or would Frank Mancuso Jr. have found even worse writers to take the story away from Ralph Bakshi?
Was Julian “Henry Kane” Beck fatally ill as a result of the Poltergeist curse? Is that what made his performance so scary? Was it in good taste to pretend Dominique Dunne’s character from the first film didn’t exist because she was murdered in the interim? Were the godless Michael Grais and Mark Victor tempting further animus from the spirit world when they disrespected the dead? Did Craig T. Nelson and JoBeth Williams skip out on Part III so as not to push their luck? Did Heather O’Rourke die after starring in Poltergeist III because she pushed hers too far? Will Poltergeist ever be remade by the superstitious pagans in Hollywood for fear of breaking the seal on Spielberg’s vengeful victims? Is this kind of a Wes Craven’s New Nightmare-in-reverse situation? What is it?
TOMORROW: DAY AFTER CHRISTMAS COMMENTARY TRACK! SILENT NIGHT DEADLY NIGHT PART 2 (1987, LEE HARRY)
Will cartoons ever live in peace with man? Animation is the most degraded art form in history, a miracle of filmmaking which has lived in the entertainment ghetto so long that the Japanese surpassed America’s product output years ago. On native soil, cartoons either shuck and jive for the kiddies in movie theaters or prattle listlessly for jaded ironic young adults on late night TV. The stigma of cartoon characters as harmless subhumans who can only entertain is an old one, while the alluring stench of danger that wafts around “cartoons for adults” was more recently spewed by the resurgence of animation at the dawn of the 90s, embodied by The Simpsons and The Ren and Stimpy Show. This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast dives headfirst into the silent cold war of animation’s struggle for legitimacy with two films that straddled the line between animated and live-action entertainment, with varying results.
The use of cartoons as a metaphor for black entertainers marginalized within mainstream entertainment was extrapolated upon by author Gary K. Wolf in his 1981 novel Who Censored Roger Rabbit? Although cartoons and humans had been matched onscreen before, the movie rights to Wolf’s novel represented the bold possibility of a feature length collusion between the two. Robert Zemeckis, in his first of many obsessions with technological animated feats to come, seized upon the opportunity and released the (apparently minimally faithful) film version Who Framed Roger Rabbit in 1988. Roger Rabbit was a bonafide cultural phenomenon at the time, although later films inspired by its technological feats were a lot less artistically compelling.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit was produced by Disney, and as such, although it contains a few cameos from cartoon characters of other studios it rather treats the medium of animation the way the Oscars treats the medium of film – that every contributor to the form has been part of one big happy tapestry and the very idea of itself deserves celebration for all the laughs and tears and tears of laughter we’ve enjoyed. That, and a horrifically malformed “sexy” cartoon woman named Jessica Rabbit who was probably the biggest factor in Disney taking their name off the opening credits and making it a “Touchstone Pictures” film.
The first and most infamous of Roger Rabbit inspired movies was, ironically, directed by an animator whose name was synonymous with “adult animation” – Ralph Bakshi, director of the first X-rated animated movie Fritz the Cat and other transgressive animated features in the 1970s. Just before Roger Rabbit he had given future Ren & Stimpy creator John Kricfalusi (“John K”) his big break on the animated TV series The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse and with the recent renewal of mainstream interest in animation, the opportunity to return to feature filmmaking seemed like a great idea. Bakshi pitched Cool World to Paramount Pictures as the story of a cartoonist who enters a cartoon world and has sex with a cartoon girl, resulting in a half-cartoon half-human daughter who vengefully seeks him out in the real world to kill him – a horror film.
That was what was meant to be, until the Bakshi showed up on the first day of shooting to be handed a completely rewritten script in which there were now two human leads in the cartoon world, and rather than any horrific half-breed cartoon/human child, the plot now concerned the cartoon girl’s efforts to become human by sleeping with her cartoonist creator.
The resulting film is a giant disaster in which the convoluted metaphysical logistics are seemingly being written by the screenwriters minutes before the scenes are filmed, with hacky genre dialogue being peppered atop everything to explain the randomness – like the cartoon girl Holli Would referring to her human cartoonist’s visitation as “just a mindslip.” There’s also head-slappingly cheesy lines which contradict whatever internal logic the writers were pretending to create, like when a cartoon person says “I don’t give a doodle” despite the fact that the cartoon denizens of “Cool World” refer to themselves as “Doodles” and nobody goes around saying we don’t “give a human.” And that’s even before you can begin analyzing the wretchedness of a Kim Basinger performance.
The concept of a movie revolving entirely around having sex with cartoons is tailor made for 13 year olds (the oldest children who could see Cool World unaccompanied by parents) but the concept was much better delivered in the Fred Olen Ray joint from the same year, Evil Toons.
All this, plus digs at Steven Spielberg, TV cartoon writers and a rare kind word for Roger Ebert in this episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast!
NEXT EPISODE: MUPPETS SPECIAL! THE MUPPET MOVIE (1979, JAMES FRAWLEY) & MUPPETS FROM SPACE (1999, TIM HILL)
The Alien – capital T, capital A “Alien” – has been the Mickey Mouse of sci-fi horror for over 30 years now. That’s because there wasn’t really a recognized hybrid genre of “Sci-Fi Horror” before screenwriter Dan O’Bannon and his partner Ronald Shusett conceived a version of O’Bannon’s early sci-fi comedy Dark Star (directed by John Carpenter) in which the goofy beach ball-looking alien would be a terrifying monster and another crew of astronauts would be stuck in the black void of the cosmos with nowhere to run. The famous tagline “In Space No One Can Hear You Scream” said it all. Selling the audience on both a realistic spaceship and a seemingly real, unprecedentedly bizarre looking space monster helped change the standards by which space movies were judged. The same can be said of Star Wars, which similarly combined a lot of endearing features from an escapist fantasy genre and portrayed their spaceships and aliens so vividly with state-of-the-art special effects that all around the world, the mainstream was reintroduced to those charms as adults.
The fun hypothetical question to ask of both films is, what if the sequels and multi-media franchise empires had never followed? Just one self-contained Star Wars adventure and one Alien? The impact on the rest of the movie business actually would have remained much the same. Mickey Mouse would have remained in the dark shadows of our imagination, that’s for certain. The most prominent features of Ridley Scott’s original film, compared to the later sequels of James Cameron, David Fincher et all, are the slow pace of the story and the way the alien is shown as little as possible. This was not a case of the effects being unconvincing and necessitating minimal view as with the shark in Jaws, but simply Scott’s preference as the director. He did not consider himself a horror film maker after all, and under the harsh light of a horror movie fan’s experience, the film really ceases to be suspenseful or scary after the first viewing lets you know when the monster is going to suddenly emerge. Coupled with loud noises on the soundtrack when said jack-in-the-box “jump” moments occur, the overall effect of Alien on the horror end of the equation is ultimately rather lacking. No wonder the sequels barely bothered trying to be scary after people had seen the Alien in full view by the end of Scott’s movie – a view which practically reveals the zipper running up it’s back. Whoops. So close.
The residual strength of Alien is ultimately in the science fiction department. While unmistakably drawn from the late 1970s, the film’s cast of characters live and work in their spaceship as if they were born there. Their descent onto the alien planet and discovery of an alien ship containing alien eggs is a masterpiece of wonder in the face of the unknown, a creation of mood helped by Jerry Goldsmith’s awe inspiring score. The methodical arguments between Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm and Tom Skerritt over what actions to take grounds all the fantastic elements down to a practical level and makes the future seem all the more real. Culminating in the unforgettable sight of the mysterious alien “facehugger” wrapped around one of the astronauts, the first act of Alien is as engrossing and impressive an introduction to a possible future as Kubrick’s 2001.
Being a big studio, high profile, new post-Star Wars Summer blockbuster event picture, Alien contained a massive amount of gloss and polish which not every “Sci-Fi Horror” film produced in its wake could compete with when trying the experience. These Alien influenced horror films could, however, afford to imitate the most talked-about grossout moment of the movie: the infamous “Chestburster” scene where a penile hand puppet with teeth explodes out of John Hurt’s belly. Thus in the immediate wake of that infamous demise came a whole spate of fake heads and torsos being busted open from within by ugly sock puppets. Probably the worst among these is Alien 2: On Earth.
Alien 2: On Earth exists in the company of many other Italian knockoffs and unofficial sequels to American genre movies, such as 1983′s Escape From New York cash-in 2019: After the Fall of New York, previously featured on this very podcast. But where 2019 had some resources behind the production and ideas to add to the initial premise stolen from John Carpenter, Alien 2: On Earth appears to have been made for a handful of lira and adds absolutely nothing creative as a fake sequel to Alien. Following a team of modern day geologists on a doomed excursion into some Californian caves, the film does include blobby alien hatchlings which cling to and burst out of faces, but nothing else which could be confused for the original. The sole defense you could make of this film is that its producers did what fans of the real Alien movies waited decades to see – the aliens “on Earth” – but the incompetence of the filmmakers on every level makes any viewing an endurance test of pain.
Only sheer obscurity has kept 20th Century Fox from suing over the title, even after the recent Blu-Ray release by Midnight Legacy – who, like the film’s creators, are probably banking on the title and not the abominable film itself.
NEXT WEEK: NAZI HUNTING SPECIAL! BLACK BOOK (2006, PAUL VERHOEVEN) & BLOODRAYNE: THE THIRD REICH (2010, UWE BOLL)