by Jason Coffman
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Alien Trespass opens with a fake Movietone newsreel establishing the cultural climate of the time in which the film was supposedly made: America, 1957, nearing the end of the golden age of the science fiction film. Somewhat confusingly, the last segment is the story of how Alien Trespass has been shelved due to a clash between the film’s star and the money men who run the studio that produced it. This is a pretty telling start to what ends up being a somewhat muddled and confusing experience— while the opening would be a fine piece of marketing on its own, as a part of the film it’s just baffling.
The conceit behind Alien Trespass is that it’s a “lost classic” that’s been sealed in film canisters for 50 years and finally released after being discovered by accident by a construction crew on an old studio site. The film itself is an amalgam of various 50s sci-fi classics: a spaceship crashes on Earth, releasing a malevolent one-eyed monster called the Ghota and stranding its pilot Urp until he can destroy the beast and repair his ship. Urp’s actual form is a 7-foot-tall silver humanoid, so he uses his alien technology to “borrow” the body of a local astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) in order to blend in with the locals and stop the Ghota before it multiplies and eats all of mankind.
The supporting cast includes Ted’s concerned wife Lana (Jody Thompson), inept police officer Vernon (Robert Patrick), plucky waitress Tammy (Jenni Baird) and a trio of teens who saw the saucer crash and get caught up in the hunt for the Ghota while trying to get a picture of the ship to make their fortune. Trying his best to keep out of the way is Chief Dawson (Dan Lauria), two days away from retirement and in no hurry to get involved with any intergalactic hijinks. Urp wanders around the small desert town and stumbles into a tentative flirtation with Tammy while the Ghota pops up in various places turning people into puddles, while the locals are typically slow to catch on until it’s too late.
The filmmakers ably recreate the look of the period with some great production design— sets and costumes look great, but unfortunately the super-clean look of the film betrays the fact that it’s made with modern filmmaking technology. The opening saucer sequence features obvious CG effects where pie pans and spray-painted globes would have sufficed, and the structure of the film is upset by the fact that the credits are placed at the end of the film. Ironically, one of the DVD extras features a trailer in which the footage has been degraded to look like aged film. If the entire film had looked like this, a lot of the film’s other anachronisms would have been easily overlooked.
Still, the tone is dead-on and the film is refreshingly unironic. The filmmakers clearly have a great love and enthusiasm for the sci-fi classics to which the film openly pays tribute, and the cast is agreeably game to replicate the broad acting style often prevalent in those films. The Ghota is endearingly cheap, and its reign of terror is as relentless as any good 50s-era movie monster. Alien Trespass is a fun throwback and a fine way to spend and hour and a half, even if the illusion of authenticity isn’t quite as convincing as it should be.
Alien Trespass will be released by Image Entertainment on 11 August 2009. Extras include “Watch the Skies,” “Breaking News,” and “Live News Update” featurettes, interviews with director R. W. Goodwin and star Eric McCormack, an introduction by McCormack and theatrical trailers for the film.
Jason Coffman is a film critic living in Chicago.
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