July 23, 2009

DVD Review: Alien Trespass

It may be an arguable fact, or even pure opinion, but the 1950's may have been the best era for science fiction. So many classic films came out of this decade to support this argument that it isn't even funny. Sometimes I sit and imagine what it must have been like to be a kid growing up in these years. What would it have been like to go and see Saturday matinees of movies like The Day the Earth Stood Still, War of the Worlds, Them!, Earth vs. The Flying Saucers, Forbidden Planet, and The Blob. I suspect that the writers and director of this movie have often wondered the same thing, and that wonder has become manifest by the creation of Alien Trespass.

When you first see the promotional materials, see the trailer and posters, and read the description, it is likely that you will have serious questions as to what this thing is really about. At a glance, two thoughts came to mind. First up, this was going to be a send up of the 50's era films, completely tongue in cheek, almost mocking in tone. Secondly, I thought this was going to be a retro movie that played to the old formulas but updated them with modern sensibilities, you know how those things go. Both of those ideas turned out to be wrong, although the second one turned out to be partially right.

r_still_9Alien Trespass is certainly a retro movie, however, it has not gone through any sort of updating, virtually nothing was done to make it appear modern. This is a movie that goes all out in replicating the look and feel of those old school science fiction movies. From the opening scratchy newsreels, to the over saturated colors (making it look a little like a Technicolor film), to the stiff performances and dialogue, it feels perfectly authentic. It is this authenticity that makes this movie so charming. Experiencing Alien Trespass is like stepping back in time, back to the days of youth when movies were things of wonder. This is not to say this movie is perfect, but it is just right.

The movie can be played with or without an introduction by the director. Of course, I chose to play it with and I am glad I did. It is set in the offices of an old movie studio with Eric McCormack and R.W. Goodwin. They talk about a movie made in 1957 that was never released, it starred McCormack's grandfather and was directed by Goodwin's grandfather. However, it was believed lost to the ages until a pristine negative was uncovered, buried beneath a part of the studio that has been torn down, and now we get to see it for the first time ever. It is a great little bit that adds to that authentic feeling, sure it is easy to get in on the joke, but it is the little things that go a long way to making this an entertaining project.

What is the film about? It is standard fare for the B-films of the period, and does not come anywhere near the best of the generation, but it does have the craft of those who obviously have a love for those films.

r_still_8It begins with scratchy, black and white newsreels telling of the world at that time, much like what you may have seen at those Saturday matinees. We then cut to a small town in California, everyone is going about their business, all appears normal. Then a meteor shower lights up the night, culminating with a spectacular crash just outside town. This once quiet town is about to be upended by visitors from another world!

A local scientist named Ted Lewis (McCormack) goes to investigate, while a couple of kids from town also decide to check it out. Ted arrives and is immediately captured by a strange alien man in a silver suit, all while a tentacled, rubbery critter with one giant eye runs amok in town.

Soon enough, Ted shows up back at home to his worried wife, Lana (Jody Thompson), but something is different. Ted doesn't seem like Ted, he is acting very strangely and does not seem to know much of the common items around him. You see, the silvery alien needed a body to borrow, in order to blend in and recapture the rubbery critter, called a Ghorta.

What follows is a series of chases, misunderstandings, and alien attacks as the kids try to convince the police that they have seen a monster, the cops trying to retain some sort of order, Ted wandering around acting strange, and pretty much everything you would expect from a 1950's sci fi movie.

r_still_3Director R.W. Goodwin has done a fine job of recreating the look and feel of the era with authentic costumes and set design. He has also chosen to use primarily practical effects, the creature is actually there, and while he is a bit goofy with that waggling tentacle, I like it. It is a much better choice than going with some sort of computer effect.

The performances are not great, nor are they supposed to be. They all have a certain stiff quality to them as they deliver dialogue that is not very natural in the least. Again, it is not supposed to. This team truly went all out in making it feel like an old movie.

Audio/Video. The video is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen and it looks really good. Aside from the scratchy newsreels, the image is spotless. The colors are a bit over saturated, but it is most definitely on purpose. Everything is crisp and clear. It doesn't look like the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but it is not supposed to. This is a transfer meant to evoke a bygone era with a movie that doesn't need to be restored to look pretty. As for the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds fine. It gives us all the center driven dialogue and a nice presentation of Louis Febre's score (which opens with the sweet sounds of a theremin). It is not a very active surround track, but it does the job well.

Extras. This Image release has a few extras buy in and go along with the idea of this being a long lost movie.
  • "Watch the Skies" Alien Trespass Featurette. This takes a look at the 1957 production, from its troubled shooting through to the supposed destruction of all prints. This includes interviews with the 1957 cast and their current descendants.
  • "Meet the Person" with Edwin R. Burroughs (Full-Length Interviews with the Cast). Archival interviews with the stars of Alien Trespass, the 1957 movie. It is entirely in character and in glorious black and white.
  • Breaking News. The first report of the uncovering of the long lost film, complete with an "impromptu" interview with Eric McCormack.
  • Live News Update. This is a brief news report telling of the uncovering of the Alien Trespass print and leads into the film's trailer, which has been marked up a bit to make it appear older than it is. It is a pretty nice trailer.
  • New Interviews with R.W. Goodwin and Eric McCormack. Pretty good interviews with discussion including love for the 50's sci fi movies and a desire to accurately emulate the look and feel of those movies, and playing an alien.
  • Theatrical Trailer. Two versions of the trailer are included.

Bottomline. This movie is a lot of fun. The only thing it requires is that you have a love or at least an appreciation for this sort of film. This is a product of love and while it may not be a memorable classic, it is more than an entertaining diversion that I have a feeling I will enjoy returning to from time to time.



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