The horror, science fiction, and fantasy genres are already attacked on all sides by self satisfied critics unable (or unwilling) to concede imaginative storytelling's contributions to cultural art, the inherent greed of an industry more attuned to business than to entertainment, and its own intellectual laziness. So it feels paramount to betrayal for a critic to further fan the flames against them. But the job of a critic/reviewer is to examine honestly and with his own aesthetic principles (and hopefully some degree of expertise) each film that comes before his desk for the merits of good storytelling . . . or as is often the case, flaws. Loving a genre is all well and good, but honesty has to come first lest the reviewer becomes a publicist, and the genre as a whole is further weighed down by product of an increasingly weak nature. Which brings us to Alien Apocalypse. While in no way a horrible movie, and certainly enjoyable in its own goofy, light hearted manner, this film -- and the weak minded, powder-puff sentimentality that its story represents all too willingly -- is an unfortunate reminder of a genre whose control by business concerns throws aside any pretence at honest storytelling or attempt to truly disturb audiences for a 'one size fits all' feel good experience. Whereas our ancestors had truly challenging, literate, and emotionally powerful folklore to explore the dark byways of existence, and the golden days of film proved capable of merging a certain degree of humanistic philosophy with terror and tension in such a way so as not to overshadow either, this lacklustre 'made for the masses' story wears its populist sentiment on its sleeve and is all too willing to sing the 'Star Spangled Banner' instead of seriously exploring its portended theme of difference, cultural conflict, and alien invasion. The movie is nothing more or less than masturbatory enthusiasm for the masses, masked as an invaders from space tale.
The early portion of the plot makes promises that it doesn't deliver on by suggesting that the film is going to be a hilarious homage to the classic sci-fi films of Golden Age past, merging space travel and inter-species warfare with a quest for survival in a post-apocalyptic society controlled by cannibalistic aliens somewhere between grasshoppers and lizards. Unfortunately, amongst a rather exciting and self referential first quarter, where tongue-in-cheek humor and genre in-jokes compliment surprisingly satisfying decapitations and brain chewing, the brain dead 'yay team!' sentiment that ruins the remainder of the experience seeps in. Bruce Campbell, a sadly underrated actor, stars as Dr. Ivan Hood who, along with three others, has spent the last four decades frozen in deep space sleep on a research mission. When he arrives back on Earth, he finds that the planet is now dominated by giant insectoid aliens, using the planet as a Capitalist nightmare, and enslaving humans to be their work force (sounds rather like the town I live in!). He escapes to travel a land spoiled by traitorous humans and passive victims on his way to seek out the President, who legend claims is mustering a resistance. It is little surprise that along the way he forms a standard league of faithful followers, impressed by his healing prowess, and that, when finding the government is about as useful as a split condom, they all return to kick some alien ass.
There is a place for movies that do nothing but entertain, but even these films should accomplish more than Alien Apocalypse manages. The biggest flaw, and the most insulting aspect of the story, is its smirking decision to not even attempt a degree of seriousness or realism in the context of its fantastical situation, something that Ed Wood even managed now and again. The result is a sci-fi parody/send-up that defeats itself by weak writing and a limpid dependence on the cliché theme of 'hey, we're humans, and we're going to kick butt!' Enjoyable to those under twelve and adults who are looking to have their simplistic hero worship and love of authority reaffirmed, this flick does make for a fairly easy way to spend an hour or so. Yet even those looking for nothing more profound than an enjoyable pulp story of adventure may have a hard time swallowing the premise and the appallingly ignorant 'we're all brothers, amen!' message that the filmmakers shove down your throat with all the subtlety of a pounding fist. An example? Okay: it will surprise no one that just when Bruce needs it, the Calvary, inspired by his example, come charging in to take care of those pesky intruders. Isn't it lucky that people are so decent and loving, so very dependable? Isn't it great that a writer can pass this fluff off as a script? Anchor Bay, which is rightly revered for helping instigate the DVD revolution and for making available the works of Argento, Bava, and Fulci, is just working by the numbers here. And while there is no shame in that, there isn't much point either - at least to fans of the genre - folks who can enjoy parody and humor, but not a grade school mentality. The promotional material proudly proclaims that the movie is the 'highest rated Sci-Fi Pictures original of all time!' This, unfortunately, says it all -- and quicker than I can. It is just one more unnecessary, poorly conceived story made for viewers who WANT their genre entertainment with training wheels. Nothing too disturbing or powerful, just throw in some monster suits, some anorexic characters, and a few limp-dicked scares, and they're happy. Besides, Stargate is coming on, man! Now that's really scary!
As usual, Anchor Bay treats Alien Apocalypse with respect, giving the DVD a clean and clear 1.77.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Black levels are strong and there is no grain or visual flaws to speak of. Colors are vibrant. Skin tones are realistic, with good detail throughout. Audio is professionally done, featuring both an English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix or a slightly weaker English language Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Both are properly balanced, although the former is more stirring.
Extras are a mixed bag, with the Commentary with director Becker and actor Campbell as the most substantial. In fact, the commentary is better than the film. Other items include Behind the Scenes footage, the usual Still Gallery, a Campbell Bio, and Previews.
Review by William P Simmons
|Released by ANCHOR BAY|
|Region 1 - NTSC|
|see main review|