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It’s a matter of debate whether there is life out there amidst the array of bright stars and planets. Some swear there are UFOs and the government is just covering it up in a grand conspiracy to keep people feeling safe. Others think it is a bunch of mumbo jumbo cooked up by eccentric types and hillbillies confusing rockets and airplanes for alien spacecraft.
In the end the richness of the human imagination is best exploited on the big screen. Ergo, alien invasions have been the subject of film fodder. Given the incredulous topic, these movies are rarely serious and almost exclusively filled with action, adventure, terror, and unintentional laughter. Not surprisingly, the subgenre is so oversaturated with clichés it is easily satirized. We’ve decided to assemble the good, the bad, and the ugly of this favored cinematic storyline.
Let’s begin with the most famous and most lucrative movie of the bunch: Roland Emmerich’s quintessential disaster film starring the Fresh Prince. The picture was so hotly anticipated it began a tradition that only recently found its wings and took off — the midnight showing. In July 1996, Independence Day took in $50 million and went on to invade both American and international cinemas to the tune of $817 million. The formula was simple: big alien spacecraft blows up Washington D.C. Come in brawny Will Smith to punch an alien in the face and save the day.
District 9 is a recent entry but a brave and unique one nonetheless. The story takes place in South Africa where stranded aliens live in apartheid-like conditions and face hostility from locals. An elitist has an unfortunate encounter with a prawn, as they are called, and begins his journey toward a change of heart and a race against time. The original setting and spin on the typical invasion garnered four Academy Award nominations. Instead of a typical hostile invasion the aliens merely got stuck on our planet and got taken advantage of.
This silly satire is more typical in method. A more intelligent species from another planet makes an unwelcome stop at the third rock from the sun. Their weapons are superior and their intent is a hostile takeover. Commence fighting, explosions, and heroism. It runs in the vein of Naked Gun or Spaceballs and frankly that ain’t bad. Actually, this ridiculous movie is so bad it can only be categorized as good. Too bad this Tim Burton film is sorely underrated.
War of the Worlds
It’s a bad time to be a sequel, unless you get paid upfront. Tom Cruise isn’t hurting over the critical bruising his retread took in 2005. A younger and cuter Dakota Fanning spent the entire runtime with wide eyes and a wider mouth screaming her little head off and annoying audiences everywhere. Besides the too-neat-to-be-credible ending nothing was particularly wrong with the big budget adventure, but so much more was expected out of Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of H.G. Wells’ story. Plenty took the bait though, to a final tally of nearly $600 million worldwide.
The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has been borrowed and duplicated in many forms. In fact, the basic premise is common enough to be cliché. So it isn’t any surprise that this uninspired remake made no waves in its release in 2007. Too bad Nicole Kidman didn’t have the box office fortune of her ex-husband. Her rendition of a classic alien invasion simply called The Invasion failed to muster interest.
This little picture is likely the most difficult to place in the bunch. On the one hand the movie is awesomely bad — just like Mars Attacks. On the other hand, it is not clear that it was intentional satire or just a poorly executed film. At first glance, any movie starring Denise Richards ought to be taken lightly, but this wasn’t marketed as satire. The special effects used to create the bug monsters are weak, the dialogue is atrocious, and it’s delivered by good-looking yet soon-to-be-forgotten actors.
Aliens vs Predator: Requiem
The first long awaited spinoff Alien vs Predator was a surprise hit of the summer. In typical Hollywood fashion, a sequel was quickly sent down the line. “AVP-R” was the same old story now set in a small town with forgettable and expendable characters. One wonders why there are always multiple aliens and one predator. Don’t those guys have friends? In any case, stuff got blown up and a bunch of people died. Go figure.
Consider this the beginning of the end for John Travolta’s good name in Hollywood. After joining a certain controversial religious organization eyebrows were raised at the talented thespian. His homage to his new fellowship came in the form of a personal production, Battlefield Earth, based on a novel by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. Forrest Whitaker hopes we have all forgotten this unfortunate casting decision especially considering it nearly got him a Razzie Award for worst supporting actor.
Okay so I’m stretching it a bit but this is the ugly section after all. Who says it’s hard to get a film greenlit? In this tale of terror, Jason Voorhees is awakened amidst a spaceship colonized by earthlings who have left their uninhabitable planet. He does his usual slice and dice on gorgeous archetypes of horror. By the year 2000, Jason Voorhees classic name had been battered and bruised by enough low-class sequels. This was the nail in his coffin; though he later made his way out.
A screener for this movie said “if Independence Day and War of the Worlds had a baby it would be Skyline.” Produced for a scant $10 million, the makers of Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem have tried their hand at a battle for Los Angeles. In this story, UFO’s fall from the sky and enrapture unsuspecting onlookers with their hypnotic light. Look up and you’ll find yourself sucked up with the galaxy’s most powerful vacuum. This hybrid of the good and the bad opens Friday.