Monthly Archives: September 2016

Deep Ice: Perhaps You Can Hear the Sound? (Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, Part 1)

Jeff Wayne's Musical Version of War of the WorldsIt is September 6, 1978. My parents are still living in Pennsylvania for a few more months, but in my future home state of Maryland, the Camp David accords have started, bringing the promise of peace in the middle east. John Paul I gives a speech to the Roman clergy. It’s his sixth major speech since becoming Pope in August. He’ll make three more speeches before his death on the 28th. The first genetically engineered synthetic human insulin is announced in California. Keith Moon will die tomorrow of a Hemineverin overdose. Friday, the Shah of Iran will declare martial law. The Iranian army will fire on protesters in Tehran. Violence between the army and supporters of Khomeini would earn the day the name “Black Friday”, and would generally end any chance of peaceful reconciliation between the Shah and the opposition. Also this week, Bulgarian dissident Giorgi Markov will be — I am not making this up — poisoned with ricin in London, delivered in the form of a pellet injected by an umbrella. This is just the sort of thing that happened during the Cold War.

The Yankees will spend the next few days thoroughly trouncing the Boston Red Sox. Saturday, the O’s will pull off a triple play against Toronto. Next week, Muhammad Ali will win his third World Heavyweight title. Not-unrelatedly, DC comics will publish Superman vs Muhammad Ali this month. AC/DC will appear on tonight’s The Midnight Special on ABC. The most recent season of Columbo, having ended back in May, aired its last repeat on NBC last week. It’ll live on only in syndication until ABC revives the series in 1989. NBC premieres the comedy-drama Grandpa Goes to Washington this week, and CBS will debut a TV series based on the 1973 film The Paper Chase.

Saturday will introduce the fall lineup of Saturday Morning Cartoons, including an animated adaptation of Godzilla, Yogi’s Space Race, and The New Adventures of the Fantastic Four, featuring the beloved Marvel team consisting of Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Thing, and HERBIE the robot (The Human Torch had been optioned by Universal). Also debuting is Jason of Star Command, a more action-oriented spin-off of last year’s Space Academy. Aesthetically, it’s about halfway between Star Trek and Blake’s 7; tonally, it’s about halfway between Lost in Space and Star Crash. Also, James Doohan is in it. Next week will see the debuts of Taxi and Mork & Mindy; the following one will add Battlestar Galactica and WKRP in Cincinatti.

Across the pond, Saturday brings us the second episode of Doctor Who‘s opening story for its fifteenth season, The Ribos Operation. The serial, part of the season long “Key to Time” arc, provides an oft-quoted self-description of a seer: “The past explained, the future foretold and the present…apologized for”. Less-often quoted is one of my personal favorite lines, the Doctor’s retort when Romana is suprised to learn that an honest-faced man is working an elaborate con: “Well, you could hardly be a successful criminal with a dishonest face.” Sunday, ITV will start airing Return of the Saint, a revival of the 1960s Roger Moore series The Saint.

The top of the billboard chart this week goes to A Taste of Honey with “Boogie Oogie Oogie”. They’ve bumped Frankie Valli’s funky disco theme song to Grease down to number six. Grease holds two other slots in the top ten with “Hopelessly Devoted To You” at number four and “Summer Nights” at eight. “Three Times a Lady” is in second place, while Foreigner, Exile, Andy Gibb, Evelyn Champagne King and Earth Wind and Fire fill out the rest of the chart. This week, Lynrd Skynyrd will put out Skynyrd’s First… And Last,  their first “posthumous” album since the 1977 deaths of Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and Cassie Gaines in a plane crash. The surviving band members would reform the band in 1987, and the album would be rereleased as The Complete Muscle Shoals Album in 1998. David Bowie will release his second live album, Stage. And prolific advertising jingle writer Jeff Wayne releases a prog rock concept album based on H. G. Wells’s novel, The War of the Worlds.

Yes, I know with last week’s lead-in, you were probably expecting me to take a swing at Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day. But let’s face it: what am I going to say about that movie that adds anything to our collective experience. Sure, it’s a hugely important movie in what it did to the Hollywood culture of summer blockbusters. And yes, it is quite clearly a… Let’s say “remix” of War of the Worlds. But I’ve already made the, “Slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest thing that God, in his wisdom, has put upon the Earth: Jeff Goldblum,” joke, probably more than once by now, and I just don’t have much to say about it, certainly nothing novel. Its flaws are well understood, deriving almost entirely from it being a “big dumb movie” whose bigness so completely overshadows its dumbness that no one really cares. I lament the way that the success of the Huge Summer Blockbuster basically destroyed “small” films as a viable mainstream thing, to the extent that movies which 20 years ago would have been considered perfectly acceptable are now thought worthy only of derision and mockery, but I can’t really draw a whole article out of it.

ZX Spectrum version of War of the Worlds

This may be the best conversion of a licensed game’s artwork from the entire 8-bit era.

So instead, I’m going to talk about Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds. And I’m going to start by saying that Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds is a ridiculously cumbersome title. It is often known, of course, by less cumbersome titles, such as “Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds” or “War of the Worlds: The Musical”, but don’t be fooled. In case the title is not already sufficiently baroque, an abridged version was released in 1981 under the title Highlights from Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds (This is the version I’m most familiar with, since I rarely have time to sit down and listen to the two-hour-long original). Then in 1984, CRL Group released a tie-in video game for the ZX Spectrum titled Jeff Wayne’s Video Game Version of The War of the Worlds. In 2000, a remix album was released under the title The War of the Worlds: ULLAdubULLA — The Remix Album and in 2006, a live tour of the album went out as Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds Live On Stage!. This was followed by an updated and recast version in 2011 called Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The New Generation, which then went on tour as Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds – The New Generation: Alive on Stage!, and then later, possibly after someone explained to Jeff Wayne that marquee signs charge by the letter, as The Farewell Thunderchild Tour.

In the intervening time, Wayne’s version was also adapted two additional times as a video game: in 1998 as a PC strategy game, then in 1999 as a Playstation third-person shooter with a heavy vehicular combat element. This, of course, makes Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds the musical most adapted to the video game format, a title it will surely hold unless my Kickstarter for 1776: The Cover-Based Shooter makes its goal (Rejected jokes for this spot: Les Miserables: The Survival Horror, Repo: The Genetic Flappy Bird Clone, Candy Crush: Sweeney Todd Edition and Open-World Sandbox Evita).

The album has basically been adapted into every form you can think of except, ironically, a full-fledged stage musical. The closest it’s come is the most recent West End production earlier this year, which was broadly panned for… Not really being a proper musical. I mean, I could have told you up front that a story that has basically no plot or characters is going to be a rough conversion to the format of musical theater. But the concept album-to-musical conversion has worked in the past lots of times. Tommy started out as a concept album. So did Evita and Les Miserables. But, y’know, those have characters and stuff. Though Wayne has expressed a desire to flesh out the love story between The Journalist and his girlfriend, who are separated by the war, you’re talking about a far more substantial rewrite than has been undertaken. Also, he’d probably want to actually make the main character a person who appears on-stage in the show, rather than a holographic Liam Neeson.

This looks remarkably similar to a film they have of Robert Ripley at the Ocean City Ripley Museum.

This looks remarkably similar to a film they have of Robert Ripley at the Ocean City Ripley Museum.

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Deep Ice: I’m not trying to tell you what to be, oh no, oh no, not me (Alien Dawn, Part 3)

Previously, on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging…

Aliens invaded. For no especial reason other than “Because otherwise this movie wouldn’t keep happening,” four randos have decided that where the US military has completely failed, they can succeed by blowing up alien tripods with home-made bombs.

Alien Dawn - Marissa and Tripod

There’s something about this shot that makes me think of Don Quixote.

Anyway, Anders’s plan is for Marissa to wave a flare at a tripod that’s just milling around in the desert, and get it to chase her over some explosives they’re improvised. Marissa vlogs the lead-up, in which she alternates between panicked insistence that she can’t do it and panicked insistence that she can, but the plan goes off. Later, Marissa vlogs about the experience, and gives the strange tidbit that she got a strange sense from the tripod that it was looking at her with regret. Another strange and tantalizing detail here, the possibility that the aliens don’t actually want to do this, and are acting out of desperation. But as with everything else in this movie, it comes out of nowhere, goes nowhere, and is inserted randomly at an awkward point later in the film. where it doesn’t really fit. Only after the tripod is down, Anders notices another tripod in the distance, and they’re forced to flee. Anders and Marissa escape, but Sera, Roger and Eyebrows get vacuumed up in order to provide motivation for the final act, where they liberate the prison camp in Paradise City.

“The United States government is urging every citizen to protect themselves. Every man, woman and child is now responsible for their own safety. If you have a firearm, you need to use it,” says a news broadcast as we see groups of random people walking down a random street carrying weapons. Nope, no idea who they are. Nope, won’t become relevant later.

Our remaining heroes do a lock-and-load montage and approach the city. Seeing an alien structure in the distance, they have a nigh-incoherent conversation:

Anders: What’s that? Looks like an oil refinery.
Marissa: It’s not pretty. I don’t like it
Anders: There’s not going to be anything left.
Marissa: Way to think positive.
Anders: Under the circumstances, we’ll have to see, won’t we?

While Anders is setting up, Marissa records another vlog and is interrupted by one of the many armed civilians freely wandering the streets in this alien-occupied city. He looks like the world’s cheapest Bradley Cooper knock-off. His name is Rennick, as Anders will later somehow know despite never having met him. Also, fun fact, “rennick” is apparently slang for anal sex. What the everloving fuck is even happening in this movie? The scene is nonsensical and contributes nothing. He assumes she’s with another “company”, implying that there’s an organized resistance, but has no objection when she tells him, roughly, that she’s on her own and has brought a bunch of bombs. He tells her that his group is also planning to blow the place up, though he doesn’t take any issue when she demands that he wait because she’s got “people down there.”

Not-Bradley Cooper is more interested in her vlogging. He offers to take her back to, I guess, his leadership to get some more information about the defenses around the prison camp, but he gets vacuumed up by the aliens around the first corner, which is weird given that they keep cutting to really large groups of people walking around freely. Though they completely vanish now. Once again, it goes nowhere and accomplishes nothing.

Anders returns and blows up their car to distract the prison camp guards. The prison proper consists of a wrought iron fence with the gate chained shut. I love the basic insanity of this. Ordinary chain. Ordinary lock. Ordinary fence. The tripods don’t have hands and the aliens themselves are ridiculously physically unwieldy, I can’t even begin to imagine them ushering people into this fenced-in area and then closing and chaining the gate.

They’re reunited with Bradley Cooper, Roger and Eyebrows, but Sera has been taken to a “black temple” nearby. Anders blows up the chain on the gate and Marissa blows up… Something off-screen. Eyebrows and Marissa scream at each other for a few seconds over the fact that they’re ditching her with Bradley Cooper while they go rescue Sera.

The rescue consists of walking down a long, dark, greenscreen tunnel with no context until they find an alien who is in the process of eating Sera. Or rather, in the process of pulling her into the slimy sheet vinyl curtain that is meant to represent its mouth.

Alien Dawn - Martian

Cthulu ’16: Why choose the lesser evil?

Probably meant to be some kind of cephalopod-ish thing. Reminds me a lot of The Crawling Eye. Anders compares it to the sorts of dates Roger brings home. I think it is meant to be very large, but I can’t tell because you never see it on-screen with anything else to give scale.

They shoot at the ceiling, though, and this seems to stun it or something, causing a contextless shot of a grody alien, uh, thingy… retracting. Probably a blood-sucking proboscis, sure, but without context, I am going to assume that being shot caused this alien to lose its erection.

They pull Sera free of the alien. Her pants are torn, her legs are covered in gunge, and she needs help walking for the rest of the film, but there’s no visible injuries. Marissa decides that she needs a Badass scene, so she says, “So I guess this is where I’m supposed to ask you where your from and what you want. But honestly, I don’t care. Come on guys, let’s kill this bitch!” This time, they shoot at chest-level until its eyeball retracts, which I guess means that it’s dying.

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Deep Ice: Washington will confirm an order to use the atom bomb (Alien Dawn, Part 2)

Previously on A Mind Occasionally Voyaging

Aliens invade. Gallons of bleach get drunk. Three vague characters bicker over snacks. When we left our characters, they were fleeing their occupied city.

For more comic relief, Roger suggests that “they” might nuke the city to get rid of the aliens. Given the complete destruction of the federal government at this point, I’m not sure who “they” are. Anders dismisses the possibility as ridiculous.

It's ironic how much the top of that mushroom cloud looks like Bob Ross's hair.

It’s ironic how much the top of that mushroom cloud looks like Bob Ross’s hair.

So of course we jump-cut to the city exploding in a mushroom cloud as they drive away. Roger crows a happy little “told-you-so”, not at all upset about the fact that he’s probably just sucked up enough radiation to ensure an unpleasant lingering death. Fortunately, the EMP effect does not disable their car, and the shock wave we literally see pass through them doesn’t force them off the road or anything.

There’s some weird discussion over whether “they” are going to nuke all the cities. Anders thinks it unlikely — “One or two cities would be a good deterrent, if they do anymore than that then we’ll have to start from the beginning and be like cavemen.” This dialogue is seriously close to gibberish. They haven’t seen any military presence, and speculate that the military was wiped out first, and that’s a little bit of a strange conclusion since they literally just saw evidence of the military at work, and they’re still planning to go to Paradise City. Where the grass is green and — never mind. Marissa mentions planes flying overhead in her next vlog, and is hopeful that this means that the military is back. Or that the director realized that airplanes flying overhead were about to ruin his shot. Nothing ever comes of it.

Alien Dawn - Car driving down a not-quite-empty road

I wonder if the people in that other car way down the road have an exciting story of survival too.

The news clears both Paradise City and the previously-unmentioned Little Haven as “radiation-free zones”, but adds that the aliens seem to be building a base camp in the former. The news reporting is surprisingly timely and accurate given the collapse of society. This could be an interesting contrast from basically every other adaptation, where a big part of the tension and suspense comes from how quickly the lines of communication break down. You could, if you wanted, frame it as commentary on the way that, say, post-9/11, the constant drumming of the 24-hour-news-cycle has made global tragedy and catastrophe seem more pressing and omnipresent. But you’d have to have a lot more faith than I do that this movie is intentional.

A more pragmatic, Doylist way of looking at it is that they got to the end of principal photography and realized that the movie was meandering and borderline incoherent, so they filmed a bunch of second-unit “news” footage to connect the story together. And I’m honestly kinda fine with that in principle. It could be an interesting experiment to send some people out with cameras and some backstory, then have an editor try to piece what they got back together into a coherent movie. An interesting experiment. For an art film. Probably not the way you want to do a low-budget Sci-Fi horror movie.

Alien Dawn - Red Weed

I… Actually, isn’t that just a pointsetta?

They reunite with Sera and Eyebrows, whose car has broken down, and discover something that you hardly ever see included in War of the Worlds adaptations: the red weed. There’s a longish rambling discussion where Roger and Anders meander their way through muddy memories of old movies to get out the concept of terraforming and they speculate that the black smoke was actually seeding the land. This is based entirely on Eyebrows seeing a plant Sera doesn’t recognize — just one, not, like, a whole field or something — and it never comes up again.

We’re getting on toward the midpoint of the movie, so if Alien Dawn is going to turn out to have anything to say, it should really get on with it. Finding Paradise City under alien occupation, Roger resolves to slip in under cover of darkness to reconnoiter. This leads to a heartfelt scene where everyone looks sad about the fact that he’s probably going to die. Then Marissa and Anders go off together for this strange exchange:

Marissa: You know, you’re funny.
Anders: Huh?
Marissa: I think if this hadn’t happened, you know you and me, wouldn’t have happened either, right? In the real world?
Anders: Oh, yeah, the normal world at the bar, when things were… I don’t know, maybe you’re different.
Marissa: You’re different too. Crazy… but different.
Anders: You may be right, this would not have happened. But, uh, now everything is different, everything is changing.

Anders and Marissa

Rachelle Dimaria is actually a decent physical actor. I wonder if she’d be any good in a real movie.

Ignoring the organically clumsy dialogue, I guess the gist here is that Anders and Marissa are a couple now? When did that happen? The only scene that even hinted at affection between them was when he comforted her back on day four (There are intertitles to let us know how much time is passing, though I could not actually the transition to day 8, which I think is now). She’d otherwise been way more affectionate with Roger. There seemed like there might have been something setting up a love triangle with Marissa, Anders and Roger, with Anders showing signs of jealousy when Roger hugged her, but they never pursued it.

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Deep Ice: That meteor is either very light, or it’s hollow (Neil Johnson’s Alien Dawn, Part 1)

Alien Dawn

Does this scene appear in the movie? Of course not.

It is August 6, 2012, and it can really only be a coincidence that the Curiosity rover has landed on the surface of Mars today. A Chevron refinery in California catches on fire. Reality TV start Donald Trump tweets “An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud,” making him a laughinstock and guaranteeing him no future in the public eye. Or not. Whatever.

I gather there is some sort of sporting event going on in England involving James Bond or something. Not the US’s best showing today: we earn one gold medal today, for women’s pole vault. Russia takes home seven medals, three of them gold. Great Britain picks up two golds and a bronze. The US will finish the games with a commanding 103 total medals, with China coming second with 88. Stateside, the Orioles beat the Mariners.

In “The US is really fucked up” news, a white supremacist killed six people and wounded four in an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Wednesday, the killer in the 2011 Tuscon mass shooting (an assassination attempt on US Representative Gabby Giffords) will plead guilty on all charges and be sentences to life without parole. That same day, Texas will execute Marvin Lee Wilson, in apparent violation of the SCOTUS in Atkins v. Virginia, forbidding the execution of the mentally handicapped. Wilson’s recorded IQ was 61.


Also, we introduced him to bell peppers. I have to remember to show him this the next time he swears he doesn’t like them.

Dylan had three bottles of milk, squash, and carrots at school, naps four times, and is on nystatin for a rash. Last week, he whacked his face on one of the toys in the mobile infant room and needed an ice pack and comforting.

Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but for the seventh week in a row, the Billboard Hot 100 is topped by Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”. She’d unseated Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know” back in June. He’s down to number 5 this week. Katy Perry, Flo Rida, Ellie Goulding, Usher and Pink are also among the top ten, and I think we must be in that period when I started listening to top 40 music again between when I decided my commute was too short to listen to audiobooks and when I officially became Old and started listening to the news instead.

The reimagining of Total Recall is new in theaters this week. The Lorax is released on DVD and Blu-Ray. DreamWorks Dragons, a television series based on the How to Train Your Dragon film series, premieres tomorrow on Cartoon Network. Matthew Perry vehicle Go On will premiere Wednesday. Jon Stewart’s guest is Tim Gunn. Stephen Colbert’s is Pete Seeger, who plugs his new book, Pete Seeger In His Own Words, then sings “Quite Early Morning”. Thursday, the BBC will announce their upcoming docudrama on the origins of Doctor Who, An Adventure in Time and Space, which will air next November.

This is the point in the essay where I might say, “I do this for you, dear reader. I put myself through this for you.” But since hardly anyone reads these things, clearly I am doing this not for you but out of some kind of traumatic brain injury or something. Every time I think I’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, I come out the other side and it turns out that there’s just more barrel.

But I exaggerate. This movie is bad, but it’s not offensively bad. I didn’t really get anything out of this movie, but it didn’t hurt me or anything. Alien Dawn is a low-budget, direct-to-dvd movie sort of loosely based on The War of the Worlds. Sorta. It’s hard to really call it an adaptation as the narrative has almost nothing to do with the original. Or anything really. This movie doesn’t really have a “story” in the normal sense. There’s a general structure of progression, but there’s not what you’d call a “plot” until the final act, and even then, it’s less of a cause-and-effect sequence of events leading to a climax, and more of a “they set a goal and then mill around and then the goal gets accomplished.” So much nothing happens in this movie that there were times when I started to convince myself that it was actually some kind of hybrid War of the Worlds/Waiting for Godot adaptation.

You know what it’s like? Real weird to say it, but this movie is basically The Blair Witch Project with aliens. I don’t know if anyone actually likes found footage movies. On the one hand, there’s this sense of intimacy and unscriptedness and it’s like a Dogme movie only without competence. But on the other hand, nausea-inducing shakey-cam and implausible cameras and the knowledge that Hollywood is only making these things because of how cheap they are.

Alien Dawn isn’t a strict found footage movie, though something in the neighborhood of half the film is presented in the form of diagetic footage, either in the form of interference-distorted news reports from “BCC World” (A seemingly American station whose ident is shamelessly ripped off from the BBC) or scanline-distorted smartphone footage.

President Obama Newsreel footage in Alien Dawn

Fox’s chyron says “Do Invaders Have Obama’s Birth Certificate?”

They never identify the aliens as Martian in dialog, but like the Asylum version, the opening titles give an establishing shot of Mars before joining the action on Earth. For a movie which spends so much of its runtime going nowhere, Alien Dawn gets started in a hurry: there’s no twenty minutes of people going to and fro over the globe about their little affairs, followed by a night of idle speculation over a large meteorite. We start smack-bang in the middle of the first big push of the attack, with tripods already stalking through the unnamed city. Possibly. We see them several minutes before any of the characters do, I think.

The only adaptation we’ve visited that’s rolled out the tripods this fast is Goliath. There are some parallels between the pair of 2012 films, mostly to Goliath‘s favor. Alien Dawn‘s tripods bear a passing resemblance to those in the animated film, though they’re closer in design to the alliance tripods than the Martian ones. There’s a bit of a steampunk vibe to them, especially since we first see one belching black smoke (Which doesn’t seem like it actually belongs at this point in the narrative, but whatever). They’re much more mechanical in form than either of the Asylum designs, with a barrel-shaped body and hints of the AT-ST in the design of the legs. There’s a cage in the front which can contain captured humans, which, I think, get vacuumed up through its legs. The aesthetic is decidedly less “alien” than most of what we’ve seen in these forays, enough that you could imagine them being man-made, if only on a Metal Gear “It’s not a giant mech; it’s a tank with legs” sort of way.

Alien Dawn Tripod

Also, they stole all the lens flare machines from the JJ Abrams Star Trek.

The tripods aren’t the only things in the invader arsenal. I think we also see some flying machines, but only briefly, and we don’t get a good look at them. And there’s large cylinder ships which fall to Earth like meteors. These are obviously the transport craft, though they don’t show anything emerging from them. The rendering is decent for the tripods. Not exactly fantastic, but about par for a made-for-TV movie. The cylinders are considerably worse. We don’t see the tripods move much: they spend large parts of the movie just standing around. When we do see them move, it’s usually a close-up of the legs.

The tripod armaments aren’t explained in detail and are inconsistent. Their visual representation is usually more “floodlight” than “heat ray”, though not always. Sometimes, they cause explosions. At least once, a person hit by the weapon literally explodes into gore. More often, people jerk around as though shot by gunfire and fall down dead. There is one scene where it seems like maybe they’ve got a teleport beam as in the second Asylum film, but it’s impossible to tell. What is consistent, though, is the sound. The sound effect for the alien weapon is lifted directly from the 1953 George Pal film. It’s a wonderful sound effect, and just a little disconcerting to hear it coming out of these weird, low-budget CGI warships.

Our lead female character identifies herself to her convenient pocket-camcorder (Not even a smartphone. She just happened to be carrying a cheap camcorder when an alien invasion broke out) as Marissa Jean McCallum, and gives us the helpful information that it’s six in the morning on November 28. Helpful, but almost certainly wrong, since it’s broad daylight out. “I was driving and then all of a sudden some things just started happening!” she explains to the camera, pleading with anyone who finds the camera to deliver it to her parents in Colorado. No address or anything, just names and a state. This is intercut with news footage. Not just of the alien invasion, but also some stock footage of President Obama from 2009 announcing troop deployments in Afghanistan, repurposed here as him saying generic things about perilous times and the need for the American people to stay strong and resolute.

The first ten minutes of the movie are a nigh-incoherent mess which tries to use contextless scenes, quick cutaways and lots of digital effects to hide the fact that the city under siege consists of about a half-dozen extras repeatedly running down the same eighth-mile of street. The city is vacant enough to feel at odds with the scene the narrative is trying to paint: these aren’t meant to be the last stragglers who didn’t make it out with the initial evacuation, it’s meant to be the thick of it.

Cynthia Martin in Alien Dawn

Yes, I believe this is a real thing that happened and not a film scratch added in post.

The narrative very lazily zeroes in on six characters who are going to end up being our primary and secondary cast. Exactly what relation the characters are to each other is vague, even to them. Marissa is with a blonde woman named Joni Mitchell, possibly on purpose. She gets winged by some aggressive lens flare and spends the rest of her time in the movie slowly dying of Vague Movie Injury disease. No one in this movie is played by anyone in particular, but Joni’s actress had a bit part in an episode of Power Rangers back in ’99. Elsewhere, an adult woman named Sera and a teenage girl named Tiffany are trying to hot-wire a car along with two men, Anders and Roger. Sera seems to be in charge of Tiffany, though they’re not related. Anders and Roger are brothers, but don’t seem to know each other very well.

Alex Bell, Michael Abruscato, Tiffany Martin, Tiffany Adams

Dammit, Alpha, I told you to find five teenagers with attitude, not these losers.

Also, Anders’s last name is Kaczynski. Anders Kaczynski. That is some holy-fuckballs-screaming-at-the-top-of-your-lungs symbolism right there. And yet I have no idea where the movie is going with it. I mean, there is an actual and deliberate implication built into this movie that Anders might be some sort of violent extremist — there’s multiple scenes where people are really troubled by his inexplicable bomb-making expertise. So okay, but… Anders is the hero of this movie. He is the action lead and also the romantic lead. He is also the effective mentor character to our point-of-view character Marissa. Why would you do that?

They have to abandon the car when the aliens show up and shoot a soldier directly in front of it. Sera loots his pockets, turning up a grenade which she waves around, insisting that they “won’t see it coming”, in a way that seems designed as foreshadowing, but never pays off. Anders is slowed down by what I think might be a ‘Nam flashback (There is exactly one line later that suggests Anders might have served in Iraq) and the guys get separated from Sera and Tiffany.

According to the news, “The people and the military are together,” now and troops are “handing out heavy weapons.” It’s hard to follow, but I think the gist is that the aliens are targeting military installations, so the military is abandoning their bases and going to ground, letting civilians appropriate whatever weapons they can carry. Anders’s gang had been planning to flee to nearby Paradise City, a “military stronghold”, which seems dumb under the circumstances.

Also, I’m not sure what it means for a city to be a “military stronghold.” There are sections of this movie — not the whole thing, just individual scenes — where the dialogue and world-building is so weird as to seem like maybe English isn’t its first language. It reminds me of clumsily translated video games: not outright wrong, but constructing phrases and even concepts that an American wouldn’t. Like Dingo only ever using the word “pals” to describe his comrades in Zone of the Enders 2, or people saying “New York City Police” instead of “NYPD” in David Cage games.

Oh, and they mention “Vice-President Clinton,” so there’s that.

But I don’t think this is necessarily accidental. It might actually be part of the movie’s confused symbolism. They waste very little time letting us know what we’re supposed to be comparing this invasion to. Roger refers to the invaders as “Muslims”. Anders immediately points out that they don’t know that (and adds, “It ain’t fucking terrorists” once they get a good look at a tripod), but unlike the Asylum version, they aren’t the least bit coy about the fact that any attack on America in the year 2012 would be presumed to be the work of a terrorist group affiliated with one of the middle eastern groups espousing radical religious ideologies — or rather, they’d assume it was the work of “Muslims” (with the caveat that they don’t actually mean that, since they’d consider Sikhs equally suspicious but not Indonesians). Later, the news footage will refer to the aliens as “terrorist invaders”, which makes the metaphor pretty explicit despite being flat-out wrong, since the aliens aren’t behaving like terrorists: they’re behaving like a traditionally-organized nation-state military force conducting an extremely traditional military invasion, but in modern news parlance “terrorist” is basically shorthand for “bad guy of non-European descent”, so I can’t fault it for mimesis.

Once night falls, the fighting dies down considerably, and Marissa chances leaving the shelter of the industrial building where she’s been sheltering in order to look for medical supplies for Joni. She runs into Anders and Roger pretty much instantly, and practices terrible personal security by inviting these strange men home with her, taking their word for it that they’re unarmed and mean them no harm, and letting them know up-front that her only backup is one woman too injured to move. Fortunately, they decide not to just overpower her and take all her stuff. Roger agrees to stay with Joni in the dark garage while Anders and Marissa loot a nearby grocery store.

The grocery store is another scene that feels like it’s had a stroke. It’s guarded by a man and a woman who claim the store is under military control, but get confused when Anders asks which regiment — not “they didn’t get their story straight” confused, but, “don’t even comprehend the question” confused. The man shouts that he’s been “doing this all day” and that, “People like you keep coming to me,” and it’s weird and feels unscripted, as though the actors were given the general outline of the premise, but had to improvise the dialogue. The defenders are armed and chase them away, but Anders circles around and disables them. We’ll see the woman again later in a confusingly out-of-context scene where she gets vacuumed up by a tripod and then eaten by an alien. I’d forgotten who she was by that point.

When they make it back to the garage, Joni is alternately vomiting up blood and vomiting up vomit. Turns out that in the dark, Roger had accidentally given her a glass of bleach instead of water. Now, that sounds hella suspect, but nothing follows that up: it seems to be a completely legit accident, meant to communicate only that Roger isn’t very smart.

Presumably neither is Joni, since, yeah, drinking bleach is dangerous, but you’d need to drink a whole lot of it to cause that kind of damage. How much? The LD50 of sodium hypochlorite is somewhere between 6 and 8 grams per kg. Joni is probably somewhere between 50 and 60 kg, so it’d take about 300 grams of the stuff to be more-likely-than-not lethal. But commercial bleach is mostly water. There’s only about 190 grams of sodium hypochlorite in a gallon of bleach. So even if she drank the whole bottle, the odds of it killing her are fairly low, though obviously, she’s already suffering from a vaguely defined shoulder injury. Not that you should take this as an incentive to drink bleach, since it will ruin your day even if it doesn’t kill you. You’d think she’d notice she was drinking bleach during the stages where it was causing superficial damage to her tongue and maybe esophagus, rather than continuing to swallow the stuff until it caused massive internal bleeding.

Roger blames the fact that it was dark and proceeds to get in the way while Marissa tries to save Joni.

After Anders and Roger shout at each other a bit, we skip ahead to Marissa’s next vlog, in which she explains that Joni’s dying (though apparently having her stomach pumped could save her), and she gives an anecdote about once having to have a horse with a broken leg put down. She indicates reluctance about having the men around, but concedes that she needs their help to murder Joni.

Rachelle DimariaAnd then things get really uncomfortable, because Marissa unilaterally decides that Joni needs to be euthanized, but Joni does not agree with this. She initially solicits Roger to help with this, I guess since he’d almost done it accidentally earlier. He chickens out when Joni protests and begs for her life between fits of coughing up blood, so Anders does the deed. He’s very polite about it, talking gently and comforting her before he casually snaps her neck. Afterward, he and Marissa fight over the fact that he’s outwardly unaffected by what he’s done and uninterested in comforting her through her emotional trauma at having just made one of the strangers she’s just met murder another of the strangers she’s just met.

Perhaps this emotional detachment is meant to indicate that Anders is “off” in some way. You could certainly argue that Anders is meant to be a psychopath of some sort, and the name would certainly fit with that. But the movie just founders for a while instead. I think maybe there’s a stab at setting up a love triangle, with Anders reacting with clear jealousy when Roger moves to comfort Marissa, but they never follow it up.

Instead, they basically all take turns having the “broken hero” scene where they get despondent for a few scenes and seem to enter a fugue state that either persists until they get eaten by zombies, or that they snap out of because they see someone who looks like their dead sister. Anders downloads a copy of “The Terrorist’s Cookbook” and spends some time not talking to anyone and obsessively building homemade explosives and a bazooka that misfires.

Then Marissa goes stir-crazy and has her own freak-out episode, and now Anders is fine and he comforts her and becomes social again and they all bond over making bombs, and then they’re all lighthearted and joking over the “new skylight” formed when a section of the roof collapses after more cylinders fall nearby.

While this has been happening, news reports tell inform us of the destruction of the White House and the demise of the president. According to the chyron, one of his last acts was to declare a “worldwide state of emergency”, which I did not know the President could do. The ticker mentions other countries sending shipments of weapons to the US, though, which seems to hint that the invasion is local to the US.

Five days in, the gang decides it’s time to leave. Turns out the car they’d been trying to hot wire earlier is basically right outside. While they’re packing, though, the aliens roll out the black smoke, forcing our heroes to lock themselves in the rest room and argue over snacks.

The black smoke is a little underwhelming. Though newsreel footage warns people to stay inside and stuff towels under their doors and wear gas masks if you’ve got them, they seem to have a lot of stock footage of the stuff — including a shot that is clearly the exact same footage they just showed Marissa filming. Sera and Tiffany, who I am going to call “Eyebrows” from now on, because the character’s only noteworthy trait is having really prominent eyebrows, reappear and are able to survive the smoke by holding rags over their mouths and noses while they find a car in which to make their escape. The movie decides, for no good reason, to get silly for a bit. Once out of town, Eyebrows is forced to use a feminine hygiene product as toilet paper and is told to consider herself lucky it isn’t used. I hope I’m right and this movie didn’t actually have a script, because I do not like the idea of someone getting paid to write this dialogue.

The smoke attack only lasts a day, which is fortunate for Marissa when she gets tired of listening to Anders and Roger bicker and runs outside. For more comic relief, Roger suggests that “they” might nuke the city to get rid of the aliens. Given the complete destruction of the federal government at this point, I’m not sure who “they” are. Anders dismisses the possibility as ridiculous.

Alien Dawn - Nuclear explosion

To Be Continued…

  • Alien Dawn is gettable from amazon.

Tales From /lost+found 74: Come with me, and you’ll see…

2016 is shaping up to be a bitch of a year.

It’s been republished so many times with different attributions that I’m not sure who originated the idea, but since this is the first google hit that comes up, I’ll link to this one. The idea of Gene Wilder as an American counterpart of the fourth Doctor is almost too obvious. But then, “When in doubt, do the obvious thing rather than the clever one” has been part of my remit for this series. So here’s Gene Wilder as the third Doctor…

Gene Wilder as Doctor Who in Doctor Who Unbound

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