Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wavelength (1983): A Review

Here’s a hidden gem (perhaps a semi-precious one) from the 1983, which may have been unfairly related to the “E.T./Close Encounters Rip-Off” bin. I think this movies exists on its own merit, but we’ll get there. The story is nothing revolutionary, as a couple stumbles upon a government laboratory in which aliens are being held for experimentation.

We begin with pre-credit sequence featuring some grainy ‘alien autopsy’ type footage in a the Los Angeles equivalent of Area 51 type locale. Via a terribly inappropriate film noir female voice over, we’re introduced to Bobby, played by Robert Carradine. It’s a bit tough to buy Robert Carradine as a burnt out rock star – and his occupation does not really factor into the story, so having him as a teacher or architect would have made the first 15 minutes of the movie a little less awkward.
His girlfriend Iris, who narrates the beginning of the story but abruptly stops for now apparent reason, is played by Cherie Currie of the Runaways fame. She’s hearing strange sounds and asks Bobby about the giant industrial building that is a stone’s throw from his house. All he knows is that it's government property, and that it has been empty for years. Or is it?
The only other familiar face is Keenan Wynn, who plays Bobby’s friend, channeling Walter Huston role as a ‘prospector’ who apparently feels there’s still gold somewhere around the Hollywood sign. I did not make that up. Also, there's a fairly barky dog.
The film build some momentum with a decent sequence with handheld camera as they first enter the facility. There's some effective lighting done on the cheap, giving it a very natural look. This makes sense as the cinematographer Paul Goldsmith has done a lot of documentary work, including When We Were Kings.
Our lovebirds are captured by the evil military folks, and it appears as though they will be killed. The scientists discover that Iris has some sort of psychic connection to the aliens, but their efforts to investigate further are hampered by the fact that exposure to the aliens seems to be killing off the personnel at the facility. The military decides to 'bury' the problem, leaving Bobby, Iris and the aliens several stories below underground under a pile of rubble. Luckily the aliens are strong and resourceful, and the group makes it way out of L.A. to the desert with a plan to get the aliens in touch with their mother ship. 90% of the film's budget is burned through in the final minutes as fighter jets take on a giant, glowing orb. Before you know it, everything is back to normal and the credits roll.
The movie is well paced, getting a good deal of exposition out of the way via a military briefing. Much of the acting among the supporting staff is quite stiff, but it’s not all that distracting as it suits the multiple conversations between military and scientific personnel. The two leads are quite strong, and I must admit that Currie's performance was a pleasant surprise. Budgetary corners are cut in some crafty ways, including some great stock footage of Air Force One. There are flaws, however, and some are quite apparent, including a 20 second bit with a boom mike bouncing around.
What makes this film stand out is how the story unfolds in a way that respects the intelligence of the viewer. It serves as proof that a small budget and science-fiction can co-exist.
Make or Break: The early footage of the pods really gets your attention and helps you get beyond the silly subplot involving Bobby's music career, or lack thereof.
MVT: The Aliens - the 3 children do a great job, coming across as very eerie without ever speaking a word of dialogue. There's one that looks like a hairless Chloe Sevigny.
Score: 7.5 out of 10. If you are looking for an entertaining, thoughtful 'aliens on Earth' movie, you could do a lot worse.


  1. "A hairless Chloe Sevigny", I'm in! Seriously, I've never heard of this, but it sounds really interesting, and I like Carradine, Curry and space aliens.

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