Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Alien 2: On Earth (1980)

It has been postulated and fantasized about for centuries that the interior of the planet Earth holds just as many thrilling and fearsome inhabitants as its surface holds. In Ireland, the area of Cruachan contains what is sometimes referred to as "Ireland's gate of hell." The area has been mythologized, and tales have been told of monsters, dead gods, and spirits emerging from the Earth here and causing havoc. The idea of a Hollow Earth inside the ground we walk on has also given way to the premise of an Expanding Earth. Essentially, this theory states that the crust of the Earth is flexible and ever-expanding (thus accounting for things like continental drift, plate tectonics, and so on). The reason it expands is because it is filled with material less dense than the crust (say, air?). Now, we know that animal life can exist at extremes of depth and pressure in the Marianas Trench (granted they're mostly single-celled organisms). So, if we know this to be true, it is at least within the realm of possibility (extreme though it may be) that life can also exist within this Hollow Earth (if we, in fact, take that to be true). And while we don't have to believe in this theory to explain anything about our world, it does make for some exciting flights of fancy, doesn't it?

Hardly-eminent speleologist, Thelma (Belinda Mayne), has an "episode" while taping a television show. You see, she's a telepath and can sense when things are happening or going to happen (which I suppose would also make her clairvoyant). Anyway, the world is meanwhile holding its collective breath waiting for a manned space capsule to splash down, and when it does, the astronauts are missing (though somehow I missed this bit of information while watching the film). There are also strange blue rocks showing up on the ground thither and yon, but none of this stops Thelma, her beau Roy (Mark Bodin), and their pals from going spelunking. Can the astronauts, the mystery rocks, and Thelma's telepathic spidey-sense all be connected?

If my synopsis of director Ciro Ippolito's (here hiding out under the nom de plume Sam Cromwell) Alien 2: On Earth (aka Alien Terror, aka Alien 2: Sulla Terra) seems disjointed and sloppy, that's only because that's what this movie is. It all starts with stock footage (and lots of it) from NASA showing various aspects of space flight, splashdown, and recovery. Meanwhile, we're being told that this is stock footage explicitly by characters onscreen, and we keep cutting back to this footage in an effort to build up a sense of suspense and atmosphere but ultimately failing miserably. 

Thelma's telepathy kicks in when it's convenient for the plot or for a cheap thrill. There is some slight attempt at grounding how this ability affects Thelma's life when she is told (by her doctor? Professor? Who the hell can tell?) that the monsters she sees all around her (but the audience never sees...or do they?) are all in her mind. To me, this is a fascinating idea, that one's worst enemy is oneself. The entire movie should have been structured around this idea, as there's tons of worthwhile material to be mined from it. There's the added aspect of Thelma's telepathic connection with the aliens and how her abilities develop during the course of the film, but none of this is anything other than plot devices. What's most disheartening about missed opportunities like these is that they are essentially cheap to put on screen, they don't require much in the way of production costs. But films like this are, let's be honest, only produced for the fast cash-grab on the coat tails of other, better, original work (I'll give you three guesses what movie this one is a cash-in on).

The amount of padding in this film is mind-boggling. Aside from the copious stock footage littered throughout the first act, we are treated to a leisurely drive to the television station with our two protagonists during the opening credits. This is really more a warning to the viewer than anything else. Regardless, once we hit the caves, there are interminable scenes of the characters rappelling, shining their headlamps at the camera to distract us from the fact that we can't see the background at all. We get all the minutiae of everyone helping out a fallen friend, yet bafflingly, we get none of the excitement that a scene of this nature inherently generates. It's like watching someone walk up the side of a building with no external help; We know it shouldn't be possible, and yet we are witness to it. Later, we get a very slow toe-to-head dolly shot of a stricken character. The bright side of this one, at least, is that there's a nice, gory finale to the shot.

This, then, is the film's big upside. There is a ton of gore in this film, and it is delivered wet, chunky, and graphically. Characters aren't just attacked. They are attacked, and then we get to see their head and part of their internal organs slough off the rest of their body. Now, there has always been an unwritten rule about children in peril in films. Either the danger is a red herring, or the child is hurt/killed offscreen. When a child's death is portrayed onscreen, it signals one thing to the audience: Anything goes. It was interesting, then, to see a child killed offscreen early in the film, but we get to see the aftermath vividly and moistly. Naturally, I don't wish to see harm come to any child, but seeing this scene gave me a twinge of hope for this movie. It was soon to be dashed.

The core conceit of the film (the inside of the Earth is just as alien as the furthest reaches of outer space) is engaging. The first shot we get of the cave interior shows the characters crawling in, the foreground limned by stalactites and stalagmites, essentially creating a nasty-looking set of jaws just waiting to chomp down on our merry band. This is reinforced throughout our time in the caves, the odd rock formations created over millennia forming an alien landscape akin to the Space Jockey's derelict ship from Alien. The actual aliens, then, are so disappointing in comparison. They are formless, wet, sort of tentacles with a hole at the end (sometimes), and sometimes, they just appear to be animal innards hurled at the actors like the pudding scene in Hot Shots!

The film's end almost makes up for the sloppy, lazy, tedium-bordering remainder of the runtime, but "almost" only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Still and all, this is one of those movies I'll come back to thinking that it couldn't possibly have been that dull and apathetic, that there must be something to get behind on it. And even knowing this and knowing that I know this, I know I'll probably voluntarily watch Alien 2: On Earth again in the future and search desperately for what I must have missed the first time around.

MVT: The gore is the only saving grace I could find in this film. If gobs of lumpy red stuff are all you need in a movie, you'll be satisfied here.

Make Or Break: Between the confusingly strung together stock footage and the exhaustingly drawn out credit sequence road tour that kick starts the film, you'll be checking your watch well before the first ten minutes of runtime has passed.

Score: 4.5/10

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