Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Intruder Within (1981)

What is it that attracts a person to want to live and work on something as remote as an oil rig?  I’m sure there is any number of “Reality” shows detailing the lives of people compelled to choose a life of solitude, from long-haul truckers to fur trappers in Antarctica and everything in between.  But we’re not using them as exemplars, because one, that would make this a very short introduction (and something of a mercy, I’m sure), and two, anyone who believes what they see on such shows should be discounted from the conversation to begin with, in my opinion.  I tend to think that, outside of those people looking to run away from their problems and responsibilities (real, imagined, or illegal) or those who choose the high risk lifestyle simply for the payout, there are some who do jobs like this out of some form of romanticism.  They chase after a sort of nobility that can only be found in testing themselves against the elements, against nature, and even (I’m sure in no small part) against themselves.  Coming out the other side, they’re transformed, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse, but they certainly become a different person from where they started.  It’s the journey of life, concentrated.  None of us (or maybe just few) will die the same exact person we were born, but the change is gradual.  For the vast majority, it takes decades to arrive at our death beds.  The hastening of the metamorphosis, the flirtation with the quickness of death from jobs such as these, I suppose in some ways adds onto your life.  Not in quantity of years, surely, but in quality more likely than not.  And then, I’m sure, there are folks who would try it for a week and just say “screw this crap.”  Just something to think about.

Jake (Chad Everett) is the boss man on an oil rig somewhere near the South Pole.  Toiling away with his crew, drilling at extreme depths on the orders of on-site geologist and Zortron Oil lackey Scott (Joseph Bottoms), the gang dredge up an odd batch of samples; small rocks unlike any the team have ever seen.  As various characters come in contact with the stones, the rocks begin to reveal their true nature.  It all builds up to…some kind of climax.

Peter Carter’s The Intruder Within (aka The Lucifer Rig, and which started its journey to its “Friday Night Movie” slot on ABC under the title Panic Offshore) was spawned in the wakes of both Jaws and Alien.  While it does take things from both, it certainly steals far more from Ridley Scott’s film than Steven Spielberg’s.  Generally, the ambience, the escalation of the conflict between the protagonist and antagonist, and the water-logged setting are the shark film’s contributions.  On the cosmic film’s end, you have the working class men isolated from civilization angle (actually, this one is shared by both).  You have an alien being (though from within the ocean’s floor rather than the depths of space) that riffs (and largely fails, though if you were a kid watching this for the first time, you’d be impressed, trust me) on the late, great H.R. Giger’s groundbreaking Xenomorph design.  You have the (semi-) heroic woman in the form of Collette (Jennifer Warren).  You have the corporate minion more interested in the possibilities in exploiting the threat than in the welfare of the crew.  You have the impregnation of a character with a monstrous embryo.  The list literally goes on.  I can’t say precisely when Alien made its television premier, but The Intruder Within cashed in completely on the craze the former film had created.  It just did it in ways that were more palatable (read: friendly to the network’s Standards and Practices department) to a family-oriented audience, though (kind of surprisingly) not entirely without teeth (of some form or another).  

One of the sharpest divides between this film and its 1979 forebear is in its treatment of sex and sexuality.  In Alien, you see the characters in their skivvies, but outside of that there’s really no romantic subplot, and to my recollection, no love scenes at all.  The Intruder Within takes a different tack.  Robyn (Lynda Mason Green) is the pretty, young bookkeeper aboard the rig (I assume; her job description is nebulous at best, but she never mans the drill, so…).  The first time we see her, she complains about the cold and says she’s going to take a shower.  She then peels off her pants and bends over, showing off her thermal-underwear-clad lady bits.  Robyn, however, is oblivious to the effect her actions have on the crew (like taking off your clothes in front of a family member), though the men pay the strictest attention.  Later, she fixes her sights on new recruit Harry (James Hayden) with an eye towards getting a little action.  Naturally, this will come back to haunt her, and I was rather surprised it went as far as it did, considering the film’s origin.  Collette, the other prominent female character, was harassed on the last rig she manned.  This doesn’t stop her from developing a relationship with Jake, and the two display a sense of mutual respect for each other.  It all plays out in fairly clichéd manner (and involving a lot of food and coffee), but it worked for me.

Another thing in the film that appeals to me (and will always appeal to me), is its portrayal of its hero and how he resolves his predicament.  Jake is the sort of protagonist who works with his hands for a living.  Like so, so many heroes from this time period, he wears a winter vest over a plaid flannel shirt (what the hell happened to that look, huh?).  He doesn’t try to find the deeper meaning of what they find in the water.  His breadth of wanting to understand the monster starts and ends with how it can be killed.  In many ways, Jake (and characters like him) just wants to maintain the status quo.  He’s not looking to become a millionaire, he’s not looking to unlock the secrets of the universe.  He wants to work, get paid, and keep himself and his crew alive and uninjured.  It is this blue collar outlook that defines how Jake will approach this (or any) problem.  Unlike today, where all of the characters in a film of this type seem to either possess all manner of superpowers to pummel each other with or somehow find the most ostentatious method of dispatching a beastie (only after the tension of the film has ridden across its highest peaks for a duration rather than building up to a singular climax), Jake and company have to use what’s at hand.  They will live or die based on their resourcefulness and what they can lay their mitts on within the scant time they have to prepare (if they have any at all).  I’ll just say it.  This is the type of finale I get misty-eyed over, since it’s such a rarity these days (perhaps it just feels that way from my cynical perspective).  Films like this one, The Car, Piranha, Grizzly, Alligator (notice a pattern?), and so on all had this quality.  It makes the ripoff aspects a little easier to digest.

MVT:  The tone of the film is actually pretty dark for a television movie, and it does it all with nary a drop of blood (okay, maybe one from old Sam [Paul Larsson]) or a naked female nipple to be seen.

Make Or Break:  The first shots of the monster work decently well.  This is because we get very few straight glimpses of it, and it is photographed in a hallway with a flashing red light.  It obscures enough to maintain a little mystery as well as spackling over some of the costume’s shortcomings.

Score:  6.25/10                

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