Alien Hunter (2003)
Director: Ron Krauss
Starring: James Spader, Janine Eser, John Lynch
Hello, I’m not dead! I’ve managed to clamber free of the dole-drums for a minute in a probably futile effort to resurrect this ailing Sciffy series. I’m well out of writing (and film watching) practice and it might show – so apologies. May contain a very brief, barely noticeable reference to The Thing and lots of spoilers…
Prologue alert; the year is 1947, an object of unknown origin falls out of the sky near Area 51 and I’ll tell you what, Rex doesn’t much like it. Woof! Before you can say ‘hey buddy, did you just see a real bright light’, we’re into present day Antarctica, Outpost 31… no, wait, it’s Axxon Resource Studies (ARS for short). They’ve found something (‘found something… found something…’) buried in the ice and you can tell it’s important because of all the mathematical jumbo-mumbo everyone starts spuming; it’s like the buggers’ve all been contaminated by an infectious abacus. Enter Julian Rome (James Spader), currently a teacher (with a penchant for porking the female student body) but more crucially, ex-SETI. Why crucial? It seems Julian Rome has friends in cold places – well a mate of his boss anyway, John Bachman (Roy Dotrice) – a Russkie scientist in need of some specific alien hunting expertise. See, inside the block of ice is an object and it’s transmitting a signal. Is the message for them or is it some kind of extraterrestrial black box device? Certainly, it might be prudent to first work out exactly what the signal is before taking a pneumatic drill to the twat… Oh. That’ll be too late then.
By a moderately startling coincidence Julian Rome’s ex-ladyfriend Kate Brecher (Janine Eser) works for ARS and she’s instantly on his case about the chick who met him at the elevator platform, Nyla (Leslie Stefanson). Did I just say ‘works for ARS’? Nasty. Kate is utterly convinced that before this trip is over Julian Rome will nail not only Nyla, but the other two ladies working here as well. It’s all rather tense and embarrassing and I want to leave the room till they’re done bickering. Nonetheless, I think it possible Kate still fancies him. Mind you, Nyla does seem keen, turning up at his quarters in a skimpy vest (even though she is clearly able to manage a jumpsuit orthodoxly in the very next scene) and later, offers to get in a shower with him, an offer Julian Rome politely declines because I think he’s beginning to realise that Kate completes him. Nyla also announces she likes to work in the nuddy but then patently does not work in the nuddy. We have Dr. Brecher to thank for that apparently, for she has cancelled all nuddity at the facility. Envious of their perfect new start, Nyla stabs Kate in the face with a swordfish snout and hangs Julian Rome up by his anus from a meat hook. The U.S. authorities order a nuclear strike on the outpost in order to stop mad angry Nyla from destroying the planet in a jealous rage of mad angriness. Everyone forgets about the aliens. Not everything in that paragraph happens.
Team leader Alexei Nicknackpaddywackanov (Nikolai Binev) hasn’t informed paymaster NASA about the mysteries of the ice object because, “We both know how paranoid NASA can get…” – that and they binned Julian Rome’s beloved SETI project, so ner to them (thumb nose, waggle fingers). This info, the SETI binning, gets mentioned about 80 times in the first 20 minutes presumably in an attempt at irony. Anyhow, NASA’s got every right to be paranoid coz the object cracks open to reveal an immobile alien encased within a kind of organic membrane. At this point, one would expect ARS to enforce a strict protocol and remove non-essential personnel from the immediate vicinity. Non-essential as in Tony the pilot (Anthony Crivello), rather than stand back and allow Tony – who isn’t a scientist, he’s a pilot – to shove a broom handle – no, not a minute surgical camera or something equally investigative, a feckin broom handle – through the membrane thereby inadvertently releasing a deadly flesh-eating pathogen into the air. Well, many of the team start bloodily melting on the spot, including the lovely but fully clothed Nyla so bang goes any hope of seeing her nuddyness in the hydroponics bay. She merely crumples to her knees and you expect her to unsheathe a mutated hand, lean her head back and Bennings-like exhale an unearthly howl into the freezing air. Surprisingly, she does not. A handful of the group appear to be resistant to the virus but there’s only one sure-fire way of proving they aren’t infected; you guessed it, a blood test. The test (off-screen) gives them a 99.9% likelihood of being sans-virus so that’s all right then, innit. No. It’s not 100%; they cannot doom the entire planet by vacating the outpost…
As you would expect in a movie predicament such as this, one character, Michael Straub (John Lynch) goes on a mad ‘un at the prospect of certain death, either by alien virus or the impending arrival of a US-sent Russkie sub loaded with nukes to sterilise the area. Straub wants out and recruits the help of old Tony. Tony’s not having a great day is he, having accidentally murdered half the staff, he pops a cap in a possibly helpful alien’s donk (you’d do the same if you saw an ugly alien with a vice-like grip on a colleague’s cranium, so don’t judge) and then, in a roomful of sane people, minus one, he chooses to hitch his yeehaw trailer to the minus one. His moment of tragic epiphany when it arrives just has you wondering why it took so long for him to discover he’s got more than cabbage between his ears. All that remains is the big SPFX bonanza finale in which the increasingly stroppy Straub, cabbage successfully transmigrated, repeatedly shouts “I can’t breathe!” while leaning at an impossible angle as Julian Rome instructs him to “Breathe slow…” for our otherworldly visitors have blanketed the ARS base with their alien atmosphere…
“I can’t breathe!”
“I can’t breathe!”
“I can’t breathe!”
“Breathe sl… Do you understand English at all?” (Yes, I’m exaggerating)
Right, well, for a start, the prologue isn’t needed as dialogue exposition delivers the required information later; it’s an irrelevant 5 minutes. With that, there’s barely a need for the clued-up DoD suits (represented by Joel Polis and Kier Dullea – representing a couple of Sci-Fi classics no doubt) and the whole thing with Bachman whom they enlist to tell ARS the score. Obviously you need somebody to deliver the bombshell expo to Julian Rome, you just don’t need all of this. The embedded signal Julian Rome & Co have been trying to decode eventually tells them – too late of course – DO NOT OPEN. Yep, after all the mathematical piggery-jokery, the above is displayed in perfect English. Now, considering these aliens were around in 1947 and can do all that mind-meld shit, you’d think they’d be able to string 9 letters together to give the idiot humans an instant heads-up. With no-one allowed to leave the base and two blokes acting shiftily, Julian Rome wipes the door codes and programs one of his own. Kate watches this, yet she and the others allow him to go through with the pantomime without mention of an alternative exit. So you get, ‘Mike and Tony are escaping!’ – ‘Hah! They don’t know the new code!’ – ‘Yeh, we didn’t mention it before but…’ Stupid. Speaking of escape… Grisham (Carl Lewis – yes, that Carl Lewis), entrusted to keep his eye on Mikey & the Tone-meister, sits with his back to the cutlery tray (rather than with his back to a wall where he can watch the room), his weapon-hand occupied by a drink (presumably his free hand is unable to co-ordinate lifting a cup to his face) and said weapon lying on the table top with a ribbon and gift card on it. He allows the deadly duo to mooch behind him and barely turns or readies himself even when they start whispering covertly. Frankly, he deserves to get stabbed in the neck with a fork.
Generally, the idea isn’t a bad one but there’s no tension in its execution. So who’s getting smacked legs? It appears to be JS Cardone’s baby (co-writer with Boaz Davidson). So he’s a big Sci-Fi fan, so what, I can hardly hold that against him when he’s feeding me scribbling fuel. While I’m sure the hardcore SF geeks (at which Alien Hunter is undoubtedly pitched) love picking off the genre references there comes a point when you have to lay off the fanboy forelock tugging and be your own film. And the references are many, kicked off by the use of stock footage previously seen in The Thing From Another World (and again in The Thing). Then, for example you’ve got the scene with Julian Rome, noting the disappearance of the alien on a surveillance monitor: “It’s gone. The thing, it’s gone…” The ‘steals’ aren’t just from The Thing either; Alien Hunter picks off multiple genre targets. Listen, I’m not averse to this sort of thing (ha), hell even I throw a few into a review (hopefully not overdone) but if you’re going to spool the entire running time into an homage you’d better be stylish about it (see Event Horizon – thanks in the main to the mercurial and sadly departed DoP Adrian Biddle). However, whether intended or not, it is mildly interesting to view Straub as ‘the husky’ looking to escape across the snow…
Well, I have blathered on about rock all haven’t I. Anything to get excited about? Not especially. The only thing (tee-hee) I thought effective was the chase through the ‘corn field’ in hydroponics when the corn stalks wither and die as the infected humans pass by. Acting-wise – standard for this kind of shizzle; Spader must be having Stargate déjà vu but he pitches this performance in a minor key. I’ve always liked The Spader-man, to be honest and he’s okay here. Stefanson does very well with her small role, establishes her presence to such a degree that it is a gut punch to watch her early demise. John Lynch’s one-note script chewing bores; always get reminded of Hardware when I see him (“It’s gone now, it’s dead now…”), although it’s mainly the ‘wibbly-wobbly’ song I remember about Hardware… It was a 32-day shoot (in Bulgaria) and despite the actors are fumbling around paper/ plastic sets and the lecky bill doesn’t appear to have been paid, Alien Hunter is not a disaster, it is in fact competent. However, the FX don’t lift the movie when it needs lifting; the finale itself took 6 months to complete but I was still expecting Travolta to appear in white bibs with his disco face on. I don’t like to belittle the crew who worked hard on the FX and clearly put a lot of hours into trying to create something unique; it is appreciated. Oddly, Krauss seems to think the alien jellyfish-type craft is totally original, never before seen, but to me it’s reminiscent of those in The Abyss.
Julian Rome. Julian Rome. Julian Rome. I figure if I keep saying it in full it’ll start to sound like a good character name…
“Doctor, they need you in the corn lab.” Indeed.
It can have a 1.5 Mutant Norris out of 5 and be thankful
ThereWolf, August 2014.