9 April 2005 | mstomaso
Whether serious or silly - this could have been better
If you are a Bruce Campbell fan, you will likely want to see this whether or not it is against your better judgment. I am a Bruce Campbell fan, and I guess the strongest impression this film made on me is best illustrated by the fact that it took me three sittings to get all the way through it. I am an insomniac, and this film put me to sleep two nights in a row, before I finally finished it this morning. That said, this is not the worst of Mr Campbell's films, as I am sure he would agree.
It's pretty obvious that the film was basically written for Mr. Campbell, as a vehicle for doing a SciFi pictures original with him as the star. So, predictably, it is a return to the the campy, comedic schlock Mr. Campbell is renowned for. This, like much of what the SciFi channel does, is pure unadulterated marketing with no pretense at quality science fiction. I had hoped that Bubba Ho-Tep, something of a genre masterpiece, might have helped to break Campbell out of this typecasting, but apparently not. Campbell is perhaps too identifiable - the voice, the hair, the build, and the unpretentious way he carries himself will probably always convey "Ash" on screen. In fact, from the comments he sometimes makes in interviews, I think Mr Campbell really enjoys being typecast. At times, this film is so much like Army of Darkness, I actually considered titling my IMDb review "Alien Evil Dead Apocaplypse".
Ash, umm, excuse me, Campbell arrives on earth after completing a space probe mission which has kept him in space for 40 years. He was the ship's doctor- actually, he's a chiropractor, not a doctor. His crew learns quickly that all of humanity has been enslaved by what appear to be technologically retrograde human-sized preying mantises with a taste for human flesh. Even more improbably, these creatures seem to have come to earth because they need wood, which they force human slaves to mill using what seems to be 19th century mill technology. Of course, Campbell is having none of it, and (here comes the recognizable plot formula) falls in love with one of his fellow astronauts, escapes the slave camp and garners a few followers who will lead a guerrilla assault against the aliens to rescue his love interest, and you can guess the rest. There is a little bit of Road Warrior voice-over thrown in for dramatic effect throughout the movie which basically gives the entire plot away as well. And fans of the Evil Dead series will enjoy some of the very clever use of props which characterize these early Raimi/Campbell collaborations.
Fine. What did I expect?
This is why I feel the film could have been better. Alien Apocalypse never really gets off the fence between the backyards of comic absurdity and cheesy morality play, so it doesn't really succeed at either. Like many SciFi pictures efforts, the script would have been better if it emphasized comedy more explicitly, and the production might have been improved by giving the actors more than the time needed to memorize their lines. The only characters really developed in this film are Campbell's and O'Connor's, and I am convinced that this has a lot to do with the likelihood that they actually managed to develop interpretations of their roles before the shooting started. This film was very obviously rushed. As such, it might have made a great schlock-comedy, but the soundtrack, pace, and very Army of Darkness-like special effects really detracted from the film's humor.
Having seen too many SciFi productions, I believe I can identify one of the elements which contributed to this. SciFi Pictures tends to make a lot of very dark films (I don't mean metaphorically dark, I mean visually / literally dark). Though I am sure many will justify this choice as a desire to create ominous, tense and scary dramatic effects, I believe it is also very useful in making bad special effects look at least slightly believable. This script, which, as I have said already, wasn't too bad, called for a lot of outdoor scenes, taking place in full sunlight. To their credit, SciFi limited the special effects scenes to an occasional split screen and a number of bug-only shots during the action sequences. I would guess that the special effects budget coupled with Campbell's payment, more or less exhausted the budget for this project and made the production deadlines very stiff.
Here is my bottom line - Watch this film back to back with the very similar but much more serious schlock-fest "Battlefield Earth" and decide which makes the better comedy. This film is slightly more believable to be sure, but I'm not sure I laughed harder.