Much as I hated Alex Garland’s pretentious Devs, I might have liked ANNIHILATION (2018) if I weren’t watching it for Alien Visitors (which puts me in a different headspace). A team of talented female actors (notably including Natalie Portman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Tessa Thompson) penetrate the Shimmer, a warped reality on the U.S. coast that’s ominously expanding to xenoform more territory. Then again, while the acting and personal drama are good the concept of an alien reality on Earth isn’t new and this version doesn’t rise much above a My Greatest Adventure story from the 1960s.“As a psychologist I’d say you’re confusing suicide with self-destruction.”
Much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed BATTLESHIP (2012), in which humanity broadcasting a message to an Earthlike alien world gets an answer. Unfortunately the ET response is an unstoppable, ginormous warship that crashes off Pearl Harbor — the location was intentional — and when the Navy reacts, goes into attack mode, sealing off the area behind a force-field and blasting the ships in the area. As a result, slacker Naval officer Taylor Hirsch discovers he’s now the vessel’s acting captain (“You’re the ranking officer alive.”) with the help of Rihanna as another officer; outside the force-field Admiral Liam Neeson seethes in frustration while female lead Brooklyn Decker and real-life paraplegic vet Gregory D. Gadsen struggle to stop the aliens from calling home (to presumably summon more forces).
Like Battle Los Angeles this has the military win just by fighting tougher than the enemy (as opposed to the Giant Claw approach of finding a weakness); while it has one callback to the game (Rihanna having to target the enemy underwater while most of her instruments are blind), it also justifies the name by bringing the SS Missouri (a floating museum) back into action, with a WW II veteran crew plus some Japanese Naval officers who were part of the exercise (which given Pearl Harbor has symbolism of its own). Like a number of more recent movies, there’s not even an attempt to explain the ETs — unlike Earth vs. the Flying Saucers or Invisible Invaders, they just attack. One supporting character suggests just attempting to contact ETs made an attack inevitable, as if the Native Americans had invited Columbus (which seems a little unfair to the latter — for all the wrongs he did, Columbus didn’t set out as a military expedition).. “ET wants to phone home — that would be very bad.”
10 CLOVERFIELD LANE (2016) deserved closer attention than I had time to give it, even though it doesn’t qualify for my book (there’s an alien element but it’s minor). The film has Mary Elizabeth Wing wake up after a car crash to discover John Goodman has rescued her, then locked her away in an underground bunker to save her from the nuclear war raging outside. He’s creepy and abusive, but is he telling the truth? Unrelated to Cloverfield except in name, but good, though very dark. “Some people just don’t realize what’s good for them.”
After a woman witnesses someone commit suicide outside her door, she becomes obsessed with conspiracy theories and decides for no discernible reason the answer lies in Area 51 NEVADA (2018). This sets up a tedious, talky film with much discussion of conspiracy theories (“You really think the moon landing was faked?”) and UFOlogy before a confusing climax that would qualify for the appendix of Now and Then We Time Travel. “Dude, that’s some M. Night Shyamalan twisted shit.”
SHOWDOWN AT AREA 51 (2007) was, if anything, worse, a low-budget direct-to-DVD tale about a renegade federal agent and brainy girlfriend Gigi Edgley helping a good alien stop an evil alien from activating a doomsday McGuffin — but which ET is really the villain? Z-grade stuff.
AREA Q (2011) is an equally dull story about a journalist grieving the death of his son when he’s sent to investigate UFO abductions in Brazil. Every brain cell I used to pay attention to this one was wasted.
THE FLYING SAUCER (1950) assumes a)there’s only one such craft and b)it’s of human origin, which is even scarier given it can outfly anything on Earth (“How would you feel if tomorrow a flying saucer dropped an atomic bomb on every key city of the United States.”). The government recruits a playboy adventurer (or so he’s described — he comes off more like a longshoreman) to find the ship and its inventor before the Reds locate him. The result is a generic and unremarkable spy film. “Instead of furthering the imperialistic designs of America, Russia will employ it for the good of the entire human race.”
#SFWApro. Cover by Dick Dillin, all rights to images remain with current holder.