The Asylum found a successful business model when it began releasing “mockbusters” of current theatrical hits such as Avengers: Grimm or Transmorphers. 2005’s H.G. WELLS’ WAR OF THE WORLDS was a mockbuster of Spielberg’s War of the Worlds that manages to rise above the usual Asylum level, though it doesn’t rise very far. C. Thomas Howell plays “George Herbert,” an astronomer who due to work blows off a trip to DC with his partner and their kid; after the usual meteors-that-aren’t-meteors strike and unleash their cargo, George sets out to find his family (as I noted in the previous War of the Worlds post, a common theme), hoping against hope they’re still alive.
This takes the religious elements of the 1953 film and amps them up big time: George winds up walking part of the way — the roads are blocked — with a priest who’s initially convinced this is all part of God’s plan, so we’ve nothing to fear; later he becomes convinced that the virtuous have been Raptured and he’s been left behind as unworthy. The alien battle vehicles are different from the Spielberg tripods in that they’re six-legged insectoid-style machines (as Wells’ Martians used tripods, I wonder if this was to minimize any legal problems with the Spielberg?). The biggest change is that George injects one of the invaders with rabies from a lab in the hope of infecting them, though for all he or we know, they died of ordinary germs just as in the original.
Overall this is forgettable, but watchable, with reasonably adequate F/X. That said, I doubt I’d ever have watched if I wasn’t working on Alien Visitors. “God rewards the faithful George — he doesn’t punish them.”
I was much more entertained by Netflix’ WE CAN BE HEROES (2020), in which the Justice League/Avengers-like Heroics go up against an alien invasion, and promptly go down. Their government watchdogs hide the kids inside the Heroics’ base, but the aliens are closing in so the kids go on the offensive. Unfortunately, they’re not ready for prime time: Missy (YaYa Gosselin) has no powers, Wild Card has every power possible but no control over which one manifests, Slo-Mo has super-speed but warps time so that he still moves super-slowly. It turns out, though, that the aliens are actually helpful: believing the older generation has failed, they want to force the Heroics’ kids to step up and become the heroes the world needs. The results are pleasantly amusing; if you’re a fan of The Adventures of Shark Boy and Lava Girl, this is a quasi-sequel (with the same director/writer, Robert Rodriguez) with the grown-up characters among the Heroics and their daughter Guppy as one of the kids. “‘We can be heroes/Just for one day’ — I know, I know, but it was just sitting there!”
My memory of Stephen Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) was that it was blandly amiable with Richard Dreyfuss spending a shit ton of time making mountains out of mashed potatoes. I wasn’t quite right about that element, but I still find it bland and largely uninteresting.
Dreyfuss plays a Midwestern man who witnesses a UFO (in a nice moment it appears to be a car behind him on the road until it rises into the air) while Melinda Dillon plays a mom in the same town whose son has been abducted. They find a strange compulsion drawing them across country to the Devil’s Rock in Wyoming, which turns out to be where the military are preparing for first contact.
Part of the problem is that the movie makes no sense. We don’t know what the aliens want, and their treatment of Dillon is both scary and inexplicable (what’s the point in trashing her kitchen?). We don’t learn why they’ve singled out Dillon and Dreyfuss for contact. And hell, they’ve kept a group of U.S. pilots in their ship for decades, which is not acceptable conduct (and their compulsions destroy Dreyfuss’ marriage to Teri Garr). We’re supposed to forget all that and just feel a sense of wonder, but I don’t feel enough to suspend my disbelief. As an SF fan since childhood, I don’t find “aliens have contacted us” inherently interesting even when it looks this good — what matters is why and what comes next? Though that said, lots of SF fans do adore this one.
The film does serve as a grab-bag of UFOlogy elements at the time, like the mysterious military cover-up (which would be echoed in countless later films such as Official Denial); it gave back by establishing the “Greys” as the default image of alien visitors (it had only been one of several up to that point). And it made me appreciate one difference between a film like this and reality is that the UFOs are here are undoubtedly real — despite a mistaken identification at one point (a UFO turns out to be a helicopter) the onesDreyfuss saw is unquestionably real. “What I need is something so scary it’ll clear 300 square miles of every living Christian soul.”
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