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The Decade Science Fiction Stood Still

Alien Trespass (2009)

Roadside Attractions

There have been frequent cinematic tributes to the sci-fi classics of the 1950s, the golden age of B moviemaking. “Mars Attacks,” “Tremors" and a lot of other films have replicated the look and feel of movies like “It Came from Outer Space" and "The Day the Earth Stood Still." None, however, have done so with quite the painstaking affection director R. W. Goodwin bestows on the genre in “Alien Trespass.”

Without a hint of ironic detachment, Goodwin and screenwriter Steven P. Fisher have recreated a '50s film in 21st century Hollywood. If their work lacks the resonant subtext of a motion picture actually from the period, removed as it is from McCarthyism and general Cold War fears, it’s the closest possible approximation. The soundstage sets are appropriately bathed in sanitized period iconography, the color scheme is saturated to like Technicolor and the actors pitch their performances at broadly stylized though still humane levels.

That makes the movie a curiosity, to be sure, but one fostered by an enjoyably nostalgic spirit. Set in 1957, it depicts the possession of astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack) by a benevolent alien named Urp (also Mr. McCormack), who must then save the small California town into which he’s crash landed from the Ghota, a mysterious monster that wreaks havoc after escaping from Urp’s ship. This leads to a stream of resurrected '50s conventions and elaborate, self-conscious homage, as in a movie-theater scene of patrons watching “The Blob” that directly recapitulates the theater scene in that film.

The picture does operate in a bit of a vacuum, owing its entire existence to a specific cinematic mode rather than genuine storytelling needs. Going into production, Messrs. Goodwin and Fisher faced the significant risk of making a stylistic in-joke in search of a reason for being. Yet Mr. McCormack and his co-stars, most notably a relative newcomer named Jenni Baird, give themselves so thoroughly to the conceit that they generate the empathy needed to temporarily distract from the fact that “Alien Trespass” is one big put-on. They make it possible to forget what the filmmakers are trying to do and actually delude yourself into thinking that you’re watching characters, not constructs, living their lives on screen.


Opens on April 3 in Manhattan.

Produced and directed by R. W. Goodwin; written by Steven Fisher, based on a story by Mr. Fisher and James Swift; director of photography, David Moxness; edited by Michael Jablow and Vaune Kirby; music by Louis Febre; production designer, Ian Thomas; released by Roadside Attractions. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. This film is rated PG.

WITH: Eric McCormack (Ted Lewis), Jenni Baird (Tammy), Robert Patrick (Vern) and Jody Thompson (Lana Lewis).


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