Bruce Campbell and alien termites. Judge David Johnson thinks that about says it all.
Yesterday, they were only astronauts. Today, they're humanity's only hope.
Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness), B-movie demigod, headlines this scrappy, goofy sci-fi yarn about a race of extraterrestrial termites and their battle with humans over the dominion of earth. Apparently, as the disc cover is eager to proclaim, Alien Apocalypse was the "highest rated Sci-fi Pictures original of all-time!" I'm not sure how we should take that.
Facts of the Case
Forty years after they launched in an ambitious spacepod mission, four NASA astronauts return to Earth to find a decimated landscape and humans running around in tribal outfits and loincloths.
They are soon captured and herded with other humans to a labor camp in the Pacific Northwest, where they are stunned to discover extraterrestrial termites have taken over the planet and have enslaved mankind to work in sawmills. Wood is a valuable commodity to this race, and Earth has become the invaders' cash cow of choice. The termites are ruthless and unforgiving and rule with iron…thoraxes? Anyway, if a human tries to rebel, he gets his head bitten off.
Seeing humanity's despair, Dr. Ivan Hood (Campbell), the osteopath/astronaut, decides to prop up his species' falling spirit and rebel against their captors. To do this, he must facilitate an escape with his co-astronaut and main squeeze Kelly (Renee O'connor, Xena: Warrior Princess), and track down like-minded humans to rise up.
Their quest: to find the mythic former leader of the free world, President Demsky (Peter Jason), hidden with the rest of the collapsed government somewhere in the woods. After that, it's bug-juicing time.
Alien Apocalypse has a bunch of things going for it. First off, it stars Bruce Campbell, fanboy idol. Second, this isn't a thoughtful rumination on the reversal of classes or even a straight-arrow sci-fi action flick, but a tongue and cheek romp completely devoid of self-importance. And, finally, it's pretty fun.
Now, before I continue, make no mistake: Alien Apocalypse is every bit as cheesy and campy as the title makes it out to be. This isn't a movie for fans of hard science fiction or even fans of films that take themselves seriously. Alien Apocalypse is goofy and has lots of goop and a wiseass for a protagonist.
Also, the movie screams of its made-for-TV pedigree. The special effects are decent, but obviously low-budget, the costuming is economical, and the acting is serviceable.
That being duly noted, I will admit I had a good time with this film. If Alien Apocalypse wanted to be a dramatic rendition of the battle between man and alien, it would have sucked royally. No doubt. It's the playful tone, bolstered by Campbell's typically sarcastic performance that saves it.
Just read the synopsis again: alien termites force people to work in sawmills so they can sell the wood and make money. Who's going to take that seriously?
Not Campbell, who employs all the quirks and mannerisms that have made him one of the most beloved cult actors of all time. The trademark non sequiturs are in full effect and his dry humor is perfectly suited for some of the absurd writing. The film is populated with multiple laugh-out-loud lines and situations, all of which center around the film's star. Do all the jokes land? Of course not. But enough do.
And thank goodness for the humor, because without the comedy, the story would be interminable. The middle third is pretty much "Bruce Campbell walking through the woods with a bunch of cavemen." The whole quest-for-the-President angle is predictable and clichéd, and you'll guess the ending no problem, but it does allow for some funny one-liners.
The final third does pick up some more steam when the good doctor leads his ragtag bunch of freedom fighters against the termites and heads are bitten and bug limbs are chopped with much slime spewing. It's all ridiculous of course. The termites can be dispatched with considerable ease using rudimentary bows and arrows. And the question does arise, of course, how a bunch of hapless slave humans could master said bows and arrows, but whatever. Alien Apocalypse embraces its cheesiness, so I'll let it pass.
The sum total is a fun little flick that is far from great, but still manages to entertain and elicit some chortles from the judge, thanks to Bruce Campbell's delivery and writer/director Josh Becker's sensibility.
Alien Apocalypse gets a solid 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The picture is clean and the colors are bold. Some of the budget CGI, however, is betrayed by the crispness of the visuals. I had a real issue with the sound, though. Both mixes, the 5.1 Digital and the 2.0 stereo, came out muted, especially through the center. Surround use wasn't as active as I would have liked either.
Most of the extras are throwaways—a short behind-the-scene bit that just strings together a few minutes worth of documentary footage, a storyboard gallery, and a Bruce Campbell bio—save for the commentary tracks with Campbell and Becker. As you would expect, it's funny and refreshingly self-deprecating.
Give this disc a spin if a) you're a Bruce Campbell fan, b) you dig willfully campy sci-fi splatterfests, or c) you've got nothing better to do.
For the charge of Voluntarily Making a Goofy Sci-fi Spoof That Doesn't Think It's So Awesome That It Can't Make Fun of Itself and Is Actually Pretty Amusing, the filmmakers are found guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
• Bruce Campbell and Josh Becker Commentary
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