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Monday, September 30, 2013

Invasion: UFO

A good movie to follow up on the previously reviewed film is Invasion: UFO. This movie is actually a re-edit of some episodes of the British sci-fi television series, UFO, which ran from September 1970 to July 1971. The series was the work of Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. They were famous for their 60s sci-fi series using marionettes as actors such as Stingray and Thunderbirds. Invasion: UFO (IU) was a theatrical release. The story line drew from several UFO episodes. (more on that below). Network execs cancelled the show, feeling that earth-based sci-fi was no longer fashionable. Anderson would roll with the realities and rework his sci-fi series ideas into a space-bound version, Space:1999 in 1975.

Quick Plot Synopsis
A man and two women come across a flying saucer in the woods. The red-suited aliens machine gun down two of them and capture the surviving woman. Cut to Colonel Ed Straker and General Henderson in a Rolls Royce. The car is hit by laser fire from a UFO overhead. Henderson is hurt in the crash, so Straker is made commander of the super secret agency, S.H.A.D.O. (Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization) Fast forward 10 years to 1980. SHADO has it's HQ under a movie studio, it has a base on the moon, its own satellites and lots of cool vehicles. The aliens send saucers to steal or sabotage a shipment of SHADO surveillance equipment. The saucer is shot down. The wounded alien is examined, but dies in earth's atmosphere. Straker concludes that the aliens are a "dying" race from a planet depleted of resources. They come to steal human organs for transplant in order to prolong their alien lives. Another UFO gets through SHADO's outer defenses and disappears somewhere in Canada. Straker's units eventually find the saucer and capture another alien. Straker tries to interrogate (or plead with) the alien, but he dies too. After a lull in UFO sightings, a cargo ship is attacked and sunk. Straker's teams discover that the aliens have an undersea base and use a volcano for power. Straker and Col. Foster examine the seabed dome to discover a duplicate of SHADO's command center. Alien copies of SHADO staff come and give commands to drop defenses. Straker and Foster escape and the dome is blown up. Apparently, the ruse failed. The aliens mount a mass attack with two waves of UFOs. In the climactic battle scene, the SHADO pilots' marksmanship is much improved. Earth is saved...for now. Straker has to give Peter the bad news that one of the aliens they captured (and later died) had the heart of his sister (the captured woman from the opening scene). At the funeral, Straker muses darkly over whether this battle was the end, or just a beginning. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
If one still has an inner eight-year-old boy, the ample supply of exotic models will be a treat. Since the IU is a compilation of several UFO episodes, there seems to be a new wonder-craft every 15 minutes or so. The model work and effects hold up well, even in our CGI world. It is also amusing to watch how many of these vehicles flying and driving around, have the name SHADO painted on them. Surprising visibility for such a super secret organization.

Cultural Connection
Even though the original television series aired in 1970 and 71, people in the mid-70s were just as obsessed (perhaps more so) with UFOs than they were in the early 70s. (see notes on previously reviewed film: UFO: Target Earth The re-release of Anderson's work in 1974 was very good timing.

Serial Tradition -- The practice of cobbling together episodes into a "feature film" is old. For instance, in 1939, Universal Studios released The Phantom Creeps, a serial (chapter play). Later that year, they assembled the episodes (cutting out the recaps) to release a feature film version. This practice would continue with Flash Gordon, Commando Cody, and Rocky Jones: Space Ranger, to name just a few. In IU, three of the episodes provided the meat of the footage. The early quarter of the film comes from UFO's first episode, "Indentified." The middle section came from the episode "Computer Affiar." The underwater alien base and climactic battle sections came from the episode, "Reflections in the Water," (which was actually UFO's last episode.) Snippets from other episodes were used to help with continuity, but the result can still seem choppy or full of non-sequiturs, due to the remix process.

Moon Babes -- The fine 50s tradition lived on in Anderson's vision of Babes In Space. Catwomen of the Moon ('53) posited that the moon would be inhabited by slender 20-somethings in tight leotards. Note the moon base ladies in IU. They're all shapely 20-somethings. (middle-aged women are not allowed on the moon) and in form-fitting metallic suits that accentuated their curves. Matching purple wigs and vast amounts of eye make were apparently required, but only on the moon.  The same characters appear a few times on earth, in more conventional clothes and no wigs. It must be a Moon Babe thing.

Retro-Nasty -- Even though aliens were morphing into benevolent Care Bears after the mid-70s, Anderson's aliens were still in the older Golden Era style of hostile invaders. Also in the 50s tradition, the aliens regard humans as simple a livestock to be harvested. Recall how the aliens in Teenagers From Outer Space ('59) sought to use Earth as a sort of remote ranch where their lobster monsters (which the aliens ate) would feed on humans.

Darn Dying Aliens -- Solidly copying H.G.Wells and his opening of his novel "War of the Worlds" (1898), Anderson has Commander Straker (a James T. Kirk copy himself) summarize the aliens: "Imagine a dying planet in some distant corner of the universe. Its natural resources exhausted. Its inhabitants sterile. Doomed to extinction. A situation we may one day find ourselves in, gentlemen. So they discover earth. Abundant, fertile. Able to satisfy their needs. They look upon us not with animosity, but callousness. As we look upon our animals that we depend on for food. Yes, it appears they are driven by circumstance across a billion miles of space, driven on by the greatest force in the universe --. Survival." Just like Wells said.

ToMAYto - ToMAHto -- Of some amusement to American ears is how the British preferred to make the term UFO into a word and not just as initials. Several times, the characters refer the saucers as "You-Fohs", not "U.F.Os."

Bottom line? IU is fun viewing. Since you get two season's worth of episode production jammed into an hour and a half, the pace is quick enough -- to the point of sometimes not making much sense. Despite the youth-appeal of Anderson's cool craft, the story threads are rather glum and pessimistic. Humans as donor stock. Death from the sky at any moment. There is even a recast of the Invasion of the Body Snatchers flavor of creepy. IU is thoroughly 70s and "mod", so fun for nostalgia, but not too bad as entertainment, even if you don't remember the 70s.


Randall Landers said...

I have the complete series on DVD and set aside time every year to reacquaint myself with it.

Randall Landers said...

One of my favorite sf series!