Tuesday, March 15, 2011

INTERPLANETARY

Sometimes you just have to admire a filmmaker's ambition, even when the final result doesn't quite measure up to those lofty goals. Case in point: Chance Shirley's INTERPLANETARY (2008), a tongue-in-cheek attempt to make a Roger Corman-styled sci-fi monster romp on a budget so small that even the legendarily frugal Corman would have probably balked.

A crew of nine men and women - management and service personnel only - are stationed at a corporate base on Mars. They don't seem to do much except busywork and paperwork, and life is pretty dull until one of the crew discovers a strange fossil in a Martian cave. Suddenly, they find themselves under attack from without by unidentified assailants and from within by a bloodthirsty and relentless alien lifeform... and woefully unprepared to defend themselves from either threat.

Shirley's film attempts to mix the workplace humor of  THE OFFICE with the monster-on-the-loose format of FORBIDDEN WORLD or THE TERROR WITHIN, and there are times where it almost works. But, while there's a lot of effort evident in the finished film, it just doesn't come together.

A lot of work clearly went into building some pretty decent retro-futuristic sets, props and costumes - the Mars Rover vehicle is especially impressive - and the rock quarry locations make very serviceable Martian landscapes. The essentially unknown cast isn't bad, and the performances, in general, are better than average for a micro-budgeted, DTV feature. The monster costume is pretty good, too. But director Shirley cuts his own throat with overly-bright lighting and bland photography that betrays every fault in his plywood sets - and the rubbery reality of his monster suits. There's a reason why most monster movies keep the lighting dark, and its a lesson that Shirley should have learned. A tighter edit might have helped, too; as it is, the pace frequently drags and makes it too clear that they didn't have quite enough script to fill the 83 minute running time.

Now, I am genuinely impressed that Shirley and his collaborators built actual sets instead of shooting against greenscreens and dropping in shoddy CGI backdrops. The props and costumes are quite decent. The monster suit is great - and would have probably been quite effective if lit and photographed in a more menacing manner. Shirley even manages a couple of genuinely evocative moments and shots - like the one showcased on the DVD cover above. The "orientation film" that opens the film is actually pretty funny, too. Unfortunately, the movie as a whole just doesn't gel.

The DVD from Shock-O-Rama Cinema presents INTERPLANETARY in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer is quite satisfactory, considering the 16mm source material. Extras include an audio commentary by writer/director Chance Shirley and a selection of trailers for other Shock-O-Rama titles.

I've said it before - I really want to like these ultra low-budget science fiction films. I love that stuff. But it's a tough genre to tackle without money and/or resources, and I truly do respect the low-budget filmmakers who take on the challenge. INTERPLANETARY had potential - and maybe with a little bit more ingenuity and moviemaking skill, it might have worked. As it stands, though, it's an interesting misfire with a few bright spots scattered throughout.

BUY: Interplanetary