Spaced Invaders (1990)
What might happen if aliens intercept our radio transmissions from Earth is a
fairly common concept in science fiction, but this movie twists the idea like a
coiled spring by linking in the Orson Welles broadcast. Ultimately the material
is so tightly wound that the whole thing comes across like an explosion in a mattress
factory. Some of the jokes hit the funny bone and rebound away with a resounding zoing,
others just poke you in the eye.
The movie starts aboard a Martian invasion fleet heading out to do battle around
the star Arcturus. Clearly their nearest neighbour the Earth just doesn't rate this
kind of serious attention. On the face of it, this makes little sense, but if you
try and analyse this movie on any serious level, such as how come the Earth hasn't
noticed huge alien battle fleets blasting across the solar system, then you'll
swiftly find yourself in more trouble than it's worth. Take my word for it, the film
is a hard one to figure out, but that's not to imply an automatic negative. Crazy
can be good.
From the offset it is clear that the Martians are not the most competent of
space invaders, cue the introduction of the crew of a smaller ship on asteroid
patrol. It's left to your imagination as to why asteroids need patrolling, but
fearing they have lost the main battle fleet, they put out their electronic
sniffers and inadvertently pick up a 50th anniversary broadcast of Orson Welles'
War of the Worlds. Concluding that the invasion fleet has turned left at Albuquerque
and is pounding the tar out of the Earth, our intrepid crew decide to get in on the action.
Meanwhile down on Earth, in the small town of Big Bean, Illinois, we meet the new
Sheriff in town (Douglas Barr), whose daughter (Ariana Richards) is having a hard time
adjusting to the provincial delights of country living.
The Martian arrive at Big Bean in less than spectacular fashion, crashing into a barn.
This landing is one of the funniest scenes in the movie, setting up some great gags,
especially one between some old timers who remember the original broadcast. I won't
ruin things by explaining the line "I'll go get the bucket", but trust me, it is very
funny. The disorientated Martians emerge determined to kill some "human scum", but
since they have arrived on Halloween night, they are continually thwarted because the
locals mistake them for trick or treaters. This is about as much as you need to know
about the plot, since it pretty much hinges on that one element, plus the stupidity of
the Martians and their equally dim-witted human foes.
Since this is a children's film at heart (it was financed by Disney), you have to
put up with some child actors. The sheriff's daughter (Richards) is fine and
went on to better things as the niece of Doctor Hammond in Jurassic Park, but there
is one incredibly irritating and slightly stereotyped kid who spends most of the movie
in a duck costume. The really awful dialogue he has to spout cripples any chance for him
to deliver a performance of worth, and indeed it is a fault of the movie that there is
simply too much talking. The kids prattle on, as do the Martians in an insane babble
of words that really makes you want to reach for the mute button. The dialogue is simply
odd, since the Martians are meant to be ignorant of planet Earth and our customs and
yet talk in slang and drop lots of local Earth references. Sometimes less is more, a
lesson the writer (Scott Lawrence Alexander) and director (Patrick Read Johnson) should have heeded.
Spaced Invaders has a lot of faults. It's frequently incoherent, woefully written
in places and really feels like it was made up as it went along, but for all that,
it has an infectious charm. The use of the Welles broadcast is nicely done, the
effects are fun in a retro sort of way and there are some real laughs to be had.
I especially like the Martians blowing up a missile "grain" silo with their heat
ray (is this a reference I wonder to residents of Grover's Mill allegedly attacking a water tower during the 1938 broadcast?) and getting buried in a mountain of popcorn. Best of all is the visual inventiveness
of the movie. Someone certainly had an eye for detail on this movie. The costumes and
make-up work are great and look out for lovely little touches like the reclining
Martian lady painted World War II style on the side of the spaceship. Certainly
don't expect to be intellectually challenged by Spaced Invaders, but you can safely
anticipate a fun if somewhat perplexing 90 plus minutes. A real oddity of a movie.
See also in:
Film & TV
The Night America Trembled. An extraordinary live production from the renowned Studio One televsion series that re-enacts the infamous Orson Welles War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938.
The Night that Panicked America. This is the second dramatised version of The War of the Worlds radio broadcast of 1938, with a stand-out performance from Paul Shenar as Orson Welles.
Radio Days by Woody Allen. A sentimental trip back in time to the golden age of radio that includes the War of the Worlds broadcast.