Monday, July 13, 2015

ALIEN OUTPOST (2014) Blu-ray Review

Alien Outpost (2014) d. Jabbar Raisani (UK)

Blending sci-fi genre trappings with the rowdy macho camaraderie of soldiers has been a popular mix since James Cameron basically defined the style with Aliens in 1986. There have been a number of knock-offs both big-budget and no-budget since, although it’s rare that anyone gets anywhere near the perfect balance of Cameron’s action/sci-fi masterpiece. Similarly, the number of found footage films has grown exponentially in the last several years as producers constantly look for cheaper ways to get movies in front of audiences to maximize profits. One film that brought something of a new take to this style was Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 in 2009, and while its mix of found footage and faux documentary was well-received, there have been few attempts to replicate its style and structure. The recent UK film Alien Outpost (aka Outpost 37), directed by Raisani, seeks to meld the gritty “realistic” approach of District 9 with the character dynamics of military sci-fi to mostly positive effect.

The picture opens with a sequence that establishes a near-future Earth that has barely survived an interplanetary war. Alien forces attacked the planet and were barely defeated, but when the ships retreated they left thousands of alien soldiers (“Heavies”) behind. In outposts around the world, the United Space Defense Force (USDF) tries to weed out the remaining alien forces and protect humans in places where the Heavies have established a presence. But now, ten years after the end of the First Earth War, the USDF outposts are undermanned and underfunded as the rest of the world rebuilds and tries to forget the invasion ever happened. It’s 2033, and a two-man documentary crew follows three new recruits to the notorious Outpost 37 in Afghanistan. 37 is the most dangerous remaining USDF outpost on the planet, and life for its newest inhabitants promises to be extremely difficult.

During his first brief meeting with the documentary crew, Commander Spears (Rick Ravanello) issues them pistols and informs them in no uncertain terms that anyone staying within the walls of the outpost must be prepared to fight for their lives. And sure enough, before long they find themselves under fire from a group of locals, who until recently had been friendly. There’s a brutal firefight in which a number of the villagers are killed, and later talk turns to why the locals would suddenly begin attacking the base. While no one knows for certain, a theory is put forward that they may be unhappy that there is still a foreign military presence in their country. A disturbing encounter a few days later with an apparent suicide bomber and the subsequent appearance of Heavies suggests that something else may be happening, and soon the men of Outpost 37 must decide between following orders or possibly uncovering and stopping a new alien threat.

Alien Outpost is mostly made up of rough “handheld” footage of the soldiers going about their daily routines and engaging with the enemy, alternating with interviews with the men against flat black backgrounds. This is effective in creating the illusion of documentary and in helping to differentiate the soldiers from one another, which is unsurprisingly difficult when they are all in full uniform taking fire with the camera flailing around.

The all-male cast is supposedly made up of soldiers from all over the world, although most of them speak English and appear to be American, and behave like typical “military movie” guys. There are plenty of non-PC jabs thrown between them, and while this is frequently grating the cast does an admirable job of portraying believable relationships between each other. Much more troubling than the coarse dialogue between the men is their incongruously blasĂ© attitude toward mowing down and blowing up dozens of previously friendly villagers, seemingly without attempting to negotiate a peace with them. The result sometimes uncomfortably feels a little like Starship Troopers without the self-aware satire.

The main attraction here, though, is the special effects, which are a bit all over the place. Some of the Heavies have a realistic physical presence while others look crudely composited into scenes (and all played by Men in Suits star Douglas Tait). The worst examples of the latter are the flashback scenes to the large-scale assault on Earth by the aliens, most of which look exceptionally unconvincing even with layers of video noise and digital glitches trying to mask their inadequacies.

As expected, the best effects in the film are the practical ones, and ones that blend both CG and practical approaches like a dark interior sequence late in the film that doubles as its most impressive set piece. It never reaches the level of Blomkamp’s startlingly realistic effects (the primary saving grace of his recent Short Circuit riff Chappie), but for what was probably not a big-budget production Raisani and his crew pull off a few impressive tricks. While the action is frequently shot with a little too much shaky-cam, it often does a commendable job conveying the intensity of close-quarters combat.

Shout! Factory has given the movie a solid Blu-ray presentation that looks and sounds great, including a full 7.1 surround mix. There’s a lively, informative commentary track with director/co-writer Jabbar Raisani and director of photography/co-writer Blake Clifton, a 16-minute “behind the scenes” featurette with cast and crew interviews, a little over three minutes of deleted scenes, and theatrical trailers. There’s nothing here that hasn’t been done before and/or better, but it still just might scratch that particular sci-fi/action itch.

Alien Outpost is available now from Shout! Factory and can be ordered HERE:

--Review by Jason Coffman

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