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Exclusive: First look at Invasion

Posted by Patrick Sauriol on Wednesday, December 2, 2009

From the days back in the 1950s when James Arness played a walking space vegetable in The Thing, the alien invasion genre has been a successful one for Hollywood. And if there's gold to still be mined in those storytelling hills, why not? Steven Spielberg has given us his version of War of the Worlds, M. Night Shyamalan made a nicely told chiller about one family staying alive in Signs (which is still a decent enough movie if you stop it 10 minutes before the end of the film.) Both of those pictures went on to make over $200 million dollars at the domestic box office; more importantly they proved to the Hollywood bean counters that audiences will still pay to see the Earth get mean new landlords from beyond the stars. Right now Columbia Pictures is about to go into production with Battle: Los Angeles, Twilight author Stephenie Meyer's The Host is winding its way through development, 2012 director Roland Emmerich wants to do two back-to-back sequels to Independence Day, and Paranormal Activity's director is filming a trip to Area 51. There are more outer space invasions that can be title-dropped from orbit but let's end the E.T. roll call with the latest one to get sold, that being a spec script called Invasion by Ben Magid. Yesterday Shock Till You Drop mentioned that Hostel creator Eli Roth and Eric Newman were slated to produce this new project for Summit Entertainment. When Shock called the story "Cloverfield-esque," my interest was piqued, so I went about seeing if I could find out more about this one. I did. It’s nice to see that the dark magic still works well when I need it to.

The rumor that Invasion has to do with aliens coming down and kicking humanity's ass is absolutely true. So too is the report that Shock gave about Magid's opening to his story: we start off in an L.A. subway and are barelygiven time to be introduced to the film's main characters riding public transit when violent ground tremors causes the train to fly off its rails. As the survivors crawl out of the smashed cars and gather their wits they soon realize help is not coming. Fearing that the city of angels has finally suffered from The Big One, those that are able to walk work their way out of the tunnels to the light above. It's from that moment we realize that what's hit our characters wasn't an earthquake but something far worse.

In our next moment Magid writes his description of a "raped" Los Angeles. A layer of dust covers everything and reduces visibility to two or three car lengths, no more. Worse, the city seems almost emptied out of people. When the survivors finally do encounter others it's because they're running away from something else. Strange bursts of colored light shine through the dust clouds and irregular clicking noises can be heard, but from what? Deciding that hiding is a good option right now, our group (dad and daughter, med student, reformed gangbanger, ex-military tough guy, know-it-all young adult and a couple of generic others) lay low in a store to wait things out. That’s when it's discovered that there's no liquid anywhere to be found; toilets are empty, taps run dry, even the soda pop in sealed cans has mysteriously vanished. Shortly after that our group has another Monday blues discovery: there's a weird type of goo that if you come in skin contact with kills you in a very painful fashion by drying you out. Oh, and that layer of dust? If you dig a bit under it you’ll find tooth fillings, nails and human hair. I think I remember Tom Cruise figuring this one out pretty quick a couple of years ago.

Invasion has its moments where it echoes Cloverfield's post-9/11 play on a large city turned upside-down by a force that shouldn't exist, and that's a good thing. Not exactly an original thing, but hey, this is the studio system and I understand the process better than most and what your script has to be to get sold. The survivors – archtypes that they are to suit the hour-and-a-half we're given to watch things play out -- don't know what's going on. People are terrified of every little noise. Ideas on how to stay alive consist of "Keep moving," and "Stay away from whatever that thing is."

The problem I soon had with Invasion was that it never really went anywhere further than that. By the end of the first act the story structure was established for the rest of the piece. Even when a direct threat confronted our survivors, the resulting action sequence never really engaged me. After seeing so many other movies and TV shows where aliens come to Earth and attack us, the bad space people in Invasion felt too familiar and, worse, predictable. Magid tries to give his E.T.s a spin of difference in the way they kill humans but the plausibility of what the aliens can do to us never really rang true to me. I also found it pretty hard to swallow the reason for why our group of survivors made it through the initial attack  -- really, that was the reason? I know that I've got too much information about alien invasion movies rattling in my brain but even so I think that without spending more time coming up with a better idea for Magid's aliens and their reasons for attacking us, at the conclusion of Invasion you’ll be left feeling that you're not really satisfied. You know why: it's because you've seen this kind of stuff played out before in other alien invasion movies and TV shows, and what's original doesn’t ring like it's really all that believable. It feels like it's only there for shock or gross-out value.

While there are a few moments of biological horror, Invasion definitely left me wanting more. And if this production will take (best case scenario) a year or two until it arrives in theaters, by then we’ll have already seen Battle: Los Angeles and maybe that just announced Sam Raimi-produced alien invasion movie will be right around the corner too. So how will Invasion stand out from the rest of this sub-genre of sci-fi if this is all that it's got? Guys, this needs work. Invasion can't just rely on the Cloverfield you-are-there gimmick to sell its story. There simply needs to be more story development done, both on the science behind the aliens as well as a good hard look at why they're invading Earth and why we should give a crap about these people we're watching. Remember how pissed off you were when, at the end of Signs, you realized that a cup of water could kill one of those uglies? Didn’t the alien command force think that one through before they launched an invasion of a planet that’s three-quarters water? While Invasion doesn't have that same level of absurdness, the story needs more construction to its foundation. What worked before has been done too many times; let’s start seeing some originality with our alien overlords before they cook us up for dinner.

mckracken
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Posted: 7 years 33 weeks ago

"A layer of dust covers everything and reduces visibility to two or three car lengths, no more. Worse, the city seems almost emptied out of people. When the survivors finally do encounter others it's because they're running away from something else. Strange bursts of colored light shine through the dust clouds and irregular clicking noises can be heard, but from what? Deciding that hiding is a good option right now, our group lay low in a store to wait things out."

Patrick, read that again and tell me this doenst sound more like The Mist and less like Cloverfield.

i think one of the pricipal problems is "how do I take this one step farther than the last Alien invasion movie"

They try... honestly I think they do, but if their "bait-n-switch" twist ending is weak, its because it actually makes so much sense that people see it coming from a mile away and/or its been done before... if its original, it makes NO sense whatsoever becuse the writers were grasping at straws trying to wow us with a good ending.