December 16, 2019 Invasion Planet Earth (Movie Review)
Remember Boyhood? The 2014 film by Richard Linklater that had people going on about how it took 12 years to shoot? How about one that has (technically) been in production for nearly 20 years? Simon Cox (Hanging Out With 9 Dead Gay Guys 2004) started work on a film called Kaleidoscope Man in the 1990s, filming in and around Birmingham for about 6 years. Then he pitched it to multiple UK studios and investors before eventually turning to crowdfunding in 2012.
Two years and 7 campaigns later, he managed to shoot 1/3 of the film, cast former Punk Singer and Actress Toyah Willcox (Jubilee 1978, Teletubbies series) and got an article about the film on the Birmingham Mail website.
Then some investors got interested and they financed the rest of the film. It only took 10 years of development, about 6 and a half years in production, 2 and half years in post-production, 1 name change to Invasion Planet Earth, and here we are today. Directed, edited, produced, and co-written by Cox alongside Simon Bovey (The Un-Gone 2007), it made its cinematic debut in the UK on December 5th, 2019, arrives on DVD on the 16th, before reaching digital platforms on the 30th through Munro Films and Lightbulb Film Distribution.
It tells the story of a doctor called Thomas Dunn (Simon Haycock: Last Respects 2017) and his wife Mandy (Lucy Drive: Outside Bet 2012). They are broken after the death of their young daughter but find hope once again when Mandy is pregnant again. However, their dreams of moving on are interrupted by horrifying visions of the end of the world. They soon prove to be a reality when a giant alien craft appears in the sky, and its inhabitants start invading towns and cities across the world. It is down to Thomas to help join humanity’s effort to fight off the invasion, but what can he do?
It seems interesting in text, but how about when it is in motion? Was its long road to the screen worth travelling? It has a jolly intro where some kids are watching the formerly titular Kaleidoscope Man (Nick Lancaster) on TV take on some alien forces. The sepia tone and title cards suggest a 1970’s-early 80’s show a la Buck Rogers, though the effects are more modern Doctor Who. There are lasers, explosions, galaxies. If TV shows back then had looked like this, Battlestar Galactica might have beat out Star Wars.
In all seriousness, one can see why it took 2+ years to get all these effects ready. They can be quite impressive for a relatively small film. The spaceships, mothership, etc, are finely crafted, though they do stick out as CGI models. Other bugbears include non-destructive explosions, a falling animation akin to those from 1997’s Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero videogame, and the horrifying ‘visions’ being an apocalyptic-themed YouTube Poop. Still, the conventional explosions, space shots, lasers, etc, are on point.
The acting is quite good too for the most part. Haycock balances out the character’s trauma with their will to go on – a stiff-upper-lipped kind of sadness. Willcox and Drive also turn in solid performances, though they do not get much screen time. Other characters are less effective on screen. Floyd (Danny Steele: Chicken 2015) is meant to be the charming, Nick Frost-esque character, but his duff lines and reads do not help. Whereas Samantha (Sophie Anderson: Dirtymoney 2013) hits the mark better as the aspiring artist from the wrong side of the tracks.
Then there is the story itself. It does not help that the second act focuses on Dunn and his patients going through multiple scenarios. On paper they sound interesting, especially with its resolution and how they tie to the characters’ own neuroses. In execution, it derails the film. For one, what the audience expects to be Dunn’s neurosis shifts gears to another one. For two, some scenes do not hit their marks as well as others- the soundtrack really tries to make Dunn hijacking a spaceship seem majestic, but it does not work.
As for its pacing, the characters end up revealing that flaw themselves. Dunn reveals “we’ve been here less than 20 minutes,” and Harriet (Julie Hoult: Grindsploitation 2016) says “20 minutes? It feels like days!”
So, despite the second act having the bulk of the action, visuals and character development, it is not as effective as its slow-burn introduction. The third act gets the film back on the rails, upping the dramatic tension by raising the stakes. There is even another twist that was foreshadowed nicely, though it is a little trite. Still, the pacing and acting issues do remain, alongside some dodgy American accents. The film just manages to tie everything back up into a tidy, even emotional, package by the end.
It feels bad to rag on a film like Invasion Planet Earth when one knows its production history, because it is a labor of love. Still, one cannot deny it is quite lopsided. The best that can be said about it is that it feels like a proper tribute to 1950s alien b-movies than anything like Sharknado. In that it is at least earnest in its storytelling, rather than covering for its flaws with yuks. Basically, it does classic Roger Corman (It Conquered the World 1956) better than modern Roger Corman (Cobragator 2018). Work checking out, Cryptic Rock gives Invasion Planet Earth 3.5 out of 5 stars.