Alien Outpost (2014)
Editor’s Notes: Alien Outpost is currently out in limited release. Follow Daniel Tucker on Twitter @dtuck318.
It is only the slightest of coincidences (and if one were to be honest a smidgen of procrastination on behalf of the writer) that I would experience Game of Thrones on an IMAX screen the same day I sat down to view my screener of Alien Outpost. The common link between these two artistic endeavors is Jabbar Raisani, most known for his visual effects work on Game of Thrones but has contributed visual effects work on a handful of feature-length films including four outings by Robert Rodriguez. Alien Outpost marks Raisani’s debut as a feature-length director, and while the film as a whole leaves a mountain of things to be desired it does in fact succeed in establishing Raisani as a visualist with untapped potential and exciting promise.
… while the film as a whole leaves a mountain of things to be desired it does in fact succeed in establishing Raisani as a visualist with untapped potential and exciting promise.
Presented as a found-footage documentary, the film follows a group of soldiers who uncover an alien settlement and have to battle them and other stuff because hey we have 90 minutes to use up. It’s part District 9, part Restrepo, only void of any creatively inspired results. A tepid backstory involving an alien invasion and eventual colonization is established through a banal use of title cards and doctored news footage. It’s such a half-assed, unengaging setup it’s a miracle someone made it through the script and got it into production. Stranger things have happened. Tack on an obvious parallel with the Middle East that goes absolutely nowhere beyond ground-level political and social commentary and you’d be hard pressed to find a more stagnant script.
Alright, so the setup isn’t the Second Coming. At least the human characters will be interesting and provide some meat to this flimsy outing, right? Better luck elsewhere. Saying that the “documentary subjects” are a bunch of underwritten stock characters would be giving Raisani and his co-writer Blake Clifton too much credit. The soldiers are just a group of talking heads, none of which are standouts and all completely devoid of any distinguishable character traits. Writing clearly isn’t Raisani’s and Clifton’s strong suit, but the highest of praises should be rained on this duo for continuing to find new ways to make their characters blend together more and more as it’s seemingly never-ending running time ticks away.
Though his writing could certainly use some work, there are moments interspersed throughout Alien Outpost where Raisani shows a true knack for staging sequences. There aren’t a lot of big moments in the film, but when they do finally appear Raisani makes them shine. The creature designs are cool and intricate, not succumbing to the dangers of a low-budget film. Accomplishing something that most directors don’t even care about, Raisani employs just the right amount of shaky cam. You can still tell what is going on in his action scenes. If only what was happening outside the film’s commendable action scenes was actually engaging.
Raisani shows promise. It’d be a pity if he wasn’t able to fully realize it.
By the time the film’s credit’s start to play, it’s clear to the viewer (provided they stayed with the film through the end) that this is on par with movies that are filmed to tie in with a video game. The story is nonexistent, the characters indistinguishable, but that’s fine because what you came for were the action scenes. When it comes to said action, Alien Outpost delivers, but only about ten minutes’ worth. Jabbar Raisani and Blake Clifton are reportedly teaming up again for Capturing the Dead, with Raisani set to direct their script. I would really like to see these two be given better material, allowing for them to focus less on writing and more on creating an immersive and interesting world we got a fleeting glimpse of here. Raisani shows promise. It’d be a pity if he wasn’t able to fully realize it.
The story is nonexistent, the characters indistinguishable, but that's fine because what you came for were the action scenes. When it comes to said action, Alien Outpost delivers, but only about ten minutes' worth.