It Came from the Desert (2017)

The opening narration should give it away.

I mean, this one was based on a video game that came out in the late Eighties, and actually starts with the opening narration from the game.  It has this awkward clunky style which may be meant to echo the sort of overblown and over-dramatic introductory speeches you’d find in a Fifties horror film, but instead it has the sort of incoherent and ungainly style that could only come from a crew of decidedly left-brained computer nerds trying hard to write prose.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’d probably enjoy the game from what little I’ve seen of it — it definitely has a strong evocation of the old Fifties Sci Fi movies, even if the game play does seem a little forced (But then that’s true of most videogames!) — and, as many game reviewers have noted, Cinemaware did achieve something fundamentally cinematic with this game —  But then, they always avoided the trap of directly adapting some existing film and trying to shoehorn its events into a workable game.

Somehow, in an homage to a Fifties SF movies, one expects it all to start with the usual scientist hero, played by someone reliable and middle-aged like Richard Carlson or Richard Denning or Hugh Marlowe.  Which is more or less true of the game’s player character.

However, the movie didn’t exactly chose to go that route.

Instead we get teen-aged motocross racers having a big kegger.

Now we know they’re going to run into some giant ants — they’re on the poster after all — but it does come as a mild surprise that they don’t come from the meteorite we see crashing to earth at the beginning of the film.  Instead, they’re from a secret underground lab where they’ve been experimenting with alien DNA (yes, yes, from the meteorite) and ants.  And maybe some other insects.  And maybe making them bigger.  And really, really smart.

But we needn’t worry, it’s under control, the ants will die if they don’t get regular doses of grain alcohol.  From, oh, beer, for instance.

Large parts of this play out the way you expect, with our heroes exploring the lab, only to end up fighting the creatures and trying to escape (these are some of the best sequences in the film).  But the next thing you know, the big bugs have grabbed all their friends, and they have to go bug hunting with the help of a scientist who conveniently shows up to explain what’s happening (can you say “cut scene”?) and some super weapons that just happen to be lying around.

So we get scenes of them trying to get past automatic machine guns on their motor bikes which feel exactly like they are in a videogame, and equally familiar scenes of them blasting bugs in an old mine.

But the insects are surprisingly well done.  They look quite convincing, and as they are supposed to be mutants, some of the designs are truly strange: strange, but solid and substantial with weight and heft.  Yes, it would have been nice to have a few more ant attacks , but they still get plenty to do.

And the geeky character actually gets the girl in the end.  How rare is that?

I really don’t think their decision to make this one a teen movie works as well as it should, and it probably would have worked better with an older, more science oriented cast.  But one can guess that they hoped to attract a younger audience for this one.

Not that I’m sure that really works.

There’s a nice, deadpan sense of humor to the film which mostly carries it through.  I might grumble a bit about its more videogame-ish moments, but on the whole it is fairly light-hearted and entertaining.

True, it isn’t a great film, but there is one thing you can definitely say about it:

It is probably far better than anything SyFy is showing this week.

Watch or Buy on Amazon:

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