Alien Uprising (2008)

Look, there are some things that bother you so much that you have to say them right out:

There is one thing no hard core special forces officer will do.  Not ever.

It’s a question of discipline and morale.  Commissioned officers do NOT enter into sexual relationships with enlisted men in their chain of command.  Not ever.

And yes, that includes non-coms, like sergeants.

Why not?  Well, for one thing, you’ll get court-martialed (some of you may remember the embarrassing moment some years ago when the Air Force’s first female bomber pilot got booted out of the service after the wife of one of her crewmen complained that the two were having an affair).

But for another, it leads to accusations of favoritism, creates envy among the others in your command, and makes it almost impossible to discipline the object of your affections.

Yeah, yeah, we’re used to the fact that the movies get the military wrong much of the time.  But sometimes the mistakes are just too big to ignore.

Particularly when plot points turn on those mistakes.

This one is more or less a retread of Aliens.  A group of special forces soldiers — along with their civilian supercargo — have been sent to a remote prison planet full of lost men, supposedly to find out what has happened there.

But, in fact, they’ve been lied to, a deadly experiment has gone wrong, and the resulting creature has killed off not just the staff and many of the inmates, but several other special forces teams sent in to capture the thing.

I’ve noted before that Andrew Bellware has a series of interesting super-low budget SF movies to his credit, which he makes in his own mini-studio in New York City.  His films usually involve complex SF backgrounds and a great deal of style, which is generally there to disguise his limited sets and general lack of money.  His most recent films, like Prometheus Trap, Clonehunter and Robot Revolution have been fairly good, and they certainly come with far more ideas than the typical SF film Hollywood churns out.

Even his first two films, Pandora Machine (which loaned its title to his production company) and the wildly ambitious Millennium Crisis have a lot going for them in their minimal way.

However, it seems to me that he faltered a little with this one, his third SF film.  The universe in which this film takes place does not seem as dense and complex as the worlds in his first two, and, in fact, the notion of the evil company with an agenda of its own (in this case, the company that runs the privatized jail) and the civilian sent by the company with his own agenda both came straight from the Alien movies.  There really isn’t enough here to distinguish this from all the other Aliens copies out there, which I’ll confess is a bit disappointing.

Still, the film is well made and looks quite good.  His cast performs well enough, although there is a battle scene or two where one is suddenly aware these are actors on a soundstage.  I find it rather interesting that, unlike most of Andrew Bellware’s other films, we do not get the computer overlays and readouts superimposed over most of the footage.  In a movie with futuristic Space Marines, it seems odd that they don’t have head up displays, particularly as these are one of his frequent tricks for hiding his budget holes.  Instead, he used lots of smoke and a few lighting tricks.  It looks quite impressive when we are in the prison scenes (which may have been shot on existing locations), although the well-detailed sets in the spaceship itself do their job quite nicely.

Unfortunately, the one place where the film falls down completely are the digital effects, particularly the gun flashes, which were all added in post.  The shots of the ship itself and the planet simply are not up to the standards of his previous films.

It seemed a bit odd that his space marines go into hypersleep sitting in their seats — I’m not sure whether they even strap themselves in, although there are IV bags hanging over each seat and they stick the needles into their own veins.  There is a sly little line about how they can’t afford the cryonic suspension chambers that are on the more important ships, so I’ll give him a pass on this one, even though we all know it’s just another money saver.

Then there’s the curious issue of the title: while we could call the supposed prison riot an “uprising,” other than a brief reference to the company using some biological material from a mysterious source in their experiment, you would be hard pressed to find any aliens.  If you look at some of his titles, you have to admit they do sound as if they were pulled out of a hat, as there are no revolting robots in Robot Revolution, and no reference to the Millennium in Millennium Crisis.

Another strange absence is the total lack of androids (except for a brief reference).  They are one of Bellware’s signature elements — so much so that they are the “Pandora Machines” the name of his production company refers to.

The ending deserves a particular mention here:  It just seems to drag on, as we follow them through the next jump, complete with a brief 2001-esque Stargate sequence (one of the last such copies before A Wrinkle in Time, I suspect, as this cliche seems to have died out.  But then, you can never really get rid of a cliche.  Not permanently) and a repeat of the crew awakening sequence at the beginning of the film, before we get to the surprise ending, borrowed this time from Roger Corman (although I won’t say which film as that would give the ending away!).  This whole section of the film badly needed a bit of pruning, and it seems to drag on far too long.

I like the dark and sober mood here, although one does recognize the music, which mostly repeats from his earlier films.  But in the end, this one needed to be more.

But at least he would do better with his later films.

A lot better.

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