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Tag: Alien

Editorials

From Blockbuster to Mockbuster: Big Films and Their Copies

February 20, 2021
Big films and their copies [Source: Digital Spy]

Have you ever been shopping and noticed a DVD/BluRay for a movie that looks like a recent release? E.g. The Little Panda Fighter or Guardians of the Tomb? The world is full of bad copies and rip-offs of popular movies. And today, we’re looking at some examples of films that fell flat on their faces (according to the scores available on Rotten Tomatoes,) trying to capitalise off bigger films.

Gamera copied Godzilla

Of course, rip-off/copy movies aren’t a new phenomenon, as this entry proves. Gamera was Daiei Studio’s answer to Godzilla and both movies have similar plots. Both are about giant monsters, awakened by atomic devices, attacking Japan while the government tries to find a solution to get rid of the monster. Gamera’s initial outing failed in comparison to Godzilla’s (Gamera (1965) has a critical rating of 20% and an audience score of 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. But Godzilla (1954) has a 93% critical rating and an 89% audience rating). Nonetheless, the giant fire breathing turtle has since found cult success with his own franchise.

Gamera V Godzilla
Gamera V Godzilla // Credits: Daiei Film (Left) & Toho Studios (Right)

Battle Beyond The Stars copied Star Wars and Seven Samurai

Produced by the low-budget film kingpin Roger Corman and written by future Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Sayles, Battle Beyond the Stars has a simple premise. Remake Seven Samurai with Star Wars’ sci-fi fantasy aesthetic. Despite BBTS’ cult following the general impression it left wasn’t favourable (Critics: 45% Audience: 41%) especially compared to the gargantuan success of Star Wars (Critics: 92% Audience: 96%) and Seven Samurai (Critics: 100% Audience: 97%).

Battle Beyond the Stars is Seven Samurai with a Star Wars skin
Battle Beyond the Stars is Seven Samurai with a Star Wars skin // Credits: New World Pictures (Left), 20th Century Fox (Top Right) & Toho (Bottom Right)

Contamination copied Alien

But copies and rip-offs are hardly exclusive to the American and Japanese market. The 1980s Italian film industry produced many films to capitalise on international hits. Contamination was one of several releases produced to capitalise on Ridley Scott’s Alien. Mostly through its use of alien eggs which wreak havoc on the human body.  Needless to say, Contamination was unfavourably received compared to Alien (Contamination- Critics: 40% Audience: 29%. Alien- Critics: 98% Audience: 94%). But Contamination attained its own legacy when it became part of the infamous video nasties list.

Alien eggs on Earth and on LV-426
Alien eggs on Earth and on LV-426 // Credits: Arrow Video (Left) & 20th Century Fox (Right)

Ator: The Fighting Eagle copied Conan the Barbarian

Speaking of Italian copies. Conan The Barbarian (1982) inspired many sword and sorcery films in the 80s and Ator: The Fighting Eagle is incredibly close to Conan in terms of story elements. Focusing on a musclebound sword-wielding hero’s quest for revenge against an animal-themed cult leader who killed his parents and kidnapped a young woman. Although Ator couldn’t copy Conan’s success with audiences (Conan has a 74% audience rating, Ator has 14%), Ator acquired 3 sequels. A lot more than the Conan series.  

Ator and Conan getting ready to fight
Ator and Conan getting ready to fight // Credits: Filmirage (Left) & 20th Century Fox (Right)

Mac and Me copied E.T.

Now we get to one of the weirdest rip-offs on our list. This movie focuses on an alien that comes to Earth and befriends a child while a shadowy organisation pursues him (sound familiar?). What makes this title weird is that it was created to promote McDonald’s and its charities. Predictably this knock-off suffered poorly (Critics: 0% Audience: 38%) in the shadow of the classic movie it copied (Critics: 98% Audience: 72%).

Mac and Me copies E.T. [Credits: Orion Pictures (Left) & Universal Pictures (Right)]
Mac is a lot creepier than E.T. // Credits: Orion Pictures (Left) & Universal Pictures (Right)

Snakes on a Train copied Snakes on a Plane

Snakes on a Train is very emblematic of most of The Asylum film studio’s output. Their titles are made to lure people in by being as close as they can to other films. Both this and Snakes on a Plane concern snakes coming after people in confined spaces. Snakes on a Plane didn’t receive rave reviews (49% Audience Score on RT). Even so, Snakes on a Train was hated (18% Audience Score).

The posters for both movies // Credits: The Asylum (Left) & New Line Cinema (Right)

Ratatoing copied Ratatouille

Video Brinquedo was one of the most shameless modern mockbuster companies. Released to bank off the success of Pixar’s Ratatouille, both movies deal with a rodent obsessed with making food. However, Ratatouille won an Oscar and is loved by audiences (87%) and critics (96%). While everyone dislikes Ratatoing’s ugly style and cheap animation (27% on RT).

Ratatoing copies Ratatouille [Credits: Video Brinquedo (Left) & Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (Right)]
Can you spot the difference? // Credits: Video Brinquedo (Left) & Buena Vista Pictures Distribution (Right)

Thank you for joining me on this excursion into the land of copies and rip-offs. What rip-offs do you hate? Have you ever mistakenly bought any copycat titles? Conversely, are there any copycats that are better than their inspiration? Please let us know.

Also Read: Online Film Festivals Are Here To Stay

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Reviews

Retro Review: Alien

March 5, 2019

Today we are looking at another significant film celebrating an anniversary. As this year Ridley Scott’s Alien turns 40. Alien has become a phenomenon over the past 40 years. Spawning one of the most iconic horror movie monsters, heroines and one of the best sequels ever made. But 4 decades on, has Alien aged well? Or has the franchise it spawned eclipsed the significance of the original film? Let’s find out.

The story

While heading back to Earth the crew of the spaceship Nostromo are awakened from cryo-sleep by the ship’s computer to investigate a distress signal coming from a nearby moon. During the mission, Kane (John Hurt) is attacked by a creature, which attaches itself to him and incapacitates him. Against officer Ellen Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) wishes, Science Officer, Ash (Ian Holm) lets him back onboard.

Eventually, Kane is freed from the alien’s grasp. But the lifeform left inside him by the alien kills him by erupting from his chest. Now, with an alien loose on the ship, the crew must find a way to survive. Will they stop the alien? And is the alien the biggest threat to the crew?

What did I like…

You can accomplish a lot with a simple idea. The concept of a monster on the loose in a confined area killing people is nothing new. But Alien presents itself so well that the unoriginal premise never impacts it.

Firstly, Dan O’Bannon’s script is a marvel of showing without telling and natural characterization. The Nostromo crew aren’t action heroes but everyday people who just want to complete their job and go home. Actions define these people. Rather than being handed information we discover more about them and their world through their interactions. The space setting also makes most of their lapses in judgment feel warranted and serves the narrative. Because running away is impossible. Thus, when the alien begins stalking the crew, the film becomes tenser because we relate to and fear for these people. And dread is built effectively because of what is left to the imagination. The alien itself is constantly changing and the company the characters work for is just a vague entity hanging over them, playing on our fears of the unknown.

The acting of Alien also works with the writing to create a believable world in an unbelievable situation. The actors use understated and restrained delivery to sell their characters. Even their hysteria feels natural and not forced. With each actor adding something to their performance that makes them feel unique. Whether it be Sigourney Weaver’s hard attitude, John Hurt’s everyday charm or Harry Dean Stanton’s goofy obliviousness. Many of the characters are memorable. Even if the writing was not strong these actors would still be able to carry the film.

Alien Cast
Sigourney Weaver, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Tom Skerritt, Veronica Cartwright, Yaphet Kotto, and Harry Dean Stanton in Alien

And then there is the production design and direction. The first thing most people think of when they think of Alien is H. R. Giger’s legendary creature design. Which evokes many subconscious fears. But it becomes scarier because we rarely see the whole thing on screen. Instead. we see close-ups or out of focus shots of it in the background. Again playing up the idea that what we don’t see is scarier. And the gothic, mechanical set design heightens the tension. We watch as the clinically clean safe rooms slowly change to unnerving mechanized monstrosities. With the direction letting atmosphere grow naturally through long shots and attention to editing. Allowing us to get use to the safety of certain things before slowly breaking them.

What I do not like…

But while the elements work together overall there are still hindrances that prevent the movie from being perfect. The film effectively builds atmospheric tension, but several jump scares are used at random points. Seemingly just to remind the audience that they are watching a horror film – which feels cheap.

Some could also argue that the characters feel a little underdeveloped. Because the script focuses more on their actions relating to their current situation many could claim that we don’t get to know the characters as individuals. We don’t get to learn all their facets as we have become used to in films. Which will be distancing for some. Also, while the actors mostly do a good job Tom Skerritt is a weak link. Unlike the rest of the cast, he feels ill-suited for his role as leader. He never leaves an impression, coming across more as whiny than as authoritative.

Finally, there are some lapses in logic that can take some audience members out of the experience. Some are relatively minor annoyances such as Ripley risking her life for Jonesy in the finale. Which doesn’t sync up with her previous characterisation as someone who puts survival first. But then there are bigger questions. Such as: if the company wanted the alien why did they entrust the job to space tuckers rather than a group of marines or people who would be more prepared to deal with the alien? And, Ash’s presentation in several scenes make his treacherous intentions too obvious to ultimately be surprising.

Verdict

Despite its hype and long legacy, Alien is still engaging all these years later. It does rely too much on jump scares. Some characters can be seen as underdeveloped. Tom Skerritt offers little to his part. And the plot requires the audience to suspend their disbelief a lot. But these flaws never damage the movie too much.

The characters are relatable people doing a job beyond their capabilities. And the film creates effective tension by keeping certain plot elements vague and unseen. The actors are also very natural in their roles making them easy to believe and giving them an innate likability. And it’s all played out against some of cinemas best production design. Which combined with the slower direction and pace creates a palpable atmosphere. It’s easy to see why everyone gravitated towards it. A genuine classic that deserves revisiting.

Verdict: 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Alien (1979) Trailer