Movie: Spaced Invaders (1990)

I’m not sure if Spielberg’s influence on 80’s films (whether directing or producing) was such a good thing.  Although he didn’t directly have a hand in 1990’s Spaced Invaders, this is a low-rent riff on many of his recurring themes, notably aliens, suburbs and kids.  There’s even a cute little robot that is befriended by a little girl.

The premise of Spaced Invaders has potential: the lone Martian spaceship to survive a space war hears a replay of the War Of The Worlds broadcast and decide to join what is believed to be an invasion of Earth.  As it happens to be Halloween, the residents of the small town they try to overthrow believe the vertically-challenged invaders are trick-or-treaters

And the movie starts out rather promisingly.  The spaceship miniatures are bit different from the standard-issue design, and well-made and animated.  Nobody will mistake this for a Star Wars movie, but I have seen this kind of thing done much worse before.  Much, much worse.

The heads of the Martians are also pretty well-made, but don’t fare as well as the spaceships.  The eyes and mouths of these appear to be motor-controlled and, while they are effectively expressive, they aren’t fluid enough for me to suspend my disbelief.  That, and the mouth movements rarely sync to the audio track.

Perhaps what is strangest about this movie is the decision to obviously style one of the invaders as a parody of Jack Nicholson, complete with sunglasses and Lakers shirt.  It isn’t funny and it isn’t relevant to anything else in the movie.  Even more confusing, it feels like it is one of many elements parodying Mars Attacks, though that movie came out years later.  Even though Nicholson was in that picture but not playing a Martian, I felt a strong cognitive dissonance as I continually had to remind myself of the order of release of these films. 

Also, there is a guy who looks and sounds close enough to John Candy that I’m guessing those attributes are the only reason this guy is in the movie.  Every time he was on-screen, I kept going “JOHN CANDY!” then, “nooo…”.  Every time.

The generic soundtrack doesn’t do the movie any favors, with music stings that sound like discards found in John Williams’s trash can.  There’s even a couple of “waaah waaaah” moments in it (and a couple of big bass drum hits) that make some moments seem more moronic than they are.

All that said, there is actually much in Spaced Invaders to make me recommend it, even if only as a diversion on a lazy weekend afternoon.  The child actors are pretty charming, there’s a number of chuckle-worthy lines and most of the special effects are pretty good (allowing for the budget).  There’s kind of a low-key, anything goes charm to it, even if the movie seems determined to shoot itself in a tiny Martian foot with a laser gun as much as possible. 

Dir: Patrick Read Johnson

Starring Douglass Barr, Royal Dano, Ariana Richards

Watched on blu-ray