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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Alien Hunter
Alien Hunter
Columbia/Tri-Star // R // October 28, 2003
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 6, 2003 | E-mail the Author
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Remember when the Bermuda Triangle was really big in the 1970's?  All those supposed planes and ships mysteriously vanishing in one area of the ocean?  As popular as it was, it was natural to use that as a backdrop for science fiction and horror movies.  And use it they did.  It seemed that you couldn't turn on the tube without seeing a series or made-for-TV movie that was some how linked to the "Devil's Triangle."  Heck, even Steven Spielberg mentioned it in Close Encounters.  Today, of course, audience are much more sophisticated than that.  The Bermuda Triangle is passé.   Now it takes something like Area 51 and Roswell, NM to get audiences excited.  At least that's what movie writers think.  If they are right, Alien Hunter should be an interesting movie.  Unfortunately, the writers are wrong.

The Movie:

Shot in Bulgaria on a limited budget, this made-for-cable movie starts with a good hook, but quickly descends into a formulistic movie filled with cliché characters and familiar plot devices, albeit more than the average movie.

It starts off near Roswell NM in 1947.  An amateur radio enthusiast picks up a strange signal on his ham radio.  Piling his equipment into his jeep, he finds the source of the broadcast in a glowing hole in the ground in the desert.  As he approaches, a white light shines down on him.  He looks up, screams, and the screen glows white.

Flash forward to 2003.  Julian Rome (James Spader) is a cryptologist who is sent to Antarctica to aide some scientists.  These researchers, who are growing genetically altered corn in underground farms, have dug up a block of ice that contains an object which is emitting a powerful radio signal.  He arrives just before a storm cuts off all communication.  The ice block melts to reveal what appears to be an alien object.  The scientists set about trying to open it to find out what is inside.

Though it starts off well, this movie has a good number of flaws.  There are several plot holes that just never get explained, which is bothersome.  Foremost of these is why in the world would you want to hydroponically grow corn in Antarctica???  It doesn't make any sense.  Why do some of the residents go around in heavy winter coats while others (mostly female) wear skimpy revealing outfits?  And most importantly, why doesn't a single person on this scientific team act like a scientist?  When they see they see the alien object, their first reaction is to cut it open with a buzz saw.  Once opened, one of the characters stabs the inside with a pointed stick.  This is scientific investigation?

This movie borrows from (or should I say pay homage to) several  SF movies from the past.  The parallels to John Carpenter's The Thing are hard to miss, trapped in Antarctica as they are with an alien something, but the movie also has equal parts of Abyss, and Andromeda Strain, among others.  This pastiche never achieves what the originals did.  It just comes across as being worn and old.

Another thing that bothers me about this movie is the name.  Alien Hunter?  The movie isn't about hunting aliens or about an alien that hunts.  The name was chosen, possibly before the plot had been thought out, simply because is sounded thrilling.

The characters in this film are all two dimensional stereotypes.  There's the love interest, the wise old man, the antagonist who disagrees with the hero every step of the way, and the strong silent guy.  None of these charecters seem real in the least.  The movie is plot driven, and characterization was thrown out the window, unfortunately.

The actors are average at best.  James Spader plays basically the same character he played in Stargate:  an intellectual who was pushed aside by mainstream science because of his belief in aliens.  He did a  much better in Stargate.  In this movie he seemed like he was going through the motions.  He didn't add any feeling or emotion to the part.

Carl Lewis (yes, the track star) does an acceptable job as the Grisham, the Antarctic radio operator who first discovers the alien signal.  He supported the other actors well, and managed to breath some life into his character.  Ironically, he was not part of the big chase scene near the end of the movie.

That is not to say that this movie has no redeeming qualities.  The setup is good, and the mystery of what is trapped in the block of ice keeps your interest.  There are a couple of suspenseful scenes that work very well also.  The special effects, while not state of the art, look good and the director was wise enough not to overuse them.  A great job was done on the sets.  They set up the right atmosphere for the film.

In the end, it's a run of the mill science fiction film, which isn't bad especially if you are a SF fan, as I am.

The DVD:



Menu:

Kind of a strange menu.  The main menu has a moving collage of still photos from the movie.  It looks nice.  The only words on the screen are "Play Movie."  My
first thought was that there were no other options, and that this was a bare DVD.  Not so, the other options are invisible until you cursor over to them.  So you have to press buttons until you happen to hit what you want.  Rather annoying.

Audio:

The movie has an English 5.1 mix and a French 2.0 track.  (There is also a director's commentary track that is accessible from the "Special Features" menu.)  The audio effects that were used worked really well.  The explosions sounded good, and some of the directional gunfire shots were startling.  This DVD won't give your system a real workout, but it has enough effects that you'll be happy you have all those speakers.

Video:

Alien Hunter is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer.  There is not a pan and scan version on the disc, though it was originally presented in full frame when this movie premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel.  The picture quality was not too bad overall.  The colors were bright, and the image crisp, but there was a slight grain noticeable, especially in dark backgrounds.  The black shadows were not as black as they could be.  In the CGI space scenes, the blackness of outer space was spot on.

The Extras:

This disc is really loaded with extras.  First, there is a commentary by director Ron Krauss which wasn't to exciting.  Not the worst commentary I've heard, but it wasn't very insightful.  There were a lot of long pauses, and when he was talking he was often just telling us what was on the screen.  "This is the first time that we see James Spader."  Or, talking over a shot of a guy driving down a highway, "This was an exterior shot."  There are some interesting nuggets of information about the movie, but they are few and far between.

Five deleted scenes with optional commentary are included too.  These all run one after another, and you can not select which scene you want.  At the end of the deleted scenes, there is an alternate ending.  The audio and video quality on these is much lower than the rest of the movie, which is understandable.

Also included on the disc is a 16 minute making-of documentary which was pretty good.  Better than the average HBO making of film, this did not have too much footage from the movie, and the cast and crew had some interesting things to say.   The sound on this feature was uneven though, with some parts sounding louder than others.  In a few of the interviews the speaker's voice a little bit of an echo sound.  One warning: don't watch this before you see the movie.  It gives away some plot twists, and show the important parts of the ending.

A rather novel extra that was included was the director's location scouting footage.  When Ron Krauss went to Bulgaria looking for places to film his movie, he took along a camcorder to record some of the locations he found.  The main problem with this ten minute feature is that the camera work is horrible.  It is very jerky, and Ron doesn't keep the camera pointed at the structures he is interested in long enough to see them.  I can't imagine that he got much use out of this footage.  It reminds me of some of the worst parts of The Blair Witch Project.  It is interesting to compare this short with the similar one on The Thing.

The story board comparison is nicely done.  Three scenes were compared.  The story board art shown vertically on the left.  On the top right was the scene as it appeared in the movie, and on the bottom right was the scene as it was shot, without the special effects inserted.

Lastly there was a very nice photo gallery.  Just about all of the photos were of the conceptual drawings, the props, and sets.  They were arranged into six subcategories that made browsing easy.  One of the best sets of photo sets I've seen on a DVD.

Trailers for Bad Boys II, Charlie's Angels:  Full Throttle, and T3 are included to.

Final Thoughts:

While there is a lot that is wrong with Alien Hunter, it is not a horrible film.  Yes, the acting is just mediocre, and it is not tightly scripted.  But it will offer an nice evening of light entertainment.  The extras are very extensive and add a lot to the disc.  I'd say its a good rental, and worth a purchase if you are a science fiction fan.
 

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