NU IMAGE, a name synonymous with movies such as SHARK ATTACK, CROCODILE, ALIEN HUNTER, SPIDERS, CYBORG COP, OCTOPUS, RATS and who seems linked at the hip to the SCI-FI CHANNEL, never fails to supply it's fans with a veritable flood of cheezy B-movie creature feature thrills. Tapping into the vein once again, they give us yet another monster marvel, ALIEN LOCKDOWN, a film, despite it's terribly awful generic title, is remarkably an enjoyable watch.
But just like every other "alien-creature-on-the-rampage" cinematic romp since JAMES CAMERON broke ground with ALIEN, this film treads along in the time honored tradition of stealing bits and pieces from just about every other sci-fi horror movie from it's genre. We've got a healthy helping of ALIENS, a major scoop of SPECIES, a mild serving of STARSHIP TROOPERS 2, a smidgen of CONTACT, and a pinch of PREDATOR. Of course, this is not at all surprising since the story was reportedly written by three different chaps who then turned it over to two other fellas to adapt into an actual screenplay. Talk about a motley collaboration. But whatever that story/screenplay's outcome might have been, it still utilizes a basic storyline that's so painfully weak and hollow that it could ONLY work for a movie such as this. Yet surprisingly, ALIEN LOCKDOWN can actually be seen as having a couple unigue ongoing plots outside of the regular sci-fi action and alien hijinks.
Most notably is the inner demon side story of the main character Talon (please ignore her cheezy "merc" name) played by Singapore Asian hottie MICHELLE GOH (co-star of GHOSTSTORIES and OUT TO KILL). We're told that her parents are dead, she has no siblings, and she is unable to bare children (it's never explained why). So since she has no ties to a normal civilian world, she has resigned her life to one of covert military service. Her commanding officer, Colonel Anslow (MARTIN KOVE, who you'll fondly remember as the Cobra Kai teacher from THE KARATE KID series) refers to her as being a "predator", someone who goes and comes, partaking in whatever actions they please. But all that changes when she returns from her most recent mission, something labeled only as the "Brisman Operation". As we discover later, it involved the deaths of innocent people and now she's just about ready to call it quits. Of course, Anslow has other plans in store for our heroine and he half-cock suggests that once she's completed this new mission, she's free to go her own way. While this is just about all we ever get to know about the real Talon character, it's already enough for her to showcase her feelings towards the soldiers under her command. These people are, in a sense, her only family and she'll do whatever it takes to bring them back home alive.
The other story-within-the-story would certainly involve the character of Doctor Alan Woodman (actor JOHN SAVAGE from DARK ANGEL and CARNIVALE) and his role as a psuedo Doctor Frankenstein. He's created a new life form and in the process, thrown caution to the wind in order for his "child" to thrive, no matter the expense. I can't help from thinking that this is possibly reminiscent of the group of scientists who created the original Atom Bomb, something that when finished, many thought shouldn't have ever been made in the first place. Of course, Doctor Woodman is our maniacal villian so these ethical and moralistic thoughts don't exist in his rational. Humanity has just been bumped offa the top rung of the food chain, and he doesn't even care. This becomes quite clear during his many wildeyed preachy sermonizing sessions. It's also undeniable that this bloke is completely barmy.
Okay, onto the story...
The movie opens with a rather dry narrative informing us about a rare and mysterious green gem (dubbed the Morning Star) that arrived to Earth via a meteor some ten thousand years ago. As the ages passed, men and empires waged wars to possess this treasured jewel that was rumored to give it's owner supreme and awesome powers. But as the gem went from person to person and traveled from place to place, it was eventually lost, never to be found again. Until now...
The not so distant future, in a Middle Eastern desert, the legendary Arc of Shadows is discovered by a team of scientists. Inside this fabled chest, to the delight of the archeologists, is the long sought after Morning Star gem. It's instantly whisked off to a secret military lab, the Glacier Research Facility headed by a certain devious Doctor Woodman. Once there, the gem's otherworldly powers and properties are exploited to create a new life form, an alien super soldier who possesses superior strength and has exoskeleton skin as hard as steel. It's the evolution of life on Earth proclaims Doctor Woodman. And as you can probably guess, the beast (who Woodman refers to as Legion) gets loose and proceeds to massacre the scientific team and everyone else it can find in the compound.
We now jump to military HQ some 26 hours later where Commander Anslow dispatches our tough-as-nails commando femme fatale Talon and her gang of military black-op badasses to the complex with orders to sweep the area clean, or as they call it, "lock it down" meaning nothing gets out alive. And they only have sixteen hours to complete this task. Once inside, they discover the carnage that had ensued prior to their arrival. And find two people still alive, Doctor Woodman (surprise, surprise) and his sidekick, computer-guru Charlie Dryfus, an ex-con trying to make good outta a second chance at life, or so we're led to believe. This particular character is played by JAMES MARSHALL (James Hurley from TWIN PEAKS), an actor who drives me completely crazy because he just can't seem to take his role seriously here. You'll know what I mean when you see him.
Anyway, the two survivors try to explain what's happened and in the process get a stay of execution from Talon, possibly her only act of redemption since the infamous Brisman Operation. But before long, the killing begins again as Legion (who looks like a distant cousin to the original ALIEN but sporting a nasty PREDATOR-styled mawl) starts to chew up one soldier after another. This is the point when we're introduced to a great many characters. Most of them, the various commandos, are simply there to be butchered before we ever get the chance to know their names. Some fortunate few however, manage to live just long enough to warrant some extra screen time, and a name. There's Temple (ATANAS SREBREV), the demolitions expert. There's Myer (NATHAN PEREZ), apparently Talon's close friend and often her second in command . There's Kerns (DAVID KALLAWAY), the strong-arm, thug, and go-to-guy of the troop. And finally there's Green (T.M. VAN OSTRAND), the tech guy who's nickname is "Red" but the rest of the team still calls him "Green" since this is his first mission with them.
From here on out, the movie breaks into a free-for-all of screaming, running, bloodletting, and falling prey to the nasty tempered alien creature hellbent on human slaughter. Occasionally, there's a brief pause in the action for some "moments". These are sequences where the characters get a chance to catch their breath and talk alittle with one another. My favorite being the scene where Temple and Green are forced to hold up in a huge steel cage that was originally intended to snare the rampaging alien beast. But in this instance, they use it for protection from the creature's clutches by locking themselves inside of it instead. Presumably safe, they are able to chit chat about the most unlikeliest of things before it's time to get busy again.
And now (drum roll please), we finally get to the end of the movie. Don't worry, I won't spoil anything. But I do have to say that unless you fancy films that depict the main star (in this case, a woman) being able to perform extraordinary feats that on one else in the movie was capable of doing, then you might have a problem with the conclusion of ALIEN LOCKDOWN. I'm not saying it's bad. It's just somewhat unbelievable. But hey, if I take for granted that an alien gem housing the DNA blueprint to develop a new life form was sent to Earth for mankind to create, well, the ending to this movie might not be as far fetched and tidy as it seems.
ALIEN LOCKDOWN is directed by TIM COX who's already helmed several other genre entries such as the alien gunslinger flick, THE MAN WITH NO EYES (2001) and the murderous mutant bug movie, LARVA (2004) starring the SCI-FI CHANNEL's own "Invisible Man", VINCENT VENTRESCA. Unfortunately, as I haven't seen either of these two films myself, I cannot say if TIM COX has progressed as a director. However, I do know that this particular movie is handled very competently. There's the quick cuts, usually involving the alien as it nabs a new victim. There's the long sweeping deserted hallway shots. There's the dramatic closeups of the character's panic riddled faces. Don't get me wrong, FEDERICO FELLINI, he aint, but I do believe that TIM COX will certainly have a career in flimmaking if ALIEN LOCKDOWN is any indication of his craftmanship.
And I gotta give a big thumbs up to him because he kept the actor ensamble performing exceptionally well as their imaginary militaristic counterparts. All too often in these sort of movies, you'll find that the actors aren't really believable as the trained soldiers they're pretending to be. But this director keeps them all well under control by moving them in realistic tactical formations while bantering out military technical jargon. And he drills it into their heads to make damn sure they always check those corners. Also, he tries his hardest to build the film's tension. At random intervals during the movie, we're shown the mission timer constantly ticking down. Remember, they're on a time schedule. And by the end, he even throws in a wily twist or two that you may not see coming.
Oh, almost forgot, and this is a biggie. TIM COX doesn't shy away when it's time to show the alien bad guy in front of the camera lense. I mean, in more movies than I could even count, the director likes to keep the "thing" of the film lurking in the shadows and more than often refuses to give the audience a good view of it until the very end of the movie. And that's usually the same time that the "thing" dies. So, what's the point, right? Well, thank goodness TIM COX doesn't prescribe to that method of movie making. Our monster rears it's ugly head early on and continues to do so throughout the whole affair. Thank you, TIM. Thank you.
Probably the biggest thing I noticed about the film is how everyone miraculously squeezed every penny bone fucking dry outta their meager B-movie budget. ALIEN LOCKDOWN really impresses on a technical and aesthetic level that's rarely seen in this particular type of genre filmmaking. Simply put, TIM COX and company are either money managing genuises or they conned the set and prop department (or maybe even the actors) to work for nearly nothing. Or the producers themselves raided every sci-fi movie storage locker they can find around Hollywood and drug it all back to the set of their film. I mean, everything looks exceptional. From the snazzy hi-tech guns (can anyone say ALIENS Pulse Rifle?) to the anime styled E-SWAT body armor to the eerie black faceless visors of the chopper pilots, everything just simply looks good. And this is certainly one of the main reasons that the movie goes over so well.
Another major issue worth throwing kudos out for is the neat little imaginative touches found throughout the film. These sorta things really made me think the movie aimed to be a step above the norm. Examples include the soldier's blood type stenciled on their body armor or the constant strategic placement of their CAD motion locater nodes or the ever-present green hue found throughout the environments (a blatant mixture of THE MATRIX and ALIEN) or the nifty military techno-gadgets like the wrist pad transmitters and tiny laser target lights. Obviously this is all due to the fact that, as I said before, the story and/or screenplay was written by five different people. I mean, with that many hands in the creative cookie jar, you're bound to end up with a wide variety of imaginative tidbits, or rip-offs, take your pick. But still, it shows that at least some extra level of care and concern went into making the movie.
The alien creature itself is somewhat of a wonder to behold but simply because it's so rare to find a guy in foam latex these days. With the inclusion of fancy computer CGI effects into the motion picture industry, the classic rubbersuit monster instantly became extinct. All but a handful can still be found in American film today and luckily, ALIEN LOCKDOWN is one such movie that clings to the old ways. And for those curious, STANISLAV DIMITROV is the fortunate fella behind the mask. Now, many of you modern movie era youngsters will probably frown upon this tactic because after all, to you, it's just some dude in a monster getup, right? And you won't be seeing any elaborate computer savvy wall climbing or super jumping either. But us fans of old school genre frolics, especially those who fell in love with live action Japanese sentai or tokusatsu heroes like GODZILLA, GAMERA, ULTRAMAN, SPACE GIANTS, and KAMEN RIDER will have absolutely no problem with it what so ever. And before any of you say the creators of the movie had to go with a man in a suit because they couldn't afford all that CGI stuff, well, let me tell ya, ALIEN LOCKDOWN does indeed have it's share of computer animation. There's the marine's helicopter dropships, the scientific research complex itself (mostly exterior shots), and then there's the alien facehuggers. Yes, that's right, facehuggers. Small spiderlike critters similar to those you've seen before in the original ALIEN series. As for the CGI graphics quality, even though you've probably seen far better on your own home video game console, they're actually still first rate for a small budget movie such as this. So there!
And for all you "message movie" mongers out there, ALIEN LOCKDOWN might have some sort of deeper meaning if you delve into the context of what's being said in the film about mankind playing god. But to me, I'd just like to think that this is simply a film homage to the sci-fi alien genre that the creators, actors, and special effects guys all wanted to make.
Now don't let me mislead you here. ALIEN LOCKDOWN isn't nearly as perfect as I'd have you all think it is. The film certainly has it's flaws, short comings, and bad moments just like every other movie does. And it suffers the same fate as all the micro-budgeted B-movies do, the lack of decent funding. This forces it's viewers to use more of their imagination (and suspension of belief) than simply sitting back easily enjoying the onscreen eye candy the quality of say, LORD OF THE RINGS, VAN HELSING, or THE MATRIX. To put it in simple layman's terms, make do with what ya got! Then there's the acting, or rather, the subpar level of acting. Now while I'm pretty confident that a film entitled ALIEN LOCKDOWN would never attract such bankable Hollywood talent as BRUCE WILLIS, MEL GIBSON, or NICOLE KIDMAN, the cast we get instead are remarkably sound. They're not great mind you, but they're more than satisfactory with the exception of maybe one or two. Then again, this might only be the script's fault. And trust me, there's some really bad lines of dialogue in this flick. But for the most part, I can easily live with their performances and I think you'll be able to as well.
The gore hounds, unfortunately, will be very disappointed with ALIEN LOCKDOWN no matter how many great things I say about the film. And they would have good reason to feel that way too. Even though this is a B-movie featuring an alien creature that enjoys rending it's victims to shreds, there's surprisingly very little real honest to goodness bloody chunkblowing gore here. Sure, you'll see some maulings, some severed body parts, and some splattery stuff but there's no graphic chest-bursting, no scenes of flesh melting, no entrail scarfing, and definitely no alien rape scenes. However, in it's defense, the DVD does contain more grue than what was originally shown on the SCI-FI CHANNEL's broadcast. But maybe, just maybe, the other aspects of the film can make up for it's obvious lack of red sauce.
Anyway, as you can tell, ALIEN LOCKDOWN is by no means a visionary movie. It's extraneous, cliched, and mostly unoriginal. But I also think this same overt familiarity with the subject matter helps the film excel in the long run. And it gives you lots of stuff you've seen many many times before. There's the "bleep bleep" of the motion trackers, the scattered com-channel screaming, the sticky puddles of alien slime, and last but not least, the ALIENS Ripley-esque finale between Talon and Legion.
Some people would agrue that sheer entertainment value isn't as important as artistic merit. Well, I beg to differ, and I hope you do as well. If you enjoy alien monster movie fluff (for whatever reasons), then please give ALIEN LOCKDOWN a chance. Me, I first saw part of it on television, and I liked what I saw. I then rented the DVD, and I really liked what I saw. So ultimately, the next step was to buy the damn thing, and I'm happy that I did.