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Friday, July 19, 2013

UFO: Target Earth

UFO: Target Earth
Michael A. DeGaetano
1974

As a young boy, Alan Grimes (Nick Plakias) is visited by a strange harsh light. Several years later, Alan works at a University, picks up his phone and somehow accidentally overhears a conversation between two government investigators. Alan contacts a skeptic professor, Dr. Mansfield (LaVerne Light), and a psychic, Vivian (Cynthia Cline), who claims she feels “dimensional energy.” Together they hit the road in an attempt to locate and document a series of UFO sightings that culminate in finding what may or may not be a downed craft deep at the bottom of a lake. The things living in the lake have been waiting a long time and they have plans for the unsuspecting Alan.

To start with UFO: Target Earth's strengths: The opening credit title is really nice looking and the groovy folk ballad over grainy photos of flying saucers sets a wonderfully haunted tone for the start of the movie.  There are a number of evocative and lonely outdoor locations that look good even in the muddy public domain transfer, which seems to be the only existing version of this film. There is an eeriness buried underneath everything, and occasionally it comes to the surface.

There are no elaborate visual effects in the entire movie; the closest it comes is some colorful distortion on a television screen. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but by the third time a character tells us about something amazing they've seen, you wonder if the script could have benefited from a few more rewrites. The movie tries to suggest unseen alien influence largely through dialogue and it's here that movie really falters.  It’s hard to stay invested in a story when characters are talking about alien craft, "Escaping the gravitational pull of the galaxy," or a serious a discussion between two academics about the ability of the imagination to be used as energy. Every line is delivered in tones so meaningful and serious that it all becomes ponderous nonsense.

The acting is by no stretch terrible, but when you're playing a scientist and you're forced to try and sell a line like, “What the hell do we know about electricity?” I imagine you can only be so good.  Dr. Mansfield has the lion's share of dumb moments, for a character who is supposed to be a hard nosed skeptic, his ridiculous nonsense stands-out ever worse than the others.

UFO: Target Earth earnestly wants to be a film that expounds a deep, new age take on UFOs. Occasionally, its slow place, good looking outdoor photography, and odd mix of synthesizer and folk music, do induce a kind of hypnogogic trance in the viewer. More often it's just terrifically pretentious and dull. Which is too bad, because I think with a tighter script and dialogue that doesn't make you want to crawl out of your skin this could be an effectively chilling film. 
 
When I talk about loving films that fail, this kind of failure is the hardest kind to love, a film that reaches for greatness, but stumbles over its own self-importance.

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