Friday, March 1, 2019

The Alien Encounters

The Alien Encounters
James T. Flocker

What makes alien visitation movies so compelling is that no matter if the budget, acting, special effects, or the story falters, these films can still achieve a sense of other-worldliness that resonates in a way that other science-fiction films don’t. Whether you chalk this up to the material hitting a specific part of our psychology or there is something more real about our continuing fascination with beings from another world is up to you. In the end, it means that even a deeply flawed and low budgeted TV movie can still touch upon some uncanny moments that stick with the viewer.

"It's called a Canadian Tuxedo and it drives the chicks wild."
Allan Reed (Augie Tribach) is a radio astronomer who’s family is killed by a meteor (…or was it?) He looks for answers for his grief by delving into UFOs. His research takes him to read the book of Steve Arlyn (Matt Boston), a man who was not only dealing with UFOs but was building a device in the desert called a Betatron, which was supposed to prolong human life. Steve is dead, allegedly killed by mysterious Men in Black. Now Allan and Steve’s son Wally (Phil Catalli) wander the desert looking for evidence that Steve was, in fact, an alien from Barnard’s Star.

One of the oddest things about The Alien Encounters is that it is presented as an ‘Adventure Documentary.’ It never quite tries to become a full-on faux documentary, instead, it opts to be a traditionally told story that lapses into long periods of narration from Allan. I suppose it is a very effective cost saving solution to a film, but it also has the effect of draining the story of any real drama or stakes. If The Alien Encounters could have just picked one style or the other it would be a much tighter story.

Why are aliens so bad at parking?
Despite this, there is a palpable sense of eeriness present in the film. The highlight for me is a scene where Allan quietly watches a disc-shaped probe or craft float through a crevice in a mountain. It’s a simple effect, but it is shown with no comment. It occasionally cuts back to Allan staring in disbelief and then he never mentions it again. A truly strange and haunting moment. The whole Betatron subplot is brought up and then mostly ignored. What we see of the Betatron looks some vast factory but it’s never explored beyond that leaving it this weird rusty hulk in the desert.

The Alien Encounters isn’t totally without action, there is a decent car chase near the end with Allan and a 4x4 truck they may or may not be driven by Men in Black. If The Alien Encounters does one thing well with its low budget, it keeps the question of alien conspiracies, Men in Black and the rest obfuscated and therefore enhancing the mystery of it all.

The Alien Encounters is a minor entry in the pantheon of films about extraterrestrial visitors and despite some major flaws there are some interesting and haunting little moments to find. A perfect film to pass a slow Saturday afternoon while waiting for our space brothers to appear and save us all.

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