01/07/2012. Contributed by Mark R. Leeper
Extraterrestrial is an amiable romantic comedy with a science fiction premise. Nacho Vigalondo follows up his Timecrimes (Los Cronocrímenes) with a lighter touch, neither as taxing nor as rewarding as his previous film. Waking up with a hangover, Julián Villagrán as Julio realizes he does not know the woman he has been sleeping with. He also slept through the coming of a giant alien spaceship hovering over his city.
The film is done on a small budget with minimal special effects and not even much action. The Spanish film is amusing, but Vigalondo will have a hard time surpassing Timecrimes, and he is not near to doing that here. Fans of romantic comedy may better appreciate Extraterrestrial than will science fiction aficionados. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
Nacho Vigalondo's first feature film to both write and direct was the Spanish film Timecrimes, a clever time travel film with complexities to rival the time travel paradox stories of Robert Heinlein and David Gerrold. The good news is that Vigalondo's second full-length film that he writes and directs is another science fiction film. The bad news is that Extraterrestrial really does not rank with Timecrimes. This is a story whose plot is occasionally driven by the science fiction (one idea really), but it is not about that idea.
And no twists are presented as intelligently or as engrossingly as they were is his previous film. Yes, it is good that it is a human comedy, not unlike what we might get from Pedro Almadovar, but there are many of those. This is not nearly the intriguing puzzle for the intellect that Timecrimes was. That was where his work stood out as being really individual. Vigalondo is not playing to strengths that made his first film strong.
One would expect that if the world as we know it were to come to an end, most of us would be aware of the fact. But Julia (played by Michelle Jenner) and Julio (Julián Villagrán) had been partying the night before and apparently had come to Julia's apartment to cap off the evening in bed together. Neither of them really remembers each other, but they know they must have hit it off. Now they awake to be nearly alone in their city. There is nobody in the street below the window. And above them is a silent hovering spacecraft the size of a city. It is like something out of District 9 or Independence Day. What are the intentions of the aliens? Will they be hostile? If so what will be their strategy? What can Earth people expect?
Now this should be enough to worry about, but then Carlos (Raúl Cimas) shows up to protect Julia. Carlos has been Julia's on- again-off-again lover for years. He seems oddly willing to accept the story that Julia just invited Julio to her apartment when she saw him collapsed in the street. Then Ángel (Miguel Noguera) who lives next door also arrives and tries to play off Carlos and Julio against each other in the hopes that he will get a chance with Julia. The three men vie for Julia's intentions, semi-oblivious to the mass invasion of alien ships--thirty over Spain alone. But the alien presence hangs over everything they do literally as well as figuratively. Eventually current events begin to take their toll on the proceedings.
For much of the film, Extraterrestrial seems a mash-up of ideas from stories from Rod Serling's "Twilight Zone" mixed with romantic comedy. Vigalondo knows how to get the most from a Euro when he is making a film. He has no big effects budget, but he can tell a science fiction story without using expensive visual effects. Extraterrestrial is not really about the science fiction content. The premise only drives the playful comedy aspects. There is sexuality in the story, but nothing that is explicit or gross the way an American film might be now. It is a film written for an adult audience that does not pander to an "adult" audience.
I rate Extraterrestrial a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Mark R. Leeper
Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper
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