Monday, February 22, 2016

Alien Cargo

"I can tell you what they say in space
That our Earth is too gray
But when the spirit is so digital
The body acts this way"

Marilyn Manson - Disassociative

I found it, I found it, I found eeeettt! Wheeee.
You remember that movie? The one with the spaceship and the cold and the virus or maybe it was a fungus and there was this thing, you know? You know the thing, it was inside the other thing?
Heh, that bit never gets old.

I've been racking my brain for over a decade trying to remember this movie I once saw on the SciFi channel before they stupydyzed their name, so mucho thanksias to Mighty Emperor for being one of those losers who meticulously catalog their likes and dislikes. Though not officially a SciFi unoriginal, it was apparently made specifically for that channel, which I'm sure will surprise anyone familiar with their more recent masterpieces like Sharknado 2 or Giant Space Clams of Doom or whatever animal taxon they've scraped down to in trying to bring back the fifties.

But yeah: once upon a time, the SciFi channel had passable taste in Science Fiction instead of running nothing but cheesy Twilight knock-offs and C-series monsters of the week. Imagine that: a place where you could catch an episode or two of choice classics or maybe a new, intriguing, slightly atypical speculative flick that wouldn't otherwise get a chance at air time, like Alien Cargo.

On the surface it certainly doesn't sound like much, which partly explains its undeserved obscurity. Standard "rage virus" scenario... in spaaaaaace! Plus smarmy, Hollywood-pretty twenty-somethings as heroes to boot. Devils, however, make a habit of lurking in details. After the attention-grabbing intro the action slows to set the scene: two star-crossed... well, solar-system-crossing lovers at any rate, work together on a cargo ship hauling cobalt from Titan. Gradually, in between the blatantly obvious exposition and foreshadowing, you start noticing this isn't the usual action flick disguised as science fiction, from the clang of magnetic boots to the microgravity floating boxes, the exterior shots of blocky, industrial-looking spaceships, the clean metallic interiors, the leisurely but not slow pacing, the dramatic set-ups cut off always one line short of indulgent. Alien Cargo displays some pitfalls of pulp SF and most scenes come across as telegraphed in that "no time for rehearsals" way that TV shows often have about them, but in addition manages to paint, through a myriad little details, a simple, unassuming love of the genre. There's very little of horror or conflict in its plot and presentation, but much of that old-timey spirit of exploration and progress. It had an idea, a theme, a situation it wanted to illustrate.

All this would still have consigned it only to the status of mediocre afternoon basic cable slot-filler material, had it not benefited from an ending as startlingly good as Pitch Black's. So go watch it on Youtube in place of whatever giant snake or giant spider or giant koala monster movie SyFy's currently running. Note the cool detachment, the willful efficiency, the determined curiousity which used to define the behavior patterns of progressive, intellectual characters within the genre of ideas, these days all but forgotten in favor of science fantasy and space operas. That last shot of Alien Cargo's young protagonists has stayed with me for a dozen years, likely for that very reason. There's a beauty to it reminiscent of Robert Heinlein's original publisher-censored ending to Podkayne of Mars. We do not expect such rational, aware, intelligent choice, such simple, grim personal agency from such faces, from such heroes, in such films.

But really, we should.

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