Director: Mark H.
Cast: Cotter Smith, Deidre O'Connell, Robert Wisdom
Every so often, I see a movie that gets unbelievably
close to making
it, to becoming a great movie, but blows it by making one or a few more
crucial mistakes, turning the movie into a "could have been". I
call these movies "interesting failures". These movies aren't really
- some are still quite watchable - but it can be a frustrating
watching them. We see so much good stuff in the movie, but we also see
that with just a little more effort, the movie would have been so much
better. One such movie is the 1987 Eric Stoltz movie Lionheart (not
to be confused with the lame 1990 Jean-Claude Van Damme movie of the
name) - the movie has great locations, good actors, action, romance,
an intriguing story. But all of these elements are put together into a
movie that moves at a snail's pace, and viewers will become quickly
with it. Another such movie is Lifeform, a low budget
blessed with intelligent writing, good acting, and likable characters -
but ultimately shot down, not really by its sometimes glaring and
mistakes, but by its ending.
The movie starts off well, bringing in intrigue from the
The American military tracks the landing of an object that seems to
come from space, and has landed in a remote area of a desert military
Scouts locate the object, which turns out to be a Viking 2 lander -
is supposed to be still on Mars. But...it couldn't have come from
After all, a check of NASA reveals that one of several landers built is
unaccounted for. Anyway, the military takes no chances, and takes the
to a nearby abandoned underground military compound (which somehow is
equipped with computers and other complex equipment), where several
scientists rush to examine the lander before the arriving team of
higher-ups and a military platoon take it away elsewhere.
I'm sure no reader will be surprised to hear that the
movie takes a
turn into Alien territory , not just because of all
ingredients, but because of that title. An egg attached to the lander
and then just like in Alien, the newborn escapes into
ducts. Though the movie wouldn't have existed without Alien being
made, it does make some effort to differentiate itself, and not become
a clone. Instead of having one specific group fighting an alien, we
two groups - the military and the scientists - battling not just an
but fighting over how to deal with this situation. Though the military,
naturally, wants to destroy the alien, they actually come off pretty
in this movie. For example, when the scientists early in the movie
with the military about the lander, the military tells them that no one
knows who sent it, why, and if it's a risk - all true facts. And when
attempt to battle the alien later, much to the scientists' grief, their
actions still seem very reasonable under the circumstances they find
in. We also see the soldiers, even their commander, are at times scared,
which makes them more sympathetic. The scientists are also pretty
because not only are their actions also reasonable under the
they are smart. Before downloading the data on the lander's computer,
make sure that the computer in the lab is not connected to any outside
computer. They discuss why an intelligent alien race would send one of
our probes, instead of one of their own (the eventual reasoning behind
this actually makes sense.) One scientist deduces that since a baby
is about the size of a human baby, a full grown alien should be human
But, reasons another scientist, what about the dinosaurs? Hmmm....
and other discussions in the movie are intelligently written, and are
to listen to, because they make us wonder what the answers to these
The alien in this movie is pretty interesting, and not
just in its design
by the F/X crew. To be sure, the alien, once it's seen, is pretty
for a low budget movie. It puts the usual rubber suit method to shame,
and it sure looks menacing. But what's really interesting are the
the alien takes. Yes, it does get into fights with the people in the
during the course of the movie, but a lot of the movie has it traveling
all around the complex doing unexplained activities. Why did it take
gunpowder from one dead soldier's bullets? Why is it taking pieces of
equipment? How does this newborn (yet growing) alien know how
do all of this? I'm not telling the answer to these, and other
concerning the alien. You might have some ideas, as I thought I had
watching this movie. But the script's intelligence also shines here,
when we get the unexpected answers to each question, in our heads we
to start our deductions about the alien all over again. I must admit I
was hooked on the questions of the alien's activities, and I was really
interested in finding out the explanations to them.
I mentioned earlier that this was a low budget
production, but I should
have made that ultra low budget program. Though the alien is
impressive, it seems that most of the production design budget went
The movie then has to resort to filming in either generic desert
or in what seems to be shabby office rooms with sparse furnishings, and
a garage. These indoor locations are darkened and shot in a fashion
do somewhat mask these bland interiors, but the movie is still clearly
shot in a place that's nowhere like an underground military base.
goofs, like an obvious reflection of the boom on a jeep's windshield,
not that unusual to see throughout. And though the script is generally
intelligent, there are also a number of times when the characters act
dumb. For instance, early in the movie there's an obvious clue
that, if examined, would provide more information to the characters.
the characters somehow forget about this glaring clue until about the
third of the movie.
But up to about near the end of the movie, I was still
prepared to forgive
the movie and write up a mildly positive review about it. Then, all of
a sudden, in about two minutes of screen time, the movie is concluded
with one of the worst special effects sequences of all time, some stock
footage, a minor character from elsewhere mumbling some explanation to
the few remaining questions at hand (which doesn't really answer the
at all), plus a few additional frames that suggest a potential sequel.
And fade out. My jaw dropped at seeing this rushed and utterly lame
It's like the filmmakers suddenly ran out of money, and had to
something with the little money and time they had. This ending is so
it completely deflates every positive thing generated in the 88
minutes, so I can't recommend the movie, no matter how good and
the movie had become before the rug was pulled from under me. Lifeform
yet another interesting failure to scratch up on my list. Yes, just a
minutes in a movie can make a complete difference.
UPDATE: Joshua Lou Friedman wrote in with
"I was Production Coordinator for the film reviewed
in your Sci-Fi
section entitled: Lifeform.
"Two questions were posed in your review... one you
"The incorrect statement you made was that for a
movie taking place
within an abandon military base, that it looked nothing like one...
"Sorry, we shot the film at an abandon military base
to be exact in San Bernadino, now an airport I believe).
"The correct observation you made was that the ending
was way to
abrupt and that it seemed like we ran out of money.
"YOU ARE CORRECT... we didn't even have the cash to
bring the cast
back to shoot the original ending. We therefore decided to NUKE
EVERYTHING via stock footage. A regrettable ending to all
only way we could get it finished for distribution.
"What I'm surprised that your review did not point
out was the presence
of (then budding actor) Ryan Phillipe of Cruel Intentions/
of the Gun fame. He was third billed in the film and was seen
Perhaps an addendum to your review would be necessary.
"Anyway, thank you for allowing me to shed light on
these facts and
please check out another "unknown movie" I worked on called Safe
House starring Patrick Stewart and Hector Elizondo (you
rent it at any
Blockbuster). I like the way you critique rare films and would be
to see how you would react to Safe House.
"Anyway, thanks for hearing me out... and thank you
for keeping the
faith alive because without bad, unseen films... the good ones wouldn't
be good now would they?"
I guess I just imagined military bases to have wide and
long corridors, and other similar attributes. It didn't occur to me
maybe in certain environments and operations, there would be more
methods. Thanks for pointing this out, and for filling me in on the
for the ending.
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See also: Invader, The Silencers, Solar