Director: Harry Bromley Davenport
Philip Sayer, Bernice Stegers, Simon Nash

There are so many interesting things in this world. We have wilderness that is filled with an incredible number of different creatures. And we are discovering new species of life on this planet of ours all of the time. And certainly our species is an interesting one, managing to make an impact in various extremes, ranging from the heights of majestic skyscrapers to lows like Lou Reed's album Metal Machine Music. I certainly find it interesting to think about the various species on this planet and what they have been able to accomplish. But sometimes that is not enough for me. Sometimes I look up at the stars and I wonder what could be out there. To me, there has to be life out there somewhere - it's silly to think in this really, really, really big universe of ours that there is only life in our very, very, very small corner. The question that comes up is what alien life forms could look like. Well, although there have been plenty of movies and television shows that have depicted alien life forms to look just like humans, I really doubt that could be the case. The evolution that happens from the million of years from the first cell forming to creatures that are a lot more complex is influenced by a lot of things, temperature and environment just two such major factors. With so many influences over millions or billions of years, alien life forms on distant planets have to be much different looking than life forms on our own planet. Even the idea that intelligent life forms from another planet would have two eyes and two ears somehow seems very unlikely.

Also, while popular science fiction has put out various stories about two different alien species mating and producing offspring, this seems an unlikely scenario as well. Circumstances suggest that the DNA of each species would have evolved to be radically different. As you can see, it's interesting to imagine what an alien species would look like. It's also interesting to imagine what an alien would want if it traveled countless light years to land on our planet. What could aliens want with our planet? Well, some people have suggested aliens could want our resources, water and precious metals among other things. But I've heard that there could be more gold in one of the asteroids in the asteroid belt than what has been mined over hundreds of years on our planet. And scientists have found distant planets with water on them, proving that water is not in short supply in this universe. Logic also states that it would be easier for an alien species to mine resources on one of the other planets in our solar system than risking chaos by trying to do so on our planet. So with all of that in mind, what on our planet would an alien be interested in? Well, I strongly suspect that aliens that would come to our planet would in many aspects be like our fellow scientists - gathering plant life and capturing various species in order to study them in great depth. Our species is one that craves knowledge, and our scientists study various lifeforms in order to attain more knowledge. It would seem that an alien species that had the ability to travel light years would be an intelligent species, and one that like us would also crave to learn new things.

In fact, over the years I have read various stories, supposedly true, about people who were allegedly kidnapped by aliens and given scientific examinations by the aliens before being let go. I don't know if I believe these various stories, but these particular alien abduction stories sound more Xtroplausible than some others I've read about. Anyway, as you can see from what I've written so far, the idea of aliens coming to our planet fascinates me. I'm sure it fascinates many others, but intelligent and plausible portrayals of this idea in the world of motion pictures are in real short supply. Most alien movies exploit the idea for action or horror, and that is what Xtro promised. Though I am hungry for smart looks at the idea of alien encounters, at the same time I'm human. I do enjoy my fair share of action and horror in movies, and I was open to an exploitive angle as long as the movie delivered the goods. The events of the movie center around the Phillips family, which is made up of husband Sam (Sayer, Shanghai Surprise), wife Rachel (Stegers, Four Weddings And A Funeral), and their young son Tony (Nash, Brazil). One day, as Sam and Tony are playing outside in the countryside, Sam is hit by a beam of light from above, and disappears. Though Tony reports what happens to his mother, she thinks Tony is making things up and that Sam simply left them. Over the next few years, Rachel moves to London with Tony, gains a boyfriend named Joe (Danny Brainin, Street Smart), as well as an au-pair girl named Analise (Mariam d'Abo, The Living Daylights). Then Rachel is shocked by the sudden return of Sam, who claims that he has lost his memory for the past few years. Both Rachel and Joe are uneasy about Sam's reappearance, but he is allowed to move in with them. Of course, they don't know that Sam has seriously changed during his alien abduction, and as Sam slowly gains the trust of Tony, let's say he starts to show odd behavior and strange supernatural powers. At the same time, Sam seems to have some sort of plan for his young son... but just what exactly are his intentions?

While the aforementioned promise of exploitive alien action certainly attracted me to Xtro, there was another angle to the movie that intrigued me, an angle you might have spotted in the previous paragraph. Xtro happens to have been made by British filmmakers. I think it's safe to say that most people don't immediately associate science fiction films with the British film industry. So I was curious to see what this atypical perspective would result in. As it turns out, it results in a very strange movie. There are moments in the movie that are so bizarre that you'll probably conclude that the filmmakers were sniffing something. Maybe the same natural gas that the character of Sam is seen sniffing at one point. Before that even happens, Sam gets involved with stranger stuff. He returns to earth via a small alien creature that plants itself on the face of an unlucky woman, and shortly afterwards Sam (fully grown) is birthed between the legs of the woman. Later, Tony spots Sam eating the eggs of his pet snake. When Tony panics at this sight, Sam manages to calm Tony down by planting his mouth on Tony's bare shoulder and sucking it until it puffs up to a considerable size. After that happens, it then becomes like father like son, with Tony all of a sudden having extraordinary powers. Tony no longer just has the ability to wet his bed with blood instead of urine, which he did just before his father's arrival. Among his newly found powers, he has the ability to not just bring his toys to life, but to make them life sized. When his meddling neighbor (played by Anna Wing of The Godsend) kills his snake, he gets his revenge by making his combat soldier action figure become alive and six feet tall, sending it to break into the neighbor's apartment and dispatch her.

All of what I told you is indeed strange, but I also have to admit that not only did I find this material entertaining, it made me wonder just what new bizarre sight I would see next. Another thing that caught my eye was the movie throwing in some sex and nudity into the mix. We can thank that British perspective for that as well - as you no doubt know, the British aren't as uptight with onscreen nudity and sex as many American filmmakers are. But in spite of Xtro's entertaining moments of bizarre sights and sexual ingredients, in the end I felt kind of let down with the movie. While the screenwriters, for one thing, were careful enough to put in exploitive ingredients, they didn't take much care with the rest of the screenplay. The biggest objection I had with the screenplay had to do with the characters. There are many times where the characters don't act like how real people would act in the same situation. Take the early scene in the movie where Sam, after his three year absence, suddenly reappears in front of his wife Rachel. The first thing she does is slap him. Okay, I could believe that. But it's what happens afterwards that's unbelievable. She doesn't deeply interrogate him, doesn't ask him many in-depth questions about what happened and how he got there. The scene is also incredibly short, and ends seemingly with Rachel simply accepting Sam coming into her life again, not even arranging for him to see a doctor for his supposed amnesia. Later in the movie, there is a scene where Sam, Rachel, and Rachel's boyfriend Joe get into an argument about how awkward things are between the three of them. Before they get into an in-depth discussion, Tony calls for his father, and the entire issue is instantly dropped and never really brought up again.

These are really thin characters, not only with their not sounding like real people, but often how they end up getting used. (The only seeming purpose of au pair girl Analise, for instance, is to not only show nudity, but eventually become a victim.) It probably comes as no surprise that the cast can't seem to do much with the little they're given. But the problems with the screenplay are not just confined with the characters, but also with the story itself. Things don't start well, with the whole issue of Sam abducted by aliens and subsequently returning to earth being compressed in the movie's first six minutes. It gets worse when it soon becomes clear that there isn't much of a story here. True, it soon becomes clear that Sam has some sort of ambition for his son Tony, but it also soon becomes clear that he's not being very efficient about it. Scene after scene passes when Sam is doing little or essentially nothing to fulfil his mission. Even though there is the novelty of the movie's stabs at strangeness (and sexiness) during the majority of the running time, the lack of story makes it feel that things are just being made up on the spot scene after scene. Since director Harry Bromley Davenport helped pen Xtro's story, he has to share some blame for the weak writing. As for his direction, he does manage to make the bizarre moments bizarre enough that the viewer watches with curious interest instead of being turned off or provoked into laughing out loud. There are signs that with a better screenplay he could accomplish a lot more. Certainly also if he had a bigger budget - the enterprise comes across as extremely cheap for the most part, from the shabby sets to a musical score that sounds like it came from a low budget 1970s production made by Wisconsin filmmakers. In the end, the biggest thing that Xtro manages to accomplish is to explain why British movie makers haven't made that many stabs in the science fiction genre.

(Posted April 9, 2017)

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See also: Evil Aliens, The High Crusade, Lifeform