We’ve seen this one before, haven’t we?
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A crew of scientists crash-lands on Saturn’s moon Titan during a mission to investigate some anomalous findings there. A cursory investigation of the site reveals that the scientists’ German rivals beat them there–and some unknown force appears to have slaughtered them all. It isn’t long before they fall prey to the same force.
Creature was directed by William Malone–in fact, it was the last feature film he made before a fifteen-year stint as a TV director–and you almost always know what you’re going to get when you go into a Malone movie. First of all, you know it’s going to look wonderful. Despite some obvious compositing lines during the spaceflight sequences, it’s an amazing-looking film, with some beautiful photographic compositions and wonderful design, with Malone’s trademark attention to atmosphere being prominent. Production values are high–this isn’t a film that looks like it was made for three-quarters of a million 1985 dollars.
I like Malone as a filmmaker–I don’t consider him a master auteur or anything like that, I don’t consider him on the same level as Cronenberg or Aronofsky, but I find his work genuinely entertaining. But I understand he has his flaws: his movies are pretty but the plots fall apart if you think too hard about them (but as I’ve said before, I don’t see how this makes him any different from Argento), and he has this tendency to want to borrow from other works without really understanding why the things he’s (I’ll be polite here) borrowing work in context. It’s kind of like he puffs but doesn’t inhale. FearDotCom (which I liked–in fact I sometimes think I’m the only person who liked it), with all of its shout-outs to Ringu, is a great example.
Creature has the same problem. In just about every aspect Creature is a bog-standard Alien rip-off. All the tropes are in place: anti-corporate social commentary, a crew of “space truckers” who spend a lot of time sniping at each other, killer monster in an alien environment, psychosexual themes. (I made the point a couple of weeks ago that Galaxy of Terror isn’t as much of an Alien rip-off as it’s made out to be; if Creature had a scene in which a woman was raped to death by a giant maggot, it would very much be in line with the movie that everyone says Galaxy of Terror is.)
From a design standpoint, I liked the Creature–it looks just fine when you don’t consider a larger context. But consider how much Creature borrows from Alien (and Malone even keeps the Creature in the shadows for most of the picture, just as Ridley Scott did), and something will strike you about the monster. A great deal of what makes Alien work isn’t just O’Bannon’s script, or Scott’s direction, or Weaver’s acting, or David Giler going in and changing all the character names, but the design of the Alien itself. It wasn’t just a run-of-the-mill movie monster. It was something…different. The Creature, on the other hand, is nothing more than a run-of-the-mill movie monster. It wouldn’t have felt out of place in It! The Terror from Beyond Space.
It’s a good thing that Creature is so great to look at, because it’s weak in just about every other area. I can’t discuss the story without using the words “alien” and “rip-off” again. (Also, the explanation for the survival of one of the characters is a total cop-out.) The characterization is very lacking; very few of the characters have anything resembling a real personality, and I eventually realized I was only rooting for the hero and heroine because they were apparently named after Doctor Who actors. (Sure, it could be a coincidence, but I’d say the odds are against the names “Beth Sladen” and “Davison” accidentally appearing in the same script in such close proximity to each other.)
The actors don’t do much to distinguish themselves from each other, except for Klaus Kinski in a brief role as a survivor from the German expedition. Now, I’m a fan of Kinski, but I will readily admit that he had two different approaches to his roles. The first kind is a singularly brilliant and intense kind of performance that he pours his entire soul into, the sort of performance he delivers in Werner Herzog movies. Unfortunately, William Malone is not Werner Herzog, so we get the second kind of Kinski performance–the kind where it’s obvious that he showed up to the set every day either drunk, blasted to the gills on coke, or both, and he really didn’t give a shit how good his acting was as long as he got a paycheck at the end of the day.
For all of its flaws, though, it’s still got its moments. And, as far as Alien rip-offs go (I’m sorry, it even seems to me like the main gist of this review is “this Alien rip-off is such an Alien rip-off”), it beats Alien vs. Predator by a mile.Have You Read...?