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MGM Studios DVD presents
Strange Invaders (1983)

"It was a simple time of Eisenhower, twin beds, and Elvis from the waist up. A safe, quiet moment in history. As a matter of fact, except for the Communists and rock-and-roll, there was not much to fear. Not much at all...until that night."
- Opening text crawl

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: November 14, 2001

Stars: Paul Le Mat, Nancy Allen, Louise Fletcher
Other Stars: Michael Lerner, Diana Scarwind
Director: Michael Laughlin

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (violence, some language)
Run Time: 01h:32m:12s
Release Date: November 20, 2001
UPC: 027616868473
Genre: sci-fi


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B B-B-B- B-

DVD Review

Strange Invaders is sort of a guilty pleasure for many people; a sly, satirical attempt at a sci-fi movie that doesn't mind being a bit ridiculous. The brainchild of Michael Laughlin and Bill Condon (the man behind Sister Sister, Candyman II, and Gods and Monsters, Strange Invaders was intended as a tongue-in-cheek tale that took the clichÈd aspects of 1940s' and 50s' sci-fi films and used them as part of the plot. It was also intended as the continuation of a Laughlin/Condon series of unusual projects that would all begin with the word 'Strange' (preceded by Strange Behavior), though this idea later collapsed. It wasn't very well received by most, but some select people saw it as a fantastically creative work and it has a loyal legion of cult fans to this day. Although it does have distinct flaws, the effort, oddly enough, works in a unique way.

The film begins with a brief 1950s flashback in which it is clearly implied that mysterious aliens have taken over the fictional, average-American town of Centerville, Illinois. Moving to present day, college professor Charles Bigelow (Paul Le Mat) is suddenly contacted by his ex-wife asking him to take care of their daughter while she briefly heads to her hometown, Centerville, to settle some affairs about a dead relative. After a week passes with no contact from his wife, Charles decides to take it upon himself to visit Centerville, having never been there. What he discovers is a vastly unfriendly town and its inhabitants seemingly stuck in the 1950s. He is unable to locate his wife or her family, and when he tries to leave his car is destroyed by a strange being. After this encounter, he decides to seek the help of UFO "enthusiasts."

He runs into a brick wall until he manages to enlist the help of a kooky journalist, Betty Walker (Nancy Allen), who works for a Weekly World News-style tabloid paper, reporting on strange phenomena. With a little digging, they discover that they're being pursued by some scary people, that Centerville is supposed to be abandoned, and that Bigelow's daughter might just be the center of this strange alien conspiracy lurking there. Not meant to be taken too seriously, the storyline mainly makes fun of the fact that the aliens have based their entire culture around things taken from the 1950s. They still think it's the perfect disguise, even though it makes them stick out like sore thumbs. Given the strangeness of the 1980s, though, no one really pays attention.

The movie works on most levels, especially as a lighthearted poke at sci-fi, but where it does stumble is with its slow pacing. At times, this is necessary to evoke confusion from viewers, but in many spots, the film lingers too long, mired in too much dialogue. There are other, brief moments where the effects seem to outdo elements of the plot; jarring you out of the lighthearted aspect and making you wonder if the tone is changing. Where the film succeeds, though, is in atmosphere. Not only does everything look impressive, but the town of Centerville was amazingly well chosen to embody the spirit of a typical, small town. Since the whole joke of the movie is how it's meant as a sort of satire within a satire, it helps that the actors are so strong and the general setting works so well. Unfortunately, I think Strange Invaders was a victim of poor timing; it came out on the coattails of giants like E.T., and for audiences to come from the age of "serious," high-budget, sci-fi in the early 1980s to something like this probably just didn't work for most people. Unfortunate but understandably so.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The film looks extremely good and certainly better than most of its previous incarnations. For starters, it's anamorphically widescreened to 2:35:1 restoring it's well composed shots and wide-angle lens usage. (the pan-and-scan versions were terrible) The source print and general transfer seems to be of good quality; more than just a passing job. Colors are rich and brilliant, with no bleeding. There are some instances or artifacting and shimmering, but I think this has a lot to do with the fact that 90% of the film was shot with an extremely soft diffusion effect, making everything look "dreamy." This is a tough film to make look good, frankly, because of that effect, but the transfer seems to carry it well without any major complaints, other than the natural graininess of the print. Some hairs, scratches, and other age problems are scattered around, but nothing heavy enough to impact the presentation.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The mono audio is serviceable, but nothing special. There are no real complaints, but a stereo or 2.0 remix might have been slightly better to bring out the more powerful and louder portions of the movie. Regardless, it does its job without any problems and sounds good, even at louder volumes.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Michael Laughlin and writer Bill Condon.
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: An excellent commentary by the director, Michael Laughlin, and writer Bill Condon makes this disc a treat for fans. Though the two of are not together on the track (it's edited together from separate commentaries), there is a wealth of material discussed. The track almost never stops, and both Condon and Laughlin fill the time with stories regarding how the film got made, how they got certain actors, the critical reception of the film, and pointing out some of the cameos in the film. This was a very nice bonus for a film virtually unknown to most people, but the enthusiasm for the project is obvious from both of these people. There is an original trailer (in fair condition), and the presentation is average for MGM (static menus, no insert or booklet).

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Not perfect, Strange Invaders is still an interesting little gem. The story is interesting enough although a bit too ambitious, but it is its clever use of deadpan humor and obvious clichÈs as running in-jokes that makes it worthwhile.

 


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