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Loving the Aliens.

By Coury Turczyn

JANUARY 26, 1998:  Sitting on my desk is a withered, gray, little alien invader encased in a condom-like tube filled with a clear gel. Why do I have it? I'm not sure—I could've gone with the alien autopsy kit, the alien hand puppets, or the alien-on-a-stick candy, but this one felt right. When you squeeze the tube, it bulges out just short of rupturing a spray of viscous goo. More importantly, it's a sign of just how far our obsession with all things extraterrestrial has gone—not even '50s aliens had this much marketing.

Likewise, this past summer we were treated with a veritable slew of alien-infested science fiction pics, from the cheese-in-space of Event Horizon to the ever-so-meaningful Contact. But the best ones had a sense of humor about themselves and their alien marauders. Men in Black, of course, was the all-conquering popcorn flick of the year. With Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones as black-suited secret agents battling a giant cockroach, how could you go wrong? Director Barry Sonnenfeld brings just the right amount of off-kilter humor, keeping MIB away from over-familiar action-adventure terrain. Too bad it ends so quickly and easily—beating up an intergalactic bug is small potatoes for these characters.

Then we had French director Luc Besson's The Fifth Element, whose five elements were probably Blade Runner, Flash Gordon, Brazil, Stargate, and Die Hard. Nevertheless, it's an enjoyable romp because it doesn't take its portentous good vs. evil struggle very seriously. Bruce Willis stars as a New York City cab driver of the distant future who finds himself helping the universe's "most perfect being" (Milla Javovich) destroy a big, black blob of pulsing evil heading towards Earth. Meanwhile, super-villain Gary Oldman delivers his most comical evil bastard yet, with no less than a Texas accent and new wave 'do. Can't wait for the director's cut.

The original wacky-aliens-among-us movie, however, is The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension—a total flop in 1984, and cult film today that sets many precedents for the genre. It's got oddball heroes (the neurosurgeon/rock star/scientist/ test pilot Buckaroo, played by Peter Weller), offbeat aliens (dreadlocked rastafarians), despicable villains with weird accents (John Lithgow), and a wholly ridiculous plot (battery-sucking aliens start their own government-funded weapons plant to build a vehicle to return themselves to the eighth dimension, which is actually the space between atoms). Silly yet inventive, it's nearly impossible to accurately describe to the uninitiated. Unfortunately, watching it today, you can't help but groan at the horrendous '80s synth-crap background music and new wave fashions. Also, the story doesn't quite hold together (rumor has it the studio shaved 30 minutes from the film). Nevertheless, it's a semi-classic that deserves rediscovery—if not a sequel.


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