Upbeat Cynicism

what do you mean i lost my mind?

The Alpha Incident, 1977

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Suppose you were in charge of a government operation. The purpose of that operation, for the moment, is to transport some hazardous material cross-country, without drawing attention to it. Suppose further that you don’t have much knowledge of how dangerous (or not) this material might be. And that it came from Mars, on the Viking probe. And, just for the sake of argument, you can’t send it by air, because the altitude and pressure changes may act as a catalyst for it.

So, how would you go about sending it and ensuring that it didn’t cause anybody any trouble?

If you said you’d send it locked in biohazard containers, and make sure nobody on the ride had the key, and further make sure that you send along more than one guy (like, oh, say, an army squadron) to watch over the stuff so that the stupid hick of a train engineer can’t go poking around when the single guard is asleep, then congratulate yourself — you are smarter than this movie.

It’s not that this is the worst movie I’ve ever seen, nor even the worst one this Spook-a-Thon. Heck, it probably doesn’t break the bottom five, given that I’ve watched not only The Beast of Yucca Flats, but also a slew of Poverty Row cheapies. It’s just that the premise of The Alpha Incident depends so much on stupidity, and there’s so little actual story once the premise takes hold, that I couldn’t help focusing on it.

At least, I couldn’t help it when the girl was offscreen.

It is, if you haven’t noticed, a low-rent knockoff of The Andromeda Strain. But where Andromeda followed a group of scientists during four tense days in a top-secret underground complex while they tried to figure out what the heck they were dealing with and how to stop it, The Alpha Incident follows five people stuck in a room in a rural train station as they wait for scientists to figure out what the heck they’re dealing with and how to stop it.

And none of the people is very interesting. First, there’s the hillbilly engineer, played by “Buck” Flower. He’s a real actor, and a real annoying one the few times I’ve noticed him. Now, in this case, that’s sort of the point. He’s a guy who can’t shut up, can’t take a hint, and basically gets himself a big honking Darwin Award before the movie’s half over. And when he did, I almost cheered, so happy was I to see (well, “hear”) him die. But that leaves another bombastic, obnoxious talker in the station, and two taciturn men (one of whom was once Mike Hammer — Ralph Meeker, whom I only really know from Kiss of Death), and the girl.

Ah, the girl.

She is believable as a small town girl. Attractive, but not perfect. But, um. Well, she’s one of the prime reasons some men refer to bosoms as “racks”. Not stupendously large (though certainly not small), but impossible to ignore. And while there’s no frontal nudity, she does change, which we see from behind and a bit to the side, and she wears no bra. And she jiggles. So, yes, while she was onscreen, I could distract myself from the total lack of story. (She also gets a bit of story and backstory, too, more than the other characters do. It’s not especially satisfying, but hey, an effort was made.)

There are all kinds of logical lapses in the film, and you can’t help noticing them, because the “story” isn’t a story at all. It’s a bunch of people sitting around, trying to stay awake (if they sleep, they die), and… waiting. And then, in the end… well, I’ll just say that this is a 1970s film, and has a Romero-esque conclusion. Or, put another way, don’t get to liking anyone too well in the film (not that any of them are likeable), because none of them are coming home for dinner tomorrow.

I got all the way through it. But it sucked.

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