William Shatner. The name brings to mind many classic roles like James Kirk. And uh. . . James T. Kirk. And Captain Kirk.
Okay, the name William Shatner only brings to mind one role. Even when we watched T.J. Hooker we half-expected Shatner to call Scotty for an emergency beam-out. Everything Shatner has done since Star Trek went off the air has to be seen in that context.
Groom Lake is a Shatner's newest creative effort, and not surprisingly, it's science fiction. Shatner, master of all media, wrote the story, directed the film (at least in part), and plays one of the lead characters, a military-type named Gossner. The film is released under the banner of Full Moon Video, which pretty much guarantees a certain level of quality. Not a high level to be sure, but let's give Mr. Shatner the benefit of the doubt for now.
These computers are calculating
the odds that Shatner will ever
have a hit film again.
The plot of Groom Lake covers a mélange of themes in the UFO believer community these days. Kate (Amy Acker) and Andy (Dan Gauthier) are tourists who visit Groom Lake, near the infamous Area 51, where the government is supposed to be keeping alien technology. The thing is, they really are harboring a UFO -- but it's not from outer space. The base is preparing for some secret launch just as the project leader, Gossner, finds out that his project has been cancelled. By now, you'd think he'd be used to having his programs cancelled, but Gossner fights back by locking the Pentagon's representative in a room and going ahead with the launch.
"So these are the side effects
of using Priceline for all your travel."
Maybe it's the recent budget cuts, but Area 51 seems to be operating on a bit of shoestring. The all-important launch is run from a bank of ten iMacs. We'll give them 10 out of 10 for style and user-friendliness, but we can't help but think that those Bondi blue machines are a little underpowered for computing warp trajectories and, uh, other space-related stuff. (Never mind that we reached the moon with computers far less powerful than the one with which you read these words.) The main supervisor over those machines is Dick Van Patten (really), which also screams "on the cheap."
What Gossner lacks in a budget, however, he makes up for in determinedness. Getting this new spaceship off the ground isn't just an exercise in astronautic ego gratification, no sir -- it's all about sending Gossner's extraterrestrial buddy back to his home planet. Gossner was there, you see, way back when the UFO stories started at Groom Lake, because an alien spacecraft really did land. Shocking, we know. Though saddened to find out the alien couldn't provide more advanced toupée technology, Gossner and his team have been working hard ever since to get their unearthly visitor back where he belongs -- apparently unbeknownst to their governmental supervisors, who are simply worried that the program has become too costly. (!)
"In my other job, I don't get to
see the sun."
The lead-in to this E.T.-inspired plot is a no-less-complicated quasi-love story about Kate, who has been diagnosed with lupus disease, and her trip to the UFO capital of the world. As she explains to hapless boyfriend Andy, proof of life elsewhere in the universe will give her faith that her soul might live on after her body dies. Obviously, the existence of life on other planets validates the religious concept of an afterlife. Andy spends a lot of time angsting over Kate's imminent death, but at least he gets to run around a lot when Kate is unexpectedly whisked away by Gossner's troops.
Groom Lake has its share of genre movie problems, but these are related more to its restrictive budget (and the fact that Dick Van Patten can't keep a straight face during his goofy dialogue) than to anything inherent in the script. As alien adventures go, it's not half-bad. If you've seen Six Days in Roswell, you'll have difficulty watching Kate interact with the town residents without thinking of Rich Kronfeld's similarly hopeful character. There is some humor in the fact that the townspeople are not so much annoyed by the crackpot tourists, but by the fact that the crackpot tourists don't believe the exact same crackpot theories they hold dear. There's also a tow truck driver who appears to have driven off the set of Oliver Stone's U-Turn. We're betting the rest of the cast of U-Turn wish they had thought of that.
"What do you need nine flying
saucers for? I keep telling you..."
If you're expecting anything more exciting than cars exploding via quick cut editing or people glowing colors usually only seen on the walls of Anna Nicole Smith's bedroom, you'll be disappointed. It's likely that a large part of the budget was blown on the full-body spacesuit of apparent alien manufacture, and on the FilmLook process that is supposed to give movies shot on video the appearance that they were captured on film. (It only works about half the time.) Other than that, the effects are strictly of the video toaster variety -- we would have been excited twenty years ago, but these days we sort of suspect those iMacs were doing double duty.
Shatnerholics should tune in just to see what the old Captain is doing in his retirement, and those familiar with Amy Acker from the TV series Angel will be gratified to find that her performance is the best thing in Groom Lake. The rest of you should go find a copy of Six Days in Roswell for some real UFO-tainment.