Jul 20, 2008

The Third Floor Drive-In: Season Four Episode Four

Hey, we're getting caught up with all of our "third floor drive-in" posts that had remained in "draft" mode for some time.

The April 24 episode of the Third Floor Drive-In was the Sunn Classics 1981 epic, Earthbound, preceded by the trailer for the 1968 masterpiece, Mission Mars.


Conceivably having run out of paranormal subjects to make cheap documentaries about, Sunn Classics extrapolated on their other winning formula, the family movie. Earthbound was a feature made as a pilot for a proposed TV series, but when that fell through, the film crept out to theaters instead.

This inoffensive fare features a nice nuclear family of human-looking extra-terrestrials whose spaceship crashes in the woods. They are befriended by nice old Burl Ives and his grandson who take them on a cross-country trek to a university to get what they need from a science lab to repair their vehicle, so they can leave. Along the way of course they are being pursued by government agents led by Joseph Campanella, who you know is the bad guy because he's always in a fedora and sunglasses (regardless of time of day). Christopher Connelly (as the patriarchal alien) spent the rest of his career making a lot of Eurojunk before his death in 1988. (I'm not sure, but I wonder if his gravelly voice here is symptomatic of the cancer that would take his life.)

The film, from director James L. Conway (Sunn Classics journeyman who gave us In Search of Noah's Ark, Hangar 18, among others), has an unfairly bad reputation-- it's cute, harmless and mildly engaging, even if for the most part it is episodic, and some of the writing is sitcom level (no surprise given that it was intended for television), appealing to the younger audiences with the alien daughter joining some high school girls to ogle at boys, and the extra-terrestrial boy helps his human friend win a basketball game (with some really crummy special effects), and how can we forget, the aliens' pet-- a blue monkey! However, admittedly it falls apart in the last third with some sudden plot turns left to expand upon in the alleged series.

You could do far worse with films made after the Star Wars craze. Still, this is one of those films where redneck folks suddenly start grabbing their rifles looking for Martians as soon as they see a light in the sky, and where the aliens have the technology to fly across the universe, yet cannot afford any better wardrobe than silver suits that came from "The Lost Saucer". But this silly family fare is somewhat refreshing-- full of an innocence that we seldom see in movies anymore.

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