Things I Read Off the Screen in “Target Earth”

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RAGE! Against the Machine?

Do you know Geoff Murphy’s Kiwi scifi THE QUIET EARTH (1985)? Bloke wakes up and finds the human race has disappeared, and wanders alone through deserted streets searching for some clue to the nature of the catastrophe. It’s really good — well, it has a great first half hour and a great last shot (boldly unfolding beneath the end credits), and sometimes that’s enough.

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Dr. Andrews SLEEPING TABLETS Follow Directions Overdose Dangerous

Well, I was startled to find that TARGET EARTH has almost the same set-up. Kathleen Crowley awakens from a sleeping-pill overdose and finds herself alone in a ghost metropolis (referred to throughout as “this city”). We expect some teleportation explanation, or else a CARNIVAL OF SOULS twist whereby she’s really dead. Unfortunately, she meets Richard Denning within a few minutes (I don’t mean that as nasty as it sounds — I *like* Richard Denning) and we’re told that the city has been evacuated because of some unknown attack — which proves to be alien invasion by bug clunky robots (or robot — we only ever see one at a time).

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SIGNAL

While I’m a sucker for big clunky robots, this does seem like the least interesting way the story could have gone, and it’s a terrible shame they didn’t make more of the deserted city angle. One of the important writing lessons in Breaking Bad is “Play out the consequences” — give things the screen time they need to be as effective as they can be. This seems even more advisable in a cheap B-movie.

But I like how all the characters left behind are kind of low-lifes, as if the evac was a kind of low-budget Rapture and Crowley, Denning and the others weren’t worthy. He’s kind of a gambler/sleaze, her costume screams “tramp” in 1950s dress code, and the pair they partner up with are basically a couple of bickering barflies. We also meet a grubby little guy and an escaped murderer. This is a movie with more ideas than its slender running time can support, and they all get in the way of each other finding full expression.

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The Post = Journal INVASION BY MYSTERY ARMY. Fair enough. But over the fold on the lower front page we see this —

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TRIO ARRESTED, $200 ROBBERY. That’s like $66.67 for two of them, and the third has to settle for $66.66. And yet this outrage still manages to make the front page on a day when Venusian robots conquer the city. The canny editor also goes with Gem Thieves Strike in London Fog, which will obviously of keen interest to the cosmopolitan readership of The Post = Journal as they flee their homes in their pajamas, as will BULGARIAN CAPITAL SCENE OF RIOTS. “No, leave the rooster story, that’s human interest!”

There’s an attempt at a theme, as the suicidal Crowley rediscovers the joy of life and love, but this isn’t really followed through. Denning happens to know all about military strategy and also which planets in the solar system might be habitable (because he reads pulp sci-fi). The American military commander, whom we keep cutting away to for no compelling reason, is played by an actor called Arthur Space. I want to be him. I want to be Arthur Space.

4 Responses to “Things I Read Off the Screen in “Target Earth””

  1. chris schneider Says:

    “I’m a sucker for big clunky robots” — sounds like a Julie Brown song, somehow. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEU_5lVjRFQ

    Used to watch this a lot during grade-school days, on Channell 11 in Los Angeles. Remember that it started well, and sorta dribbled away. But Virginia Grey was good in it, as I remember, and I’m sorry you forgot to mention her.

  2. All the main actors benefit from playing less than spotless characters, which is refreshing. I guess the older couple are who the younger ones could easily end up as, but at the end of the movie they’ve been set on a new course… possibly.

    There’s the suggestion of a better idea here — a version of Short Cuts with an alien invasion to connect the stories. The danger would be ending up with Independence Day.

  3. I love Quiet Earth. Sort of a naturalistic The World, The Flesh & The Devil…Or maybe it’s Omega Man with just folks instead of Nocturnal Mansonites. Either way, spiffing sci-fi yarn from a decade lousy with them.

  4. It sometimes seems like in a given time and place, everybody making films gets good. Britain in the late 40s and 60s, Australia in the early 70s/early 80s, New Zealand in the late 70s. Certainly the collected artists behind The Quiet Earth never topped their early achievement.

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