Fantasia International Film Festival - “The house is open!” Whether it’s a documentary, a feature film, or a live production, the best ones are made with a mix of love, frustration, and appreciation for what came before. As a documentary, Alien on Stage achieves this. Whether the play adaptation it is about succeeds can be up to the individual.
A group of bus drivers and mechanics in Dorset, England decide to put on a stage adaptation of Alien. Yes, that Alien. The Ridley Scott classic that is revered for its sci-fi horror, badass heroine, and practical effects. Films often have way more digital effects in this day and age but in live performance, the practical ways still are alive and well, which is one of the reasons why an adaptation of Alien makes sense. Adapting a classic for charity seems like a surefire way to make money.
Alas, things don’t go as planned. As an observer we watch as weeks of rehearsals, building costumes, and hair-pulling results in a first showing that only has twenty audience members. Once it’s revealed, there isn’t much time spent dwelling on this fact. Community theatre is often like this but one of my few critiques is we don’t hear more from the performers about how they feel about this disappointment. I think it would add to the impact of what happens next.
The show manages to catch attention and the cast and crew are asked to perform in London. From cramped buses and apartments full of clutter, the second half is shot with a lot more open space to show the journey this group has gone on to get to the West End. This is a fun journey to watch and directors Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer wisely guide us through many aspects of it. For those not accustomed to live theatre, this is a great look into the work that goes into it.
Yes, I’m biased. This documentary is a culmination of three areas of life that are quite personal to me. However, I think most people will look at the title and know whether this is for them or not. The second half of the film is the show itself and the special effects man Pete deserves praise and his own studio. From eggs to chestbursters, to the dreaded Xenomorph, his work is truly fantastic. And based on the cheers of the audience, they agree with me.
So are there any complaints? As a documentary we don’t get to know the performers as well as we’d like. Things like this might be inevitable. There’s only so much time that can be spent poking cameras into real people’s faces while they try to achieve a lifetime goal. On a more selfish level, I wish the documentary was a teleporter that could take me to the actual show. A screen brings light to the story, but the real joy is cheering along with a few hundred audience members.
Watch Alien on Stage and access other great films at the Fantasia International Film Festival here which runs through August 25, 2021.
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