Cinema/TV, Film Notes

Film review – Occupation

My notes on Occupation, due in US cinemas July 20.

This relatively big-scale Australian science fiction film covers very familiar territory.  Behind almost all of these big-scale alien invasion/humans fight back movies is H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, with the literary influence filtered through several film versions of the novel, Independence Day and V, not to mention stragglers like Daleks Invasion Earth 2150 AD, The Earth Dies Screaming, The Quiet Hour, Beyond Skyline, and Battle: Los Angeles (all of which share bits of business with Occupation).


Director-writer Luke Sparke delivers thinly-conceived ET baddies – conquerors who have used up their world and want ours, though the resources spent on staging an interstellar invasion and occupation of a whole planet could keep any imaginable civilisation going for millennia – and concentrates on gung ho soap opera as a cross-section of Aussies – with family man ex-con Pete Bartlett (Temuera Morrison), injury-plagued local rugby captain Matty Simmons (Dan Ewing) and Matt’s driven girlfriend Amelia Chambers (Stephany Jacobsen) as leads – react to the sudden appearance of vast alien city-ships in the skies and armoured troops on the ground by squabbling, banding together, making use of scavenged alien weaponry, and generally teaming up to become the Resistance.  In its plot points, it has as much in common with Red Dawn as any alien invasion picture – and even evokes the relatively recent Australian invasion movie Tomorrow When the War Began – as it focuses on semi-soap strands (a pregnant girlfriend, separated family members, across-class-divide romance, rugby rivalries) while the aliens just show up as all-purpose baddies (the most evil aliens have blanket cloaks to distinguish their status) and have selected the middle-of-nowhere small town as their HQ for quite nebulous reasons that have a lot to do with plot convenience.


Its most interesting strand, which picks up on a tiny moment of brilliance that was easy to miss the the decidedly ordinary Battle: Los Angeles, focuses on the way Amelia is shocked in the aftermath of a successful counter-attack to see wounded aliens helping each other and obviously traumatised by the loss of their dead comrades.  Later, she’s disturbed when her friends give up on trying to learn anything from a captive and vent their own frustrations by beating it to death.  This leads to a few unusual, intriguing developments in the climax – which presumably will be picked up on in the already-in-the-works sequel – though the film as a whole defaults to a standard desperate mission to thwart an alien plot to wipe out the rest of humanity. Sparke, who co-writes with Felix Williamson, often intercuts action for contrast (a love scene with a beating, etc) but is plainly more interested in broad strokes than the details.  It’s unusual to see a patriotic science fiction film that’s not American, so there are frissons as a multi-ethnic coalition of Aussies come together and charge in slow motion at the camera waving big toy guns while their flag flies overhead – though, perhaps in a bid for the international audience, this plays down the sort of outback stereotypes most often seen in Australian films (even if the head alien is played by Bruce Spence, recognisable only by his height).  That said, it’s as indebted to soap as any Hollywood take on this premise and feels like an extended pilot for a TV series – albeit made on a reasonably spectacular scale.


Here’s a trailer.



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