Written and directed by Alan Maxson, Alien Planet is a 2023 science fiction feature that stars Alexandra Bokova, Hunter C. Smith, Eric Prochnau and Naiia Lajoie.
Alien Planet finds two warring species stuck in a generational battle for supremacy. With one faction losing and banished to another world after a massacre, a conflict over water soon arises. With low amounts of water available on the planet, exact drops from a rejuvenation vial are necessary to keep sustaining life. The winning faction, having abused their world and used up all the water, comes to take the rejuvenation vial of the other faction and a battle for control of water soon ensues.
It is here that the story of Lock begins, sending her on an epic adventure into the cosmos as she comes across unexpected allies and dangerous monsters in her quest to retrieve the vial and save the one she loves.
Alien Planet was crowdfunded and has a low budget but the makers behind the project have used the budget so creatively that the film looks and feels more massive than it has right to be. Part of this is made possible via practical effects and part through creative physical sets but what the film manages to accomplish is impressive. This is a thoroughly entertaining science fiction story with believable protagonists, high stakes and significant violence.
Maxson has written a story that makes the audience sympathise with the protagonists and absolutely hate the villains. There are clear motives for both parties to do what they do and the way they collide is what makes the film so interesting. With once brutal foes forced to team up against a bigger threat, Maxson infuses the narrative with conflict, camaraderie and heroism. Taking inspiration from several famous stories out there that see competing factions battling in the name of freedom, minerals and other
Although it might have been hard to convey facial emotions under all that practical makeup, the cast does a stellar job of bringing the story to life. The star of the show is Alexandra Bokova as Lock. After her husband is fatally wounded, Lock is tasked with tracking down the vial. Forced to team up with an untrustworthy individual against a horrific monster, Lock will use her wit and grit to come out on top. Even though buried under heavy makeup, Bokova does her character justice by conveying the conflict within her through both her mannerisms and her voice. Understanding the nuances of her character perfectly, Bokova slowly and surely transforms Lock into a badass, one that will save her species at all costs. Equally impressive are Hunter C. Smith, Eric Prochnau and Naiia Lajoie. The cast gives a terrific performance and it is their acting chops that sell the film.
By far the most impressive thing about this film is its use of practical visual effects. In a time where audiences are bombarded with an overload of computer generated effects, it is refreshing to find a film that does not choose to go this route. Although practical effects are more cumbersome to accomplish, they are more believable as well and age better than CGI over time. There is a sense of realism to practical effects that CGI rarely manages to accomplish. With high quality alien facial masks and other similar makeup extensions, the film infuses such a sense of realism in this science fiction story that it elevates the entire narrative. Alexandra Bokova’s Lock and other alien characters look absolutely fantastic. Not only do they speak in a unique way, the movement of their lips and mannerisms are in such a way that they feel completely alien.
Equally impressive is the cinematography. With a bluish hue that permeates through each shot, the colours feel deeper. This is aided by the fact that all sets used are real locations. The alien makeup and the locations thus blend together seamlessly, creating an atmosphere that looks both familiar and otherworldly. Also, there is a whole neon lit sequence that looks absolutely fantastic. Maxson captures the action in a way that does not feel distracting, coming across as organic and gritty. The absolutely gory laser blaster wounds coupled with bloody deaths aid in this, resulting in a film that leans heavily on shocking R-rated action. I think someone in the production team noted that they used 11 gallons of fake blood making this and after seeing the film, I know this to be true.
In regards to the narrative pacing, the film whizzes by despite having a runtime of more than eighty minutes. Maxson keeps things interesting, stopping only for moments of characterization whilst utilising action set pieces and twists in the narrative to hurl the story forward. Maxson balances the drama with other aspects of the production seamlessly and thus, the film manages to resonate both emotionally and impress action wise as well. The deft narrative pacing means that there is not a single boring moment in the entire film as the hefty dose of melodrama, violence and sci-fi action keeps audiences glued to the screen.
To summarise, Alien Planet is a worthwhile space adventure that will take you to unexpected places and force you to ask some uncomfortable questions. Alan Maxson has made a potent film, one that manages to avoid genre pitfalls and delivers a story that is engrossing, violent and epic. The effects are great, the action fantastic and the characters equally great. Alexandra Bokova as Lock is a particular highlight, and it is her nuanced performances that manages to elevate the entire film. We had a fantastic time watching this film and I couldn’t recommend this film enough.