Monday, January 6, 2020

“A Jesus Freak Now Believes in Spacemen” - Heatstroke (2008) - Film #168

How could a movie with alien dinosaurs, D. B. Sweeney, and Danica McKellar fail to be a classic? Of course, that is a rhetorical question, signaling the beginning of our discussion of 2008's Heatstroke, a classic monster movie set in a tropical paradise.

Some of your universe's critics fail to understand classics like Heatstroke. For example, reviewer rob_p writes, "The script was deplorable. Predictable and cliché ridden. The characters were flat and uninteresting. The CGI aliens are appallingly bad." Reviewer kiawa77 writes, "I just kept watching it in order to write a review on it, but I can't even write a decent review because it was really that bad. A terrible, illogical script with a set of wooden actors delivering their lines in a very flat way." And reviewer kiat-2 writes, "The director has cooked up a turkey - the very worst film I've seen for a long time."

Read on...

In a captivating prologue, a little boy watches a Clutch Cargo cartoon, but his enjoyment is spoiled when the TV signal turns to static and shows a weird eye. The film suddenly cuts to a modern day scene of the grown-up boy, now played by D. B. Sweeney, as he pilots an ultralight aircraft over the cliffs of Hawaii while wearing a nice casual green-checked button-down shirt. Mr. Sweeney falls prey to one of the many perils of ultralight flight—a small green dinosaur climbs a palm tree and jumps onto his aircraft. This causes him to crash-land his ultralight on the beach, where model and photographer Danica McKellar is conducting a swimsuit photo shoot.

Ms. McKellar scolds Mr. Sweeney for ruining her photo shot, accusing him of being a paparazzo or a peeping tom. Then Mr. Sweeney walks to a house in the Hawaiian jungle, where he takes an outdoor shower and flashes back again to his childhood, where he encountered dinosaur warnings broadcast through Clutch Cargo cartoons.

Meanwhile, on a military base, a female scientist is trying to convince an Army major about the existence of aliens on earth. The major doesn’t buy it: “We don’t have anything to talk about, Dr. Taggert. You think that for 30 years Earth’s been inhabited by space aliens. And I think you’re crazy.”

“I’m sane,” Dr. Taggert replies. “You’re blind. Open your eyes.” She also explains that in 1975 there was an unusual wave of insomnia, along with visions of aliens.

Meanwhile at a bar in the middle of the jungle, Mr. Sweeney meets his crew of alien hunters while Ms. McKellar tries to organize her photo shoot. For unexplained reasons, the bartender and a musclebound associate attack Mr. Sweeney, though he uses martial arts to take care of them. One of Mr. Sweeney’s friends tosses a magic coin to the ground, which explodes in a flash of white light, incapacitating the ne’er-do-wells. His team returns to his house, where they drink to the cancellation of their cogently named alien-hunting Project Gatecrash.

But the team finds something: a claw stuck inside the hard drive serving as a flight recorder on Mr. Sweeney’s ultralight. “Looks organic,” says Jillian, the female member of the team.

“Looks what?” asks her colleague, a scientist who does not know the meaning of the word "organic."

After a moment, an alien dinosaur (apparently not native to your universe’s Hawaii) approaches the house to watch Mr. Sweeney.

The dinosaur encounters the aggressive men from the bar, who for no apparent reason are watching the house through binoculars. The dinosaur runs at them rather awkwardly and slits their throats with its claws.

At the same time, Ms. McKellar meets Mr. Sweeney in the jungle, having walked through all the way from the bar to ask him to reimburse her for the lost time at the photo shoot (she has realized he is military, not a paparazzo, and hence can afford to pay her). The dinosaur does not attack Ms. McKellar, but she suffers another indignity: D. B. Sweeney drives her home.

In a fascinating twist, Jillian both discovers that the claw she found is indeed organic and refuses to believe the result. On a conference call to the major for some reason, she explains: “My faith says it’s impossible. I believe God made man in his own image, and his gift of life to Earth is unique. Alien life can’t exist. But we’ve found it. And now I have to accept it.”

The major continues his argument with Dr. Taggert. “A Jesus freak now believes in spacemen. Hallelujah! It must be true. You be Scully, I’ll be Murder.”

In another fascinating scene, Mr. Sweeney is visited by the local sheriff at his house. The sheriff inquires about the men who attacked him at the bar and later disappeared. He arrests Mr. Sweeney, reading him his rights, but then simply tells Mr. Sweeney his grandmother thinks aliens are watching her through the TV, then gets back in his truck and leaves, having forgotten all about the arrest.

Despite the fact their project was cancelled, Mr. Sweeney’s team rolls out through the Hawaiian jungle, searching for extraterrestrial energy signatures. Mr. Sweeney finds the sheriff’s grandmother’s house. She greets him in the traditional island manner by throwing coconuts at him before he explains he knows the sheriff. “Can I talk to you?” he asks her.

“Talk what?” she replies.

“Nightmares. Bad dreams. Television.”

Nobody mentions the giant insect pendant she wears around her neck.

Elsewhere, a member of Mr. Sweeney’s crew named Romeo finds the bikini models hiking through the jungle, afraid of something they heard in the trees. He gives them a ride to a beach, where he suggests they take a dip while he does some science things. Forgetting about their fear of whatever alien dinosaurs are inhabiting the jungle, the models strip down to their bikinis and jump into the water. Moments later, an alien dinosaur attacks the three of them, killing one of the models by scratching her back and injuring Romeo by spitting acid in his face.

Romeo takes care of the dinosaur by pushing a button and blowing up his Jeep, killing himself and injuring the alien.

Coincidentally, everyone, including Ms. McKellar, arrives at the beach at the same time. They find the bodies and search for the dinosaur. Mr. Sweeney insists that Ms. McKellar ride with him to intercept the alien, which they see and fire at, to little effect.

One of the team members named Mental controls a drone to keep track of the escaping dinosaur, but unfortunately the drone explodes in midair for no reason.

Eventually, the team murders the dinosaur in cold blood (literally). One member of the team, Al, discovers a rock wall that is actually camouflage for the aliens, but he fails to tell the others. They return to Mr. Sweeney’s house to dissect the dinosaur. Mental says, “You know what this means. CNN, Leno, cover of Time. We’re gonna be famous.”

Mr. Sweeney replies, “Yeah, in about a hundred years, after they declassify it.”

The team hypothesizes that the alien dinosaurs made the island’s volcano erupt in 1975, causing the island’s temperature to increase as well as the insects to grow to gigantic size. Mr. Sweeney finds the idea plausible (or, based on his facial expression, highly confusing).

Meanwhile, Al acts mysteriously when he is alone, and his eyes glow red.

The island is evacuated and the major and Dr. Taggert arrive with a group of soldiers. When Dr. Taggert sees the corpse of the dinosaur, she realizes it couldn’t have evolved on Earth because its DNA is unrecognizable (she ascertains this with her eyes, not needing the aid of specialized equipment). When the major suggests a reconnaissance mission to determine the aliens’ numbers, Dr. Taggert asks, “Are you gonna start a war?”

Inexplicably, the major replies, “You see any Klingons here?”

At night, Al disappears into the jungle, only to be found almost immediately by his fiancée Jillian and a few soldiers. Al stands among the trees, clicking like one of the dinosaurs, though nobody thinks this is unusual. Seconds later, however, Al reveals himself with glowing eyes to Jillian while dinosaurs kill the soldiers. Shockingly, Jillian is attacked by one of the dinosaurs. It repeatedly penetrates her stomach with its claws, but she survives, soon to be rescued by the rest of the soldiers.

Back at the house, despite all that is going on, Ms. McKellar gives Mr. Sweeney a back rub to help him fall asleep. Instead, it induces a flashback to his Clutch Cargo-filled childhood and visions of the Earth warming up. He realizes the aliens are trying to heat up the entire planet so most life will die out and the will have the planet to themselves (along with the giant insects). When he tells Dr. Taggert, she jumps straight to the point: “You’re saying aliens are the cause of global warming?”

The soldiers go on their recon mission, and the dinosaurs kill most of them. The major dies, holding a handful of his own intestines, but not before telling Mr. Sweeney, “You were right.” (Presumably because the dinosaur killed him, he now realizes the dinosaurs are really aliens.)

The next day, Mr. Sweeney and Dr. Taggart realize the aliens must have some kind of beam shooting into the sky that is accelerating global warming, so Mr. Sweeney and the sheriff drive along a dirt road to a picturesque spot. “This is it,” says the sheriff. “The most isolated spot on the island. Perfect place for the emitter thing.” (Of course, the most isolated spot on the island has a well-worn dirt road leading straight to it.)

They find the camouflage rock wall and slip through it. They see a tree-like structure that might be the emitter, but then they quickly return to the house, where Al is in the middle of attacking his fiancée Jillian. Mr. Sweeney interrupts, forcing Al into another room at gunpoint. “What’s happened to you?”

The red-eyed Al says, “Switched teams. Joined the winners.” He explains that Mr. Sweeney’s nightmares and flashbacks are a side effect of a message the aliens sent back to their home planet in 1975, a message whose echo was transmitted to some people around the globe. He also explains, when his human side emerges for a moment, that the alien emitter must be destroyed, raising the question of why Mr. Sweeney did not think of that when he was looking at the transmitter.

Then Al escapes, tossing a grenade into the house, forcing Mental and Ms. McKellar to jump out of an exploding garage.

The team estimates that it will take two hours for the planet to overheat and kill everyone unless they destroy the emitter. Mr. Sweeney calls the Navy, who will launch a missile to destroy the emitter, but the team must plant a homing signal there.

Dr. Taggert, meanwhile, steals a vehicle so she can spread a message of peace among the killer alien dinosaurs.

Of course, the dinosaur kills her.

Mr. Sweeney and Ms. McKellar find her body, then search for the emitter. They reach the edge of the hill where the emitter is hidden and Mr. Sweeney “arms” his beacon. The Navy launches a missile. Surprisingly, Al attacks Mr. Sweeney, who, perhaps unwisely, grapples with Al instead of running away from the imminent missile target. When Al falls against the foot of the emitter, he is incapacitated with purple electricity and a giant centipede crawls out of his mouth, freeing him from the aliens’ mind control. Mr. Sweeney gives Al a gun, then he and Ms. McKellar run away from the missile target.

The missile hits the emitter rather than the beacon, for some reason, and this destroys all the aliens.

After everything is over, Mr. Sweeney and Ms. McKellar talk about taking a vacation somewhere snowy.

The central point of Heatstroke, of course, is its bold contention that alien dinosaurs, not humans, are responsible for climate change. If this is the case in real life, then we can only hope a team as efficient and knowledgeable as D. B. Sweeney, Danica McKellar, Jillian, Al, and Mental are on the case. But the real boldness of Heatstroke comes in the form of its computer-generated monsters. Despite being released 15 years after Jurassic Park (1993), Heatstroke's filmmakers have decided to go in a completely different direction regarding computer-generated dinosaurs, who appear here as stylized figures that are so visually distinct from their backgrounds (intentionally, one must assume) that they do not appear to be interacting with their environments or the human characters at all. Undoubtedly, the filmmakers intended the stylized graphics to highlight the themes of alienation and anti-environmentalism. The full effect, and the full genius of the filmmakers, can only be illustrated with video segments from Heatstroke: