Review: Alpha Planet

alpha planetAlpha Planet (2010)

Length: Eleven 3-5 min webisodes

Genre: Scifi

Director:  Mike Darling

Starring: Michael Sweeney, Jen Tobin, Don Jeanes, JD Mendonca, Arron Marie Fenton

Budget: Low Indie?

Streams For Free At:  Popcornflix.com

Alpha quadrant is the story of a plucky group of ex-patriated earthlings who return to a supposedly barren, unpopulated earth on an expeditionary mission, only to find themselves deserted and left to fend for themselves. Turns out the earth is not as desolate as they were led to believe and some of the denizens are not all that friendly.

Alpha Quadrant is the little webseries that could. Despite it’s handicaps it kept plugging along and managed to keep my interest right to the end. I shall tell you why, but first, my douchey criticism:

We first encounter our intrepid explorers in a cheesy bit of special effects where the ship lands and beams the crew literally five feet from the front door to the ground. Couldn’t they just open a door? The crew is a casual bunch, dressed in ill-fitting quasi-army get ups that look like they were purchased that day from J. Riggings.

The captain has  mop of unruly black hair, is visibly out of shape, and wears a brand of respirator that I have actually used on a construction site. He has it on wrong to boot. He checks his “tricorder”, a thin, clear sheet superimposed with data (a very nicely done prop, by the way.) He takes the respirator off and breathes the atmosphere deeply. He is immediately reprimanded by one of his lieutenants for his cavalier attitude. She isn’t that hot, another big handicap in this series.

As our intrepid, poorly dressed, and inexplicably coiffed explorers survey their surroundings they discover that they are not the only life on earth, and earth is a hostile place. The science officer discovers a species of plant that is known to be extinct, and yet here it is, flourishing in the barren dirt. He excitedly informs the female lieutenant of his find and, caught up in the science officer’s enthusiasm, she touches the leaves. Turns out it’s poison oak. Boy, howdy is she pissed! It’s funny, and indicative of the way the characters interact through much of the series.

They are glib and lighthearted, taking jabs at each other when opportunity arises. Some times it’s funny, but for the most part it just falls flat. Alpha Planet is not meant to be campy or a comedy, it is clearly designed as a drama, but it does not succeed well at either. It is neither fish nor fowl, as it were. Our crew is supposedly a quasi-military unit of a unified space government, yet their expedition seems more like a Kinkos staff picnic. I wouldn’t let them copy my documents, much less send them on an inter-space mission to a supposedly desolate planet. I suppose the humor could work if we had a genuine sense of their respect for the seriousness of their situation and their responsibilities. I’ve always felt the Star Trek franchises did that well, for instance in the next Generation series. There was a fair amount of humor and ball breaking going on, but you always had the sense that if Picard snapped his fingers everyone would straighten up and get back to business.

The dialog is really quite horrid in places and betrays the casual, almost childish world the characters occupy emotionally. At one point the science officer falls over a cliff and is seriously injured. He calls out to his crew, “Guys? Guys! Guys! I’m down here!” Guys? Who says that? I’ve called for my mom when I’ve been hurt, but never ‘guys.’ And he’s  a quasi-military science officer, shouldn’t he yell, “Captain!”, or “Lieutenant”, or use their proper name, or even their nick name? Guys? Bleh.

As he is calling for his friends, the science officer is knocked unconscious by a feral girl with an antique rifle. Fortunately for us, she is hot. I’m sure I’ll burn in hell because she is probably about twelve, but I’ll take what I can get at this point. They chase her down and the trigger happy security officer pops her with his own antique rifle. Why does he have an antique rifle, do you ask? He has a penchant for military anachronisms, including M16′s, second hand camo, and paper maps. They patch her up with some nano bots and off they go again, but the security officer is made to apologize to the girl by the female lieutenant. The girl replies, “If I had shot you I wouldn’t have missed.” Zing!

The plot thickens, there are other humans living on earth, and they want the girl dead. And there is the matter of a crashed ship that they discover pieces of. Who are these people? Where did they come from? What do they want? In a lovely little twist we find out the answers to all these questions and find out where the true loyalty of the crew lies. It’s not an original plot device, but it’s good.

Okay, so why did I stick around for the whole series when there are clearly a number of things that I had a problem with? One word: Cliffhanger. Each webisode left me wanting to know what happens next. They were not all big cliffhangers in the traditional sense, but just to give you an example, the crew is examining a deserted structure, the female lieutenant rounds a corner and, HISSSS! we hear a snake. She screams. Black screen. A snake? I thought the planet was deserted? Does she get bit? Is it a radioactive, mutant snake? I want to know!

This is what Alpha Planet does best, giving us bite sized, mini episodes that are complete in themselves but leave us wanting to know what happens next. Well done, Alpha Planet! As indie film makers we can all take a lesson from that when writing our own webisodes.

My douchey rating:


1 Comment

  1. Dear Mr. Douchebag,

    Thank you for the informative review. I would never have watched these webisodes if I hadn’t come across this. Not only am I hooked and wondering what the new season brings, I have spent untold hours watching “indie” films this weekend.

    It is a good thing I have my cats to remind me that there is a real world out there.

    All kidding aside, I look forward to your next review.


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