True story, for a while now I've been looking for a cheap copy of 1974's Last Days of Planet Earth, an extremely hard-to-find Japanese apocalypse movie. While most DVD copies online are over $200, I found one by chance at a used bookstore in the city for just $55 and I couldn't pass it up. Because I left my checkbook at home that day, I asked my intern Kelby to take $55 out of the petty cash drawer and go buy it for me.
So he shows up a few hours later, not with Toshio Masuda's classic Last Days of Planet Earth, but with the rotten late-night cable stinker Final Days of Planet Earth. He said he got confused by all the big words and stuff. I think he was drunk again.
I can't keep paying for him to go back into rehab every two months, it's killing MMT's bottom line.
Anyway, as they say, make lemonade, so here is Final Days of Planet Earth, a Sci-Fi Channel three-hour/two-day miniseries about an invasion of alien bugs. And, no, it's not surprising that you've never heard of it before, there's not that much information about it available online. In fact, even the great and glorious imdb.com has no English-language external reviews listed, so in a way I'm doing humanity a service here (well, there are reviews in "French" and "German", but I'm not convinced those are real languages). This will be a treat, I'm sure.
On to the show...
We open in outer space, where a space shuttle crew is returning from a mining operation on the Moon (look, just go with it, ok?). Unbeknownst to them, they picked something up from the Moon other than dust and rocks... Mission Commander Philips wakes up from a nap to find that his entire crew is...ahem, indisposed at the moment (hey, I'm trying to keep some mystery here). We later learn that after the shuttle landed, Philips was sent off to a mental hospital due to an "infection".
Fist-bumping hand-slapping astronauts, I could not possibly make that up.
Now, the rest of our movie is set entirely in San Francisco, California (well, actually in "San Vancouver", that quaint suburb of San Francisco where all the cars have BC provincial license plates and all the phone numbers begin with 604...). Our film's hero is an "urban archaeologist" working on a dig in the downtown area. He's on the San Vancouver city payroll, hired to check out any reported cultural artifacts that construction digging might inadvertently expose (a real job in most major municipalities). He's played by Gil Bellows, a fairly handsome fellow who hasn't done a single thing of note since Ally McBeal ended in 2002. Gil (and I'm just going to call him that) is a bit of a prick, however, and takes twisted joy in scaring a group of elementary school kids who come for a field trip.
That night, a big muddy sinkhole opens up under the site, sucking Gil's dorky undergrad assistant down to his mucky death. The rescue folks come out later with dogs and backhoes, but it's too late. All this is supposed to set up that there are "underground caverns" beneath San Vancouver that no one knows about, but it's so damn vague that unless someone (me) tells you, you'd never guess it from this scene alone. Luckily, Gil is a fancypants archaeologist, so he knows all.
As a guy who actually went to school to become an archaeologist, I can attest that 99.8% of all working archaeologists look like this guy.
Gil now meets a woman named Marianne (her nephew was in the class that Gil scarred for life) and they hate each other from minute one. And, of course, you know what that means in Hollywood... Marianne is a lovely girl from the Subcontinent, a honey with cute hair and buns like rolled Bethlehem steel, who unfortunately spends most of her screen time standing slightly behind and to the right of Gil.
We learn that she's a pest inspector by trade, but also a third-year doctorial student in entomology and a really, really big fan of insects (know your enemy?). She tells us that "without insects human life would end in a month", which I doubt, and about how "insects have a lot teach humans about co-operative non-exploitive living strategies." Crikey, insects are communists looking to form workers' collectives in our honest Godfearing nation! I need to call somebody!
Meanwhile, the San Vancouver government has ordered Gil's archaeological site closed and are busy pouring concrete over it. For "public safety reasons" is the answer a pissed-off Gil gets from the Police Commissioner (who must be evil as he's wearing a trench coat...). Again, all this is supposed to set up that the city government (via the police) is up to something fishy, but it comes so early in the film, and the scene is edited so badly, and we are so distracted by Marianne's breasts, that it's only two hours later that you make the connection.
Bald men are universally evil, it's true.
Gil now meets Liz, a physically imposing woman played by a slumming Daryl Hannah. Liz works with the mayor at City Hall and she comes to see Gil to apologize for them paving over his work site (and his assistant). While there's a bit of swoony music and stuff here, you really don't get the feeling that this is a meet-cute moment to set up some sort of romantic subplot. It seems more like Liz is up to something...
We see that Gil lives on a shabby houseboat in the ghetto section of the harbor. Of course he lives on a boat, he's way too cool to have a mortgage and responsibilities and stuff. God forbid he has a nice Tudor in the suburbs and a minivan and maybe even a suitcoat, how would we ever respect him then? He's visited by an investigative reporter who tells him that he's working on a story about strange and spooky goings-on at City Hall. The reporter, who, for some reason, thinks that an archaeologist is really the best person to talk to about this, also hints that the Police Commissioner might be involved and there are a lot of "missing persons" lately in San Vancouver. He offers to give Gil a flash drive with some info on it, but Gil doesn't have a computer. Of course Gil doesn't have a home computer and he "only plays solitaire" on his work computer at the University (yawn). I am so very tired of these rebel scientist types with their Doc Martin boots and their soy lattes and their distrust of modern technology, it's just such an overused cliche that the hero is so low-tech and unconcerned about fashion and etiquette. Of course, my personal idol, Indiana Jones, started the whole trend of the maverick scientist who eschews modern ways for his beaten fedora and oiled whip. But Gil is not Indiana Jones and I'll fight any man who insinuates otherwise.
He hangs his laundry up to dry? Really?
Later, Gil follows the reporter's tip and investigates a cavern system that stretches beneath City Hall. Working his way through the rubbish-strewn and cockroach-infested entrance, he eventually finds a flat, open area where there are ordered rows of "lumps" on the ground. They are each about the size of a dog and their membranes pulse with gooey bright green liquid. Hey...is this an X-Files episode? His flashlight dies while down there (of course it does...), but since this is another one of those caves that's internally lit by hidden spotlights, he's ok. He follows a side tunnel to a manhole a few hundred yards behind City Hall. Curious about the wind blowing out of the tunnel, he lights it with a match and it explodes in an eyebrow-singing fireball (that none of the passerbys seem to notice). Methane, maybe? Clearly, those lumps are producing this gas, right?
Gil goes to City Hall to talk to the City Engineer about what he just found under this very building. The Engineer is evasive and misleading, essentially shooing Gil out of his office without answering any questions. At the door, they make a point of chatting about an old 18th century map on the wall. While at the time this seemed very significant, needing a lingering close-up even, I waited in vain for the entire movie for this to come up again. Note to filmmakers: if you are going to set something up, follow through with it.
Hey, who knew the Fraser ran through the Frisco Bay area?
Ok, to muddle things even more, we are now introduced to a number of ancillary characters, all "good guys" to form Gil's future posse. All these people get cards from various "suspicious" city officials, directing them to go to City Hall and see the Ombudsman in "Room 86". The first of these is a wise old guy who, when he's not at a halfway house shelter downtown, is wandering around the city parks listening to birds and talking to his dead wife's ghost. When he notes some weird radio interference that seems to be scaring the birds off, he goes to City Hall to complain, thus earning an invite to Room 86 (insert ominous organ music here).
Next to be invited is a youngish pair of Bosnian immigrants (brother and sister). The girl's husband was a janitor at City Hall and has gone missing. When she keeps harassing City Hall about him, she gets an invite to Room 86 to "discuss matters" with the Ombudsman. Her brother comes along because he's worried that something fishy is going on (and we need more characters with heavy Slavic accents, can never have enough of those).
And lastly we have some douchebag salesman whose main goal in life seems to be opening up a Segway dealership. He's sent to see Ombudsman after ticking off some unemployment office manager in some comedic way (oh yes, he's here for the jokes). This is shaping up to be one of those movies that seems to think we desperately want a huge cast of named secondary characters. I don't. I really just want a couple of main characters that I can get to know and care about, not fifteen forgettable faces that I need to try and keep track of. If I wanted that hassle, I'd just read Chekov.
Who we do care (slightly) about is Marianne the bug killer chick, though mostly because it's crystal clear by now that she's going to be Gil's romantic interest (which defies all logic). Marianne gets her referral to Room 86 from a creepy warehouse manager who sees her taking a little too much pleasure in killing bugs (dumdum!).
Ok, back up. Earlier the reporter told Gil that his sources felt that this Room 86 was highly suspicious. So, being the inquisitive sort, and apparently not having classes to teach or grant applications to fill out, Gil goes down to Room 86 himself to check things out. Down in a spooky, dark waiting room, he runs into Marianne and the other people (Segway-Guy, Old-Guy, and the Bosnian couple), all waiting for their turn to see the Ombudsman. After pissing everyone off by being a dick (as is his nature), Gil realizes that everyone down here was given a card that reads "Give first consideration to this candidate.", which tells him that something creepy is surely going on in Room 86.
Gil takes Marianne's number when it's called and goes down into a darkened corridor at the bottom of some darkly-lit stairs, and then through a swinging metal door like a submarine's hatch (most sane people would have run like hell at this point). Inside, the hatch closes behind him and jets of water shoot out at him from the walls! There's some windows and he can see that he's in some sort of alien laboratory! And there's guys in full-body hazmat suits. And there's blood and bones and nastiness everywhere! Crikey! Gil jumps out with his pistol and starts shooting, though he's quickly disarmed. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that Gil always carries around a pistol tucked in his belt, even when he's just at home lounging around on his boat. Don't ask me why. Also don't ask me how he got a firearm into City Hall in a major US city post-9/11 (even my dinky cowtown in Indiana has metal detectors at the doors).
It's 75% more creepy if you tilt the camera, proven fact.
Anyway, back in the waiting room they hear gunshots and start to get antsy. The in-on-it clerk calls security and they come running, guns blazing. Marianne tazes the clerk (she's pretty handy with her tazer, which she also somehow managed to get into City Hall) and herds the rest of them through the Room 86 door (it's the only way out). Along with Marianne are Old-Guy, Segway-Guy, and the Bosnian couple. They rush into the lab just as Gil is about to be mangled and a wicked fight busts out. They knock out all four of the hazmat guys, even the one who instantaneously grows a spider-arm from his shoulder and swings it around like a scythe! Everyone seems pretty cool with all this, which is odd, because a normal person's reaction to bug-armed killers in an alien lab would be some variation of, "HOLY SHITFUCK!!! WHAT WAS THAT?!?".
Note the bug-arm in the foreground.
They take a few minutes to check out the lab, which is full of dead naked bodies in saran wrap (kinky) and barrels of chopped-up arms and organs (not kinky). There's this big meat grinder in the middle of the room, and judging by the blood splatter patterns, those bodies are going to end up as hamburger.
With the cops blocking the way they came in, the only way out is through the grinder chute. It empties out down in the cave under City Hall, the same one Gil already found, the one with all the lumpy lumps. I'm thinking that you already know that the aliens are grinding up humans to feed the eggs under those lumps, right? I mean, you have seen these kind of movies before, am I right? Please tell me this isn't a surprise to you.
Horrible and all, yes, but that one dead chick is pretty hot.
So they get out through the manhole and hide under a tree and talk it out. Segway-Guy is a smart one and says it's an alien invasion. Bosnian-Girl prays they were aliens because it would blow if humans were doing that. Marianne just "Wants to hear something pleasant". Old-Guy was in Korea and someone stupidly asks him, "Was it as bad as we just saw?" As they have figured out by now that the police force is "in on it", they know they can't call them for help. As finding a car and driving like hell for Nevada doesn't occur to them, they decide instead to schlep back to Old-Guy's homeless shelter and hide out. [Editor Pam: The whole police force is in on it? Not to mention a large segment of the city employees? And not one, NOT ONE, of these people can resist dropping hints about this enormous secret he knows? Or absent-mindedly lets something slip out? Amazing. And just how did this underground complex get built without anybody knowing about it? Didn't any of the workers wonder what was going on and gossip to friends or family members?]
Nice of them to line up like that.
Gil leaves them and goes to see Liz again. Since he still unwisely trusts her (blinded by her hotness, perhaps), he tells her what he saw down in the lab. Liz is amazed, but she seems more concerned about Gil telling her where the other witnesses are. As this last scene of Part One fades out, we see a spiffy reflection in the window of Liz's face, and it's a bug!!! Of course, if you haven't figured out by now that Liz is an alien-in-disguise, then you either haven't seen a lot of crappy b-movies or you've been drinking gasoline straight from the pump again.
Crap, couldn't get a decent screen cap of that reflection, sorry.
For that matter, I might as well tell you that Liz used to be an astronaut before coming to San Vancouver. In fact, she was on the same shuttle that we saw in the opening scene, which explains at least some of what we've seen, yes? As well, most of the people in charge at City Hall (including the Police Commissioner) are also former astronauts and members of that ill-fated mission. And no, don't ask me how no one thought it strange that a bunch of astronauts went from being, well, astronauts to being Police Commissioners and Ombudsmen and City Planners and Utility Company Managers and such. And just in the last three years, so they say, which makes it all the more stupid. But that's what we got.
Hannah's boob-tops are the closest you get to porn in this movie.
Anyway, we're an hour and a half into the movie and I can now safely say that Gil Bellows seems to be only one who realizes that this movie is utterly crap, maybe he's the only one who got to read the entire script and realized what a turd it was going to be. Daryl Hannah may have also been in on the joke, so to speak, as she's hamming it up in most scenes, but almost all the other actors really seem to think they're in a good movie. To be fair, it's hard to get a sense of the final finished product when you've only been called in on a three-day contract to film a few scenes and then go back to your day job at the supermarket.
I miss Ally McBeal...
Hey, you know, I just remembered, I gave Kelby $55 to buy the movie he was supposed to get, right? Well, this bag-of-bad couldn't have cost him more than 10 dollars at the most, I mean, you can buy it on the el cheapo shelf at Wal-Mart, for god's sake. So where is the rest of my money? Hold on, I'll be right back.
Ok, I hate Kelby. He left work early again and I just found him down at that stripclub by the airport. Care to guess where my money is now?
Anyway, Part Two opens with Gil waking up in Liz's apartment after sleeping off his stressful day. Gil is worried about "his friends". Really, "friends"? Because you just met those people twelve hours ago, and you antagonized them all, most of them hate you, especially Segway-Guy, and in their moment of need, when their entire world was rocked by knowledge of alien flesh-eaters and they were forced to hide out in a homeless shelter, what did you do for your "friends", Gil? Oh, that's right, you ran away to see Liz and spent the night in her posh midtown condo. Nice.
Gil is now somewhat suspicious about Liz, however, and he leaves without her. Note that Liz's reflection is normal now, proving that the closing scene of Part One, where her reflection was alien, was just a filmmaker's tool to get us to actually tune in for Part Two the next day (you always have to punch-up a cliffhanger to keep your Neilson numbers even, or you'll never get a loan for your next movie).
After Gil leaves, Liz goes to City Hall to talk to the Police Commissioner and the rest of the former astronauts. They are all aliens, of course, infected by alien bugs on the return space shuttle flight (again, I can't imagine that you haven't figured that out by now). Liz is, in fact, their "Queen", and they are her "Consorts", to borrow terms from the Earthly bug kingdom. And they've been "converting" other humans to be their "Drones" since they got here. The Commissioner has legitimate worries about Gil's relationship with Liz, he's worried she's "gone native", "succumbing to the human side" of these "things we wear". Liz doesn't put up with that, and she stresses that they need to meet their "food quotas" for "Project Earth" (oh, dear...). Liz also makes it clear that she's not mating with any of them anytime soon, which is good to know.
Back at the homeless shelter, the tension is getting thick. Segway-Guy has most of the best lines (not surprising as he's the comedy-relief guy) and quips, "yeah, that's what we need to survive, an archeologist..." He also asks Bosnian-Guy if they eat "jellied goats" in Bosnia, which was 110% funny. They take a risk and call the FBI (555-9000, who knew?) but the call transfers to City Hall, telling them that the San Vancouver switchboard is controlled by the aliens!
They remember Philips, the Mission Commander that was put in the mental hospital three years ago (remember?). To find Philips, they make this big deal about how they are going to "Google him", which I'm sure in 2005 was big stuff, but not so much anymore. So they go to an internet cafe (again, pretty rare in 2005) and look Philips up. Here they see a crew picture of the astronauts on that shuttle flight and realize that they all work for the city now (frickin' civil servants...).
Ah, the internet circa 2005...
Gil still believes that Liz is innocent (despite all evidence to the contrary) and insists that he needs to sneak into City Hall and talk to her. So Marianne gets him set up with some coveralls and he goes to that manhole again.
A random passerby, seeing Gil's exterminator outfit, says him, "Killing some bugs?", to which he responds, "Someone's got to do it." That's the only time I smiled the entire movie, which is really sad. Gil sneaks in through the caves down below City Hall and crawls up the grinder chute into the lab and from there into City Hall proper. He's carrying around a big Maglite flashlight and his overalls must stink of ground-up human flesh, but no one seems to pay him any attention as he wanders around the crowded corridors of City Hall.
Infiltrating the building.
Meanwhile, in some other room in City Hall, Liz is talking to all the other former-astronauts/now-city politicians. In the first "big reveal" scene, we see Diana eating a guinea pig fro...shit, I mean, we see Liz drinking some sickly yellow liquid with creepy tentacled-mouth bug-parts! I told you she was an alien! It seems (she explains to no one in particular) that they cultivate this liquid from humans (or something like that) and that it's super-yummy. Liz is having a staff meeting with her subordinates, tossing her weight around and reclaiming her place at the top of the food chain, so to speak. She brags that all their petty squabbles will be moot soon as in a few hours the "eggs will hatch" and they'll take over the entire planet.
See, he's looking through the crack in the door.
But she still needs to show the other aliens who's the big bad Queen, so she kills one of them with a slashing arm claw. Somehow, these aliens are able to poke their alien bug parts out of their "human skins" and then go back to looking like normal (never explained how, but I'm sure it violates several fundamental laws of physics). She then rages on about how she's the boss and they better listen to her or they'll all be sorry, yada yada. I think she's just feeling self-conscious because she knows they were right, she has let her "human side" emotions get the better of her lately.
All that is overheard by Gil who was peeking through the door (you'd think that if you were going to have an alien commander's-only staff meeting, you'd at least lock the door). While trying to get out of the building, Gil then runs into Liz, who plays nice (she's not aware he knows she's a bug). Gil breaks free and runs like hell as Liz calls the security guards to hunt him down. Gil smacks a cop in the face with his flashlight and takes his uniform, which allows him to squeeze past the rapidly-closing net and escape in the nick of time. In the van driving away, he deadpans, "It's beyond belief, beyond imagination". Luckily, Marianne is a supersmartyhead bug scientist (imagine the odds!) and she can confirm that if these alien bugs are anything like Earth bugs (though she has no reason to think they are), then they can repopulate at such a fantastical rate that the planet is indeed doomed.
This beat-up GMC panel van gets a lot of screen time.
Totally out of their league, they realize they need to get to Philips, the astronaut commander held in the mental hospital (why exactly they need Philips is a bit unclear, as they have no idea if the man is even still alive, and if he even is, what his role in all this is, he might very well be the Supreme Alien General, for all they know). At the Colonial Hospital, they get past all the security by stunning them with Marianne's stash of work-related smoke bombs, because that works on bees, so it must work for exo-aliens, yeah! As the smoke rolls in, everyone working at the hospital (who must all be bugs) go into a trance! Marianne speaks for us all when she tells a befuddled Gil, "Let's just go with it, ok?" Too true, sister, too true.
The sign says "Colonial Hospital"? Odd, almost sounds Canadian...
They find Philips in a cell and bust him out and take him back to the shelter. Philips is half-lucid/half-batshit insane, thanks to all the experiments the aliens did on his brain while he was locked up.
He does have a lot of info, of course, and between bouts of lazy-eye and drooling, he explains that the bugs are from some nebula somewhere and are here using humans as mulch or fertilizer to feed eggs, which once hatched will take over the planet. The bugs put a larvae in a human host's mouth, a process they call "jacketing", which produces a mind-controlled Drone that is keyed into the Queen's orders (such as the policemen). Obviously, they picked up the alien bugs on the Moon and on the ride home they took over the rest of the crew.
Why didn't they do it to Philips? He doesn't know, but it's clear they are "scared of him". "They treat me like I'm Kryptonite", he says with nutjob crazyeyes. Campbell Scott (as Philips) seems not to have been given a copy of the script before shooting this scene and it appears like he's just ad-libbing his dialogue, playing off what the other actors say in response and just pulling stuff out of the air. It really is a fun performance. Anyway, the others show up and the plan is set. But you need some iron to fight against the alien bugs, right? Luckily, the Three Stooges (Segway-Guy, Bosnian-Guy and Old-Guy) went out and brownbagged a bunch of machetes at a convenience store (fucking three-day waiting periods on firearms purchases...). Old-Guy also has an old WWII-vintage hand grenade that he brought back from Korea (saved him from a Chinese sniper!). And that's all, which is pathetic, but they do have Gil's artfully stressed leather jacket and Marianne's insanely tight butt cheeks, so maybe they have a chance after all. They just have to kill the Queen, as then all the Drones will "lose their collective consciousness".
Campbell Scott is my second most favorite person named Campbell, behind Campbell Brown, of course.
Just then the cops surround the place. Thinking fast, they get some random toothless homeless bum to speed off in their van to draw away the police while they sneak out the back (deliberately sending the guy to his grisly death, not for nothing). They get on a city bus and then discuss where to go next. Their new plan is to ride out to the end of the line and then find some little country town to hide out in as the world crumbles around them (that's what I'd do, plus orgies!). As they motor along we have some rather unneeded personal moments with our characters (just in the sense that we're 95% of the way through the movie, so what's the purpose at this point?). Old-Guy talks about his lost wife, Bosnian-Girl talks about her lost husband and the horrors of Sarajevo, and Segway-Guy talks about how he's surely lost that contract to wholesale Segways throughout the greater San Vancouver metro area. Even Gil opens up a smidge about why he's such a raging dickhead to everyone (he just needs love...aww). Marianne is clearly smitten with Gil now, as all women love the cold, distant, emotionally-stunted types.
Chatting with the chick.
Suddenly the bus pulls over and the cops come roaring up! The bus driver is a bug! The cops come aboard, spider-arms shoot out, machetes swing, and there's a lot of shouting and yelling.
Bosnian-Girl's missing husband shows up dressed as a cop (he's a bug now) and Bosnian-Guy dies killing him to protect his sister. The rest of them manage to fend off the bug-cops (who idiotically choose to leave their guns in their holsters and just use their bug-arms). Gil's Tonton Macoute-like prowess with a machete is especially amazing, as I don't recall any Action Hero Edged Weapons classes in my own archy major.
They know they have to go back to the cave and kill the Queen to end this once and for all. After Segway-Guy chickens out (he's later munched by the bugs), the rest of them gather up their kit and head for the caves under City Hall. In the cave, the Scooby Gang finds that all the Drones have shed their human skins and are congregated around a huge pile of about-to-hatch eggs. Here we get our first real look at these alien bugs, who look like seven-foot tall Praying Mantises. They seem to have blown the entire special effects budget on 65 seconds of badly-rendered poorly-matted alien bugs crawling around on the ground, which is just as well, really, as this late in the game we just want the damn movie to end, bugs or no bugs.
Philips, who has by now figured out that his blood is poison to the bugs, takes the lead. He uses Old-Guy's hand grenade, clutched against his chest, to force a Mexican stand-off with Queen Liz and her minions. The rest of the cast runs off for safety as Philips monologues about life and love and the Lakers before blowing himself up. The shower of blood and body parts melts the bugs and eggs (huh?), saving the planet. And, no, we are never treated to an explanation why Philip's blood is so toxic to the bugs.
Our heroes run for the manhole, followed down the tunnel by a massive fireball (Christ, again? Must this happen in every damn b-movie? Yawn!). They escape in the nick of time, and as we now have barely a minute or so left before the credits, they just chit chat for a few seconds and then wander off to get some food. Ok, that's fine, whatever.
"Wow, we just blew up a colony of alien bugs! So...you think IHoP is still open?"