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SXSW Film Review: ‘Alien on Stage’ is a Loving Tribute to a Loving Tribute

When you consider Ridley Scott‘s classic film Alien, a lot of things come to mind. There’s been sequels, books, video games, and lots more. A stage production, however, seems like a weirder adaptation. Then again, anything is possible. However, a community theater-type production by a group of small town bus drivers? Now that’s unique and unlikely. That’s the hook for the documentary Alien on Stage, the documentary playing at SXSW. If ever there was a doc meant for a place like this fest, it’s this one. The film is slight, for sure, but the love on display for the source material, as well as creativity on the whole, is palpable.

Alien on Stage is pretty thin, movie wise, but watching an unusual stage show come together, with a motley crew of performers, has a charm to it. The final act has the best moments, but watching the lead up to it is somewhat flat. Act Three redeems it all, but it can be touch and go until then. That keeps the documentary from reaching any notable heights, but it’s still worthy of a small recommendation.

The doc follows a crew of bus drivers from Dorset, England, who often put on unique stage productions. Usually, it’s just pantomime, but this time, they’re about to tackle Alien. Spending a year crafting a low budget take on the cinematic classic, they’re really upping their game. The initial result is a huge flop, but in that failure, comes the bones of a true success. What if what they’re doing can be framed not as science fiction and horror, but comedy instead? That discovery would lead to an unlikely hit of surprisingly large proportions.

The whole thing comes alive when the show finally goes back on. The flick was serious as a heart attack, but on stage, with this cast, the humor of it all comes out. Moreover, the audience responds. Whereas Scott’s original begat James Cameron‘s extra intense Aliens, this version is almost like watching The Room, in terms of charm. It may sound like an unlikely comparison, but in practice, it really does work.

There is ample charm on display here, which filmmakers Lucy Harvey and Danielle Kummer capture. The individual performers are characters on their own, but the personalities are never strong enough to create a standout. Harvey and Kummer keep things simple, capturing the process. They never quite delve into why Alien was the right choice, or why it’s such a special element, but the stage production does enough to paper over that issue. It keeps things from being above and beyond, but it works on its own terms.

Alien on Stage will amuse anyone who catches it at SXSW, but it undoubtedly would have been better served with more meat on its bones. Still, there’s fun to be had, especially when the production comes together and we see the audience loving it. The love depicted there rubs off on us with ease. In that regard, this documentary achieves what it sets out to do.

SCORE: ★

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Written by Joey Magidson

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