How many times have you re-visited a movie or television show that you loved as a kid, only to discover that it didn't hold up to your older, wiser adult eyes? Sometimes the pull of nostalgia is so strong, we'll go out of our way to ignore the flaws of something that we know totally stinks, just because it made a big impression on us when we were kids. Other times, those flaws are impossible to ignore.
I watched The Never-Ending Story quite a bit growing up in the 1980's, and when the title hit DVD for the first time in 2001, I snapped it up on the day of release. At age nine, the movie was wondrous and magical. What I discovered seventeen years later was a movie that barely made a lick of sense, with wildly inconsistent special effects. What I'd long considered as one of my favorite movies ended up being disappointingly mediocre. In a way, I wish I'd never seen it again. I'd rather have kept my nostalgia for The Never-Ending Story, than be faced with the cold, hard reality that it wasn't really all that good.
But what about re-visiting a movie that you hated as a kid? Would you discover the opposite effect -- that a movie you'd dismissed as a child would turn out to be a masterpiece to your adult self? I decided to put this to the test with a movie that I found unbearably annoying when I was young, Alien from L.A.
If I would've looked around online a bit before I sat down to watch Alien from L.A., I would've discovered that it's widely considered awful. I had no idea the film was the target of a 1993 episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, and it wasn't until I pushed play on the DVD player and saw the credit "Directed by Albert Pyun" that I suspected I might be in serious trouble.
Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Kathy Ireland stars as Wanda Saknussemm, mousy Califormia Girl who's getting dumped by her surfer dude boyfriend for wearing glasses and having bad hair at the start of the film. (This all but guarantees that she will lose the glasses and have a new hair-do by the time we eventually reach the ninety-minute mark.) Seems Wanda's explorer father has gone missing, so the helium-voiced Wanda takes a plane to Africa, where she falls into a hole that leads to Atlantis almost immediately upon arrival.
Pyun's Atlantis is a $1.98 soundstage version of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner with enough neon colored lighting to recall the similar production design used in Joel Schumacher's Batman Forever. The Atlantean government is terrified that foreigners will turn them into trolls (a fear that is never explained in any way whatsoever), so Wanda, as the titular alien from Los Angeles, stays on the run from government baddies (who all wear white face paint for no obvious reason), looking for her father and a way home.
Kathy Ireland is, frankly, terrible. Devoid of personality and yammering incessantly about her "dee-ad" (the way she pronounces "dad", a word she says literally hundreds of times here), Ireland is just as much of an irritant at now as she was when I was when I first saw the movie. There's a point where Kathy Ireland meets Deep Roy (as the crime boss Mambino), and the moment is almost the anti-Heat, the direct polar opposite of the classic meeting between Pacino and DeNiro. It's a gimmick (bikini model) meeting a gimmick (very small guy), directed by a man that can't tell that either of them aren't very good at acting.
I'm proud of my thirteen-year old self for recognizing what a crappy sci-fi comedy Alien from L.A. is. I could be known to relish a lot of junk back then (USA Up All Night was a godsend for my junior high sensibilities), but there was something (IRELAND) about this movie (IRELAND) that I could recognize as truly awful (IRELAND) even at an early age. From the cheesy "Once Upon a Time..." opening text to the hilariously god-awful resolution.
"It wasn't a dream!" says Wanda waking from her first bit of sleep after returning home from Atlantis. "A dream come true," replies her father. We then see formerly frumpy Wanda walking the beach, soaking wet in a red bikini. She gets to give the cold shoulder to her ex bohunk before Atlantean bohunk Thom Matthews (playing a character named Charmin, presumably here to clean up all this crap) rides up on a motorcycle, to whisk her away to new heights of chaste romance. "Crazy," she states blankly as the film freeze-frames on her dead-eyed expresion. A bit of text shows up to proclaim "And She Lived Happily Ever After."
Did she? I notice Pyun couldn't resist a sequel--1987's Journey to the Center of the Earth. Yes, Kathy Ireland reprises her breakout role as Wanda Saknussemm, apparently competing in an actor-as-irritant competition with co-star Emo Phillips. I hope her appearance in the sequel was due to contractual obligations and not because Kathy Ireland hates us all. It's very hard for me to not take her decision personally.