Though presumably made by adults who should have known better, The Brother from Space feels like what would happen if a little depressed kid who saw E.T. the Extraterrestrial wanted to make his own version. Little dude gets lost on our planet, kindly folks give him shelter and befriend him, and surly military guy tries to capture him. The movie of course contains none of the drama or tension you get from reading that E.T. rip-off to-do list.
In fairness to the film, if you pay attention, you’d know you were in for the cinematic equivalent of a sustained deep anal probe by aliens right from the beginning. “Roy Garrett” may be listed as the director but he exists solely in the credits and not in real life, Italian space case Mario Gariazzo (Very Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, Eyes Behind the Stars) for some reason not wanting anyone to know he had anything to do with the film. Except that is to be quoted as an expert on alien invasion incidents in an on screen bit of text that starts the film!
Yep! While Mario gladly foregoes his name on the directing credit, he eagerly quotes himself about how what we are about to see is based on “events that actually took place in the United States and were classified Official” with details changed “in conformity with the regulations issued by security services regarding publication”. As goofy as that disclaimer drivel was, Mario saved the best for last. When he cites himself as the source of the quote, he then gives his credentials as “Former member of the National Investigation Committee on Arial Phenomena, Washington D.C.” Did you get a Captain Midnight secret decoder ring with your membership card, too, Mario?
But the real cattle mutilation the movie inflicts on the audience is everything that follows. Every choice Mario makes seems perversely engineered to make the movie as bad as possible. Almost until the end, the alien keeps his helmet on, robbing the audience of the chance to connect with the little guy and leaving us to stare at what amounts to a silver motorcycle helmet for 80 minutes. (Though when he takes his helmet off and his head looks like E.T. left a giant dookie out in the sun for a couple of days, you can maybe understand that.)
One of the film’s biggest failings is that almost nothing happens in the movie. Sure the military arrives and tries to find the little bugger, but it amounts to nothing but them wandering around the woods and NOT finding him. There’s some space capsules which crashed that they are guarding, but eventually the spaceship returns and just zaps them away anyway. But what about all the suspense about how the little alien is dying and he needs some cylinders in those capsules to stay alive? He doesn’t get them and drops dead. Hey, it’s all based on a true story and real life don’t always have happy endings, right?
Worse, what does happen is glossed over with no explanation such as why the blind gal has a psychic connection to the alien and neither one of them have any psychic abilities as to anyone else. And in one of those random plot twists you would only ever expect to find in a low budget Italian movie, the alien turns out to be blind as well! He has a special visor that allows him to see, which he gives to the blind girl as he dies. (Kudos to her for not doing a spit take when the first thing she sees is the turd-like alien head and Martin Balsam.)
The titular Brother from Space does show a lighter side and the movie threatens to be stupidly entertaining for a few minutes when he uses his space powers to pull pranks on kids playing basketball, a guy ringing church bells and even uses the Force to pour drinks for the priest and psychic without touching anything! Then he stops and mopes the rest of the picture, somehow even managing to compare himself to Jesus Christ and putting a crown of thorns on his head!
Balsam is the only recognizable face in the movie (if you don’t count the knock-off E.T. head) and he hopes to hell you don’t recognize him from his role in another of Mario’s space sputum, Eyes Behind the Stars. (Marty, you were in Psycho! What happened?) He plays the priest and the priest does what you would expect showing a lot of understanding and acceptance to some alien blasphemer and resisting the military thugs searching for the alien.
More stultifying than flying coach to Mars, The Brother from Space‘s languorous approach to first contact and the government’s laughable reaction to it (all it takes to thwart them is a priest and a blind woman? We aren’t going to win a war ever again, are we?) leaves no doubt why Mario was fine using a secret identity in making it. But it leaves you wondering why the city of San Luis Obispo, featured so prominently in the film, didn’t demand the same privilege. Beam me up Scotty, there’s no way intelligent life made this.
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