The story of how Stanley Kubrick selected his subject for the “horror movie” he wanted to make goes like this. He’d send his secretary out to book stores after work every night. And the next day she’d sit in the outside office, listening to the “thump thump thump” against his door as he’d start a book, get a page or three in, and hurl the paperback against that door.
When the thumping stopped, she poked her head in and saw him reading and making notes from Stephen King’s “The Shining.”
Actress and singer Eartha Kitt told of how she and Orson Welles would settle on a film to watch when they were dating in Paris in the ’50s. They’d buy a ticket, duck in, and bail to run off to another theater — all over town, keeping a taxi waiting — until they found something worth sitting all the way through.
Those anecdotes come to mind while trying to labor through “First Signal,” a no-budget sci-fi outing now up on assorted streaming PPV platforms. The thumping on the door never stops here, and Eartha and Orson have already taxied off into the Paris night.
It’s damned near unwatchable.
“Signal” is a top-down view of how the news that “We’re being watched” is handled, a bunch of actors playing the president, top military and civilian advisors and others, haggling over potential “ridiculous Freedom of Information Act” requests and not letting the public know that aliens have satellites and maybe observers on the planet’s surface.
Contrary to the photo above, the vast majority of the 102 minutes of run time is in a drab, generic and underpopulated “conference room” at a G7 meeting that the president (Wendy Hartman) has been yanked from to be given this momentous news.
As the film opens with a Carl Sagan quote, it’s worth pointing out how “First Signal” goes completely wrong at the moment of conception. The best films that capture that first hint that we’re “not alone” make such a scene tense and spine-tingling. Think of “Contact” or even the Charlie Sheen “alien threat” thriller “The Arrival.”
Quick show of hands — who wants to see a movie where allegedly Top Security Clearance characters have to explain away why they’re not using Power Point for this presentation? Who wants to see a meeting with a civilian advisor (Conor Timmis) dressed like a Bond villain who shops at T.J. Maxx?
And no, before you go there, “First Signal” is not so bad it’s “fun.” It just isn’t.
“Primer” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” and the Spanish “Time Crimes” are proof that you don’t need big money to make sci fi that plays.
A plot with all the potential for drama left out, deathly dull dialogue, flat performances, ugly locations, the works.
If only Eartha and Orson were here to drag me off to another movie in another cinema, another movie.
MPA Rating: unrated
Cast: Paul Noonan, Conor Timmis, Wendy Hartman
Credits: Scripted and directed by Mark Lund. A Zone 5 release on Amazon Prime, Google Play etc.
Running time: 1:42