Couched in cute concept that has aliens landing at an amusement park and concluding that Earth is just one big dumb fun zone, Belgian animator Ben Stassen’s “Alien Adventure” is a sputtering vehicle for showcasing the Imax 3D format. As one of the only indie filmmakers working in the large-screen process, Stassen — who made last year’s “Encounter in the Third Dimension” — specializes in simulating roller-coasterlike rides, and new pic is essentially four rides punctuated by wanly comic alien creature interludes. Point of thrill rides is to thrill, but to auds used to such superior yet smaller-format pieces as James Cameron’s “Terminator 2: 3-D,” pic’s a pretty underwhelming close encounter. Rollout as part of package of similar 3D fare geared more to entertain than educate will do fair biz on Imax circuit.
Project feels retro in several respects, not only in corny high jinks of alien exploratory crew but especially in its underlying purpose. The roller-coaster ride was also the big draw of 1952’s “This Is Cinerama,” another case of providing moviegoers with a simulation of something with tremendous visual size and movement. Though fully generated via computer, new pic hardly marks a step forward and unhappily suggests that large-screen films somehow can’t budge out of ghettos of educational docus and visual gimmickry for something more memorable.
Pre-credit warning about potential disorientation or dizziness comes from flying robot Max, the comic bug-eyed character from “Encounters in the Third Dimension” who makes a return cameo appearance. Mock-serious narration (care of helpfully stentorian John Boyle) informs aud that the alien Glagolith race has been roving the universe in search of a habitable home, and as the mother ship hovers above Earth, two probes are sent down to reconnoiter.
Trio of scouts lands at a soon-to-be opened amusement park called Adventure Planet, much to the puzzlement of the overworked ship’s crew and the fat Supreme Leader, who barks orders in indecipherable Glagolithian language (actually, a synthesized version of the Belgian Walloon dialect).
The clueless scouts assume they’re at some important center of planetary business (with exteriors modeled on Poitiers, France-based Le Parc du Futuroscope), but instead they find themselves being taken for several virtual rides as they poke around a facility that apparently has no security to shoo away pesky space visitors. As with all the roller-coaster ventures, first one, called Arctic Adventure, is seen from alien p.o.v. as his car careens up and down icy crevices, past Inuit villages and wild leaps and jumps only possible in virtual space.
More impressive and scary is the second, Magic Carpet Ride, in which a genie acts as guide through dangers that might easily scare Indiana Jones. By the time of the third ride, the Kid Coaster, sameness and repetition begin to set in, and the final spin, Aquadventure, only begins to explore the possibilities of 3D animation underwater.
Three-dimensionality is expressed here largely for the single effect of uphill and downhill movements at various speeds, rendering pic nearly as rudimentary as a computer game. While certain visual elements, such as speeding chunks of ice on the arctic ride and wild drops and swirls on the magic carpet number, momentarily dazzle, animation work itself is not exactly something to phone home about.