At one time, I dabbled in writing a bit of my own stuff. Back in high school, but Original Comedy routines were the stuff of local legends on the high school speech circuit, and I even penned a few scripts for live theater and/or radio adaptations. While I’ve not been fortunate enough to make a career out of such efforts, it’s still something that every now and then I’m apt to pull out the pen and paper (sorry, kids, but I’m very old-fashioned when it comes to jotting ideas down in ink) and give it a go. Who knows? Maybe at some point in the ensuing years I’ll put something together than I can shuck even in this space. I suspect, if I do, it'll have an undercurrent of humor behind some of it.
Still, one of the hardest lessons I had to learn when being tutored in the craft was when to sacrifice a joke, punchline, or setting that the audience or the instructor felt was ‘beneath’ the rest of the work. Early on when I was experimenting with finding my creative voice, I’d use just about anything I felt was funny – be it traditional humor, puns, and the like – and what I can to understand was that certain parts of routines tended to slow down the pacing of the material, robbing it of some intrinsic value. Knowing what to cut – and knowing how to incorporate the proper comedic tone – is a skill that many in that business have to master in order to achieve success.
This is where I struggled just a bit with the obviously comedic Australiens. Because I love a good alien invasion and because I love to laugh, I hung with it until the bitter end. While I’m glad I did, I’d still have to point out that, thematically, the feature is all over the place with jokes intended for young and old audiences. This unevenness might get celebrated with crowds here and there, and yet I can’t help but point out that if you wanted this thing played for kid audiences then you’d best be prepared for a few upset parents.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com page citation:
“Extra-terrestrials launch a nation-wide assault on Australia, much to the bafflement of the rest of the world.”
So very much of this occasionally schticky and occasionally slapstick Earthbound adventure feels like it was meant to entertain the very youngest among us. The obvious farcical elements would likely appeal strongest to children in the age group of, say, ten to sixteen-year-olds. Artmann and Bauer might’ve even sought a bit younger; while on the face of it there’s nothing wrong with that but Australiens embraced a bit of violence here and there that might frighten the stuffing out of those young skulls. At my advanced age, I understand that having a person running across the screen fully engulfed in flames and screaming was intended for laughs; the fact that no one in the cast noticed this – much less thought to lend a helping hand to a soul clearly in need – might distress some kids. (Just sayin’.)
Furthermore, I’m at a loss to fully grasp the when’s and where’s that this talented ensemble is when it comes to their years on Earth. The film opens with what looks to be three very young(ish) ones in bed joking around with one another. While I’m not great with guessing ages, I suspected them to be in that eight to ten-year-old bracket. Well, once this prologue finishes (we’re basically introduced to a few central characters and the premise of aliens watching our big blue marble for their own purposes), the audience is told in script that the story now forwards to “17 years later.” Doing the math in my head, I put these folks now in the category of a ‘young adult age,’ say 25-30 … but once this section of the film begins it’s very clear that they’re all behaving as though they’re twelve-to-fourteen years old.
See what I mean?
Tonally, Australiens never quite makes sense. I realize that, functionally, this may not be that big an issue with some of you, but I can say in my years of both writing and talking about film this kind of disconnect matters to parents. The kind of person who is going to sit a child down in front of the screen these days likes to know a bit more about a particular property, and I can’t help but wonder if they might be offended by having so many young adults acting like they’re pre-pubescent teenagers. Granted, this may not affect a good portion of the humor; but there’s still an uneasiness here that I couldn’t reconcile.
Setting aside those core complaints, I’d have to agree with most who watched this and found it about as entertaining a space farce as it can be. It’s quirky and uneven in spots, and the effects work – while seemingly low budget in plenty of places – actually helps underscore that none of this should be taken seriously on any thematic level. The ensemble works well, and their camaraderie actually elevates the piece even through its campier moments (hello, why did none of you notice that your alien-replaced friend is now fully g-r-e-e-n in skin tone?).
So if you’re entertained by this, then so be it. It worked for me about as often as it didn’t, and I still had no problem saying that if you embrace ‘the silly’ then this might be one of the better alien invasion silliness to come along in quite some time.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my duties of championing All Things SciFi and Fantasy if I failed to mention that Australiens was the recipient of some praise on the film festival circuit. The flick played to some modest acclaim at such venues as FilmQuest, Galactic Film Quest, the Sydney Indie Film Festival, Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival, and the Best Actors Film Festival. Congratulations are extended to all whose extra effort showed and was recognized with either nominations or trophies.
Australiens (2014) was produced by ArtSpear Entertainment. According to a Google.com search, the film is presently available for streaming on such platforms as The Roku Channel, Tubi TV, and Darkmatter TV (for free with ads). The film also shows available for DVD purchase via Midnight Releasing on Amazon.com. As for the technical specifications? While I’m no trained video expert, I can say that I found the sights-and-sounds to be fairly well constructed: while the general quality is high, it’s very obvious that – even as of 2014 special effects standards – there are a good many sequences to be a bit underwhelming. Granted, it’s all in the keeping of a comedy at times, but be warned. Effects are Saturday morning TV quality. Lastly, if you’re looking for special features? Alas, I viewed this one via streaming, so there were no special features under consideration.
Despite some shortcomings textually (what I find funny may not be what you find funny, and vice versa), Australiens still manages to achieve a middle-of-the-road sensibility with respect to its humor. Granted, I think more of the jokes are intended for children, but don’t let that put you off finding a good laugh here and there. The repeated joke of (cough cough) inadvertently puking on one of your peers never overstays its welcome, and I suspect that a good time was had by all in the making of this space farce.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Midnight Releasing provided me with complimentary streaming access to Australiens (2014) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review. Their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.