Director – Harvey Hart, Teleplay – Robert W. Lenski, Photography – Jacques R. Marquette, Music – William Goldstein, Art Direction – George B. Chan & Norman Newberry. Production Company – QM Productions/Woodruff Productions.
Tom Mason (Dr Scott Dryden), Max Gail (Russell Garner), Melinda Fee (Gwendolyn O’Brien), Fawne Harriman (Joyce Cummings), Caroline McWilliams (Sue Garner), Eric Braeden (Leonard Nero), Matthew Laborteaux (Timmy Garner), Ron Masak (Harve Nelson), Gerald McRaney (Patrolman Ashley), Laurence Haddon (Burt Fowler), Hank Brandt (Lieutenant-Colonel John Sebastian), Ed Harris (Chuck Polcheck), Curtis Credel (Frank Foley)
Astronomers at a private observatory detect an alien object come down in the Nevada desert not far from Las Vegas. One of the astronomers Scott Dryden heads there to investigate. The aliens aboard the UFO are intending to conquer Earth. They take over the mind of Russ Garner, an engineer working at Hoover Dam, as part of their plan. Russ’s family start to find his behaviour increasingly strange. After Russ mentally controls an intrusive supervisor and causes him to electrocute himself, Scott investigates. This brings the aliens’ attention towards Scott as they determine to silence him.
It was 1980 and Star Wars (1977) had just been the biggest thing to hit science-fiction ever. Although generally overlooked today, almost as big had been Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). Suddenly everywhere in the aftermath of the great science-fiction boom of 1977, people were attempting to jump aboard the bandwagon and make interstellar adventures and to a lesser extent encounters with UFOs.
The Aliens Are Coming was made by Quinn Martin Productions, the producer/company responsible for a number of classic tv shows including the likes of The Untouchables (1959-63), The Fugitive (1963-7), Cannon (1971-6) and The Streets of San Francisco (1972-7), as well as one cinematic venture with the worthwhile occult film The Mephisto Waltz (1971). While most of Quinn Martin’s productions were crime/detective shows, he had also ventured into genre material with the classic paranoid alien invasion show The Invaders (1967-8), as well as The Aliens Are Coming here. The Aliens Are Coming was the last show Martin would make before his death in 1987 and was one of his few flops that failed to go anywhere beyond a tv pilot.
The Aliens Are Coming feels like Quinn Martin has simply rehashed The Invaders for the Close Encounters era. Presumably, the ensuing series would have followed Tom Mason and the private observatory he works for as they investigated/foiled the aliens’ attempts to sabotage human existence on a weekly basis (just like Roy Thinnes in The Invaders). The opening credits of the film prominently feature the model for an alien mothership (a la Close Encounters minus the lights) as it circles the Earth. The aliens, which look like strange robots with eye lenses encased in glass domes, are reasonably original creations.
The almost certain reason that The Aliens Are Coming was not a success is that it fails to come up with a terribly interesting plot or to invest the invasion with the paranoid tensions of The Invaders or classic works in the genre like Invaders from Mars (1953), It Came from Outer Space (1953) and Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). Tom Mason’s investigation is interspersed with a B plot that follows Max Gail as an alien-possessed engineer working at Hoover Dam who makes plans to sabotage it (in ways that are never made clear), while his family and co-workers start to find him behaving oddly (all cliche scenes that were done so much better in the aforementioned 1950s alien invader films). The film’s schlockiest effect is when Gail starts killing anyone who gets in his way by controlling their minds with his glowing green eyes. Harvey Hart directs with typical tv movie predictability but only produces a dull work.
Due to the sense of setting everything up for a potential series, the alien invasion is not foiled at the end, leaving a sense of irresolution to the story – here Tom Mason and Max Gail simply fight at the plant, Gail falls, Mason saves him and then Gail comes around in hospital unable to remember anything and now free from alien influence.
Harvey Hart was a Canadian director best known for the occult film The Pyx (1973) and the lesser known Dark Intruder (1965). These old tv works are often amusing to watch for the then unknown faces packed away in them. A young Ed Harris plays Tom Mason’s fellow astronomer in the opening scenes, while there is also an unknown Gerald McRaney, later the star of shows like Simon & Simon (1981-9) and Major Dad (1989-93), as a patrolman who reports an encounter with the UFO on the highway.