Roswell: The Aliens Attack (1999) poster

Roswell: The Aliens Attack (1999)


Canada/USA. 1999.


Director – Brad Turner, Screenplay – Jim Makichuk, Producer – Michael Scott, Photography – Robert Steadman, Music – Fred Mollin, Visual Effects – Gajdecki Visual Effects (Supervisor – Bruce Turner), Pyrotechnic Effects – International SFX (Rory Cutler & Kevin Stadyk), Production Design – James Steuart. Production Company – Singer-White Productions/Credo/Paramount.


Steven Flynn (John Dearman), Kate Greenhouse (Katie Harras), Heather Hanson (Eve Flowers), Brent Stait (Captain Phillips), Sean McCann (Colonel Woodburn), Donnelly Rhodes (Tyler), Ben Baxter (Sam Harras), David Brown (Travelling Salesman)


Roswell, New Mexico, 1947. Residents of the town see a strange explosion in the sky. Not long after, widow Katie Harras comes across a man injured on the highway and takes him home. However, the man is not human. He quickly makes up the name John Dearman and asks Katie to take him to the local Air Force Base where she works. There he produces paperwork claiming to be from the Atomic Energy Agency and asks to be shown to the atomic bomb that is being held in secrecy on the base. Using alien technology, John is able to vastly increase the bomb’s payload. At the same time, a UFO crash site has been discovered, along with several alien bodies. The ruthless Captain Phillips commandeers the investigation and becomes certain that John is of alien origin. An alien woman Eve also appears and assumes the appearance of a slinky vamp. She connects up with John, both of them having come to undertake an assigned mission to detonate the bomb and destroy the Earth. However, due to the time he has spent with Katie, John has begun to doubt his purpose.

Roswell: The Aliens Attack is a tv movie that came out amid the fascination with matters UFO and dark government conspiracies that grew out from the hit sensation of tv’s The X Files (1993-2002, 2016-8). The X Files single-handedly brought into popular idiom a fascination with what has now come to be known as the Roswell Incident. According to accepted mythology, in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947, farmer Mac Brazel found some debris on his ranch. News reports spread that this was debris from a flying saucer, although an Air Force conference held a few days later stated that it was only a crashed weather balloon. There is not much more to the incident than that but the story has spread through UFO mythology and become embellished with claims of multiple crash sites, dead alien bodies and recovered flying saucers being taken away to Area 51 by the military and the appearance of Men in Black to silence and intimidate witnesses. Witnesses claim to have confirmed some of this, although many of these have contradicted their statements, been proven untruthful or at best unfounded in their accounts.

The sad truth is that there is no independent corroborating evidence that shows anything happened at Roswell that cannot be explained by the official story. After The X Files, the Roswell Incident entered into the popular culture pantheon where it has become the equivalent of a popular culture myth that persists despite the lack of any convincing evidence that anything happened. The town of Roswell, which has a population of around 40,000, has made the crash into a major tourist industry, creating museums, selling memorabilia and holding an annual UFO festival.

The X Files had a great many imitators, including other UFO related series such as the tv series’ Dark Skies (1996-7) and Tracker (2001-2), the mini-series Taken (2002) and films like Independence Day (1996) and Men in Black (1997), where the Roswell Incident has become a cornerstone event that runs through all of these. There have been a host of works that take the name Roswell – the tv movie Incident at Roswell (1994) was based on the accounts of Major Jesse Marcel who headed the investigation and later supposedly confirmed the existence of a UFO; the popular teen tv series Roswell (1999-2002) about hybrid alien children descended from the crash survivors in the present day; and the cartoon series Roswell Conspiracies: Alien Myths and Legends (1999), as well as a number of documentaries; while everything was wittily spoofed in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Little Green Men (1995) and the Futurama episode Roswell That Ends Well (2001).

Roswell: The Aliens Attack does little but shuffle around the basics that have become well established by The X Files – the villainous government agent of the show even smokes cigarettes in one of the more blatant nods. Even then the scriptwriter appears to have done little research on the supposed ‘facts’ of the incident (at least according to UFO mythology) and mostly makes up his own story. The film soon falls prey to clich’s and, more to the point, woolly-headed feelgood think. There is the good guy alien (Steven Flynn) who gets tempted from his mission to destroy the Earth by ‘feelings’. Although the way that Steven Flynn plays the role, the alien is far too compassionate and ‘nice’ from the outset that such an outcome is never in any doubt – in fact, it becomes almost impossible to believe that such a caring alien would be entrusted with a mission like this. Indeed, when it comes down to it, Roswell: The Aliens Attack is a reworking of Starman (1984) by way of The X Files and the Roswell conspiracy of UFO mythology. There are other clich– characters – the honest salt-of-the-earth farmer; the decent general who has a predictable turn of heart at the crucial moment; the evil conspiratorial military hard-ass.

Perhaps the most irritating character is the bad girl alien played by Heather Hanson. While the good guy alien is struggling with human ways, the moment Heather Hanson turns up she is outfitted in a slinky long dress and develops a sultry Southern accent whereupon she proceeds to vamp her way through the film. We see her preening in front of a mirror “Mmm, very nice, you look gorgeous, honey,” as a guy’s head explodes in the background. In between discussions on destroying the world with Steven Flynn, she tosses off lines like “Do you think I’ve got too much makeup on?” or “Too bad we haven’t got enough time, I’d like to go to a place called Hollywood.” The film’s one good performance comes from Kate Greenhouse who suggests a range of fragile emotions just beneath the surface. She is very good at, in particular, standing up to intimidation in the scenes where she is interrogated and the parting with Steven Flynn at the end.

When it comes down to it, Roswell: The Aliens Attack is a faux science-fiction film. The characters and their conflicts are false – the hero is such a nice good guy that there is no moral conflict between his duty and discovery of feelings; there is an absurdly vampy villainess that we are unable to take seriously; and The End of the World is bandied about as a threat but scales down to no more than a single atomic bomb in an empty room amid numerous countdowns and closeups on the device just before the film fades to commercial break. Roswell: The Aliens Attack is a film with ersatz emotions and contrived dramatic tension. It arrives at a predictable sentimental ending with Kate Greenhouse staring into the sky and her son’s grown-up voice coming over the soundtrack: “And that’s how my mother learned to love again.” The one original idea the film has is the idea that the Grey aliens are genetically engineered cyborg drones that are used to pilot the ship while the real aliens are in cryogenic suspension during the long journey.

The film makes several anachronistic references. The opening credits cite the Roswell Incident within the context of 1950s science-fiction movies and then show a clip from The War of the Worlds (1953), which was also produced by Paramount. Alas, the so-called Roswell Incident took place in 1947, while the great boom in science-fiction movies that the film is referring to did not take place until 1950 and the alien invaders genre itself did not start proper until after The War of the Worlds in 1953. Despite being set in New Mexico, the film was shot in Manitoba, Canada.

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