Something is Out There (1988) poster

Something is Out There (1988)


USA/Australia. 1988.


Director – Richard Colla, Teleplay – Frank Lupo, Photography – Geoff Burton & Laszlo George, Music – Sylvester Levay, Visual Effects – Apogee, Inc. (Supervisor – John Dykstra), Special Effects Supervisor – Tom Bellissimo, Creature Effects – Rick Baker, Production Design – Anthony Cowley. Production Company – Invader Productions, Inc./Televentures/Hoyts Productions.


Joe Cortese (Detective Joe Breslin), Maryam d’Abo (Ta’ra), Geoge Dzundza (Detective Frank DiLeo), Gregory Sierra (Captain Victor Maldonado), Kim Delaney (Mandy Estabrook), Robert Webber (Commissioner Martin Estabrook), Joseph Cali (Roger), John Putch (Wendle), John O’Hurley (Remar), Ray Reinhardt (Professor Dietrich)


Joe Breslin, a detective on the LAPD who is dating the commissioner’s daughter, is on stakeout disguised as a wino, when a victim is killed nearby in a way the coroner describes as impossible. He is later called to the crime scene of an identical murder. At both scenes, he sees the same mystery woman. He pursues her the second time, only for her to get away in an impossible leap. She later turns up at Joe’s apartment looking for a device she dropped. She says she is an alien named Ta’ra and has the ability to read minds. To prove what she is saying, she takes him to where her ship has landed in the desert. She tells how she was a medtech aboard a prison ship when a mind-devouring alien xenomorph made an escape, killing all aboard before she managed to get away in an escape pod. The creature has come to Earth and she has followed to hunt it down. With Joe reluctantly taking Ta’ra, whom he passes off as his cousin, along with him, they set out to track the xenomorph as it passes through the city, moving from body to body. However, the wake of destruction created in the pursuit has Joe listed as wanted and dangerous by his own side.

Something is Out There was a tv mini-series that originally aired in two two-hour slots. It proved to be surprise ratings hit when it aired and led to a follow-up tv series Something is Out There (1988), which aired six months after the mini-series premiered. The tv series saw Joe Cortese’s detective and Maryam d’Abo’s alien companion investigating various alien/paranormal mysteries on a weekly basis, although this failed to generate the audience interest that the mini-series did and was taken off air after only six of the eight episodes produced had aired.

For all its popularity back in the day, Something is Out There is not a particularly original story. It is a variant on the humans hunt alien nasty scenario that had been endlessly imitated by a number of B-budget movies throughout the decade since Alien (1979). Indeed, it feels exactly like someone had spun the previous year’s The Hidden (1987) out into a mini-series. The Hidden was one of the better Alien-copied films, featuring a partnership between a regular detective (Michael Nouri) and an alien law enforcement official (Kyle MacLachlan) come to Earth to hunt another alien that hops between human bodies.

Something is Out There also came out less than a year after the hit of the Mel Gibson film Lethal Weapon (1987), which featured a constant sparring comedic relationship between a cop and his partner and you suspect much of the human cop-alien partner relationship here has been conceived in a similar vein.

Ta'ra (Maryam d'Abo) and Detective Joe Breslin (Joe Cortese) in Something is Out There (1988)
Ta’ra (Maryam d’Abo) and Detective Joe Breslin (Joe Cortese)

What succeeds in making Something is Out There work amicably is the rapport between the two central characters – without this, it would simply be a regular alien monster movie. Joe Cortese plays with a rugged, rough-edged charisma that is highly appealing. He ends up giving the show a sense of humour in his delivery that makes it work past the rather ordinary story. The surprise is that, while Cortese has remained consistently working, he has never gone onto anything else of note when he clearly had the leading man appeal that propels him well ahead of many of his contemporaries.

English actress Maryam d’Abo had come to attention as the Bond girl in the previous year’s The Living Daylights (1987). She brings her class and elegance to bear on the role here, her studious seriousness making for some appealing fish out of water comedy – especially amusing are the scenes with her getting drunk on coffee. Similarly, she, despite the eminent capacity to do so, never went on to do much subsequently other than appear in a handful of tv movies.

Rick Baker, who was regarded as the No 1 makeup effects artist of the day, has been brought on board to deliver the creature effects. These offer some entertaining scenes of ordinary people suddenly sprouting standard Giger-type claws and tentacles from all over their body (although the nitpicker in me kept wondering how a creature that is about the size of a truck manages to compact itself to fit inside an average human body).

Director Richard [A.] Colla worked almost exclusively in television where his other works of genre interest included the Gene Roddenberry tv pilot The Questor Tapes (1974) about the awakening of an artificially intelligent android, the tv movie The UFO Incident (1975) about a supposed true-life alien abduction, and the theatrically-released pilot for Battlestar Galactica (1978).

Trailer here

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