A tale of two sci-fis: 'Groom Lake' and 'Red Sands'

A tale of two sci-fis: 'Groom Lake' and 'Red Sands' dvd.jpg
By G. Michael Dobbs Managing Editor Two tales of the fantastic are in this week s DVD review column. Groom Lake Most "Star Trek" fans are aware that William Shatner directed one of the "Star Trek" features, but I doubt many know of this low-budget science fiction film that the star produced and directed in 2002. Apparently it saw a limited theatrical run and has only made it to the home video market with its recent DVD release. There is a reason for the delay and I'm sure it's because the film is truly awful. The plot revolves around a young woman who is dying. She and her boyfriend travel to the Southwest for a bittersweet vacation. They wind up in an area well known for UFO activity and decide to camp out on a mesa on a military reservation. Well, there is a UFO, but it is man-made and part of an experimental program under the direction of Gen. Gossner (played by Shatner). It seems Gossner is trying to return an alien back to his home world, but a Pentagon official is trying to shut the project down. The continual experiments have literally made the nearby community UFO crazy and the young lovers run into trouble with some of the more loosely wound residents. The trouble with the film is there are so many scenes that don't advance the narrative. You don't have a clue why characters are acting they way they do and what that means to the overall story. And boy is the film low budget! The computers used in the top-secret military lab are all first generation iMacs. At least they are the same color. The secret to low-budget filmmaking is to have a story that fits your budget, not to try to stretch your budget to meet the demands of your story. Perhaps on paper this made more sense, but on the screen it's a mess. The lone extra is a recent interview with Shatner, who explained the idea of the film was to present a story about different meanings and levels of love that was born out of the accidental drowning death of his wife Nerine in 1999. Shatner seems to acknowledge the film has its shortcomings, although it is clear he is proud of having made it. I would say this movie is for "Star Trek" completists only. Red Sands Here's another a low-budget film that, unlike "Groom Lake," understands the boundaries of its budget and the result is a pretty creepy contemporary horror film. A group of American soldiers are on their way to a reconnaissance mission in Afghanistan. Along the way their convoy is attacked and they search for the insurgents who fired upon them. In the hills they see an ancient figure carved into the mountain, a sight that inspires the unit's interpreter to tell them about the Islamic myth of genies. Unlike what American television taught us, genies are ancient spirits that hate human beings. Most left this world, but those that remained were imprisoned in objects, such as bottles or statues. Naturally we know at this point that one of the dumb soldiers -- the dumbest, it turns out -- fires on the statue and it crumbles. We know what is going to happen -- or do we? That's what I liked about this film. I know this hateful spirit is going to kill these guys, but instead of some sort of standard gore spree, the genie plays head games with them. We see the unit slowly but surely go insane as events happen that make no sense to them and they realize they are alone in a far flung foreign desert. Shane West, once a regular on "ER," does a good job as the unit's most sensible soldier, but the whole cast is fine in portraying men teetering over the edge. The DVD's extras include a fun "making of" featurette shot on the set by the film's writer.