The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Film review #341
Director: Norman Tokar
The Cat From Outer Space (1978)
Film review #341
SYNOPSIS: An alien ship lands on Earth in order to make repairs. The pilot, Zunar-J-5/9 Doric-4-7, is a cat from another planet where cats have evolved as the dominant species. before he can make repairs, the U.S. military finds the ship and takes it to a base to inspect it. They gather top scientists to try and understand the strange device they find aboard, but none of them have a clue. However, Dr. Frank Wilson manages to produce a theory that is quite close to how it actually works, even though nobody believes him. When Zunar hears Jake’s theory, he decides to trust him and enlist his help to repair his ship and get him back home.
THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: The Cat from Outer Space is a 1978 Disney sci-fi comedy film. The film starts off with a U.F.O. landing on Earth, and a cat leaving the ship (hence the title of the film I suppose). A local farmer sees the ship land and reports it, leading to the U.S. military taking the ship to a base for analysis. They take a device they find aboard to a meeting of scientists they have convened to try and work out what it is. None of the scientists can offer much of an explanation for its levitating capability, apart from one Dr. Franklin (Frank) Wilson, who believes it resonates with the universe’s harmony or something. Zunar, who is listening in on the meeting, notices that Frank is closer than any of the other scientists, and decides to enlist his help in repairing his ship. As you might imagine, Frank is quite shocked when the cat starts talking to him, but is persuaded to help him when he agrees to share certain mathematical discoveries with him. Frank decides to call him Jake and the two set about getting Jake home. The story is rather simple and threadbare: there’s nothing more to it than Jake getting his ship repaired and going home, albeit with a few minor inconveniences along the way. Being a film aimed at kids, it’s not very threatening or complex, and focusing on the film being a comedy means it doesn’t need too much explaining, and avoids engaging in too much scientific jargon. Although the jokes and humour are often aimed at children, there are some jokes for adults that although are easily missed, which means that there is something in it for the whole family.
In the first part of the story, we learn enough about Jake/Zunar to establish his background: he is from a planet where they did not need to evolve beyond cats thanks to their special collars that allow them to communicate telepathically and move things via telekinesis. Essentially, the collar allows Jake to do everything, meaning there’s not too many problems it can’t solve easily, which makes any threat and peril in the film quite trivial. The film also uses it to show off a more fun side such as making people levitate and such, which will no doubt stimulate children’s imaginations. As the film progresses, more characters start to help out Jake and Frank, and the soldiers that are after them provide a change of pace with their more slapstick antics. The second part of the film revolves around them needing one hundred and twenty thousand dollars for some gold to repair Jake’s ship. They come up with a plan to raise the money by betting on football games, using Jake’s telekinetic powers to influence the games in their favour. If you think about it, it’s a bit unethical to be fixing games in this way, but it’s still probably more child-friendly than robbing a bank or such, so you can let it slide a little. The betting establishment they place their money with is portrayed as a little crooked, so one can conclude that they are not taking money from any reputable business or person, so I guess that makes it okay? Again, there’s a little hiccup in their plan when Jake is knocked out and winning their money gets a little more difficult, but it gets resolved without too much drama in the end.
Throughout the film, a spy follows Jake and Frank around, gathering evidence of the collar’s special powers, at the start of the third act, he presents the evidence to his boss, Mr. Olympius, who wants that collar so he can literally rule the universe (his words, not mine). This last part feels very disconnected from the rest of the film in that this villain isn’t mentioned or referenced at all anywhere in the film until the beginning of this part. His motivations to just conquer the universe also lack credibility, and it’s never really mentioned who he is: I think he’s a crime boss of some sort? Anyway, he kidnaps Dr. Liz Bartlett and her cat and demands Frank hands over the collar in exchange for them. Jake needs to head to his ship and fly it off to be rescued, otherwise he will be stranded on Earth, so Frank goes after them alone, only for Jake to return and help out, effectively eliminating his chance of rescue. The finale consists of a chase between Mr. Olympius’s helicopter, and an old plane piloted by Frank that is kept afloat via Jake’s collar, and it’s quite well done. There’s a mix of actual footage and studio special effects that are blended together fairly well for the time, and it goes on for quite some time, pacing itself with the changing dynamics of the chase. But as mentioned, it does come a bit out of nowhere, and probably would have been cooler if they were chasing the helicopter in Jake’s spaceship. While the effects are nothing spectacular for the time, they serve their purpose well and manage to pull off some decent stunts, which adds a bit of excitement and adrenaline to a film that really needs it. The film ends with Jake taking the pledge of allegiance as he becomes a U.S. citizen seeing how he can’t go home, and everyone ends up happy. Overall, it often feels like The Cat from Outer Space is doing the bare minimum to piece a film together. Like the title itself suggests, it is very much to the point, and doesn’t seek to develop much beyond it. The characters are rather forgettable, the story is without intrigue or excitement for the most part, and visually looks rather dull. It certainly doesn’t hold up, and everything about it feels outdated. The humour is fairly harmless, and while it throws in a few jokes for older audiences to qualify it as a family film with something for everyone, it never really pushes any boundaries or makes itself stand out. All in all, a rather forgettable experience.