Within the Rock
A large rogue moon is hurtling towards a collision course with Earth and threatening to destroy life as we know it. To try to prevent this catastrophe, a group of miners, led by Dr. Dana Shaw, are sent to the renegade moon to derail it’s course. The Plan: to drill deep beneath the rock’s surface so they can plant explosives that when discharged will (hopefully) shoot the moon off it’s projected course and away from Earth. It’s a straight-forward enough operation, but naturally they run into trouble. During their excavations they stumble upon a large metal cube that contains the skeletons of several humanoid creatures, and along the wall of the cube is a large fossilized creature buried in some rock, the likes of which none of them have seen before. They take pictures of the skeletons and cube before continuing their work, more concerned with pilfering the cube of valuable assets and continuing their operation than caring about scientific discoveries. But as it turns out, they should have at least paid just a wee bit more attention. Because it turns out that the strange fossilized alien creature wasn’t so fossilized at all. Instead, it was just chillin’ for a few centuries, waiting for something tasty to come along. And lookie here! There appears to be a smorgasbord of scrumptious miners on the menu! What luck!
For the monster, I mean. Not the miners. They’re screwed.
You know, I knock on the Sci-Fi channel a lot for making spectacularly crappy movies. And I know I’m certainly not the only one to do so. But believe it or not, there was a time before 2001 where the station had a hand in distributing (if not outright making) some fairly decent sci-fi outings. A good example of this is Within the Rock, a made-for-TV offering that aired on the Sci-Fi channel in June of ‘96. It’s a film that not only had a decent story, but also a decent cast to work with (including the likes of Xander Berkeley, Brian Krause, and even Earl Boen), and a decent enough budget to help fulfill most of the story’s concepts. Mind you I keep saying decent, not great. Because while the film is a solid outing, it’s still a TV movie, and when you see that moniker, that usually means that the film attached to it comes with its fare-share of familiar downsides. Within the Rock is no different, but it does fare better than most.
Although you do have to put up with a lot of Hot, Drilling Action!
Truth be told though, I didn’t have high hopes for the project when the movie started and I was greeted with a title screen and credit sequence that was little more than a souped-up rip-off of the Windows 95 star screensaver. And by ‘souped-up’, I mean they just added more stars to the screensaver and called it a day. Alas, being made in the 90’s means you have to put up with a lot of 90’s level CGI, and because this was a movie made on the cheap they couldn’t even spring for 96’ level graphics. So unfortunately that means the audience has to sit through a bit of early 90’s cheap PC games levels of graphical jank. Thankfully though, those moments are actually pretty brief. The stars are lame and the “moon” looks absolutely hokey as hell as it awkwardly flies through space, but you only have to put up with those shots for a couple of seconds. And, believe it or not, there are actually a couple of similarly short moments involving spaceships that actually don’t look half bad, all things considered. So I guess they spent all their CGI graphics budget on the ship scenes, and that’s why those other scenes look like poorly done PC game rip-offs. Whatever the reasoning, please just join me in being grateful that they didn’t have any more money for their computer effects budget.
But luckily for the audience (and the graphics department), those wonky moments only take up maybe a couple minutes of combined film time. The rest of the movie is filled with practical effects and while the sets and monster design may not be on the same level as feature films like Aliens, considering their made-for-TV budget most of the effects look pretty damn good. You can tell they put some real effort into making the sets, miniatures, and especially that creature. It’s menacing, it’s brutal, it blends into its environment, and it’s ‘resurrection’ scene is actually very impressive with the way it pulses and expands. I’m sure seeing the alien in full sunlight would completely break the effect, and there are a couple of moments in the interiors where you can see the sets wobble a little and all the cheapness shows through, but considering what the film had to work with, they did a spectacularly good job.
I would have said that the movie had a good story, except the film decided to take all the good will it had built up over the course of the run-time and bungle it at the end. The movie does start off a bit slow, with a flashback of the creature’s capture centuries ago, and then a switch to modern day and a bunch of exposition regarding the world and the impending conflict. Which is all actually perfectly fine. A lot of sci-fi productions aren’t known for their gripping starts. They gotta cover some world-building first, and that’s exactly what Within the Rock does. You learn about the moon, you learn about Earth’s impending doom and all the political and scientific conflicts that go along with it, and then you’re shot off into space where you meet all the miners. And each one of them ticks off all the boxes in the expected horror/space movie character checklists. There’s the coward, the jock, the every-man, the gunslinger, the mechanic, the lone black guy, and of course, the greedy asshole. Because you can’t have a space movie without at least one greedy asshole. I think it’s a rule or something… And then of course the drilling starts. Do you like watching characters spend time drilling through large rocks and talking about drilling schedules? Well, I hope so, because you’re going to be seeing a lot of it. I’ll give the film credit. It does spend a lot of that time expounding on the characters and fleshing them out so that they’re not just one-dimensional cannon-fodder, but while some of it may be interesting, it’s not exactly riveting, and you can’t help but sit there and tap your foot, hoping that the monster will show up soon and get to the slaughtering. Which it does, quickly taking out three of the characters in quick succession, possibly as an apology to the audience for taking so long to arrive, and by that point the film’s pacing quickly picks up and the movie turns into a rather enjoyable Alien clone. But like I said, the ending comes and the movie bungles all the good work it’s done up to that point and has the greedy asshole make a completely baffling and illogical decision. See, up to that point everyone thought he was dead after he stole all their money and tried to flee the moon by himself, stranding everyone else on the murder rock. But when the other survivors have the creature cornered in the tunnels, instead of making a run for the unoccupied escape ship, Greedy Asshole decides to come and beat up on one of the survivors because…. Honestly I’m not sure. I think it’s because the dude essentially told Greedy Asshole that he was a loser and his asshole-ish pride couldn’t handle that, so after spending half the movie successfully avoiding the creature, he decided at the last minute that it was worth the risk of becoming monster kibble in the name of an epically petty beat-down. Some dudes have some seriously confusing priorities. So confusing, in fact, that they end up being completely out of character and end up souring the ending. Which, in itself ended up being super cheesy, but I could have accepted that, if not for the actions of that one colossal dumb-ass. That one scene is literally so stupid that I’m willing to forgive all the other characters minor stupidities because they end up paling in comparison. I mean, compared to that moron, swinging a dingy pickaxe at an armored monster when you have boxes full of explosives on hand really seems like a small, insignificant sin.
Within the Rock is not going to “Wow” anyone and it was never meant to. It’s an entertaining enough film that’s worthy of a single watch for fans of horror and sci-fi, but that’s really about it. Other than the good cast and the monster design, everything else is pretty generic or was done much better elsewhere. It’s not bad, but there’s not really anything memorable about it either. Still, it is a pretty fun (and surprisingly bloody), well-done little flick (assuming you can get past those cringy computer graphics), so if you need a new sci-fi/horror film to get you through the long, lonely nights, you could do a lot worse than this. For a cheap Alien-esque rip-off, it’s really not that bad.
Within the Rock is available on a variety of streaming services.
Within the Rock is also available on DVD.