Australia is lucky to have Sparke Films’ award-winning film, Occupation.
Sparke Films’ website describes Occupation as follows:
After their small Australian country town is annihilated by an overwhelming airborne attack, a group of civilians evade capture and discover they are now among the last remaining survivors of an extraterrestrial invasion engulfing the entire planet.
As humanity falls under world-wide occupation, they form a home-grown army to fight back against vastly superior enemy forces. On the frontlines of the battle for Earth, they are our last hope.
Why is Australia lucky to have Occupation?
Because it’s THE Australian Sci-Fi movie – which might be why it won the Best Feature Film Award in the 2018 Australian Screen Industry Network Awards. It hits a lot of the same notes as the Star Wars franchise, but it’s also, in the words of Hollywood Reporter’s Justin Lowe: ‘Good-naturedly gruff, unabashedly resourceful and proudly Australian’.
But why is that so rare?
After all, aren’t there other Australian Sci-Fi movies?
Although there’s a lot of Australian Sci-Fi media, most of them contain many elements of Fantasy as well. The classic modern mermaid series, H20, springs to mind. While the mermaids’ powers (and origins of such) are well known – thereby qualifying the ‘Science’ part of the Sci-Fi genre – they’re not really explained to the viewer in any meaningful fashion, which, for most people, places H20 squarely in the ‘Fantasy’ genre.
As Arthur C. Clarke once stated in his three ‘laws’ regarding his own works: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’
The difference, therefore, between Fantasy and Sci-Fi is that Sci-Fi attempts to explain how things have happened, whereas Fantasy doesn’t. This, however, is not a hard-and-fast rule.
Consider the most famous of all Australian Sci-Fi films, for instance.
Mad Max is often regarded as the film which allowed the Australian Film Industry to finally be considered as equals by other, more well-known film societies and in-groups, such as the Hollywood crowd. It’s also the film most often credited with bringing post-apocalyptic aesthetics to modern film. However, it’s far from the first post-apocalyptic film – that honour belongs to a 1916 Danish movie, fittingly titled ‘The End Of The World’
Mad Max didn’t spend a lot of time explaining, well, anything. When asked why the world in Mad Max is the way it is, all but the most hardcore Mad Max aficionados will reply: ‘I don’t know, something about natural resources?’ and yet Mad Max isn’t considered a Fantasy film, although it clearly qualifies as one.
There’s a good reason for this: As the name suggests, contemporary (at the time) motor vehicles play a large part in not just the aesthetics of the film but also the main plot. If Mad Max had been released before any of the audience had seen – or even heard of – a car, it probably would have been considered a Fantasy film instead.
Simply put: Cars aren’t mysterious.
Most of us see them around us every day, and it’s hard to make them otherworldy without adding other components to a vehicle-based story. Is Stephen King’s story about a haunted car, Christine, Sci-Fi purely due to the usage of technology in the narrative – or is it a Fantasy/Horror story due to how the technology is narratively used?
If explanations are the only difference, and every viewer requires a different level of explanation, then there’s still no real answer. Therefore Sci-Fi/Action films may be considered indistinguishable from ‘pure’ Sci-Fi films, and can reasonably be allowed the same gravitas by all but the most severe critics.
This is the part of the charm of Occupation.
Much like Mad Max, Occupation is unashamedly Sci-Fi and Australian in equal measure. They both deal with things that are commonplace nowadays without bogging the viewer down with overly drawn-out explanations – contrast and compare with, say, Star Trek: The Original Series or the Stargate series.
While there’s a good chance that no humans have actually seen an alien spacecraft, the idea – the concept – of an alien spacecraft isn’t new to mankind. There’s no need to explain the doubtless millennia of history behind the alien technology, because that’s not what the story is about: The story is about the Australian survivors-turned-freedom-fighters and their battle for survival against the alien invaders, The Greys – a tall race of grey-skinned humanoid beings with bulbous slanted black eyes.
The point is this: Whether you consider it Sci-Fi, Sci-Fi/Action, or Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Occupation remains the premier Australian Sci-Fi Film series.
In any case, Occupation: Rainfall will continue its Star-Wars-like narrative focus on the resistance movement, along with their new brothers-in-arms – formerly captive aliens who’ve joined them.
Occupation: Rainfall – Returning Characters
Much of the cast from Occupation will be reprising their roles in Occupation: Rainfall.
Peter Bartlett (played by Temuera Morrison)
Peter is an ex-convict who had been released from jail not long before the alien invasion. While the reason for his conviction isn’t outright stated in Occupation, it’s heavily implied that he murdered at least one person. He also carries a handgun, which civilians aren’t supposed to own in Australia (apart from certain exemptions, which Peter clearly isn’t eligible for).
Although many aliens are presumably killed during the various operations undertaken by the survivors, Peter is shown to be the only one who murders an alien while not on a mission. He also kills another member of the group. It could be argued, however, that every single murder he commits is done in order to protect others. Does this include the murder which let to his incarceration? Perhaps Occupation: Rainfall will answer that question.
Although the group escape the initial alien attack due to Peter allowing them to enter his mobile home, his main concern isn’t for the group itself: It’s for his missing wife and son who were kidnapped by The Greys.
Bella Bartlett (Played by Izzy Stevens)
Bella is Peter’s (somewhat reluctant) daughter. She blames him for not being there for her in her formative years due to his being in prison. However, when the group questions whether or not they’ll be able to survive for long, Bella proudly states that her father is a killer. She continues recording vlogs on her mobile phone long after the internet has disappeared, although she’s not sure why. She forms a casual relationship with Dennis.
Dennis (Played by Zac Garred)
A homeless thief and street artist, Dennis is a good scout for the group. He tells the group about possible places to set up camp and also has a decent knowledge of basic bushcraft (such as stripping the bark from firewood in order to create minimal-smoke fires). He has no shame, but he does have a vague sense of honour – while he was more than happy to steal from others before the invasion, he doesn’t steal from the group of survivors he’s since found himself attached to.
Matt Simmons (Played by Dan Ewing)
Matt is a former captain of the local football team, who worked in construction before the invasion. Although he’s a natural leader, he doesn’t think of himself in this way – which is why he’s often surprised when others turn to him for leadership. While usually friendly and inclusive, he also has a mean streak – he once sat and passively watched while Peter bludgeoned a captive Grey to death. Whether this is due to his trauma regarding to the alien invasion or not is left up to the viewer. His girlfriend, Amelia, was disgusted with his lack of action, and remains concerned about his addiction to painkillers.
Amelia Chambers (Played by Stephany Jacobsen, to be replaced by Jet Tranter in Occupation: Rainfall)
A law student who works in her mother’s restaurant, Amelia is an intelligent young woman who exemplifies the qualities of positive femininity. Tough but fair, she expects (and usually receives) the best from those around her, and gives them her best in return. Although it’s unspoken, she’s clearly the lieutenant of the group – she’s not as likely to suggest a course of action as she is to suggest that the group needs to create one. Her only real struggle appears to be in understanding how to provide support to her younger brother, Marcus, without impacting on his free will.
Marcus Chambers (Played by Trystan Go)
Marcus, while being inexperienced due to being a teenager, is more than happy to do whatever he can to help the group. Forward-thinking, he was the first person to attempt to allocate rations to the group due to their dwindling supply of foodstuff. Although clearly book-smart, he’s also ready to jump into combat at a moment’s notice, or perhaps simply do some basic recon with other members of the group.
Alien Combat Tech in the Occupation Universe
These agile spacecraft are incredibly quick and deadly. Their speed far surpasses the flight capabilities of the Australian Air Force, but their seemingly low turn-rate does make them susceptible to human aircraft – they can even be taken down by helicopters. Although these spacecraft can scan and bomb the ground, their main weapons appear to be dual laser cannons.
The fighter-class ships are presumably launched from the mothership, as seen in the Occupation: Rainfall trailer.
The suits of the alien infantry appear to be be made from an unknown alloy which is impervious to all but the densest of bullet fire. Their helmets have a red stripe running down the middle of the faceplate, and also allow the wearer to detect life signs with a display which is somewhat similar to thermal imaging.
Alien Laser Rifle
The workhorse of the invading force, the Alien laser rifles are by far the most common weapon. They seem to use an inbuilt charge pack, as the survivors manage to get hold of a few laser rifles and were able to use them for months on end without needing to recharge them. However, it is possible to run out of charge – which Matt found out at a very inconvenient time.
The rifles may be configured in multiple ways including short blasts and a minigun-like spray.
Alien Manned Turret
This stationary weapon can best be described as a ‘howitzer beam’. Although it’s not actually shown cutting through buildings or tanks, it presumably has the power to do so.
All that’s known about this weapon is that it’s specifically configured to enact genocide against the human race. The mechanical delivery of the bio-weapon seems to be mainly through air-dispersal, but the aliens are shown to be all too happy to manually poison known water sources as well.
Alien Melee Weapons
Occupation: Rainfall appears to introduce new melee weapons into the mix. Bearing the same red stripe as the helmets, these swords and axes are presumably made from the same unknown alloy as the alien suits.
A Few Quick Questions with Luke Sparke (Writer/Director of the Occupation film series)
How did the production of Occupation: Rainfall differ from the production of the first Occupation film?
It’s huge, massive, hardly any comparison really.
In Occupation, I went into it knowing we would have a very small budget so I wrote appropriately but it still grew bigger than first thought. When Rainfall came around, I dived in to create a huge film, expand on everything and spent a lot of time world building many aspects of characters, species, tech, allies, history and more.
We had to shoot a lot more in sets and studios with green screen extensions to be able to capture the size and scope of the story and up until now most of my films had been on location. So that was a new experience and I had to trust myself on what we ‘would’ be seeing once VFX were done and have to get all the cast and crew to trust my vision as well.
What unforeseen challenges did you face while making Occupation 2?
Trying to change how indie films are made out in Australia and how they are perceived has many challenges. One was self-financing and finding the right team that believed in the product and would back it. It takes time to weed through the huge team that this film would need. We had to break up the shooting into ‘blocks’ just to tackle how we could shoot some of the large scenes, the amount of ensemble cast and so forth.
I basically ended up relying on a small tight-knit team that took on multiple roles just to get it done.
Then there was the post production side and a huge number of VFX shots needed to be done to sell the world I had envisioned. So, again, we had to go out and put together a team of passionate people that could see the end goal in the series and with me.
It’s been a tough road!
What benefits are there to filming in Australia, as opposed to Hollywood?
One is the locations on offer in Australia and creatives that, mostly, want to truly support creating something new and big in the country. Being a film set in Australia also helps. The tax rebates and PVD’s are also a benefit to filming here if you are an Australian film.
Is all of the work on the film done in Australia?
The majority is, yes – because of the reasons above.
But we did bring on board an LA-based composer in Freddie Wiedmann, who has scored some great tracks for the DC animated universe like the Green Lantern and Justice League series. He and I really fit on tone and feeling on the score needed for something like this. He was able to get in orchestrated in one of the great recording halls in London, all during COVID so lots of remote sessions and social distancing, but I’m so proud with what he has created.
Which non-Australian franchise would you say that Occupation most resembles, and why?
It’s bold to say, but I feel this film resembles Star wars the most – the feeling, the tone.
Maybe crossed with Independence Day. I said a wanted to set out making an Australian Star Wars-type film, so hopefully I’ve achieved that!
Did the global COVID-19 pandemic affect the production at all, and if so how?
It both helped and hindered.
Having to set up remotely and not being in the sound mixing rooms in Melbourne has proved difficult slightly. And doing every actors additional dialogue (ADR) the same way. Recording all the orchestra with masks and not being able to get over there was disappointing, but it’s small world problems at the end of the day. How it affects the cinema release is as yet to be seen.
On the other side, we had a lot of post production crew come on board when other films had to shut down earlier in the year, so that has been a blessing and unexpected for us.
What is your favourite scene in the Occupation films, and why?
I’m proud of Occupation and what we were able to do with that, but all my favorite scenes are in Rainfall.
There’s a thrilling sequence that we call the Gantlet Run. I watch that over and over again, I think it’s going to be a crowd-pleaser!
Occupation was Just The Beginning
In retrospect, perhaps it’s not so much that Australia’s lucky to have the Occupation film series so much as it’s lucky to have Luke Sparke, who seems driven to continue to impart Australian Sci-Fi blockbusters on to not just the Australian mainstream – but also the rest of the world.
The first film, Occupation, can be seen on Netflix.
If you haven’t seen the trailer for Occupation 2 yet, you can watch it below:
If you’ll be in Australia on Friday 30th October, you might like to watch the world premiere of Occupation: Rainfall. Tickets (and more information) can be found via this link at MonsterFest.