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by Bill Gibron

17 Nov 2009


Who would have thought it? Marla Singer is the sanest, most honest person in the entire piece. Even through all her hypochondria and emotional rollercoasterism, she puts the cracked combination of Tyler Durden and “Cornelius/Rupert/Everyman” in its place. Revisiting David Fincher’s fascinating post-modern masterwork Fight Club on Blu-ray for its 10th anniversary reveals a wealth of these kinds of previously undiscovered gems. What about Chloe, the dying woman so desperate for a last act roll in the hay that she advertises her various pleasure devices during her support group? There’s Raymond K. Hessel, the freaked out liquor store clerk who becomes Tyler’s first (of supposedly many) “human sacrifices” and, Lou, the faux Mafioso who gets a ‘mouthful’ of Fight Club’s foul purpose. And of course, there’s Robert Paulson, the big softy with “bitch tits” who ends up representing the most powerful of Project Mayhem’s many ubiquitous symbols.

Far beyond Edward Norton and Brad Pitt, who play the rebel yell yin yang of a split personality with revolutionary leanings better than any single actor ever could, and a director so in tune with the material that it seems to be flowing directly out of his own Id, it’s great to see this adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s perturbing novel get the afterthought critical respect it so richly deserved (and yet missed) the first time. Yes, Messageboard Nation loves to rewrite the history books on all their favorite films, and to read their various rants on the subject, you’d swear this was 1999’s most heavily praised and commercially successful film. In truth, the controversial nature of Fight Club‘s material - which many saw as a celebration of mindless violence and individual brutality - saw it as one of the decade’s most divisive efforts. Only in hindsight did it become the black-eyed Mona Lisa.

Indeed, a few short years later, it is now viewed as a milestone, a benchmark in the careers of everyone involved. For Fincher, the story of a young man discovering the beauty - and the inherent danger - in embracing your inner maleness become a commentary on an entire sub-generation of dejected men. Thanks to Palahnuik’s brilliant deconstruction of the bottomed-out baby boom, complete with IKEA “nesting” instincts and designer mustard mandates spoke volumes back when Clinton was canvassing the White House, and now, two regime changes later, it seems even more prescient. Fight Club has always been about taking back your life from the corporate schism, about beating the system up before it beats you down. Now, in a world where bad decisions, not bombs, caused many of the most prestigious lending houses to crash and burn, Tyler Durden’s chemically-induced chaos doesn’t seem so outlandish. In fact, it seems downright reasonable.

The main story remains as strong as ever - a young liabilities analyst (Norton) for a major auto manufacturer has trouble sleeping. Seeking solace from local self-help groups, he realizes that getting lost in other people’s problems helps him cope better with his own. Then another treatment “tourist” named Marla Singer (Helena Bonham Carter) shows up, and throws our hero off his game. He tries to negotiate with her, but she’s more desperate than he is. During a lengthy business trip, our lead meets up with designer soap maker Tyler Durden (Pitt). They strike up an awkward friendship that finds the duo eventually living together in a run down house on the edge of town. From there, they begin something called ‘Fight Club’ - a weekly meeting where men can get together and blow off their frustrations and fears in a flurry of fists to the faces and solar plexus. 

Before long, Tyler decides to take the recreational release to new levels. He recruits an army of sorts, and soon, the newly named “Project Mayhem” is tackling corporate greed, franchised phoniness, and the continued dehumanization of the entire race via less than legal means. When our unnamed player complains, Tyler grows more distant. After a particular tense exchange, they part company. But Project Mayhem is now going international. It is up to our guide to discover Tyler’s motives, his true identity, and how an aggressive type of non-erotic male bonding turned into a terrorist organization.

Fight Club is still today a definitive film, a statement as strong as any rock anthem and twice as packed with power chords. It reels from flights of vivid imagination and keens with art so impressive that few can fathom its brilliance at one sitting. To hear Fincher tell it (his commentary is one of several spellbinding additions to the Blu-ray release, along with a fabulous 1080p transfer and audio update), the movie was a compact experience - scripted, storyboarded, cast, and presented without any major studio input or interference. Even when they balked at some of Palahnuik’s more maverick ideas, Fincher fought for the essence, if not the actual scene or line of dialogue. Sometimes, the reinvention made things much, much darker (Marla’s classic “grade school/abortion” lines). At other instances, the film version of Fight Club fleshed out the author’s ideas, giving realism and authenticity to what could be viewed as the fictional version of The Anarchist’s Cookbook.

But as the wealth of bonus features argue, Fight Club endures because its about the shared experience - between cast and crew, characters and audience, philosophy and individual ethos. It’s about emasculation and the inability to overcome same. Fincher surprises us when he explains how uncomfortable the MPAA got with any questions of sex (especially Tyler’s “rubber glove” bit with Marla) but then passed on most of the violence. Instead, Britain made him trim material from the infamous Angel Face (Jared Leto) beat down, arguing it was too horrific (we see both versions, and other deleted scenes here as well). As the actors share anecdotes and discuss motivation, we begin to understand how forward-thinking this movie really was. While Fight Club argued for a dethroned patriarchy to rise up and reestablish their place on the social food chain, it also illustrated the indirect rise in geek empowerment. Of course, the men in the movie pounded each other into submission using physical force and stamina. The nerds beat them to prominence with a motherboard and a highway full of information.

Indeed, in today’s gloomy, Palin obsessed media-cracy, a planet where information overload takes the place of rationality or true thought, Fight Club is more of a distant voice that a shouting street preacher. It still resonates in ways Palahnuik and Fincher can only imagine and truly helped redefine a demo in peril. But now, even in a fully fleshed out home video primer, it remains a lesson to be studied and learned, a series of lunatic lectures you either buy into, or berate as being out of touch and troubling. At its core, it can seem like sinew and sweat, testosterone and ‘roid rage rebellion. But inside of each one of these little boys lost is someone who has seen the systematic re-sensitizing of the father figure turn the powerful into the pathetic. As Tyler Durden says during one of the movie’s most memorable scenes, “If our father is our basis for God, and our fathers abandoned us, then what does that tell you about God?” In Fincher’s effective masterpiece, the answer is on every single frame. It’s up to you to find it.

by Bill Gibron

14 Nov 2009


Sometimes, the process is more interesting than the final product. Even the most mediocre effort—be it song, film, or novel—has a motive and a meaning to those who created it, and there are clearly instances where that impetus is more intriguing (and entertaining) than what’s actually placed before the consumer. Take British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest, Brüno. Based on the flamboyant Austrian fashionista character from his Ali G series, this clear gay stereotype is meant by its maker as a way of exposing homophobia, media mediocrity, and the insular world of haute couture and tawdry tabloid culture. That none of this actually comes across in the film is part of its failing. But to hear Cohen and his partner in queer mime, director Larry Charles tell it, the purpose was willing, but the execution clearly was weak.

You see, every scene in Brüno (new to Blu-ray from Unviersal) is meant as a commentary, an illustration of one of Cohen and Charles many scurrilous attacks on the vain and shallow world of celebrity—both real and phony. Like their previous smash, Borat, it is also meant as a means of exposing a secret world of racists, bigots, prudes, and perverts. But somewhere between the idea and the instigation, a connect was clearly missed. What ends up on the screen - slapdash, hurried, rambling - doesn’t mesh with what the duo discuss as part of their otherwise spellbinding picture-in-a-picture behind the scenes narrative as part of the Blu-ray bonus features. Sitting together in a small studio setting, the duo dish on death threats, legal admonishments, personal dismay, and the alarming idea that sexual preferences may be the last “legitimized” form of discrimination left in the world.

For those unfamiliar with the movie itself, Brüno follows the adventures of a deluded talk show host from Europe who loses his high profile gig when a trip to fashion week in Milan ends in disaster. Determined to be a certified A-lister, he travels to Hollywood to “become famous”. At first, he tries a different version of his gab fest. Unfortunately, American focus groups don’t cotton to its abject cruelty and full frontal male nudity. Next, he decides to do some charity work. Sadly, the PR people he contacts are more clueless than he.

Hoping to inspire peace in the Middle East, he travels to Jordan and tries to bring both sides together for talks. When that doesn’t work, he insults a local terrorist. Finally, after adopting an African baby, he gets a small amount of Jerry Springer-like success. Naturally, it doesn’t last. There’s also an on-again/off-again love affair with his doting assistant Lutz, an attempt to “turn straight” thanks to some Christian charlatans, and a last act ultimate fighting competition that ends up exposing Brüno’s true feelings about himself and life.

Unlike Borat, which tied a continuing story about reaching Baywatch’s Pamela Anderson as part of its narrative, Brüno is more a series of skits that never quite gel into something satirically sound. Even as Cohen and Charles argue over the various success rates of their individual vignettes, we instantly recognize the off-the-cuff, almost unscripted nature of the film. There are several times throughout the commentary when the pair stop the actual movie to elaborate on a particular problem (a failed reveal, an unwilling participant), and in those sequences, we hear about last minute meetings with writers and collaborators. Clearly, after the triumph of his previous effort, Cohen wasn’t capable of the same level of anarchic ambush as before. Everyone was out to ruin his good time. The more material they had to make up in order to compensate, the less like its far funnier predecessor this movie becomes.

Besides, there’s now nothing novel about swinging some toned body double’s dick at a bunch of dumbfounded US rubes. Part of Cohen’s problem remains his decision to go after the easiest targets imaginable. As he discusses the fear he felt spending an uncomfortable night with a bunch of gun-totting rednecks, he still takes the joke to its logical ends by paying a naked late night visit to one of his clearly intolerant camping buddies…and we’re supposed to laugh when the frazzled son of the soil goes ballistic. Getting a hillbilly to hate on homosexuals is a heckuva lot easier than finding unmarried cousins at a South Carolina tractor pull. If Cohen were really the “genius” everyone claims he is, he’d have found a way to turn the situation into something smart and insightful, to manipulate the hate into something truly hilarious. Instead, it’s predictable and painfully obvious.

Even the alternate/deleted/extended scenes argue for the cut and past path to a Summer 2009 release. We get weird little non-moments like the much publicized and ‘infamous’ LaToya Jackson segment. Tossed before the premiere because of a certain Pop King’s passing, the bit is so bland that it barely registers as anything other than filler. Other edited material maintains the same “who cares” response. Even Cohen himself will point out included elements that he feels really don’t work. For him, the run and gun nature of the production, rife with threats of arrest and deportation proved almost insurmountable. Had he and director Charles managed to make something great out of the continual chaos, we’d more than support the inconsistency. But all Brüno has is its hit or miss nature, and for the most part, the targets are too easy and often sideswiped instead of struck head on.

And yet the Blu-ray release is still a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at Sacha Baron Cohen and his methodology. We see how he processes information, how he uses the whole spectrum of world and domestic culture to premise his often abusive burlesque. We sense how fearless he is and how calculated his brand of confrontational comedy can be. And he clearly has a talent for voices and attitudes. Yet none of its turns Brüno into a better movie. Indeed, whatever flaws the film had before—and there are many—remain securely in place, accented only by the occasional insightful supplements from those who aimed high and failed. There will always be those who appreciate what Sacha Baron Cohen stands for. Few in today’s creature comfort conformist society want to take on social and interpersonal stigmas and skewer their illogical philosophies. For his chutzpah, and admission to same, we applaud the man. For the so-so comedy that comes from it, the jokester jury is still out.

by Bill Gibron

11 Nov 2009


By the fourth film in their then fledgling catalog, Pixar was at a crossroads. They had seen Toy Story make money hand over fist, becoming a recognized commercial and critical hit. They were honored with an Oscar, and almost immediately, every studio that could foot the bill began trading in their pen and ink efforts for the new frontier of CG animation. It took three years before their next project - A Bug’s Life - hit theaters, and the response wasn’t as resounding. While still successful, it wasn’t seen as some great leap forward for the company. Things got even worse when it was rumored that Disney, then distributor of the production house’s product, was seriously considering releasing Toy Story 2 as a direct to video title (never a good sign). Even when it eventually arrived in theaters to even greater public and pundit appreciation, it looked like Pixar had a lot to prove with its next release - Monsters, Inc.

Naturally, they rose to the challenge. Utilizing advances in technology that allowed for more detailed and accurate character mapping (including the latest tweak - lifelike fur!) and the potent imagination of directors Pete Docter, Lee Unkrich, and David Silverman, the company took a massive leap of originality toward the sense of cartoon classicism they eagerly carry today. Looking over the new Blu-ray release of the title, including dozens of in-depth making-of featurettes and commentaries - we begin to see the reasons behind Pixar’s consistency. As filmmakers known for their vision and attention to onscreen spectacle, there is a real reliance on the trademarks of bravura cinema - character, story, performance, and the well combined coalescing of said facets. Like other titles in their canon, the final version of Monsters, Inc. is as much about what’s included in the story as what was purposefully left out.

Would it surprise you that Billy Crystal’s Mike Wazowski was not part of the original plan? Or that Boo might have been nothing more than a throwaway cameo. These were just a few of the humble (and frankly half-baked) beginnings to what would eventually become one of Pixar’s most powerful films about the loss of innocence and the specialness of childhood. The narrative revolves around furry beast James P. Sullivan (John Goodman) who is the Number One “scarer” at the title company - a place that collects child’s screams as a means of energy for the otherworldy realm of Monstropolis. Assisted by best buddy Mike, he is adored by big boss Mr. Waternoose (James Coburn), and hated by arch rival Randall (Steve Buscemi). They achieve their daily quota of fear by transporting through children’s closets, collecting their shrieks in ready to use fuel cells.

One night, while helping out his friend, Sully stumbles across Randall illegally accessing one of these doorways. When he investigates, he accidentally brings back a female human toddler whom he nicknames ‘Boo’. Children are considered poisonous in Monstropolis, and just having contact with one is a crime. So Sully seeks Mike’s help, and together they resolve to return Boo to her home. What they don’t realize, of course, is that Randall wasn’t working alone and the secret project he is part of may mean the end of Monsters, Inc. forever. In between, we learn about the everyday existence of our pre-adolescent nightmare fodder, as well as how laughter could be a better substitute than any continuous conspiracy of fear.

With its buddy comedy comfort levels and undeniable talented cast, Monsters, Inc. wouldn’t have to be a wild-eyed wonder to work. We’d laugh out loud as Crystal and Goodman exchange barbs, snicker as little Boo causes nothing but chaos for supposed experts at scary, and marvel at how the old growing pain of being afraid of the shadows in your closet is transformed into this terrific entertainment. Had they just stopped there, had Docter and the gang done the same thing for the fanged and the clawed as Pixar in general did for various playroom amusements, we’d have a clever almost-classic. Kids would marvel at the whole humans vs. monsters dynamic and never once question the heart and the heroism of all the major players involved - Mike, Sully, and cute little Boo.

But there is more to the movie than this - much, much more! From a warehouse holding every doorway between the real world and the monster world to a rousing rollercoaster ride on same, the level of creativity and invention inherent in Monsters, Inc. makes other examples of computer animated genre pale in comparison. It’s not just rampant eye candy and ADD-inspired flash. No, Pixar is one of the few film houses that meticulously re-imagine their ideas, working them over and over and over until they are as polished and near perfect as possible. So the epic elements utilized, the sequences that illustrate scope and innovation all work together in logistical lockstep seamlessness. Each piece falls into place with the others, creating a patchwork of artistic triumph that is hard to beat. Even in their later efforts when divergent ideas - lovesick robot, a post-apocalyptic Earth - seem at practical loggerheads with each other, Pixar finds a way to make them work - and Monsters, Inc. was the first time we saw it so blatantly.

Thankfully, the blu-ray bonus features shed new light on the process. We hear about story meetings and grueling “brainstorming” exercises. We see rejected ideas and almost completed casualties. We hear from the members of the team, each one feeling empowered to guide the project in the direction they feel would be best, and we see their results revisited and reexamined, arguments for and against said aesthetic connections being reinforced and redefined. And all the while, the movie continues to speak the loudest. Monsters, Inc. is the kind of motion picture magician that still amazed you several years later, even when you’ve learned all its best tricks by heart. Here, the prestidigitation is as powerful and pleasing as it ever was (especially in 1080p High Definition).

Of course, the next great step in the company’s creative progression would come with the follow-up film, Finding Nemo. There, Pixar managed the near impossible - the film became everything to everyone: young, old, cynical, and naïve. Yet within the often unforgettable elements of Monsters, Inc. was the foundation for such future mass acceptance. Today, CG settles, using cheap gimmicks and stale clichés to make up for a clear lack of creative mantle. Such a substance it definitely not lacking in Pixar’s fourth film. More than anything else, Monsters, Inc. was the confirmation of what the previous three efforts promised - that this company would be front and center of the computer animation boom for years to come. Thankfully, that motion picture prophecy did indeed come true. 

by Bill Gibron

9 Nov 2009


Will the real motion picture version of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen please stand up? In the span of eight short months we’ve had the official theatrical release of Zach Snyder’s genius take on the title, as well as an extended Director’s Cut DVD and Blu-ray which provided more character context and clarity to what was already a masterpiece, and now a well-timed four disc release which offers what Warner Brothers is calling the “Ultimate Cut”. In truth, it’s yet another editorial go round for the film, this time adding in the animated Tales of the Black Freighter back into the narrative, just like Moore and Gibbons intended (sadly, Under the Hood is left as a bonus feature). It’s all so confusing. No matter, though, since what was already a great movie is yet again made even better by the inclusion of even more context.

Of course, no one will argue with you if you don’t find Snyder’s reverential take on the classic graphic novel anything less than spectacular. We will forgive your pro-Squid rantings and seemingly senseless ridicule of the film’s many artistic triumphs. Indeed, in a few short years, when critical opinion has been snatched away from the grinning maw of Geek Nation, Watchmen the movie will be viewed in a similar light as Watchmen the literary icon - as one of the most powerful, forward thinking, and visually stunning stories of the last 50 years. In the ten years since the artform moved into the 21st century, few movies can match Snyder’s magnificent adaptation, using everything that was great about the narrative and fashioning it into a devastating deconstruction of personal identity and the horrors of human nature.

The story should be familiar by now, but if not… When famed fallen idol (and former US undercover agent) The Comedian is killed, his former colleague in crimefighting Rorschach decides to investigate. His inquiries lead to a horrific conclusion - someone may be murdering masked vigilantes in an attempt to keep them from interfering in world events. Outside of true superhero Dr. Manhattan - a scientist transformed into a literal god when a radiation experiment goes awry - the former crusaders are the only individuals influential enough to prevent an oncoming World War III. When Rorschach is framed and sent to prison, it is up to his only friend Dan Drieberg, aka Nite Owl II, to rescue him. Along with new lady love Silk Spectre II, he will try to spring his friend. In the meantime, the Doomsday Clock ticks ever closer to Armageddon, and all paths appear to lead through former champion Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt and his massive multinational conglomerate.

At its core, Watchmen has always been about individuals questioning their value within a world that has long since turned their back on them. Some respond by hiding (Drieberg). Others choose outright revolt (Rorschach). A few play both ends toward the middle (The Comedian, Silk Spectre II) while others remain unsettled in their role as superman (Dr. Manhattan) just as others secretly strive for the infinite power they possess (Adrian Veidt). Together, they become a contradiction in terms, heroes who no longer act heroically, champions who’ve long since been defeated by a society unsure of how it wants to be depicted - scared and subservient, or strong and self-reliant. Heck, even former supervillain Moloch is seen denying his past. It all comes to a head when something no one can control, nuclear war, comes calling. It is in this very moment of international crisis when the internal chaos becomes even more uncomfortable - and uncontrollable.

Perhaps this is why fans felt the need for the Tales of the Black Freighter subplot. Aside from all the literary allusions inherent in the novel (including the mystery surrounding the creator of the comic), the main thematic thread deals with a shipwrecked captain, racked with guilt over what happened to his men and horrified by the notion that the mysterious ghost ship may be headed to his hometown to complete its demonic aims. Unable to resolve his concept of the actions (or lack thereof) he took vs. how he truly views himself, he is determined to save the day. Fashioning a raft out of the bloating corpses of his massacred crew, he makes his way back to dry dock, only to believe he is too late. A few murders later, and our hero believes he has vindicated himself. Of course, the truth is far more shocking and unsettling.

As this new cut provides yet another excuse to revisit the film, one thing becomes clear on multiple viewings - Watchmen is a solid work of cinematic art. Forgive Snyder all his slo-mo flash and motion picture panache: this is a movie that works on all the levels it’s supposed to and on several it only hoped to achieve. We marvel at the acting - especially Patrick Wilson as Drieberg, Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach, and Billy Crudup doing his damnedest to emote from within Dr. Manhattan’s motion-capture CG mannerisms. In between there are effective turns by sensational supplemental players, as well as enough violence and archetypical action to satiate the confirmed comic book genre fan. But Watchmen has always been about more than just heroes fighting fate. Indeed, there is a significant message about what constitutes “saving the world” within all the interpersonal sturm and drang, a point that says more about how little we’ve progressed in the 23 years since it was first published.

If there is any justice, this will be the creative benchmark by which all future speculative sagas strive to mimic. Snyder’s style may seem obvious, but it really is built out of layers of aesthetic and technical brilliance. Just look at the opening credits. In a single song (Bob Dylan’s prophetic “The Times They-Are-a-Changin’”), our director defines the Moore and Gibbons’ entire parallel universe - a world where masked vigilantes rule the streets, where famous historical events are perverted to fit the reality of such caped crusaders, and recognizable reality seeps in to make everything appear too grim, too dirty, and too bloody. It’s the same thing that happens when The Comedian is buried, or when Dr. Manhattan recalls the accident that determined his fate. Snyder takes snippets of story, interweaves them with what we’ve already seen, and strikes a surprising balance between outright fantasy and full blown truth. The result is troubling, revelatory, and incredibly entertaining.

Of course, purists will be wondering if this latest addition to the Watchmen DVD options is worth your time. Well, that all depends. Do you already own the Tales from the Black Freighter/Under the Hood disc? How about the Complete Motion Comic? Want a digital copy of the original theatrical release (the previous Director’s Cut is not offered, oddly enough), video journals, and other exciting added content all in one convenient cardboard case? How about a few exciting extras including everything from previous collections as well as two new commentaries - one from Snyder and one from Gibbons? While not as totally tricked out as some would like (the missing middle version, sans the Black Freighter material, would have been a nice seamless branching touch), the director considers this his final word on the whole Watchmen phenomenon.

And what a magnificent statement it is. Few can argue with the near impossibility of bringing Moore and Gibbon’s excessively dense, creatively complex fiction to the big screen. It’s a fascinating example of individual free association, each reader interpreting it through their own perception of self and how they would react in the face of such frightening socio-political prospects. Some seem Rorschach as a psychotic neo-Con who’s like a less tolerant Travis Bickle. Others rightfully peg him as the last bastion of morality in a wholly immoral world. And some could care less. That’s why Watchmen remains an elusive, ever evolving experience. No matter how many times the film is fiddled with, there will always be more buried inside. Luckily, many of the most hidden elements await the viewer to discover, not the editor. That’s why Watchmen stands head and shoulders anything else in its genre type. That’s why it is a classic - no matter what version you view. 

by Bill Gibron

8 Nov 2009


In the ‘80s it was called the high concept film. The basic premise was that studios, desperate for guaranteed, easily marketed moneymakers, would come up with outlandish, can’t-miss ideas, fuse them together with high profile talent, and pray that audiences would respond favorably to the predetermined package. Sometimes they did, but more times than not, the results were neither abstractly or cinematically significant. When indie films came in and swept the system clean during the ‘90s, it looked like the days of the high concept were all but over. Indeed, superstar power and go-to genres now rule the day - except in the case of Fox’s stilted Summer flop, Aliens in the Attack. Like the worst of the hair band decade, this movie is a single specious idea dragged out for 86 agonizing minutes.

When the Pearson Family head off to their vacation home for a little requisite R&R, several elements conspire to try and spoil their quality time together. Moody teenager Carter can’t get along with his seemingly perfect sister Bethany, or his doting, demanding parents. Even worse, his sibling’s smarmy boyfriend invites himself to the remote Michigan shindig, and then makes up excuses why he must stay…overnight. Uncle Nathan then shows up with his goofball clan, including geeked out twins Art and Lee, as well as irritating adolescent Jake, and grizzled grandma Nana Rose. The icing on the uncomfortable cake, however, is a squadron of miniature extraterrestrials, beings from the planet Zirkonia bent on enslaving Earth. Naturally, it is up to the young Pearsons to save the day (in this kind of movie, adults need not apply).

So indicative of decades past that it should come with a speech from Gordon Gecko and a mandatory bottle of New Coke, Aliens in the Attic suffers from several of the current artistic afflictions that make today’s family films seem like nothing more than glorified digital babysitters. Parents needn’t worry that their children will be adversely affected by the drivel on display here since it’s clear that any thinking person wouldn’t subject their offspring to such an IQ squandering effort. Clichés abound, as do questions of pure logic and reason. In order to keep the focus on the underage set, the film even makes up some unlikely sci-fi strictures, the better to keep anyone with the power to actually affect the outcome of things completely removed from the action. This is post-millennial slapstick at its worst - all pain, no attempt at wit or cleverness.

We’ve come to expect crap from director John Schultz. With a resume that reads like a criminals rap sheet, he’s the hack responsible for one of the worst excuses for cinema of all time - the African Americanized update of the Jackie Gleason classic The Honeymooners (oh…the pain…the pain…). True, the script is just as shoddy - Mark Burton (a UK TV talent) and Adam F. Goldberg (nothing of note) concocting a crude reassembly of Gremlins, batteries not included*, and Small Soldiers. In fact, if we didn’t know better, we’d swear that Joe Dante had gotten drunk, fallen repeatedly on his head, wandered onto a soundstage, and dreamed up this cornball cavalcade during one of his less than lucid moments. This is the kind of effort that makes direct to video cheapies like Ghoulies, Hobgoblins, and Munchies look like works of Ingmar Bergman…well, maybe NOT Hobgoblins.

It might have helped had the humans not been so outrageously ignorant. They stare at a rotary phone in dumbfounded disbelief, and even with their wealth of videogame oriented technological know-how, they barely find ways to thwart their three foot tall adversaries. The ETs themselves look like rotted reanimated bread dough, voices given over to tired archetypes and personalities. It is some of the lousiest CG this side of an independent Shrek knockoff. About the only interesting element comes late in the game, when Nana Rose is turned into a kung-fu fighting drone, obviously aided by lots of special optical effects. With an ending that’s neither inventive nor exciting and a bevy of simpleton laughs aimed at anyone too young to know better, Aliens in the Attic is an unbelievably bad film. It’s not incompetent, just inane.

All of which makes the tricked out Blu-ray disc currently available from Fox seem all the more surreal. Does a movie this limited in entertainment value really mandate an alternate ending, deleted scenes, gag reel, a behind the scenes Making-of, a series of star featurettes for Ashley Tinsdale (High School Musical) and Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond), and a new animated short focusing on the Zirkonians themselves? Heck, there’s even a music video, a Fox Channel Presents episode, and a digital copy of the film on a separate disc. One can easily name Best Picture Oscar winners that don’t get this kind of fancy home video packaging. While the company has every right to treat the title the way it wants (for the record, the sound and image are excellent in the 1080p HD qualities), it seems pointless to pile on this much content for a film few will care about.

Indeed, the main failing of Aliens in the Attic is within its intended demographic. When kids, easily wooed by even the lamest attempts at amusement, can’t cotton to what you’re offering, the results should be exiled, not available for purchase. Adults should probably care more, but in a social dynamic which sees DVDs as a means of keeping Junior and the gang occupied for a few seemingly stress-free minutes, anything is better than a blank big screen. Two decades ago, when Tinseltown excelled at ideas like this, Aliens in the Attic would be a fondly remembered bit of geek nation nostalgia. While clearly trying for the same sense of Reagan-era action and adventure, John Schultz again shows he has no business being behind a camera. This is one outer space spectacle that’s light years away from finding anything remotely engaging or interesting. 

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