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.