First up was E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning classic, starring Henry Thomas as a lonely boy named ‘Elliot’, who befriends a waddling, yelping extraterrestrial who’s been stranded on Earth, and is being tracked by sinister, faceless government agents. A few months ago I was playing a movie trivia game with some friends, and when I admitted that I’d never seen E.T. before, they reacted with shock and disgust… so I felt compelled to right that wrong, and watch it all the way through, even though it wasn’t the easiest ride at times. Obviously it’s an incredibly well-made movie, and there’s much to admire as far as the cinematography and plotting goes… plus a couple of good gags and some funny swears… but the pacing was a little too slow for my tastes, and without any nostalgic childhood connection to the material I found it a little draggy in places. That said, I have to respect any movie that casts a bunch of role-playing geeks as the cool, adult-outsmartin’ heroes! It was rather disconcerting watching a teeny Drew Barrymore playing Elliott’s younger sister ‘Gertie’ though, because she kept displaying faint traces of the acting style and screen persona we’re familiar with now, in her grown-up incarnation. Seems like she was pretty darn talented, even at that early age!
Next up was Aliens in the Attic (2009), which received a far less enthusiastic critical response, even though it’s probably the one I would (hypothetically) choose to watch a second time. Apparently Spielberg originally planned for E.T. to tell a darker tale about malevolent aliens terrorising a family in their house, before he softened the concept and channelled all that excess malevolence into Poltergeist instead. AitA rather cheekily tries to play both angles, by having four aliens “invade” a family’s rented holiday home, before revealing that one of them is a cute, conscientious objector who simply wants to befriend the hu-mans, and help them defeat his more megalomaniacal colleagues. So you get all the bonding and cuddling of E.T., combined with a lot of fancy SFX-heavy fight sequences… including a pretty hilarious scene where a douchey college kid (Robert Hoffman) and a dowdy grandmother (Doris Roberts) are shot with mind-control darts, and pitted against each other in a Street Fighter-esque showdown.
I admit the story’s pretty stupid, but there were a lot of fun performances to enjoy: Ashley Tisdale plays the eldest daughter of the family, a bratty teenager who sneaks out in the evenings to meet up with her older boyfriend… and during a scene where she’s slapping an alien around with a tennis racket, it occurred to me that Tisdale would probably make a pretty decent Buffy, assuming anyone was ever stupid/brave enough to try rebooting that series. She doesn’t get to do any real ass-kicking here, but she seems to handle herself pretty well, and I think she’d make for an appealing action heroine, given half a chance. The younger sister, seven-year-old ‘Hannah’, gets a lot of the best lines… and Ashley Boettcher, the actress who plays her, is absolutely adorable… so let’s hope her career is as long-lived as Barrymore’s turned out to be. Meanwhile, their mother is played by Gillian Vigman, who is totally wasted here in the underwritten wifey role. Boo!
Theoretically, Maggie VandenBerghe, Megan Parker, and Malese Jow are in the movie too, but they only appear in an epilogue that plays after “The End” of the real story, and they don’t really get to do much more than react to Hoffman’s wacky mind-controlled dance moves… although I did get a laugh out of Jow’s appalled expression, so kudos to her for that.
Oh, and the slash-happy female alien, ‘Razor’, was voiced by Kari Wahlgren, who has leant her vocal talents to more cartoon characters than you’ve had hot dinners!