If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching movies and TV (which is where I get most of my education) it’s that teenage older sisters are the worst! They’re self-centered, aloof, care more about their cell phones and boyfriends than their family members and are kinda mean. Sometimes not even ‘kinda'.
Anyone remember Jean Luisa Kelly (“Tia”) fron Uncle Buck?
My friends who have teenage daughters assure me that in real life they’re much, much worse.
The latest in this series of archetypes is Ashley Tisdale, stepping out from her role as the ‘queen of the Disney Channel’ to star as “Bethany Pearson” in ALIENS IN THE ATTIC.
Stuart Pearson (Kevin Nealon) packs up his wife Hannah (Ashley Boettcher), teenage son Tom (Carter Jenkins), big sister Bethany and younger siblings for a forced family vacation at their lakehouse in Maine. Stuart invites their extended family along and even Bethany's stuck-up boyfriend, Ricky Dillman (Robert Hoffman), even manages to get an invitation. It’s not long after all the Pearson clan settles in that things start to get weird. Four small meteors hit the roof revealing a tough-talking alien commander Skip (J.K.Simmons), weapons specialist Tazer (Thomas Haden Church), female warrior Razor (Kari Wahlgren), and techie geek Sparks (Josh Peck). These Zirkonians use advanced weaponry including a powerful mind-control device to control adults like puppet masters and announce their intentions signal their armada to takeover the Earth. It’s up to the kids to defend the planet against these invaders while keeping the adults are completely oblivious.
Funny thing is Ashley Tisdale isn’t the star of Aliens in the Attic. It was marketed off her current popularity and on the Blu-ray/ DVD she introduces the movie like and serves as emcee through some of the special features, but she doesn’t really get all that much screen time.
If there’s a central protagonist here it’s Carter Jenkins who plays the long-suffering, eldest teenage brother. So much of the under story is about the questioning of Tom’s manhood. He’s got to deal with his younger cousin, Jake, (Austin Butler) who’s come out of puberty more physically intimidating and aggressive and even that moves to second place on the list of Tom’s problems when Bethany’s douchebag boyfriend wastes no time secretly bullying Tom and boldly bragging about his intentions to take Bethany’s virginity. As easy as it would be for Tom to step aside and let his sister get her just desserts we also find out that Ricky Dillman is something bordering on a pedophile, too.
Aliens in the Attic is the kind of movie I think of as 'critic-proof'. Not that it’s a juggernaut franchise like Twilight which is immune to bad criticism. On the contrary, Aliens in the Attic died ingloriously at the box office (it came and went so fast some people are still looking for it to come to their theater) and received a 29% "rotten" rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just there’s no reason for an adult to even sit down with this movie unless they have tween children or are a film critic who can view it through the filter of the demographic it was so obviously made for. It’s a disservice to everyone otherwise.
I speculate that the critics who trounced it did so before they even sat down. Hell, how could you blame them? Especially when as soon as you look at the poster or the trailer the first thing you think of is “Gremlins!”
And while Gremlins is still a great movie after 25 years (and a holiday classic, to boot), all but a handful of the dozens upon dozens of imitations that followed it were CRAP. It’s gotta be one of those tricky formulas that looks easy but is actually far from it. Even when Gremlin’s director Joe Dante tried to do it again in 1998 with Small Soldiers he failed miserable.
I’m inclined to grade Aliens in the Attic on a steep curve because despite its low budget special effects and Disney Channel sensibilities it gets the formula more or less correct. The Zirkonians (the aliens) may look like midget Teenage Mutant Turtles at first glance but quickly come off as a credible threat with their homicidal tendencies and parkour combat skills. There’s nothing cute about them, with the exception of Sparks, the traitor—because there HAD to be one cute one for the youngest daughter to bond with (them’s the rules on these things).
Wallace & Gromit writer Mark Burton, turned in a script that’s better than decent. The veteran adult actors (Nealon, Tim Meadows, Andy Richter…aka: guys who were funny on TV ten years ago) don’t get much in the way of shining moments, but the kids are well fleshed out and the entire cast came in with the talent to make their interactions with CG aliens believable (take notes George Lucas!). All of the performances are solid but what stood out and stole the movie was the incredible talent of Robert Hoffman for physical comedy. Throughout the film his character is taken over and controlled like a drone in a video game. Over and over he’s forced to hit himself, run into solid objects and drop into the kind of sudden pratfalls that screwed up Chevy Chase’s back. Even with the help of some wire work the camera makes it clear that Hoffman (a trained dancer) does 90% of his own stunts and his rubbery moves are reminiscent of a young Jim Carrey.
This all comes together in the most fun scene of the movie where Ricky’s controlled by the aliens and Grandma (Doris Roberts), controlled by the youngest Pearson kids, face off in a Mortal Kombat-style duel.
I’m not fan of the special features on most discs, however these are mercifully short in most cases and more enjoyable than I would’ve expected.
**Introduction to Film with Ashley Tisdale
**The Ashley Encounters
**Alternate Ending- This was actually worth watching because it’s long and the aliens are spliced into the scenes but not fully rendered. It’s the kind of rough cut you’d edit from before wasting all that computer power and time. What makes it interesting is how downright creepy it looks but also it showcases just how well these kids could act against what they had to pretend was there.
**Deleted Scenes **Gag Reel- While I tend to HATE gag reels…well, I hate this one too, but again, it’s super short and you get an inside glimpse at Robert Hoffman’s physical prowess.
**Behind the Zirkonians
This was an odd surprise. A prequel to the movie presented as a Flash animated motion comic book. Wait, did I say “animated”? It’s more like a slideshow.
**Meet the Zirkonians
**Lights, Camera, Aliens!
This is the closest you get to a “Making of” which short and touches on the special effects and what it took to design the Zirkonians **Kung Fu Grandma
A faux ad cobbled together from the big fight scene. Pretty much a waste of time. **Brian Anthony "Electricity" Music Video
**Fox Movie Channel Presents Life After Film School with Barry Josephson.
This is the one feature that’s not short but I liked it almost as much as the movie itself. In what looks like is gonna be a fluff piece interview with three teenagers, the film’s producer gives a detailed account of his long history with Hollwood films. It’s feels almost inappropriate here for how long and serious the talk is, yet it’s so much more informative and fascinating than most episodes of Inside the Actor’s Studio.