When I heard that the guys that had brought us Shaun of the Dead and Spaced had released a film about an alien called Paul I thought – huh? Then again, it kind of made sense: what two guys are more geeky and cult mad than them? Science Fiction, UFOs, but with more laughs than ordinarily possible to the genre? Oh, yes.
You do need to have quite a good knowledge of what’s been before though. As Simon Pegg said in an interview for Film Four: ‘there are a few science fiction film nods’, er just a bit. One did wonder if this would have put off, or lost entirely, the ‘normal’ viewer, who maybe went along just expecting a funny film. But let us start at the beginning.
Two British middle aged friends are finally living their dreams of visiting America, going to Comic-Con and then embarking on the classic American road trip, complete with visits to UFO hot spots. While driving through the desert they encounter an alien, an average guy, smoking, swearing and likeable but with a larger than average head. That’s when the real trouble starts. The film is quite brilliant, with realistic characterisation amongst unbelievable events, at times. The film made me laugh out loud on many occasions. The first act did drag a bit, while getting across the status quo, and showing the two friends’ relationship, however, this does pay off later. It’s really Paul who steals the show though, mainly due to the excellent wizardry of techo-geeks to produce a convincing character, that looks as real as anyone else on the screen, yet is still classically big-headed, small, and has huge oval eyes. He looks just as we have been told an alien should. This is mentioned in the film as a safety device to help humans accept them, if they are ever seen.
Paul is voiced brilliantly by Seth Rogen, who manages to convince us this alien is ‘one of the guys’ and very human in many respects. Most of the laugh-out-loud moments come from him, through his general zany behaviour and crude humour. Who knew alien genitals could be funny? No opportunity to create humour is wasted. There is of course a serious side as well, as we need to care about Paul. They are being pursued by a stop-at-nothing agent, and a couple of other bungling agents. If he is caught they will dissect him, which again is what we would expect to happen. He and his species, however, do not take part in probing. It’s just not very useful. He’d rather share a cigarette with you and talk about God – or rather life in the universe, as the two don’t go together.
The friendship between the two leads is also important and Nick Frost and Simon Pegg’s real-life relationship comes through once more, in true bro-mance style. They are not gay. A theme played throughout the film. There is a love interest for Pegg, which allows some entertaining painfully British moments. No-one is safe from the stereotype brush; Red Necks, Bible Bashers, crazed men-in-blacks, but it all fits perfectly. There are a surprising amount of guns, action sequences and explosions, which govern the pace of the film and lead you to a wonderfully bizarre but tender ending. If you haven’t seen many science fiction films, you may wish to swat up, in order to make it as enjoyable as possible. Take Close Encounters, ET and Aliens as a starting point. You won’t regret it.
There is a too brief appearance by Sigourney Weaver, that feels very much like an all praise the queen moment, as part of the overall homage to classic sci-fi, while retaining that mocking edge. In order to write good parody you need to know the genre, to see how it works and love what it is – then re-produce it faithfully and with respect. They have definitely achieved this.
There are other things to love about this film, such as its special effects, Paul’s tenderness, empathy and hidden abilities, but most of all, the ride itself. If you like crude but everyman comedy, action, science fiction or all of the above, you will love Paul.