Paul Directed by Greg Mottola
Starring Simon Pegg (Graeme Willy), Nick Frost (Clive Gollings), Seth Rogen (Paul – Voice), Kristen Wiig (Ruth Buggs), Jason Bateman (Agent Zoil), Jane Lynch (Pat Stevenson), Bill Hader (Haggard)
UK release February 14, 2011
U.S. release March 18, 2011
When considering writing a review for you, my American/worldwide cohorts, for the UK release of Paul, a whole month in advance of the U.S. screening, I had a problem. Every other bloody magazine/media has reviewed it… (and with reference to the current Empire mag, who I won’t plagiarize but I will say this: RESEARCH! Their article on Captain America1 was not as informed as my article. I was there man, you don’t know, I got the pictures man, 5 months before!!)
…and stole the best/cheesiest headlines: ‘Alien Nation’, ‘E.T. Rider’, and â€˜Close Encounters of the NERD Kind’.
Bastards. I spent long arduous seconds creating ‘From OuterSpaced’, but that’s the kind of genius I am. I’m also an insider. Not a crew member of said film, no, I’m that type of Geek that knows enough about UFOs to be an expert. But that’s my bias, especially during the 1990s when you couldn’t avoid the stuff. And so in the course of this article, I scraped together the remnants of my vast DVD collection, including Spaced (see what I did there!?) Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz boxset (Â£5 â€“ Bargain) and purchased the Simon Pegg autobiography Nerd Do Well to look for clues that would lead to Paul.
Of course the homage-o-meter is off the chart with anything Pegg and Frost touch, so letâ€™s consider the evidence:
…Seth Rogen asked for advice on Motion Capture and voice acting. On that film I’m talking about. I forget to mention that Pegg and Frost are in TinTin â€“ by Spielberg, who with JJ Abrams is working on another film… but I digress. And all this before I’ve even seen the film.
Simon Pegg stars as Graeme Willy, an aspiring illustrator, and Nick Frost as ‘the writer Clive Gollings’, something which I will go into more depth later. British TV Interviews with our two stars shed more light on the film. During the downtime of Shaun of the Dead in May 2003, whilst waiting for the predictable British weather to stop raining, Simon Pegg was asked by his producer Nira Park “Why can’t we make something somewhere sunny?” which germinated the idea in Pegg’s mind: “…so Nick [Frost] and I started spit-balling these ideas. We immediately thought of a desert â€“ the first one was the American West, then we thought of Nevada, then Area 51, then, of course, aliens.”2
After drawing an image of an Alien giving the middle finger to the ‘fourth wall’ [or flipping the bird whatever that means] with the tagline ‘In the U.S.A everybody’s an alien’, the idea was put on the backburner until 6 years later, when their friend and collaborator director Edgar Wright was off filming Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, that Nira suggested they make Paul because ever since drawing the image, it had been pinned up in her production office.
Further insight came from Nick Frost, in the design of Paul, suggesting that the reason for such a common look for a Grey Alien was that “We knew Paul would look like every alien you’ve ever seen looking normal, like subliminal assimilation…” under the assumption that [spoiler alert?] Paul was the model for all drip fed information and imagery about aliens for the public, so when the ‘big invasion’ occurred, it wouldn’t be such a shock.
Think back to the X-Files. The one TV event that seemingly took over everyone’s life during the 1990s. Simon Pegg quotes when asked on an Empire Online Q&A what was his favourite X-File, his answer? Jose Chung’s From Outer Space. On the basis of that, I watched it again and the striking similarities became apparent. Even the great philosopher Jesse Ventura from Predator [“I ain’t got time to bleed“] is in that episode as one of two Men In Black, right down to a cigarette smoking Alien. It’s striking also, as the rare few humourous episodes that featured in the X-Files. A line from this episode seems to crystallize exactly what Pegg/Frost wanted from this film, when Mulder and Scully discuss two ‘abductees’ held for questioning:
Mulder: “It’s all characteristic of a typical abduction.”
Scully: “That’s my problem with it Mulder, it’s all a little too typical, Abduction Lore has become so prevalent in society, that you can ask someone to imagine what it would be like to be abducted and they’d concoct an identical scenario.”
And then Paul says, in the trailer, so I’m not spoiling this for you: “Mulder was MY idea!”
Which leads me to the next quote from Frost: “It’s a love letter to Spielberg” hinting that thanks to the influence of E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, that this film is repaying that in kind, to which, upon meeting Spielberg for the first time Pegg admitted to him that his and Frost’s idea was that “…our alien hero had acted as adviser to Steven over the years, giving him a few key moments and plot details for E.T. And Close Encounters. He found this hilarious and pitched in a few ideas of his own, one of which you will see in the finished film, although to divulge that now would be a spoiler“3. Both Pegg and Frost go on statement to add that their favourite Alien movie of all time is Close Encounters, E.T. being tied for Pegg.
I’m sure that given the struggle George Lucas had in making Star Wars and Spielberg had with Close Encounters, the idea to make a film such as this may have had its own setbacks.
As with any film there is the preview advertising. But what has intrigued me is the difference between what I have seen, and what America/World will see. Thanks to political correctness, I’m sure an edited poster of Paul will greet America compared to the mass marketing that I’m seen below â€“ especially when, in typical British fashion, it’s plastered on the side of a Double Decker bus. ‘Ever felt a little Alien?’ on Oldham Street, a road full of boutique stores including Forbidden Planet. Universal Studios got behind the mass splurge of advertising for this movie that the guys were eternally grateful for, given the fact that it is a British film; “TV spots are usually very powerful. Universal have really got behind this movie; it cost a lot more than our previous films, so they have a vested interest in it selling well. They’ve certainly pushed the boat out. We appreciate their support, although in an ideal world, neither Paul or Sigourney would be in the trailer“. For the sake of spoiling the film, you can understand the reason for wanting to hide some more obvious plot points and twists, but in order to sell it to any American audience somewhat, Pegg further divulges: “It’s more polarised in Paul because it’s two British guys actually in America. It’s a British film at heart, but it’s also a collaboration with some amazing US talent and we’re really happy with the result.”
VALENTINE ENCOUNTER *SPOILER ALERT*
Released on Valentine’s Day in the UK [14th February 2011] a day, that obviously taking the missus to see this, even though potentially she is more excited than me. Released on the biggest date of the year for dating, it makes sense that this is an ultimate date movie. Something that gets addressed in this in the opening act with actor David Koechner being stereotypically hillbilly when in the bar ‘The Little A’Le’Inn’ [which exists in the town of Rachel, Nevada, not far from Area 51] calling Pegg/Frost’s ‘close encounter’ as gay. ‘What is this? A gay bar?‘
This reminded me of the Bill Hicks ‘true story’ of a gig in Fyffe, Alabama:
“Apparently everyone in this town saw these UFOs…I’m curious about UFOs, so I ask the people there what it was like. And this guy said “Oh man, it was incredible. People came from miles around to look at ’em. Lotta people came armed.” People are bringing shotguns…to UFO sightings. Kind of brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “You ain’t from around here, are ya boy…” 4
Brilliant, especially when two Brits are wandering around essentially a foreign country. Another reference in this respect would be the ‘Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy‘ notion being banded about as Pegg’s character enjoys an Ice Cream with a sparkler which doesn’t help matters. The Pegg/Frost comedy partnership that has shone through in Shaun and Hot Fuzz was put to greater yet more touching use in this film. This is also due to the fact that it is the first film both have written together; “We had more arguments writing Paul than we’ve had in 17 years of being friends“. But that scene is after the San Diego Comic Con. Ultimate Nerdgasm Mecca.
NERDGASM HOMAGE *SPOILER ALERT*
You’ve stuck with me thus far on this article, because I’ve not actually talked much about the character Paul. And that’s because of the references. When pressed about the apparent endorsements of nearly every Sci-Fi movie ever made: Frost: “No, that’s not how we work. We wrote the best script we could, which just happened to be peppered with references.” Pegg: “Not at all – any reference we make ever is always organically a product of the script rather than the other way around. They come up as we write, and they’re never planned.”
Walking around the San Diego Comic Con [filmed out of season and with a host of extras to make life easier] the ‘writer Clive Gollings‘ along with Graeme go into nervous Nerd-mode when meeting their idol, played by a laconic Jeffrey Tambor with their own graphic novel, with a women on the cover…with three breasts, a knowing homage to Total Recall, one of my top ten Sci-Fi flicks. And then the jokes and further references come thick and fast â€“ look away now if you don’t want to know.
So, on the look out for these homageâ€™s galore, keep your eyes peeled for the following that show up:
Gerties Cafe, Cowboy Fancy dress dressed Paul being walked down the street, hiding behind a billboard and a black 4×4 pickup truck, and a certain Devil’s Tower – Spielbergian
A cameo, who if you haven’t guessed from before and her voice â€“ Sigourney Weaver [Alien!] franchise. Another blink and you’ll miss it moment is when Blythe Danner [X-Files!] jumps on Sigourney’s back shouting ‘Get away from her you bitch!’ – a clear allusion to Alien â€“ but watch the film for the reason why.
And finally: ”Safe trip shortround”. Guess.
OK, it’s safe to look back now. All this needed was perhaps a little of Lou Ferrigno. No reason.
Further hilarity is wrung from the character and Graeme’s love-interest played by Kristen Wiig. As a ‘Creationist’ in the movie, wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Jesus shooting Darwin with the phrase ‘Evolve This!’ she’s introduced to Paul. This results in an almost classic Spock-like hand-on-face information transfer of all Paul’s knowledge, completely shattering her lifelong religious beliefs, thus creating a new awakening. From this her comedic journey of profanity and discovery begins however it seems that this particular aspect is rushed through and brushed off for the sake of moving along the road trip chase by Agent Zoil. Her father, reminiscent of Mars Attacks!, the shotgun-toting bible-basher gets rebuked verbally by Paul later in the film — you’ll see.
Jason Bateman stars as the incessant Agent Zoil, the Man in Black on the chase for Paul. Not exactly the most hard-faced of actors to portray a governmental stooge, however Bateman is the comedy foil, the straight-man to Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio‘s inept followers.
DOWN TO EARTH
Seth Rogen voices Paul like an updated ALF [yes THAT TV series from 1986-1990], a sarcastic, crude, sardonic chain smoking…humanoid. It’s ALF channeled through Jeff Bridges’s Lebowski via Starman gargled by Tom Waits, a jaded worldly-wise ‘famous’ entity. That’s what makes it endearing, you forget that it’s Seth Rogen, and invest your feelings in this comic CGI character. He’s on the run from the government after escaping Area 51 and wants to get back home after a 60-year sojourn. Thatâ€™s when he meets our two protagonists. One who urinates his trousers.
You will love this movie. It’s a heartfelt poem to Sci-Fi conventions, that we now know and love, Paul is a road movie that plays the comedy straight but to great effect. It may be a broader film than the previous ones and may also rather exclude some of the more general public who may not habituate the territory of Geekdom. But who cares, I’m bias towards loving this movie, that’s why I wanted to see it, I went in with high expectations, and it delivered, perhaps where the second X-Files movie failed.
This a knowing homage to the genre that may not change the Sci-Fi landscape like Blade Runner did, but in future, you can only hope that some films don’t take themselves too seriously. Comedy doesn’t hurt, even if comedy as a whole will ever be an Oscar contender. But this is a comedy with spirit, a heart, albeit laidback and extraterrestrial.
Paul is sharp and witty, a Science Fiction with a healthy dose of slapstick, humour, and tragedy all in equal measure. Given the long shadow cast by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, who said this about his own UFO beliefs when filming Close Encounters “I was liberally saying, this isn’t science fiction. This is science speculation…” who knows…
Q. Do you guys believe that aliens have visited earth?
Simon Pegg: I am less inclined to believe in visitations, but I am all but certain they exist.
Nick Frost: I’m going to say yes.
I knew we were not alone, and I want to believe that it’s Paul that makes his jaunt to Down-to-Earth to probe us first.
1Empire Magazine Issue 261, page 58 2Shortlist Magazine Issue 162 page 38 3 ‘Nerd Do Well’ â€“ Simon Pegg Autobiography page 333 4 ‘Bill Hicks, Love All The People’ â€“ John Lahr page 76