Director: Greg Mottola
Writers: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost
Stars: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen
Released: 13 June 2011
Running: 104 minutes
Paul is a road movie of the best type with plenty of laughs to keep it rumbling along. It’s a race across the Nevada desert in a knackered old RV truck, as two nerds and a girl try to outrun the FBI in order to return an escaped alien to his home planet.
I’ve recently finished reading Simon Pegg’s autobiography. It was a breath of fresh air after having previously read the autobiography of Justin Lee Collins. Collins is a nice guy and a good TV presenter but his autobiography was utter horseshit. It was poorly written and equally poorly conceived. Pegg’s autobiography on the other hand left me reeling.
Pegg’s autobiography is extremely well written, the guy can really turn a phrase, and there were words in there that I didn’t even understand. I’m not saying that using big, important sounding words is the be all and end all of writing a good book but considering that I’m personally educated in linguistics I might have been expected to understand the words that he was using.
Some of Pegg’s film dissection was also very advanced. I found it hard to follow. He’s obviously studied film as career/education choice but his thoughts on the likes of Star Wars and other sci-fi films put my own meanderings into the shade.
Suffice to say that his autobiography impressed me without end and it was a delight to read. One more thing I will say is that there is another story running throughout Pegg’s autobiography, a make believe story of Pegg as some sort of James Bond, superhero, it’s riveting stuff and it is written with such style and panache that it could have been a standalone novel itself. Stunning.
Naturally I then started to go through his back catalogue of TV appearances and films, Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, How To Lose Friends and Alienate People, Run Fatboy Run, Star Trek: The Future Begins and I enjoyed them very much. Although I’ll be honest, I thought that Burke & Hare was rubbish.
Next on the list of course was Paul. And this film could be one of Pegg’s very best. Pegg is Graeme Willy, a sci-fi illustrator keen on tri-breasted women while Frost is Clive Gollings, a so far unsuccessful sci-fi author. Do you get the idea that they might soon have an amazing story to tell? They are at the San Diego Comic-Con. This really sets the pair up as comicbook/sci-fi nerds, but they are more than that as we will later find out.
After the conference they go on a tour of UFO/alien crash sites and they meet Paul (a CGI alien voiced by Seth Rogen), who has escaped from Area 51. Paul is looking to ‘phone home’ and when he does he sets up a meeting point for his friends to come and collect him. The guys offer him a lift and their eventful journey begins.
Director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) stands in for Edgar Wright (what was Wright doing instead of this one wonders?)
The supporting cast includes Jason Bateman, David Koechner, Bill Hader, and Jeffrey Tambor. They all do a good job in their respective roles. Kristen Wiig is Ruth Buggs – a fundamentalist Christian who, once extricated from her shut-in life, has a change of heart only to become foul-mouthed and naughty, her’s is the largest character outside of the centre trio.
The character of Paul using motion captive technology to bring the CGI alien to life is good - better in some ways than I expected. Rogen's done foul-mouthed stoner before on more than one occasion (Knocked Up, Pineapple Express) so he was a perfect choice for the character of Paul. My personal favourite alien is still Roger from American Dad, but you can’t have everything!
Paul, is certainly a film for sci-fi fans and film lovers in general. Pegg and Frost make films for film fans, they make the sort of films that they would watch themselves. This is what make their efforts so genuine. Yes, Shaun of the Dead was a blatant comedy rip-off of Romero’s films but no one minded and indeed Romero loved the films and even gave Pegg a role in Land of the Dead. Yes, Hot Fuzz ripped-off every cop buddies action film ever made, and we loved it because it was clever and sharp. Paul is clearly a re-working of Spielberg’s classic ET with several ET-themed jokes along the way and plenty of references to other sci-fi films such as Total Recall and certainly not least Star Wars, but does Spielberg mind? Did he mind… he did a voice role for the film! I think he was OK with it. You can feel the enthusiasm that Pegg and Frost put into their films together. They just work so well as a pairing because they are real life friends. They make it look easy.
The over-riding factor that I like about Pegg is that not only does he star in so many very good films – it’s also often in films that he has also written himself. He often works with his writing and directing partner Edgar Wright and it’s clear that they are both very talented men and that they make an excellent team.
The special features however are altogether less special. There is a 10 minute Blooper Reel full of indecipherable in-jokes that are only funny to the actors themselves and rarely to the audience. Out-takes and bloopers are really just actors making mistakes. If anyone else made mistakes in their job, especially repeatedly about the same thing, they’d be sacked! And if the out-takes and bloopers allowed us into some secret world of filming, behind the scenes action, or gave us some sort of understanding of why the actors were making mistakes it might be interesting, but it doesn’t, it’s just errors served up for the cheapest of laughs. The only thing that possibly stands out is an impromptu Pegg-Frost goodnight kiss. The next special feature is just under 2 minutes of The Silly Faces of Simon Pegg in which the actor pull silly faces. Needless to say it’s pointless and not all that funny. Why bother to include it? When kids pulled silly faces in school they got told off, if people were to do it in a normal work environment their colleagues would think that they were mad, but it’s okay if you’re a film star? It all seems rather self-indulgent to me.
The next ever-so-pointless special feature is Who The Hell Is Adam Shadowchild? It’s a 2 minute featurette on the fictional character from the film who is an author that the two guys like. Again, sadly it’s pointless. The longest and most useful featurette is a 15 minute slot on The Evolution of Paul in which we see test footage and sketches of different variations of Paul and learn how the look of the alien character evolved from a generic alien that looked a bit scary to a less scary looking version. It’s not very informative though, plus it’s riddled with shots of animators and other visual effects men and women making the most perfunctory of comments about themselves or the CGI work for Paul. It’s dull. Tagged on at the end of the special features are some photo galleries, storyboards and posters.
So is there a special feature to save the disc? Fortunately, yes there is. The Feature-length Commentary is full of jokes and laughs and bits of useful, interesting information about the acting, direction, CGI, motion capture and a whole host of other things. I’m not normally a fan of re-watching an entire film just to listen to the commentary but as I mentioned earlier Pegg is a talented guy and very knowledgeable about film. His commentary is full of intelligent observations about film and about the references to other films that they included as well as plenty of jokes.
Despite the poor special features, which fortunately I don’t feel detract from the film anyway, Paul is a very enjoyable movie. Pegg and Frost are clearly on top form here and fans of the pairing will enjoy this film immensely, just as I did.
With Pegg on top-form we can eagerly await Spielberg's ‘Tintin’ taken from the famous comic books and ‘The World's End’ which, by all accounts, will be another Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz style affair. Should be worth waiting for, until then enjoy Paul!