Now that Super 8 has followed, Paul has become part of a 2001 twofer of major-release Spielberg tributes. Screenwriter-stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost may not have Spielberg on board as a producer (as J.J. Abrams did on Super 8), but one scene in Paul proves they must have had his implicit blessing to revisit E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind with comic engines revved. I'll just say it involves the fictional alien Paul's influence on the making of E.T. and leave it at that.
Paul is Frost's first major writing credit, but he's appeared opposite Pegg in the Britcom Spaced, the celebrated rom-zom-com Shaun of the Dead, and cop-movie parody Hot Fuzz (both features co-written by Pegg and director Edgar Wright, who's not directly involved here). This time, Pegg and Frost play British fanboys in America for the Comic-Con experience and a tour of Midwest alien-encounter sites. An early sequence amusingly recreates the San Diego Comic-Con, as self-described "the writer Clive Gollings" (Frost) and his illustrator Graeme Willy (Pegg) meet their disinterested idol, sci-fi novelist Adam Shadowchild (Jeffrey Tambor). It's an ideal setting to reflect Pegg and Frost's own pop-culture fascinations and penchant for saturating their work with movie and TV quotations and visual allusions.
As it turns out, there is someone Clive and Graeme would like to meet even more than Adam Shadowchild: a visitor from another world. Though they're convinced of the existence of aliens, and they entertain the idea of "first contact" for the sake of conversation, they don't conceive of it happening to them. But so it does when their RV road trip through UFO country is interrupted by the very alien who fell to earth in 1947 (launching a thousand Roswell, New Mexico small businesses). He calls himself Paul (Seth Rogen), and he begs a lift to escape his government overseers ("I have dreamt of meeting you ever since I saw Mac and Me," Clive says). In hot pursuit are Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman)—who stays in constant contact with his shadowy boss (Sigourney Weaver)—and two outclassed FBI men, Haggard (Bill Hader) and O'Reilly (Joe Lo Truglio).
A cigarette-smoking, profane, all-around crass and yet agreeably laid-back fellow, Paul has healing power to contrast his stoner-slacker mien. He also shows a sensitive side by determining to settle an old score with a woman named Tara (Blythe Danner) before catching a ride back into outer space. Along the way, the men stop at a God-fearing RV park run by Moses Buggs (John Carroll Lynch) and his eyepatch-wearing daughter Ruth (Kristen Wiig), who the boys shanghai in a fit of desperation. A Creationist wearing a T-shirt hilariously depicting Jesus shooing Darwin in the face, Ruth has her entire worldview spun off its axis by the existence of Paul, causing her awkwardly to adopt swearing ("Man-balls!") as a part of her born-again personality. This turn of events also gives Graeme romantic reason to hope and Clive a reason to be jealous.
Paul has plenty of jokes (many of them in-jokey, like a honkytonk combo playing the "Cantina Band" tune from Star Wars), but the actors' comic-timing tends to impress more than the scripted gags. The comic targets and the central manchildren bromance all feel overly familiar, making Greg Mottola's film mostly mild and surely slight (and was Pegg's particularly awful wig truly necessary?). Still, Paul benefits from Pegg and Frost's British comedic slant and the full complement of comedic talent (also including Jane Lynch, David Koechner and Jesse Plemons). And how can one dislike a film that has Pegg and Frost recreate Captain Kirk's fight with the Gorn at Vasquez Rocks? It's just not possible.
Universal brings Paul home in a Blu-ray + DVD +Digital Copy special edition featuring both the Theatrical Cut (1:43:48, HD) and the Unrated Cut (1:49:18, HD). The film gets a faithful transfer with accurate color, deep blacks, and fine detail and texture. That said, the image is noticeably lacking in depth (there's also a blip of minor aliasing at one point on the RV's siding). The flatness doesn't really detract from the experience, which certainly resembles the theatrical one: Paul no doubt looks just as it should. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix should give your speakers a nice workout with its battery of action effects and rear-channel activity to complement clear, front-and-center dialogue.
As is to be expected from a Pegg-Frost collaboration, extras are plentiful and darn entertaining in their own right, beginning with a gregarious audio commentary (Theatrical Version Only) with director Greg Mottola, producer Nira Park, and actors Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Bill Hader that strikes a balance between informative and funny.
All of the above and more turn up in “Between the Lightning Strikes: The Making of Paul” (40:04, HD), a making-of doc spanning from the birth of the idea to production, with a research road trip in between. Sigourney Weaver, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig and Joe Lo Truglio add their thoughts along the way.
BTS Featurettes include “RV Doorway: The Cast of Paul On Location” (20:03, SD), “Runway Santa Fe: An Interview with Nancy Steiner” (6:02, SD), “Smithereens” (2:24, SD), “5th Date Level Direction: The Cast on Greg Mottola” (4:43, SD), “Mexico Zero: The Locations of Paul” (12:49, SD), “The Many Pauls” (9:08, SD), “Paul the Musical” (2:28, SD)—featuring Hader, Lo Truglio, & Wiig—and “The Traveler Beagle” (4:19, SD).
“The Evolution of Paul” (15:05, HD) allows Motolla, head of animation Eamonn Butler, lead animators David Lowry and Scott Holmes, visual effects supervisor Jody Johnson, animation supervisor Anders J.L. Beer and other effects technicians to explain how the mo-cap animation of Paul was achieved.
Also on hand: “Bloopers” (10:51, HD); “Simon’s Silly Faces” (1:02, HD); the clips-and-outtakes montage “Who the Hell is Adam Shadowchild?” (2:10, HD); a suite of Galleries (HD) that includes Photos (including Nick Frost’s vacation slides, Simon Pegg’s behind-the-scenes and rehearsal shots, and Wilson Webb’s behind-the-scenes shots), Storyboards, and Posters; 3 Theatrical Trailers (HD) and 9 Television Spots (HD).
Fans of Pegg and Frost will not be disappointed by this special edition.
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