Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Aliens in the Attic: Gamers aren't the delinquents that Hollywood would often have you believe


This was a Saturday morning trip with my three year old son to the pound-a-film kids screening. I am a massive NO TALKING in the cinema kind of fascist but one of the things I love the most about going to these kids screenings is that the setting is right to jabber away all the way through, answering my son’s plentiful and plenty-amusing questions. I went in with low expectations, thinking that it would be based too strongly at the eightish plus year old demographic for my kid to like it and too annoying American kid-like for me. I was wrong on both accounts.

Director / writer / cast – anything to note

Director has nothing to note. One of the writers on the other hand: Mark Burton, has some interesting credits to his name, including Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Ware-rabbit and Madagascar, two films that my son loves. In addition, he has writing credits on British comedy shows such as Room 101 and Never Mind the Buzzcocks. This may help to explain why there were some moments in the film where I literally laughed out loud and why the film had a quick, concise – family film – flow to it.

Gut instinct / immediate impressions.

As is outlined above, I went into this film with low expectations, but it wasn’t only that the expectations were low, they were specific. I thought that the young characters would be intolerable and incredibly set-in-stone stereotypes. On the surface, this may still appear so, but there are certain things that led me to believe that this was not quite the case; I shall outline the two main reasons I think this. The first is that when the second family arrived, they seemed as though they were certain to be held up against the protagonist’s family as the more flawed and less of an idealised nuclear family. Along with this I expected these children to be portrayed as spoilt, stupid, mean or just pointless. In the first scene they are in the older one is a little arrogant and the two younger twins are shown as soulless creatures completely consumed by their Nintendo DSs. I thought ‘oh here we go, typical Hollywood: broken family equals rubbish dad and therefore horrible children, and obviously they are delinquents as they are playing videogames’. These initial impressions don’t last long as the older boy proves to be just as useful, kind and caring as the protagonist (part of the ‘perfect’ suburban family) and it’s not like he goes through the entire film as a spoilt brat and changes his ways at the end; he is pretty consistently just an ‘ok’ if not a little mischievous kind of kid. Further to this and in complete contradiction to what I thought the film was going to say about videogames rotting the minds of the youth, the two twins’ knowledge and ability with computer games practically saves the world as they are able to use the aliens’ mind control device like a typical videogame console controller, leading to one of the highlights of the film: A fight between the family’s Nan and the older sister’s boyfriend. One controlled by one of the aliens and one controlled by the two boys. The fight captures a Hong-Kong action sequence feel and is much more impressive than the poor attempts at hand to hand combat that often appear in some big budget Hollywood blockbusters. The fight even gave a self-conscious nod to the greatest fighting game franchise of all time, as the Nan replicated the dragon-punch uppercut special move of Street Fighter’s Ryu and Ken. This progressive use of videogame references mirrors what is spells out throughout and is a common trope of children’s films: The adults just won’t get it; “they’re wired differently” says one of the boys.

Viewing this film in the context of a day out with my son probably made me appreciate this approach even more. Though it did contain many of the expected American-family film genre elements, there was enough here that left numerous points/characters for children to identify with and didn’t cast down any of the younger characters as having less importance, nor did it preach about the need for a perfect nuclear family. Finally it had a certain charm as it really seemed to be made with its target market of children/young people in mind and close to heart rather than trying – and failing – to cater to everyone.

In Summary

More going on that I thought there was going to be, it fast and fluent in its children/family film execution but at the end of the day if you don’t have a child or you aren’t a child between 3 and 13 then there really is no good reason to see this.

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