Double Negative/Universal Pictures
While in America's UFO heartland, two sci-fi fans meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that will rock their universe forever in the new comedy-adventure
While in America's UFO heartland, two sci-fi fans meet an alien who brings them on an insane road trip that will rock their universe forever in the new comedy-adventure Paul. Double Negative/Universal Pictures
Jimi Izrael is the author of The Denzel Principle: Why Black Women Can't Find Good Black Men and a regular contributor to Tell Me More.
When you have a "sound clash," two DJs battle back and forth and the crowd decides the winner. I'm going to put two films head to head and compare them. At the end, I will declare a winner while you cast your vote in the 'comments' section. This is something I have done for years here and there, and I call it FILMCLASH!
Paul is the new movie about a lovable alien who crashes to Earth and only wants to go home. Brits Nick Frost and Simon Pegg write and star as strangers in a strange land too, adding an interesting twist to what would otherwise be another conventional plot. Seth Rogen, risking over-exposure, makes one trip to the well too many to voice the alien with slightly smarter stoner-isms than the ones he lent to B.O.B. in Monster vs. Aliens.
E.T. The Extraterrestrial seems to my mind to be the first alien to land on Earth with no criminal intent or ulterior motives, which I think is what made him such a hit back in 1982. Steven Spielberg directs an epic script that some industry insiders believe was cribbed from Satyajit Ray's original screenplay but credited to Melissa Mathison. Despite the controversy and no performances of note (beyond voice actor Pat Welsh), this film remains the gold standard for every "lost alien" film to come.
These films are a study in contrast: Paul, (rated R) is an adult film with juvenile themes, where E.T. (rated PG) is a kid's film that dabbles in adult themes (the effects of divorce on children, broad government interloping, alcohol abuse, et al). It would be hard to compare them head to head, so best to examine them on the merits, I think.
E.T. doesn't age well, visually or thematically, not even for a kid's film. I love the universal idea of everyone needing family and a place to call home, but the alien could have just as easily been Boomer, Benji or Nipsey Russell, lost by the highway. E.T. doesn't really float as a protagonist; he may be better than Howard the Duck, but not by much. The writing is present; the lighting, dramatic; and the family dog hits all his marks on cue. It's a one-note kid's film by the numbers that was —at best— overdone, schmaltzy and largely unsatisfying in the 80s, and today is nearly unwatchable.
Paul is part buddy-film, part romantic comedy, part stoner picture, and part British laugh-in — a hodge-podge of film cliché with enough that's new and fresh to make you wanna see it again. It's visually interesting, but the strength of Paul is in the writing of Frost and Pegg, who come off like Monty Python lost in America. Certainly that's been done, but not quite like this. Despite what must be six extra pages of totally unnecessary profanity, there's a lot to like here.
There are some genre films —like Porky's or Van Wilder from the "school daze" genre— that no one will be watching 5 years from now. But my grandkids will be watching Animal House and Ferris Bueller's Day Off because they were inventive back in the day, and will still seem that way 20 years from now. E.T. never had that kind of shelf-life. Paul, however, does.
So Paul wins, by a mile.
What do you think? Cast your votes in the comments section.