*batteries not included Review


Frank and Faye Riley (Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy) are about to lose their home. Unscrupulous capitalists are renovating urban New York and want the residents out, and they’re willing to go to any lengths to get rid of them. Still holding out, the Riley’s, along with the last remaining tenants – quiet, ex-boxer Harry Noble (Frank McRae), struggling artist Mason (Dennis Boutsikaris), and pregnant Marisa (Elizabeth Pena), get some help in the form of tiny alien spacecraft that visit them one night and start fixing everything in sight. While the alien’s presence is unknown to the real estate developers, henchman Carlos (Michael Carmine) begins to suspect strange goings-on, and the alien’s peaceful stay on earth might come to a destructive end if he finds them.

Batteries not included could be seen as a Hollywood riposte to the cold war undertones of such fifties sci-fi as Invasion Of The Body Snatches and The War Of The Worlds, but yet it’s still the capitalists that are under threat as big-business is seen to brush common values under the carpet. However, Matthew Robbins’ film doesn’t worry itself with such intellectual musings, happily positioning itself within the wave of ‘we come in peace’ alien movies that were kick-started by Spielberg’s Close Encounters. What followed were a string of films with overtly ‘nice’ galactic beings from the classic E.T to its rather poor and unofficial remake Mac and Me. John Carpenter had a go, as did Joe Dante with Starman and Explorers respectively, whilst we also saw Cocoon and its sequel, and Flight Of The Navigator. The Star Wars effect is evident, as is the then growing use of computer generated imagery, but certainly during the eighties, it seemed what the public really wanted was morally ‘correct’ escapist entertainment, its ethics as sugar coated as the alien’s motives.

The film has all the warmth and schmaltz to be a matinee movie everyday of the week, but its optimistic nature is handled with a steady hand by director Robbins who styles it around the downtrodden excess of urban regeneration. His characters are filled with the types of hopes and wishful-thinking that are more than enough for any sweet tooth but Robbins isn’t about to provide them with anything more than they deserve, in fact, far from it. This isn’t a film about a group of affable, good natured people having their dreams come true - the movie is a little too cynical for that (take Jessica Tandy’s character for instance, who thinks everyone is her dead son because she suffers from Alzheimer’s). The film is more about a group of people who have their flaws but who are brought together by a common good, yet their individual problems are never diminished just less magnified. It’s about friendship under the strain of modern society.

While Batteries not included shares less similarities with Hollywood’s early science-fiction, it does benefit from Robbins’ penchant for a classic Hollywood tone, especially the sorts of musicals that were produced by the studio system in the forties. James Horner’s simply wonderful score is a joy, while the beautiful rear-projection set on the rooftop, the glowing reds and yellows of the city lights shining in the background, is pure classic cinema. The film is also blessed with two engaging performances from Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy who bubble with more energy than their vast years would lead you to believe they had. The film is hard not to like with its endearing nostalgia, and as ‘phone home’ movies go, this one’s a keeper.


Batteries not included is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphic enhanced. The image is genuinely pleasing to look at, displaying the wonderfully vibrant colour tones of the photography with solidity and depth. The image has plenty of detail, and while the print has some slight grain and a little softness, it is clear and lacks any very noticeable artefacts.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is relatively good with excellent separation across the front speakers, while the rear speakers have plenty to do when the film’s lively, action-orientated scenes occur. Dialogue appears fairly central but is sharp and clear, whilst the sub-woofer also has some notable usage every now and again. The film’s brilliant score by James Horner does sound wonderful on the DVD.

Unfortunately this budget release from Universal has no notable additional features apart from the film’s theatrical trailer, and a promotion for the E.T DVD release.


Batteries not included is not a great film by any means and ultimately treads on very safe ground, inspired by a rash of similar movies released around the same time. Nevertheless, it’s very difficult not to like with its good-natured tone and likeable characters (although the cynics will pick on the clichés and the sentimentality that isn’t as schmaltzy as its face-value might suggest). The film is light, enjoyable fun, and doesn’t set out to be anything else, and those expecting such will draw mileage from it. This budget region 2 release offers the film with excellent picture and sound.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 08:01:08

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