Ever since Spaced graced TV screens over a decade ago, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have between them become cult favourites. From the brilliant homages of the TV show through to the twist on the zombie movie and their affectionate take on the buddy-cop genre they have consistently proven to have a sharp eye for what works. Their decade-long collaboration with Edgar Wright has been undeniably successful for them all. Over the last couple of years, Wright, made a break from his long-term cohorts and directed the well-received Scott Pilgrim vs The World while Pegg and Frost branched out to other projects individually taking roles in the likes of Star Trek, Attack the Block and Burke and Hare with varying degrees of success.
This year Pegg and Frost reunited under the directorship of Greg Mottola for Paul. It's an affectionate take on the 'alien crashing to Earth' tale, the film kicks off at every nerd's fantasy destination - San Diego's Comic Con and takes us on a road trip across all of the major alien hotspots from Area 51, to Roswell and ending at a place that will be instantly familiar to anyone who has seen one of Spielberg's seminal sci-fi films. In-jokes and gentle ribbing of the whole sci-fi genre are frequent and it'll take more than a few watches to catch many of them. In fact, before we ever get to meet the titular Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen), we've even had an amusing recreation of the Captain Kirk / Gorn fight from the original series of Star Trek.
The mild amusement of the first twenty minutes eventually gives way to proper belly laughs when we finally get to see Paul. Having been on Earth since the 1940's, he's picked up a number of human bad habits from getting drunk to smoking dope. He's a great character and he manages to keep the film riding high despite a slightly saggy middle where plot takes priority over humour. It's a sign of solid writing that Pegg and Frost are able to craft a film that mixes some true laugh-out-loud moments with moments of pure emotion. The last act veers wildly between despair, amusement and elation with a deftness of touch rarely seen. This is something we've previously seen with the likes of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz but unlike those films the change of tone isn't at all jarring.
Greg Mottola's direction sits well alongside the script - it's quite a step up from Superbad which, whilst being a hugely funny film, was pretty pedestrian. Here Mottola proves to have an eye for detail and is able to switch between close emotionally impacting scenes and moments of pure spectacle. The film's cast is likewise strong - in addition to the leads, Kristen Wiig in particular shows signs of being a strong comedic leading lady. Finally, kudos must be given for the film's effects. Paul is a character in his own right - possibly the most convincing CGI character we've seen so far - partly down to perfect interaction with the live-action actors and partly down to Seth Rogen's performance.
Paul does suffer a little in its dedication to being the ultimate love letter to science-fiction films - and that is that almost every in-joke, reference and setting will be as alien as the title character to those who don't have an avid interest in the genre. For anyone in that boat, it would be hard to see the film having anything like the same effect as it does on those of us who whooped at the 'get away from her, you bitch' line. The same thing that makes the film an essential addition to this reviewer's collection would see it ignored by many others which is a shame as it's a warm, affectionate and witty story that just relies on a little too much knowledge of classic science fiction movies.
Universal have kicked up a gear with their Blu-ray releases of late and Paul is no different. We have a near-perfect digital transfer here that remains sharp throughout. A vibrant colour pallet is on display (despite a significant proportion of the film being set at night) with deep blacks giving plenty of shadow depth and colours are allowed space to breath. Film grain is handled brilliantly without a compression artefact in sight. As expected, the 2.35:1 AVC/MPEG-4 transfer comes from a perfectly clean source with no sign of dirt or dust.
Audio is likewise as good as we can rightly expect with a brilliantly active DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that delivers sharp vocals through the centre channel leaving the surrounds to really pump out the soundtrack. For a film as reliant on dialogue as Paul, this is a blessing and we don't find the background noises or music competing with the vocals for clarity.
The jewel in the crown is the commentary which unfortunately only runs alongside the theatrical version of the film. Featuring Pegg, Frost and Hader along with Mottola and producer Nira Park, it is a handy tool to use to pick out the references that will certainly be missed by others. It's an informative, often funny track that is certainly worth a listen.
The 11-minute blooper real is, as you would imagine, little more than the usual goofs and mistakes. An amusing enough way to pass the time, but it's a one-watch affair. As is the 40-minute making-of - another feature entertaining in its own right picking out locations from the road trip for the most part.
There are another hour or so worth of EPK filler - nothing massively exciting - talking about costumes, characters and effects. The only thing really noteworthy is 'Paul' The Musical which amuses briefly. You get the impression from all of the extras that filming Paul was a fun experience for all involved.
In all a pretty rudimentary selection propped up by the commentary track.
Paul is a great film, although you can add or subtract two from the film rating based on your affection for the genre - for this reviewer it's a 9, but for those that don't get the references it's probably little more than a 5. The Blu-ray offers near perfect presentation alongside some pretty basic extras. The retail package offers a DVD and digital copy of the film - neither of which were provided for review purposes but DO add value to those who require the non-HD alternative.