It’s one thing to pay homage to a certain film. It’s another to do an almost beat-for-beat replica and try to pass it off as something original. Stewart Raffill’s 1988 flop, Mac and Me, certainly falls in the latter category. It’s a movie that so desperately tries to be like Steven Spielberg’s box-office hit, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, and it painfully shows with every passing scene and is heard with every note of Alan Silvestri’s musical score. It’s amazing that a lawsuit was never filed. Then again, the movie disappeared from theaters after two weeks due to low attendance. The damage had already been done by the disinterest from general moviegoers.
But, despite its dismal reception from critics and the fact that audiences didn’t bother with it in the first place, Mac and Me found some success in home-video sales. One could argue that the kids wanted something other than E.T. to watch, and the parents had to quickly find an alternative. As time passed, the film formed a small cult following. However, that following stems more from the “How did this get made?” field than it does from those who find it underrated.
One of the more surprising facts about Mac and Me is that it cost about $3 million more to make than E.T., and yet, it looks 10 times worse. Each alien in the film is bulgy-eyed, puffy-cheeked, and stuck with an attempting-to-whistle expression. A lot of the computer-generated imagery is cheaply rendered, the camerawork is awkwardly composed, and the whole movie feels more like a string of commercials wrapped around a plot involving a boy’s friendship with an alien.
Mac and Me starts with a NASA spacecraft collecting rock and soil samples from an unknown planet. A family of aliens stumbles upon it, gets sucked into the machine through its vacuum, and are transported back to Earth. Using their powers, the aliens are able to escape, with the youngest taking shelter in a van filled with a family relocating from Illinois to California.
It’s within the first 15 minutes of the movie that we get our first shot of obvious product placement. As we’re introduced to the family in the vehicle in which the alien is hiding, the youngest boy, Eric (Jade Calegory), is holding a can of Coca Cola with the label being shoved right in the viewer’s face. Unbeknownst to Eric, it then gets taken away by the alien, who downs it rather quickly. It turns out these aliens have a thirst for Coca Cola, and can be assumed that is what they are drinking in the film’s opening moments.
Eric’s family also consists of his older brother, Michael (Jonathan Ward), and his single mother, Janet (Christine Ebersole). Once they arrive at their new home, the wheelchair-bound Eric begins to get suspicious about things going on around his house. He comes across the alien, which he names MAC (Mysterious Alien Creature), and tries to help reunite it with its family.
At least E.T. was subtle in showing off Reese’s Pieces. Mac and Me crams its product placement down your throat, and just when it thinks you haven’t had enough, it forces more upon you. Skittles, McDonald’s, and Sears are three other big brands that feel like they have supporting character roles with how often they are mentioned by name or how often the camera focuses on its label. And then it turns out that the movie was partially funded by both McDonald’s and Coca Cola, which explains why those brands are featured so often. Skittles, though, just serves as the brand that hoped to see the success Reese’s Pieces had following E.T.’s release.
For as inept as it is, Mac and Me does deserve props for the casting of Calegory, who suffers from Spina Bifidia and is wheelchair-bound in real life. Although Calegory quit acting after a guest spot on the pilot for the Alien Nation television series, his performance was a defining moment for actors with disabilities who lose roles to able-bodied individuals. The film never makes his disability a central point to the character, nor does it try to become a manipulative gimmick. It just plays out like he is a normal kid experiencing the same thing as other kids his age.
Just in time for its 30th anniversary, Shout! Factory has given Mac and Me the Blu-ray treatment for the fans that either really like it or those who like it for being in the “so bad it’s good” category. The new special features exclusively for the release include a commentary track with Raffill and film historian Marc Edward Hueck, as well as an interview with Raffill and an interview with songwriter Allee Willis. It’s interesting to hear about the behind-the-scenes moments with Raffill, who says the script was being written while the movie was in pre-production. Willis, who wrote one of the film’s original songs, “Down to Earth,” claimed she never saw the movie until comedian Michael McDonald introduced her to it.
Other special features include the film’s original trailers and TV spots, as well as a still gallery. The image is presented in a 1080p High-Definition Widescreen format with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There isn’t much noticeable dirt or grain that distorts the restored picture, and the sound, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo, comes in clearly and without any issues as well. Some scenes do come across as poorly edited, but I have a feeling that is how the film initially played out. On a side note, this was my first time watching Mac and Me.
This is one of those rare instances in which a movie gets a mild recommendation just so people can experience how something that so blatantly lifts its idea from a popular Spielberg film got made. Mac and Me is laughably bad in so many ways, from its forced product placement to a contrived ending that makes a ham-fisted statement on immigration and also promises a sequel is forthcoming. Obviously, it never happened. But at least we got something that has the only known McDonald’s dance sequence to be featured in a major motion picture.
Mac and Me (Collector’s Edition) will release to Blu-ray on August 7.