The eighties were a curious time for big screen British comedy. The sex comedies of the seventies had all but disappeared, yet the TV spin-off remained. To give just three examples there was Cannon and Ball making The Boys in Blue with Val Guest (a man whose cinematic career encompassed much of British comedy, from co-writing Oh Mr. Porter! for Will Hay to directing Confessions of a Window Cleaner via Dentist in the Chair with Bob Monkhouse), the Monty Python team reuniting once more for The Meaning of Life (whilst individual members also worked away on the likes of Privates on Parade, Personal Services and A Private Function), and seasoned sitcom specialists Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais offering up the disastrous Water with Billy Connolly and Leonard Rossiter amongst others. Joining this bunch we also began to see the first flourishing of the alternative comedy scene beyond the televisual medium: various members had begun to appear in the Secret Policeman’s Ball concert films; the Comic Strip Presents… collective expanded the banner with The Supergrass and Eat the Rich; and Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones co-wrote and appeared in Morons from Outer Space, prior to their taking the leading roles in Wilt.
Pitched somewhere between Red Dwarf and The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension - though crucially without achieving the comic success of either - Morons from Outer Space explains all with its title. Bernard, Dez, Sandra and Julian come from the planet Blob but are to all intents and purposes are identical to humans. They may live in a distant solar system but their world's evolutionary process has been the same meaning that they’re essentially ordinary people, albeit a bit on the stupid side. Three of them crash land on the M1 just south of Luton leaving Bernard (played by Smith) stranded in Arizona. This being a British comedy, events see them analysed by various trigger happy Americans before they eventually form a pop group. Meanwhile, Jones bumbles around as an inept reporter who also becomes their manager. (If this sounds vague and incoherent, that's because it is.)
Coming before the more recent wave of truly awful movies to have sprung from the alternative scene - Bottom spin-off Guest House Paradiso, Harry Enfield’s Kevin & Perry Go Large, Ben Elton’s Maybe Baby - and having been directed by Mike Hodges, Morons from Outer Space at the very least contains a healthy promise. Up until its production in 1985 Hodges had earned a decent enough reputation through Get Carter as well as the more idiosyncratic efforts of Pulp, The Terminal Man and Flash Gordon. Of course, these last two were science fiction and it’s true in this case that he handles both the SF and the SFX admirably well; considering the comparatively low budget, Morons from Outer Space at least comes off in visual terms. Moreover, Hodges is professional enough to hold the entire project together even as the screenplay veers wildly from one half thought out idea to the next.
Indeed, much like his next big screen venture, 1987’s A Prayer for the Dying, Hodges simply does as best he can with the script in hand. The problem is that Smith and Jones haven’t come up with one that can shake off its inherent TV qualities. There’s the overall flimsiness akin to an overgrown sketch; there’s the hackneyed sitcom-ish banter; and the very obvious fact that our two writers are comic performers as opposed to actors – and seeing them in a big screen venture only serves to enhance this element. Certainly, this means that Morons from Outer Space plays better on DVD than it ever will in cinemas, yet this also results in comparisons to the pair’s TV work.
Sadly, this particular effort lacks the satirical bite which has marked out their finest moments since Not the Nine O’Clock News. Save for the occasional sly sight gag (the one involving the tractor’s lights; the psychiatric ward populated by Hitler moustaches), the humour doesn’t differ all that much from British comedy’s preoccupations during any era. The obvious targets such as sex, class and a more general embarrassment all raise their head and in each case it produces oddly toothless results. The bottom line is that Morons from Outer Space simply isn’t funny, yet there's also very little else to hold our attention.
Morons from Outer Space is another of MGM’s back catalogue releases and as such comes with the standard treatment. We get the film in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, anamorphically enhanced and in fine, if unexceptional, condition. Certainly, it’s watchable throughout, though clarity isn’t its finest asset. As for the soundtrack, here we find – oddly enough – a DD5.1 offering in lieu of the original stereo mix. For the most part the two are identical, though the nosier moments (the rock concert, the space shit crash) do see activity in the rear channels. Needless to say, the disc is also completely devoid of extras.
Anthony Nield takes a look at MGM's Region 2 handling of Morons from Outer Space, an interesting if deeply unfunny sci-fi comedy from the pens of Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones.