Tagline: They came from upstairs.
When Tom Pearson decides that its time for a good ol’ family vacation, he packs up the family and they head to their holiday house in the middle of nowhere. But the find that small, green aliens were the first ones to claim the house. Now the Pearsons must battle the aliens that came from upstairs.
Four glowing pods sparkle and crackle while hiding behind the meteor show. A mysterious force makes the meteor shower turn a hard right towards a bright blue ball in the distance – planet Earth. In a comfortable suburban house in Michigan, Stuart Pearson (Kevin Nealon) and his wife Nina (Gillian Vigman) head a family that includes adorable seven-year-old Hannah (Ashley Boettcher); 15-year-old Tom (Carter Jenkins), a techno-geek whose grades have gone south; and big sister Bethany (Ashley Tisdale), who’s just returned from a secret outing with boyfriend Ricky Dillman (Robert Hoffman).
Deciding the family needs some good old-fashioned togetherness, Tom packs up the clan and heads to a three-story holiday house in the middle of nowhere. Joining them is Uncle Nate (Andy Richter), Nate’s son Jake (Austin Butler), dear old Nana Rose (Doris Roberts), and identical 12-year-old twins Art (Henri Young) and Lee (Regan Young). An unexpected arrival is Bethany’s beau Ricky, who wrangles an overnight visit with the extended family.
As day turns to night, dark storm clouds start swirling around the house. Suddenly, four glowing objects shoot toward the roof. The alien crew inside the objects is made up of Skip, the tough commander, Tazer, a muscle-bound dude armed to the teeth, Razor, a lethal female alien soldier; and Sparks a geeky four-armed techie, who is the only non-threatening alien intruder.
Ricky is placed under the spell of the aliens, courtesy of a high-tech mind-control device and plug implanted into the base of his skull; Ricky’s mind and actions now belong to the alien crew. The alien “Zirkonians,” via Ricky, lay claim to the planet. Like a puppet/robot/zombie, Ricky moves towards the boys – but Tom and Jake break free.
About the Film
Aliens in the Attic springs from the story by Mark Burton, who wanted to capture what he loves most about films for the entire family – high adventure, unexpected thrills, inventiveness and likable characters, both young and old. Burton, who also cowrote the screenplay, was at home with his wife and family in London, enjoying the company of a group of their grown-up friends downstairs while his kids and their friends’ kids were having raucous fun upstairs. What if, Burton imagined, the kids were battling some alien invaders, while we adults remained oblivious to the goings-on upstairs?
For Burton, imagination is king and central to the adventure transpiring in the attic. But his inspiration was very much of the real world. “When my kids were younger we often used to have the neighbors around,” he recalls. “We’d sit in the kitchen whilst all the kids would disappear upstairs, get massively overexcited, and end up having some huge game running around throwing and firing things at each other. One day I just looked up at the shaking ceiling and thought: what if that was a real battle and we didn’t know? That became the essence of ALIENS IN THE ATTIC: it’s an alien invasion movie where the kids are in charge and the adults have to remain clueless.”
The kids’ homemade alien-fighting “potato spud gun” is a principal tool in their homemade arsenal. They also make good use of existing technology – from another world – when they get their hands on the aliens’ mind-control device. The ingenious contraption conceived by Burton is a high-tech arrowhead and plug that implants into the base of the victim’s skull, molding into its host as energy courses through his or her body. The controller resembles a videogame console, complete with a joystick and an “AlienTooth” earpiece that works as a kind of universal translator. The mind-control machine allows the user – alien or human – to manipulate its victim like a puppet. The Pearson kids’ ingenuity turns the alien machine into nothing less than the ultimate videogame.
Burton recalls the origins of the mind-control machine: “I needed a story device that would explain why the adults couldn’t get involved and it literally became a device — a mind-control device that the aliens could use to turn the adults against the kids. Because the mind control gadgets don’t work on children, it makes the children Earth’s last line of defense. But there was a lot of fun to be had with this device. What if your grandmother was turned into a gravity-defying martial arts warrior? What if the kids got hold of the gadget and used it to control their sister’s lame boyfriend? As a plot device, it generated a lot of comedy.”
The ALIENS IN THE ATTIC screenplay, with further refinements from coscreenwriter Adam F. Goldberg, sparked the imagination of producer Barry Josephson, who had recently produced the hit comedy “Enchanted,” another story rich with imagination, humor and fun. “I really loved the tone of the script for ALIENS IN THE ATTIC,” notes Josephson, an industry veteran who as an executive oversaw the blockbuster “Men in Black,” among other films. As he had accomplished with “Enchanted,” Josephson’s aim with ALIENS IN THE ATTIC was to produce a film the entire family would enjoy. “This is not just a movie for kids, because there are a lot of laughs, big action set pieces and original situations,” Josephson explains. “You don’t always know where the story is going, or what the aliens are going to do next. And kids are always nothing less than surprising!”
To direct, Josephson and studios Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises turned to John Schultz, who had helmed the Josephson-produced comedy hit “Like Mike.” Their first meeting on ALIENS IN THE ATTIC was a harbinger of the freeflowing creativity that would mark the project through its development, pre-production, production and post-production. The two filmmakers’ intense back-and-forth brainstorming session centered on the Pearsons-vs.-the-Aliens battles and character dynamics that were at the heart of the story. “I loved John’s enthusiasm for the project,” says Josephson. “He really understood the character arcs for both the kids and the aliens. John wanted to make sure the aliens were inventive and different from anything audiences had experienced before.”
Schultz and Josephson then began meetings with visual effects powerhouse Rhythm & Hues (“The Incredible Hulk,” “The Golden Compass”) and visual effects supervisor Douglas Hans Smith. Schultz presented the effects house’s design team with detailed alien character description and back stories, which Smith later expanded into full character “biographies.” Schultz, Josephson, Smith and the animators at Rhythm & Hues made sure the alien quartet had distinct personalities. “You can identify each of them before they even speak or move,” notes Josephson. “Skip” is the bossy sergeant and mind-control gadget freak whom no one will listen to; “Sparks” is the kind, brilliant, gifted, `Mr. Fix-It’ alien, who is the ultimate “pick-up artist”; “Razor,” a female alien with an aggressive, smart, no-nonsense nature – a kind of beauty and the beat; and “Tazer,” the all-brawn, no brains muscle-bound “pain in the attic.”
The “ALIENS IN THE ATTIC” were only one piece of the puzzle, though. Josephson and Schultz were also determined to bring together a cast with an intriguing mix of comedy veterans and rising young stars. Taking on the role of love struck teenager Bethany is actress/singer/songwriter Ashley Tisdale, who starred in the wildly popular “High School Musical” films. Coming off that iconic series, Tisdale was looking for something different for her next project. Says Barry Josephson: “I asked Ashley, `What do you want your next movie to be?’ She replied, `An action movie.’ And I said, `Well, here’s your action movie,’” referring to ALIENS IN THE ATTIC.
Tisdale embraced her battle with the aliens, even though her character Bethany enters into it at a late stage. But before Bethany becomes an alien-battling warrior, she is, says Tisdale, a “typical teen, trying to act older and more mature than she really is.” She is besotted with boyfriend Ricky, so much so that “she’s oblivious to the craziness around her,” meaning of course, her brother’s and cousins’ upstairs mêlée with the visitors from outer space. When Bethany does enter the fray, she’s a little out of her element. “Bethany’s used to being in control, and when she joins the battle, she loses control.” Ultimately, though, Bethany’s a force to be reckoned with – on any planet. “When it comes down to the final battle [between the Pearsons and the aliens], Bethany really stands up for herself,” says Tisdale. “She’s not someone to be pushed around!”
The object of Bethany’s affection is Ricky Dillman, who manages to insinuate himself with Bethany’s family in order to spend the weekend with her at the family’s summer home. But Ricky is not the good guy he makes himself out to be, so it’s appropriate that he’s the first to fall victim to the alien mind control machine. When he is implanted with the device, Ricky shoots straight up on his feet, jaw slack, eyes glassy, and a strand of drool dangling from his lip. Robert Hoffman (“Step Up 2: The Streets”), a noted dancer as well as an actor, used all his skills to create the mind-controlled version of Ricky, aka “Zombie Ricky.” “I had a lot of fun using my dance experience to really kick up the fun,” he notes. “I got to fall on my back, jump, magically rise to my feet [from a prone position], get kicked down a flight of stairs, and run into cars.”
When the Pearson kids gain control of the device, they delight in putting the zombified Ricky through those tortuous paces, including having Ricky slap himself again and again. Seeking to amp up the physical humor, Hoffman wasn’t satisfied with fake “movie slaps.” “I told [director] John [Schultz], I know how to make the scene funnier,” says Hoffman. “And I just kept slapping myself harder and harder.”
One of the film’s action centerpieces is a knock-down, drag-out, martial arts battle royale between the kids’ grandmother, sweet, kind Nana Rose, who’s come under the influence of the mind control device – now controlled by the Pearsons! – and the alien-controlled Ricky. It’s Ninja Nana versus Zombie Ricky, who’s no match for Nana as she attacks, swings, punches, lunges, leaps, ducks, dodges, triple-face kicks, flips off a wall, and springs up from the floor like a kung fu master.
The chance to play a mind-controlled zombie was too good to pass up for veteran actress Doris Roberts – or, to be more accurate, for her two young grandsons, who insisted she take the role. “They were very excited [about ALIENS IN THE ATTIC] and especially about that scene,” says Roberts, best known for her role as Ray Romano’s meddlesome mother on “Everybody Loves Raymond.” “`You’ve gotta do the movie! You’ll be a zombie!’ they told me. So I did it. It was a lot of fun to play a sweet grandmother who gets zapped, becomes a zombie, and then returns to being a sweet grandmother, again.”
Comedy veteran, Kevin Nealon, portrays Stuart Pearson, father to Bethany and Tom. It is Stuart who insists on the family getaway, unaware that the idyllic vacation will soon erupt into an interplanetary warfare. Stuart organizes the vacation with the best of intentions. “He’s hoping to reconnect with his son Tom, who is going through some changes – some growing pains,” says Nealon, who was a mainstay on “Saturday Night Live” for years, and now stars on the acclaimed series “Weeds.” Although Stuart is not involved in the scenes featuring the alien mind control device, he makes an apt and humorous comparison with a real-world “control device.” “I do have a gadget that controls people,” Nealon deadpans. “Every time I pick up the TV remote, it makes my wife say, `Put that down.’ So I can control her with that.”
Another “SNL” vet, Tim Meadows, plays the local constable, Sheriff Doug Armstrong. Like all the adult characters, he’s clueless about the brouhaha erupting in the Pearsons’ attic – and perhaps just clueless in general. “He’s a one man police force,” says Meadows of his character. “So he takes his job way too seriously.”
Noted funnyman Andy Richter – now Conan O’Brien’s sidekick on “The Tonight Show” – portrays Uncle Nate Pearson, father of twins Art and Lee and of teen Jake. Unlike his brother Stuart, Nate is an easygoing parent – a fun dad who lets his kids be…kids. “He’s definitely laid back,” says Richter of Nate, “and some might even call him a little irresponsible. He lets his boys run roughshod over him.”
Gillian Vigman, who has a principal role in the recent comedy hit “The Hangover,” portrays Nina Pearson, wife to Nealon’s Stuart and mom to Bethany and Tom. Vigman’s Nina is a stabilizing force in a wild situation (although she and the other adults remain clueless to just how out-of-control their vacation has become).
Joining these comedy greats is a talented young ensemble portraying the kids who wage war in the attic of their vacation home against alien intruders. Carter Jenkins is Tom Pearson, Austin Butler is Jake Pearson, Ashley Boettcher is Hannah Pearson; and twins Henri and Regan Young are Art and Lee Pearson.
The casting of the alien voices was also a mix of acclaimed veterans and talented younger actors. Thomas Haden Church, whose acclaimed body of work includes an Oscar nomination for “Sideways” and a starring role as the villainous Sandman in “Spider-Man 3,” voices Tazer, the muscle-bound hardcase alien; J.K. Simmons, whose numerous credits include the sympathetic dad in “Juno” and a trio of memorable turns as gruff editor Jonah Jameson in the “Spider-Man” films, voices Skip; Josh Peck (“Ice Age: The Meltdown”) voices the geeky, four-armed Sparks; and Kari Wahlgren (“Bolt”) is the dishy (in an alien kind of way) but dangerous Razor.
In the story, the vacation home that serves as ground zero for the Pearsons vs. the Aliens battle is in Michigan, but for production and weather considerations, ALIENS IN THE ATTIC was filmed at the other end of the world – in New Zealand. The far-flung locale turned out to be perfect for the production, which found a house in Auckland that was a perfect match for the Michigan vacation home the filmmakers had envisioned. The Queen Victoria-era house was built in the early 1900s. A few years ago, the structure was to be demolished to make way for a more modern house. The house was spared from the wrecking ball and moved to a site in Auckland’s semi-rural outskirts. The move required the house being “cut up” into eight pieces for transportation by truck and then reassembled.
Production designer Barry Chusid oversaw the process of putting the finishing touches on what was already an appropriately quirky-looking house. “The house was nearly perfect because it’s large and oddly shaped, so you could believe that kids are battling aliens on the top two floors, rooftop and attic, with the parents on the first floor being none the wiser,” Chusid explains.
Director of photography Don Burgess, ASC, working closely with Chusid, embraced the opportunities afforded by the very special structure. “One of the reasons I was attracted to this story was that the house is such an important character,” he notes. “It’s unique and provided a lot of ways to use light in ways we couldn’t necessarily do elsewhere.”
After principal photography wrapped in New Zealand, Rhythm & Hues – under the watchful eyes of Barry Josephson and John Schultz – continued its work on the film’s extensive visual effects and bringing to life the alien quartet bent on vacation-home-attic – then world – domination. At the same time, film editor John Pace, composer John Debney and music supervisor Billy Gottlieb were putting the finishing touches on their work, and the actors did their final recordings. Ashley Tisdale, who recently won the MTV Movie Awards™’ Golden Popcorn for Breakthrough Performance – Female for her work in “THigh School Musical 3: Senior YearT,” took time out from her busy schedule to offer some final thoughts on ALIENS IN THE ATTIC. “I really think there is something for everyone in this movie. Kids will love it, and the film has an edge that teens will respond to.”
Aliens in the Attic (2009)
Directed by: John Schultz
Starring: Ashley Tisdale, Robert Hoffman, Carter Jenkins, Austin Butler, Ashley Boettcher, Henri Young, Regan Young, Tim Meadows, Robert Hoffman, Doris Roberts, Maggie VandenBerghe, Malese Jow
Screenplay by: Mark Burton, Adam F. Goldberg
Production Design byı Barry Chusid
Cinematography by: Don Burgess
Film Editing by: John Pace
Set Decoration by: Milton Candish
Art Direction by: Nigel Evans
Music by: John Debney
MPAA Rating: PG for action violence, some suggestive humor and language.
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release Date: July 31, 2009