Director: Alan Brennan
Cast: Rafe Spall, Jenn Murray, Stephen Hogan, David Morrissey
Watch Earthbound online in the UK: NOW TV
Last year, Safety Not Guaranteed landed at Sundance London. A film about a man who believed he could time travel, it was one of the best films of 2012, an adorable, quirky sci-fi that arrived on video on-demand several months later. On Thursday, Earthbound landed at the Raindance Film Festival. A film about a man who believes he’s an alien, it’s an adorable, quirky sci-fi that arrived on video on-demand the very next day. Thank goodness it did.
Rafe Spall stars as Joe, a gawky loner with a love of comic books. He may look like a quiet, bespectacled nerd, but really, he’s the last survivor of a rebellion on his home planet Zalaxon. Brought to Earth by his father (Morrissey), he can’t share his secret with anyone in case intergalactic bounty hunters track him down and sacrifice him.
Then he meets Marie (Murray) and falls head over her She-Ra dolls in love. She’s nice. She’s cute. And, most important of all, she’s a 90% DNA match so he can continue to populate the Zalaxon race. And so Joe decides to tell her his secret. The result is a sweet and silly comedy that manages to send up science fiction without losing contact with sentiment.
That balance of tone partly comes from the cast: from his big grin to his massive glasses, Rafe Spall is a perfectly awkward extra terrestrial, well suited to the cynical but sympathetic Jenn Murray. David Morrissey, meanwhile, brings some grizzled gravitas to the sci-fi element, right down to his hologram facial hair.
But while Earthbound could remain a low-key rom-com, director Alan Brennan thinks bigger: alongside his cheeky nods to 50s TV shows (Space Commander!) he raises serious questions of mental illness, introducing some threatening men in white coats for the unpredictable final act. Even when he ramps up his SFX budget (read: toy ray guns ordered off the Internet), things remain bizarrely believable thanks to Joe’s well-realised everyday life, complete with slimy bosses and dozy colleagues (an amusing John Lynn). The jokes may not touch down for most of the first act, but with graphic novel-style opening credits and a huge, self-aware grin, Earthbound’s imagination abducts your heart long before the end credits. Powered along by a deceptively grand score from Liam Bates, this is a tiny epic sci-fi that sets phasers firmly to charm. SafE.T. Not Guaranteed? Yes please.
Earthbound is available to watch on NOW TV, as part of a £9.99 monthly subscription – with the first 30 days free.