Monday, 9 January 2012



Some months ago I wrestled with the possibility that I might be a nerd. I fought against it: deep down, why wouldn't I want to be normal, why wouldn't I want to be like everyone else? But a glance at my CD shelves as they buckle under the weight of film scores, and my DVD shelves creaking with fantasy and horror - both in strict alphabetical order which means The Empire Strikes Back goes under E - rather gives it away. Likewise the Scala programme framed on the wall, or the Mr Flibble glove puppet propped up on my Yamaha keyboard. I think I'm probably entry-level rather than hardcore veteran nerd but that's as far as I'll go at present.

And is nerddom such a bad thing anyway? Nerds invented websites and mobiles and streaming music and all the fun stuff. Nerds have a passion, be it film, sci-fi, politics (tell me William Hague isn't a nerd), technology or music. Pity, then, that nerd is Normalspeak for "socially inept weirdo". The popular image of the nerd is the bespectacled loner with bad hair who wouldn't know a vulva from a fish finger but can name every episode of Babylon 5 and Red Dwarf in order of broadcast and is terribly useful for clearing up formatting problems with Microsoft Word. Mainstream media isn't about to rehabilitate the geek image - just as a soap opera character with a Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer poster on his bedroom door is being marked out as a potential murderer, so one who believes in aliens and watches way too much Deep Space Nine is basically there to be pointed at and mocked, like he's got three heads or something. Just because you dress up as Worf or Deanna Troi in your spare time doesn't make you less of a person.

Maybe nerds have to do their image makeover themselves. A couple of years ago we had the agreeable Fanboys - a film for, by and about nerds - and now, with a much higher profile (like a proper cinema release and bigger names attached) Paul, which has likable SF/fantasy nerds Nick Frost and Simon Pegg touring the US in a Winnebago to visit ComicCon in San Diego as well as various UFO and alien sites including Area 51 and the Black Mailbox in Rachel, Nevada. (Nope, I had to look it up.) While they bicker and banter and are constantly mistaken for honeymooning civil partners, they suddenly encounter Paul, a wisecracking alien fleeing the US military and looking to get back home. But mysterious agents in black are on his trail, along with a couple of rednecks and the bible-thumping father of the fundamentalist Christian girl (Kristen Wiig) they've inadvertently abducted....

It's generally enjoyable although there's a touch too much swearing which gets tiresome after a while and it really doesn't need it. Paul, a predominantly CGI creation voiced by Seth Rogen, gets most of the grosser material although it's a film that wants to be sweet and funny rather than a lowbrow exercise in disgust. It's also a film that plays a good game of Spot The Movie, as the film is loaded with lines and references from Star Wars, ET, Close Encounters, Battlestar Galactica and several others, whether it's dialogue, T-shirts or the presence of Sigourney Weaver in a prominent role and a Steven Spielberg flashback gag. Oddly, the one I liked best (being a soundtrack nerd) is the roadside bar where the house band is playing a country and western cover of Cantina Band from the Star Wars score - but why don't Pegg and Frost's characters notice it? Nice to hear a bit of 50s-era spooky sci-fi theremin on the soundtrack as well.

I liked it, and while I don't know that it's up there with Hot Fuzz (which does go on a little too long) and Shaun Of The Dead, it's still an enjoyable, sweet and smart action/fantasy/comedy that's genuinely difficult to hate, and it manages to make the nerd double-act at its centre personable and human: you do want to spend the time with them, and crucially I think much of it would work even if you're not a nerd yourself. (I watched the theatrical version rather than the extended cut; despite the five minute difference in running time I gather there's little to choose between them beyond some alternative shots and takes and a little extra dialogue.)


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