10 alternate interpretations of Mac And Me

A shameless clone of E.T., or a nuanced film layered with meaning? Ryan offers a few alternate interpretations of Mac And Me…

One of the most infamous cinematic clones in history, family sci-fi fantasy Mac And Me was met with critical derision for its numerous similarities to Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. On its release in 1988, a Washington Post review put it like this: “Forget about calling home; E.T., call lawyer.”

Mac And Me is equally notable for its blatant instances of product placement, with cans of Coca-Cola present in what appears to be every scene, and the titular alien, Mac, subsisting exclusively on Coke and packets of Skittles. There’s also an interminably long breakdancing sequence in a McDonald’s restaurant, and the spectre of the golden arches looms large over the entire film.

Add in some decidedly rubbery creature effects and some stilted acting, and it’s unsurprising that Mac And Me earned no fewer than four nominations at the 1988 Golden Raspberry Awards.

Nevertheless, there’s something oddly compelling about this 80s relic and its story about a cuddly lost alien, and if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, the film’s full of hidden subtexts. Here, then, are ten alternate interpretations of Mac And Me.

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It’s a feature-length brochure for pine furniture

A careful repeat viewing of Mac And Me reveals a recurring theme: acres of gorgeous, well-varnished pine furniture. Check out this handsome dining table and matching chairs:

Note, too, the rather splendid pine welsh dresser lingering seductively in the background. Just think of all the crockery or Reader’s Digest volumes you could store in this feat of carpentry:

Later, there’s a lengthy tracking shot of some pine flooring, a smooth piece of steady cam worthy of Stanley Kubrick, in which the light plays gently off its finely-polished wooden surface. Just look at the lovely fit and finish in evidence here:

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Some attractive pieces of craftsmanship there, I’m sure you’ll agree. But where can one buy these quality items? The secret’s revealed when Eric holds a newspaper up to the camera later in the film.

In case you missed it, a similar advertisement is shown later on, this time in the shape of a massive billboard poster sitting in the middle of the desert.

It’s subtle, but the clues are there: each major order of Wickes furniture comes with a free sugar-addicted alien.

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It was originally meant to be an anti-drugs movie

Remember all those references to Coke mentioned earlier?

Maybe someone simply misunderstood the stage directions in Stewart Raffill and Steve Feke’s script, and Mac And Me’s aliens were meant to be addicted to the other, more powdery type of coke.

This would certainly explain the aliens’ perpetually whacked-out appearance, and their weird absence of clothes. Before they became addicts, they were probably well dressed, had all their teeth, and were perfectly capable of coherent speech, instead of the weird peeps and whistles they emit in the film.

It would certainly change people’s estimations of Mac And Me if, lurking in a Hollywood vault somewhere, there’s an alternate edit of the movie in which every instance of a tin of Coke is replaced with a volcano-like pile of Columbian marching powder. Now there’s a special edition Blu-ray we’d like to see.

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It’s a subtle attempt to put people off McDonald’s

“Why don’t you stop by for a Big Mac?” asks one of Mac And Me’s child actors. “I feel like a Big Mac” says another, apropos of nothing. The alien’s called Mac, which we’re told stands for ‘Mysterious Alien Creature’, but we all know he’s really named after a brand of burger.

There’s also a horrible, seemingly endless song-and-dance scene set in a Californian branch of McDonald’s. As product placements go, this film’s constant plugging of McDonald’s and its wares is about as barefaced and unapologetic as it gets.

Then again, is Mac And Me one of the most cunning examples of reverse psychology in the history of cinema? McDonald’s products may be omnipresent throughout, but look again at the company they have to keep: a group of aliens so stupid, their home planet is entirely devoid of houses or societal infrastructure of any kind.

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There are subtle clues, too, in the frightful McDonald’s dance scene mentioned earlier. Take a closer look at the extras in the background: no one’s eating. Several customers (the ones who aren’t professional dancers) look bored, depressed, awkward, or all three. What’s director Stewart Raffill trying to say here? Is it the sign of a rebellious director extending an insolent finger to his corporate paymasters?

It’s actually a paranoid invasion fantasy

Mac And Me could be interpreted as one of the most terrifying alien invasion movies since Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. Imagine the apparently brainless extra-terrestrials didn’t simply blunder their way to Earth by accident, as the opening sequence makes out, but actually stowed away in the probe’s belly deliberately, with the sole intention of dominating the planet and its rich supplies of refined sugar.

The conclusion of the film could therefore be read not as a happy ending, but as the beginning of the end for civilisation as we know it as. Robbed of its delicious reserves of Coke and Skittles, humanity withers away to oblivion, leaving Earth a deserted playground for a family of aliens whose faces resemble a monkey’s bottom. Assuming this is the case, the closing shot of the film, where the words “We’ll be back” appear over a shot of the aliens driving towards a Californian city, takes on a new, sinister tone.

It’s a work of surrealism on a par with Luis Buñuel

Why else would you have a lengthy scene in which wild horses chase a van?

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Or a gratuitous shot of an alien holding a melon?

Note, too, the cameo appearance from Chuck Norris in the scene captured above. The surrealists had nothing on Mac And Me.

It’s a Scarface-style critique of the American dream

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As we’ve mentioned before, the aliens in Mac And Me are among the most dim-witted extra-terrestrials to grace the big screen. And yet, despite their bizarre appearance, and their frankly dangerous habit of making everything they touch either go haywire or explode in a ball of flame, they’re welcomed into the US with open arms at the conclusion of the movie.

Sworn in as American citizens, the film ends with a final shot of the family clad in classic middle class garb (blue suit for the father, dresses for the wife and daughter) as they drive off in an icon of the American way of life, a pink Cadillac.

Is Mac And Me, therefore, a meditation of everything that’s both good and bad about the land of the free? Of the opportunities it presents to migrants, but also the dangers of its potential vices too, from sugar-filled sweets and fizzy drinks to fast food? “The world is yours” is the Scarface-style message present in Mac And Me. “Would you like fries with that?”

It’s about an alternate reality Earth in which everyone is an imbecile

How else do you explain facial expressions like this?

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It’s a family-friendly rendering of The Man Who Fell To Earth

Nicolas Roeg’s 1971 movie The Man Who Fell To Earth is a flawed classic, a fable about alienation, addiction and falling from grace. It’s also full of sex, full-frontal nudity and disturbing images, and therefore unsuitable for a family audience.

Mac And Me, meanwhile, appears to touch on many of the themes of Roeg’s film, but without the R-rated excess. Like The Man Who Fell To Earth, Mac And Me is about an alien separated from his family, who becomes sidetracked from his attempts to become reunited with them by his addiction to earthly vices. In Roeg’s film, those vices were sex and gin. In Mac And Me, as we’ve discussed, it’s Coke, Skittles, McDonald’s and matching pine furniture.

Certain shots in Mac And Me even appear to be lifted straight from The Man Who Fell To Earth. Nic Roeg, call your lawyers.

It’s one of the most original science fiction films of all time

This theory’s really stretching the bounds of credulity, I suspect, but bear with me. Think back over all the other depictions of alien races in sci-fi movies, television and literature. Can you think of a single one as hideously dim as the ones in Mac And Me?

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Even the most basic imagined societies in sci-fi history at least had some semblence of culture or civilisation. Those hated bears of the Star Wars mythos, the Ewoks, could at least stitch a toga together and build a tree house, and if pushed, could even summon enough ingenuity to bring down an Imperial AT-ST.

Compared to the aliens in Mac And Me, the Ewoks are the height of cultural sophistication. Look again at Mac’s home planet – it’s nothing more than a dustbowl. Their language consists of little more than a series of cretinous whistling noises, and they appear to be incapable of building, making clothes, or even producing simplistic works of art.

In this respect, Mac And Me could well be unique – as far as I can tell, it’s the only instance in a work of sci-fi where Earth is visited by a race of complete idiots. Well, Morons From Outer Space came first, I suppose, but the extra-terrestrials in that film were Mensa candidates by comparison.

It’s a shameless rip-off of E.T.

Of all the interpretations related so far, this one’s by far the most spurious. Sure, Mac And Me’s about a cute, wide-eyed alien’s friendship with a group of youngsters, and yes, there are a group of sinister government officials on the alien’s trail. Oh, and there’s a scene where the kids smuggle the alien out of the house, only in Mac And Me they dress the creature up in a bear suit instead of a ghost costume. But a rip-off of E.T.? All similarities are purely coincidental.

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Besides, if Steven Spielberg really was a visionary creator of classic family movies, how come E.T. never featured scenes such as this?

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