Back in April, we proved once and for all that Mac And Me, a film long held in contempt by mainstream critics, is actually a clever, nuanced piece of 80s cinema. On the surface a mere E.T. clone, a shameless attempt to make a quick barrowful of cash from unwary moviegoers, Mac And Me is, in fact, rich with multiple layers of meaning.
The film can be read alternately as a critique on the American dream, the likes of which hasn’t been attempted since Hunter S Thompson wrote Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas back in the 70s, or a maverick work of postmodern surrealism.
It’s an absolute travesty, I’d argue, that critics continue to pour scorn on director Stewart Raffill’s 1988 masterwork. It’s been given a zero percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, remains ignored by the National Film Registry, and worse still, can’t even be purchased on Blu-ray.
We’ll save our campaign for a high definition release of Mac And Me for another time, and instead take the opportunity to argue for the film’s critical reassessment. To this end, we’ve compiled a list of ten movies universally adored by cinephiles, and explain exactly why Mac And Me is, er, superior to each one.
So, here goes…
The Thin Red Line
Terrence Malick may make his movies at the rate medieval craftsmen erected cathedrals, but his films are invariably worth the wait. 1998’s The Thin Red Line is rightly regarded as one of the greatest war movies ever made, taking a rare meditative approach to depicting the horrors of conflict with a remarkable ensemble cast.
On closer inspection, though, the film’s inherent inferiority to Mac And Me becomes apparent. Malick squandered the talents of such Hollywood legends as Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Sheen, Viggo Mortensen and, unforgivably, the finest actor of his generation, Lukas Haas.
Having shot a film that would take an entire day to watch even on fast forward, Malick was forced to cut the footage down to a runtime that audiences could sit through without falling asleep, getting too hungry, or suffering from a nervous breakdown due to an irreversibly numb posterior.
A true master of his craft, Stewart Raffill had no such problem when directing Mac And Me. He may not have had the budget and starry cast of The Thin Red Line, but every single one of the actors hired for Mac And Me were present in the final cut of the film, which succeeds in telling a touching, uplifting story in a lean, compact ninety-five minutes.
Steven Lisberger’s 1982 sci-fi fantasy was a truly groundbreaking film in terms of special effects, and among the first Hollywood features to attempt to integrate computer-generated imagery with live-action footage.
What many critics overlook, however, is that Mac And Me is just as groundbreaking in terms of visual effects as Disney’s acclaimed movie. An early scene in which the alien family is sucked up by a NASA satellite with a vacuum cleaner attachment was a clear influence on James Cameron and the liquid effects seen in his 1991 hit, Terminator 2.
Mac And Me may not have used computer graphics to the extent that Tron did, but look again at the scene in which the former’s titular alien is chased by a pack of dogs as he buzzes along in a little radio-controlled car. With that level of imagination and filmmaking magic, you really don’t need computers.
It’s not exactly the most acclaimed film ever made, but The Godfather nevertheless ranks as one of Francis Ford Coppola’s better efforts, and is widely considered to be one of the most realistic gangster movies ever made, until auteur Robert Tai came along in 1985 with the genre-defining Mafia Vs Ninja.
Coppola has been quite open about the subdued and meandering nature of The Godfather, however, and once described it as a “dark, long, boring movie with a bunch of guys sitting around in chairs talking.”
There are even rumours that The Godfather‘s gory mob killings were added in later to appease test audiences, though this has never been conclusively proven.
Mac And Me, by contrast, tackles a serious subject matter, the first contact between human and extraterrestrial life, but with a levity and lightness of touch that Coppola’s surly style of filmmaking couldn’t begin to replicate.
Where The Godfather was filled with lingering shots of oozing gunshot wounds and ornery old men muttering about respect, Mac And Me was alive with vivacious scenes of people dancing, a young boy rolling down a hill in a wheelchair, and an alien drinking industrial quantities of Coca-Cola.
Dances With Wolves
Every so often, a film comes along and seduces critics into a frenzy of histrionic praise. Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves was one such film, winning no fewer than seven Academy Awards, and appearing in the American Film Industry’s list of 100 greatest movies.
Although it’s quite true that Costner’s movie is a beautifully made drama about a Civil War veteran’s relationship with a Native American tribe, there’s no getting away from the fact that its title is a flagrant, barefaced lie. At no point does anyone dance with a wolf, let alone the pack of wolves its name implies. Speaking as someone who carefully scanned every frame of the theatrical cut’s hundred and seventy-five minutes, and later scrutinised the two hundred and thirty-six-minute director’s cut for evidence of lupine activity, this blatant piece of false advertising is particularly galling.
Mac And Me, on the other hand, is an extremely clever title that, rather than making promises it doesn’t plan to keep (shame on you, Costner, shame on you), chooses to pose more questions than it answers. Who’s Mac? Who’s me? What is the relationship between Mac and Me? They’re questions that can only be answered by watching the classic movie.
In The Line Of Fire
Clint Eastwood’s documentary about his time as a presidential bodyguard may have lost the power it held over audiences in the early 90s (John Malkovich has since admitted that his obsessive attempts at assassinating the most powerful man in the world were faked for the camera), but it’s nevertheless a touching portrait of an ageing Secret Service agent’s attempts to retain the energy and virility of his youth.
In retrospect, it should have been obvious that Eastwood’s supposed documentary was actually a contrivance. Malkovich’s behaviour is extremely odd when subjected to closer scrutiny, and the notion that a fully working gun can be whittled entirely from a block of cheddar cheese is quite ridiculous, now I think about it.
Stewart Raffill, meanwhile, makes no attempt to hide the less plausible aspects of Mac And Me, and instead revels in the possibilities that a Coca-Cola-addicted alien can provide. Raffill even inserts tins of Coke into almost every single scene, something that many critics have wrongly described as cynical product placement. Nothing could be further from the truth. What Raffill’s actually doing is using a repeating motif that binds the narrative together, like the repeated close-up shots of eyes in a Dario Argento movie, or explosions in a Michael Bay film.
This unofficial Jaws spin-off sees Chief Brody take to the skies in a high tech helicopter, which he later uses to kill Alex DeLarge out of A Clockwork Orange. Both characters were upstaged, it has to be said, by the sterling performance of Blue Thunder himself.
The helicopter may not have been blessed with the ability to speak, as the black Jensen Interceptor of Knight Rider was, but it stole every scene in which it appeared with a simmering, silent charisma. It’s the helicopter’s performance, I suspect, that earned the lasting respect of internationally famous film critics such as Roger Ebert and James King.
Mac And Me can’t hope to compete with the sky-high antics of Brody and his sexy helicopter, but neither does it have one actor that overshadows the rest of the film. In fact, Mac And Me‘s cast, whether human or otherwise, shows remarkable constraint, turning in nuanced, gentle performances.
There are rumours that Ronald McDonald, who only has a brief cameo in the final film, was originally given a much bigger role, but this was ultimately cut out due to his unremitting use of obscene language. These rumours have yet to be substantiated.
The Shawshank Redemption
Another film singled out for an inordinate amount of praise, prison drama, The Shawshank Redemption, was nominated for seven Oscars. This is in spite of its clearly ridiculous premise, which sees Tim Robbins escape from jail with nothing more than a toffee hammer.
Since its release in 1994, Frank Darabont’s movie has enjoyed huge DVD sales. (According to recent reports, every person on the planet owns, on average, three copies of The Shawshank Redemption on disc, largely because it’s given away free with copies of the Sunday Express every Christmas.)
Mac And Me, by contrast, has sold approximately three copies since its release on DVD in February this year. Of those three copies, one was mistakenly ordered from Amazon by a customer looking for a boxed set of the TV series, MacGyver.
Its following may be small, but it’s worth noting that Mac And Me has still earned a fair amount of acclaim, and was nominated for no fewer than eight Golden Raspberry Awards in 1988. The Shawshank Redemption, meanwhile, was snubbed by judges at the 1994 Razzies. Evidence, if any were needed, of Mac And Me‘s clear superiority over Frank Darabont’s well-meaning, yet fanciful prison yarn.
Requiem For A Dream
Darren Aronofsky’s light-hearted drama, Requiem For A Dream, has been widely applauded for its realistic look at drug addiction. And while it’s true that Aronofsky deserves praise for making an intelligent film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I’d argue that Mac And Me explores similar themes in a subtle, more creative manner.
The aliens of Mac And Me, plucked from their simple existence on a barren world, are thrust into a garden of earthly delights. Their growing predilection for Coke, Skittles and McDonalds is surely a metaphor for the numerous substances we can all become addicted to in our decadent, capitalist lifestyles, whether it’s caffeine, refined sugar, burgers or massive quantities of heroin.
It should be noted, too, that having put together a gentle and often extremely funny film, Aronofsky fumbles Requiem For A Dream in its denouement, offering a downbeat conclusion in which every character is shown curled up into a defeated, drug-addled little ball.
Mac And Me, on the other hand, concludes with its alien family completely rehabilitated, accepted into American citizenship, and in possession of a shiny pink Cadillac. Now that, Mr Aronofsky, is how you end a movie.
2 Fast 2 Furious
The natural successor to Bullitt and Le Mans, 2 Fast 2 Furious is now widely acclaimed as the ultimate car movie. Like an automotive rendering of Brokeback Mountain, protagonists Brian and Roman express their hidden sexual desire for one another by driving like maniacs in modified cars. The movie concludes with a final, orgasmic stunt, in which the pair launch their car like a shining missile into the hull of a yacht, a show-stopping, kamikaze demonstration of their unrequited love.
Mac And Me has absolutely nothing in common with 2 Fast 2 Furious at all, apart from one startling crash sequence early on, where a car is flung up into the air, only to come crashing down on the roof of the vehicle in front. It’s evidence of Raffill’s Scorsese-like ability to shock the viewer with flashes of unexpected, ugly violence. It was a skill the director would later display to even greater extent in his intelligent, gritty thriller, Passenger 57.
Guillermo del Toro may have received worldwide acclaim for his fantasy, Pan’s Labyrinth, but everyone seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that its plot is stolen wholesale from Alice In Wonderland. Impressive though del Toro’s dark visuals are, there’s no getting away from the fact that Pan’s Labyrinth is essentially Lewis Carroll’s classic tale rendered into Spanish, with a bit of gratuitous violence and shouting thrown in to entice modern audiences.
Now, Mac And Me has occasionally come under fire for pilfering the plot of E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, but in many ways, all Stewart Raffill has done is take Spielberg’s frankly farfetched premise, and bring it into a more contemporary world of Coke, McDonalds and Wickes pine furniture. As Pablo Picasso famously put it, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.”
In this respect, Stewart Raffill is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s greatest artists, and Mac And Me is his unsung masterpiece. Honest.
Honourable mentions: E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Amores Perros