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Aliens in the Attic Scribe Mark Burton Explains the Allure of Mind Control

Aliens in the Attic Scribe Mark Burton Explains the Allure of Mind Control” width=”560″/>

The screenwriter for Wallace and Gromit and Madagascar discusses his Doctor Who alien fantasies and the technological wish-fulfillment in his new family scifi flick.

Q: Aliens in the Attic was originally titled They Came from Upstairs. Is it heavily influenced by classic scifi like It Came From Outer Space?

A: I thought Aliens in the Attic was a new angle on an old story really, which is that we’ve seen alien invasion movies before. But what’s different about this one is that the kids are the front line. They protect the parents, and the parents are clueless about what’s going on. I think it’s more in the Goonies, Gremlins genre: You have a lot of fun when you have small aliens because you can have them leaping out of cupboards and hiding under tables. And I think it’s kind of scary for kids, but in a safe way.

Q: This is your first live-action feature. Did writing for real people change the way you write?

A: I think the gap between animation and live action is narrowing all the time. With special effects and motion capture there’s a lot that can go on in either. So I don’t think you write differently. I don’t think you let your imagination be bounded by the fact that it’s live-action — you let the studio worry about that kind of thing. But I think this works best as live-action — it feels more real.

Q: Technology has a strong presence in the movie: The mind control device, the potato gun. What’s the importance of it?

A: The mind control device was literally and thematically a device: I needed a reason as to why the parents couldn’t get involved in the battle, so the device works only on the adults. In terms of approaching it, it’s all about wish-fulfillment. Wouldn’t you have liked to have those kinds of things when you were a kid? Wouldn’t that be cool to have a device you could control your parents with, or a potato gun that really fired like an automatic weapon?

Q: If you had a mind control device, who would you use it on?

A: I already have one — I used it on the President of Fox, which is why they’re making this film. [Laughs] I think it would be a great thing to have, wouldn’t it? You’d have to use it for good. That has to be the rule. Maybe something simple like get the neighbor to go down to the shops for me.

Q: Did you have any alien invasion fantasies when you were a kid?

A: I had lots of fantasies when I was a kid. We used to have a show called Doctor Who. This was in the ’60s — you look at it now and it’s hilarious with all the wobbly sets and the special effects.

Q: They haven’t improved that much.

A: Yeah they’re the same! [Laughs] Talk to anybody from England who’s of that age and we all had the same experience: We watched Doctor Who and hid behind the sofa. And of course we had the Daleks, which are one of the most frightening alien invaders ever, I think. So I think that was enough that I had the Daleks to contend with.

Q: You worked on the upcoming animated movie Gnomeo and Juliet, retelling Shakespeare’s story with gnomes.

A: It’s actually a great world. Same with Aliens in the Attic, what you try and do is look at the ordinary world in an extraordinary way. Toy Story did it with toys, and now Gnomeo and Juliet is the world of the garden. Like in the original Shakespeare, there’s one group of gnomes who don’t get on with another group of gnomes, and a gnome from each side falls in love and cause a lot of garden trouble. But I think there might be happier ending. I’m not going to give anything away, but it’s not going to be everybody lying dead like it is with most Shakespeare.

Q: Your next project is an adaptation of the comic Rex Libris. Why did you pick that comic in particular?

MB: I always describe it as The Bourne Identity with librarians. I loved it. It’s innocently funny because librarians are somehow institutionally unheroic people. But here they’re like a secret group, highly trained with special skills and knowledge they got from a secret stash of books.

Q: Unlikely heroes seem to be a running theme with you.

A: You’re analyzing me. [Laughs] I hadn’t thought about that, but maybe it’s because they’re the more interesting kinds of heroes. They’re more vulnerable. I find the James Bond heroes are too perfect. They’re invulnerable — you don’t worry for them. But take Aliens in the Attic where you have a bunch of kids against a troupe of aliens — suddenly your heroes are the underdogs.

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