Director: James L. Conway         
Burl Ives, Christopher Connelly, Meredith MacRae

The folks at Schick Sunn Classic Pictures, who in the 70s suckered folks into theaters to movies like In Search of Noah's Ark, The Amazing World of Psychic Phenomenon, and The Lincoln Conspiracy, released Earthbound to theaters in the early 80s. As it turned out, it was one of their last theatrical releases. (I assume they went out of business, though I haven't been able to confirm this.) And after seeing Earthbound, I'm provoked to saying that their fate was well deserved.

In the small town of Gold Rush, California, a young boy named Tommy lives with his grandfather (Ives). His parents died a year earlier in - what else? - a car accident. (For once, I'd like to see an orphaned boy whose parents died in a chemical spill, electrocution, steamroller, or something else more original.) Grandfather has his own problems, trying to keep his hotel open while a greedy investor attempts to sabotage things so condos can be built on the property. Everyone's problems goes on hold that night during the annual town celebration, when a U.F.O. hovers over the main street and heads towards the lake. Tommy and his grandfather stay behind to hold the fort while the citizens go out to hunt the invaders down. Shortly afterwards, four human-looking aliens (a married couple, their teenage daughter, and their young son) come out of the woods and beg Tommy and his grandfather to hide them. They are accompanied by their pet alien monster, who looks awfully like an orangutan dipped in green paint, and is also dressed in a light blue jumpsuit like its human - I mean, alien - owners.

Hiding out at grandfather's hotel, and dressed in human clothing (where did they get clothing for the teenage girl?), the aliens set out to find enough of a certain mineral to repair their damaged spaceship, before the "space window" that they came from closes. All six get into various scrapes and scares from a pursuing government official (Joseph Campanella) and his goons, but the aliens' limitless psychic powers get them out of every problem, and also assists in helping grandfather save his hotel. However, to escape detection and stop the government's searching, the family is forced to move their ship deeper into the lake and miss the space window. Earth is now their new home, with the promise of new adventures every week!

Yes, it does sound like a pilot to a TV series. That's because it was originally made as one in 1979 for NBC, which wisely passed on it. Though NBC was in the ratings crapper at that time (only 3 NBC shows were in the top 25!), it was clearly too awful even for the network heads. For one thing, all the characters in Earthbound are incredibly stupid. The worst character has to be the comic relief deputy, who we first see munching a candy bar and reading a comic book of War of the Worlds. When he's unable to turn off the air raid siren, he uses a chain saw to chop down the pole, resulting in the pole crashing down on a car. He's given the cliché of being too dumb to have the sheriff give him bullets for his gun. His typical brainless dialogue includes telling the citizens, "It's top secret... so don't tell anyone that the National Space Agency told me a U.F.O. was coming." The dialogue isn't much better for anyone else; Papa Alien mangles the English language on a regular basis, at one point gratefully telling the welcoming Tommy and his grandfather, "We'd be horrified to join you." Mama Alien: "I think you mean 'honored', dear." (Imagine foreigners thinking they can speak our language! Isn't it funny hearing them goof up?)

There are feeble attempts here and there to write a story, but mostly the movie focuses on irrelevant incidents, such as the teenage alien spending most of her time at the hotel pool drooling over sexy male humans, or when the boy alien helps his new human friend at a basketball game by using his psychic powers in a sequence that would still be stupid and shoddy even if Walt Disney hadn't done something similar (and better) with The Absent-Minded Professor. Also, there's a problem with the aliens having such a wide range of powers; with so many powers, they are able to get themselves out of any situation without hardly raising a sweat. Compare them with E.T., who had powers but was still vulnerable. How can any suspense or excitement be raised in a movie when the protagonists spend little to no effort getting away from danger? What's worse is that the four aliens are pretty bland; they act pretty much just like humans their ages and genders would, only duller and slower. The boy really likes "creepy-crawly" things, which of course just grosses out his sister. Having watched Earth TV, the sister is nuts about Shawn Cassidy and John Travolta, and later says to a new friend, "Wouldn't it be great if [those boys] asked us to the disco tonight?" There lies another problem of the movie; even in 1981, Earthbound's late-70s viewpoint horribly dated this movie. The 70s weren't as bad as you think, but somehow Earthbound manages to show much of what was embarrassing about that decade, from the dialogue, clothing, and even the sets. (When we finally see the interior of the alien spaceship, it provokes hilarity and revulsion.) As well, there are many goofs and unanswered questions in the movie, including why a picture of the aliens' home world shows two suns when they previously said there were three suns, how grandfather happened to have wet suits in the sizes of the aliens, a government agency with the generic name "U.S. Government Computer Center", no explanation as to how light bulbs provide the nutrition needed for split pea-green orangutans, and if female aliens are expected to just buy groceries on their home planet as well as on earth.

After Earthbound was given a theatrical release, it quickly disappeared from people's memories, and is now only occasionally revived by a broadcast on local TV stations (where I finally saw it.) It's not available on video in the United States, though strangely, it was released to video in Canada. Though the only copy I've seen was at a pawn shop - that should tell you something about how the movie was received here. I've long been frustrated that quite a few movies, like Hollywood Chain Saw Hookers or The Mommy, are difficult or impossible to get in Canada. On the other hand, in Canada you can find on video movies you can't find anywhere else, like Hot Dogs, Crunch!, Son of Dracula, and the aforementioned Earthbound. Somehow, I don't think that evens things out.

UPDATE 1: Reader David Kuhns wrote to me asking where he could buy this movie. I had to tell him that just a few days earlier, I went to that aforementioned pawn show to buy and mail the movie to another reader (who wanted the movie for nostalgic reasons) in exchange for Blood Freak and Rat Pfink A Boo Boo. Two e-mails about Earthbound in less than a week! Who'd ever figure that out?

Anyway, what was really interesting was that David told me that he had the fortune to star in this movie! I asked him to tell me all the juicy tidbits about the movie. His recollections:

"Juicy" tidbits? I'm not certain about that... it was so long ago, and I don't remember many. I suppose if I saw it I'd remember some. I was in Europe when it came out, and by the time I came back home it had vanished. I remember seeing Christopher Connelly (I think his name was) and wondering who he was! He was supposed to be the "big name" actor in the movie, and I -- who had actually studied film for several semesters -- had never heard of him!

IF it's the same movie (and, like I said, I'd have to see it to verify it!), then the way I got in it was by being a roommate of a member of the BYU (Brigham Young University) track team; they were looking for extras for the opening scene, which evidently is at a track team workout at a high school. My friend -- who saw the movie -- said that I have a pretty long shot of me in the opening scene. The camera pans following a group of hurdlers -- including moi, who had never run track in my life and who was desperately afraid of tripping and falling over the hurdles! ... then, toward the end of the run, I was afraid of just being able to finish the run!! -- running around the track before panning onto Christopher C. in some silver pajama suit.

Again, not knowing where the movie is set, I always wondered at the reviews, which said it was set in a "small Midwestern town". If so, how did they account for the mountains of Utah which were all around this small town. And there's a locker room scene where we're all kind of stretching out, and I think some star came in, but I never saw them. Got $25 or $50 or something like that for half a day's work, piled in the buses and went home.

Not exactly juicy!

Though David got a few minor details hazy, his recollections do provide enough evidence that this was the movie he was in (for example there is a scene in Earthbound on a school's athletic field, and another scene in a locker room.) Thanks very much, David!

UPDATE 2: Shortly after the above update was added (I can't believe this movie has generated so much feedback!), reader David Hobbs wrote with an amusing story about his experiences with Earthbound:

For years I've looked for this movie, and guess what - I'm one of the few Americans who has it on tape! Unfortunately, it's taped off of local television with commercials, but nothing has been edited out of the domestic release version, so it's as if I have an original copy!

So here's the clinker - I actually saw this piece of crap in the theater, when I was 6 years old! I still remember everything about it! I remember the commercial showed the family from outer space standing in the bushes talking to Tommy and Burl Ives, then they cut to the scene when they enter the spaceship as it was submerged underwater, and finally it ends with a zoom-out of the movie poster, which featured the green monkey in a jumpsuit, hanging from a spaceship in outer space. If you remember, movie commercials in the 70's and 80's always ended with the camera zooming out of a close-up of the movie poster. Weird thing was -- the commercial used the same music as the Private Lessons commercial did back in 1980! And if you remember that film -- which I'm obsessed about as much as I am with Earthbound, it was a teen sex flick! This was a family sci-fi flick!

Being the Star Wars crazed tike that I was, I HAD to see "The Space Family Movie," as the commercials were touting it as. The second day it opened, my grandma took me to this small theater in Waukesha, Wisconsin, called the Pix and paid $.75 admission to see this disaster! That's right -- $.75 per person! $.75 too much I believe! We sat down in the, get this - CROWDED theater, and the movie started up with old Burl and Tommy standing at his parents' gravesite. I began to get antsy, wondering when this thing was going to kick fact, I remember parents in the audience actually laughed at the cute antics of the space monkey! I even wondered -- at age 6, why the sister mentioned how hunky Travolta was, when that was sooooo 1978! Here's where it gets weird -- the eerie music booms and the depressing ending hits the screen, with credits rolling on the picture of the family stranded on earth working at a Howard Johnson, or wherever it was! Then....the audience APPLAUDED! My grandma got up, and said to me, "Well, that was pretty good!" and I sat there wondering if I'd ever see this movie again. The only time I saw something related to it again was months later (yes, months) NBC aired the movie in prime time. I switched to the channel, and looked at my mom and told her that the movie Grandma and I saw with the space family was on. My mom deadpanned -- "turn that crap off," and we turned it to "Three's Company" on ABC. Ironic, huh?

Well, I'm sure this wet your whistle for more info on such a classic. I'm still looking for any stories on Private Lessons from 1980. Eric Brown who starred in that movie really was 15 at the time and was on top of naked 30 year old Sylvia Kristel. I don't remember any controversy -- maybe you know some back story? I can fill you in on all sorts of rare movie stuff - I'm in the business, I hear stories all the time!

Keep up the great work on your site! Consider it bookmarked on my computer!

Thanks for the complement, Dave, and for this information about Earthbound's advertising campaign and its audience reaction (the adults applauded????) It's been a common practice to use music from other movies in advertising campaigns - sometimes the music for the movie isn't finished by the time the advertising campaign starts, or the music isn't appropriate at all for the commercial. In case you're wondering he owners of the music used do get paid when their music is "borrowed". I don't have that mush information on Private Lessons, though it doesn't seem to have generated that much controversy, despite the subject matter and it becoming a big hit for Jensen-Farley Pictures. Neverless, they went bust not long afterwards, and they sold their remaining movie (The Killing Hour) to 20th Century-Fox.

UPDATE 3: Years after his first letter, David Kuhns wrote in again:

Hey! I was doing a search for me in that FABULOUS movie Earthbound, and I came across the "tidbits" you and I discussed over a decade ago.

Believe it or not, I FINALLY saw the movie.

Believe it or not, I actually SAW myself in the movie...

Here's the funny part (for me): I was watching the movie on video, and about half way through it, I FELL ASLEEP!

When I watched the movie with my kids, they could see me right away. I was in the opening sequence at a high school track... the camera pans on me and a few other members of the BYU track team running hurdles... which i'd never done before (actually, I'd never run track before). Then, the coach calls us in. The director told us "take a slow jog across the field and kinda shake down, as though you were warming down." Well, I'd never done that before, so while the other guys are kinda loosly jogging, I'm doing some sort of arm and head and leg motions. My kids said: "Dad! Were you having a seizure? WHAT are you DOING!?!?!"
Then you can see me in the locker room sequence, right in the front of the scene. I don't remember anything much other than that... as I said, I didn't even stay awake through the movie!
Hope this gives you some more tidbits!

Check for availability on Amazon.

See also: Mountain Man, Seven Alone, White Wolves