Director: James L.
Cast: 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
World of Psychic Phenomenon, and The Lincoln
to theaters in the early 80s. As it turned out, it was one of their
theatrical releases. (I assume they went out of business, though I
been able to confirm this.) And after seeing
I'm provoked to saying that their fate was well deserved.
In the small town of Gold Rush, California, a young boy
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
so condos can be built on the property. Everyone's problems goes on
that night during the annual town celebration, when a U.F.O. hovers
the main street and heads towards the lake. Tommy and his grandfather
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
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
did they get clothing for the teenage girl?), the aliens set out to
enough of a certain mineral to repair their damaged spaceship, before
"space window" that they came from closes. All six get into various
and scares from a pursuing government official (Joseph Campanella) and
his goons, but the aliens' limitless psychic powers get them out of
problem, and also assists in helping grandfather save his hotel.
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
Earth is now their new home, with the promise of new adventures every
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originally made as one in 1979 for NBC, which wisely passed on it.
NBC was in the ratings crapper at that time (only 3 NBC shows were in
top 25!), it was clearly too awful even for the network heads. For one
thing, all the characters in Earthbound are incredibly
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
citizens, "It's top secret... so don't tell anyone that the National
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
at one point gratefully telling the welcoming Tommy and his
"We'd be horrified to join you." Mama Alien: "I think you mean
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
most of her time at the hotel pool drooling over sexy male humans, or
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
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
any suspense or excitement be raised in a movie when the protagonists
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
ages and genders would, only duller and slower. The boy really likes
things, which of course just grosses out his sister. Having watched
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
late-70s viewpoint horribly dated this movie. The 70s weren't as bad as
you think, but somehow Earthbound manages to show much
what was embarrassing about that decade, from the dialogue, clothing,
even the sets. (When we finally see the interior of the alien
it provokes hilarity and revulsion.) As well, there are many goofs and
unanswered questions in the movie, including why a picture of the
home world shows two suns when they previously said there were
how grandfather happened to have wet suits in the sizes of the aliens,
a government agency with the generic name "U.S. Government Computer
no explanation as to how light bulbs provide the nutrition needed for
pea-green orangutans, and if female aliens are expected to just buy
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
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
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.
long been frustrated that quite a few movies, like Hollywood
Saw Hookers or The Mommy, are difficult or
to get in Canada. On the other hand, in Canada you can find on video
you can't find anywhere else, like Hot Dogs, Crunch!,
of Dracula, and the aforementioned Earthbound.
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
I went to that aforementioned pawn show to buy and mail the movie to another
(who wanted the movie for nostalgic reasons) in exchange for
Freak and Rat Pfink A Boo Boo. Two e-mails
in less than a week! Who'd ever figure that
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
in Europe when it came out, and by the time I came back home it had
I remember seeing Christopher Connelly (I think his name was) and
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
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
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
was desperately afraid of tripping and falling over the hurdles! ...
toward the end of the run, I was afraid of just being able to finish
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
town. And there's a locker room scene where we're all kind of
out, and I think some star came in, but I never saw them. Got $25 or
or something like that for half a day's work, piled in the buses and
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
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
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
the bushes talking to Tommy and Burl Ives, then they cut to the scene
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
in the 70's and 80's always ended with the camera zooming out of a
of the movie poster. Weird thing was -- the commercial used the same
as the Private Lessons commercial did back in 1980! And if you
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!
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,
called the Pix and paid $.75 admission to see this disaster! That's
-- $.75 per person! $.75 too much I believe! We sat down in the, get
- CROWDED theater, and the movie started up with old Burl and Tommy
at his parents' gravesite. I began to get antsy, wondering when
was going to kick in.....in fact, I remember parents in the audience
laughed at the cute antics of the space monkey! I even wondered -- at
6, why the sister mentioned how hunky Travolta was, when that was
1978! Here's where it gets weird -- the eerie music booms and the
ending hits the screen, with credits rolling on the picture of the
stranded on earth working at a Howard Johnson, or wherever it
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
The only time I saw something related to it again was months later
months) NBC aired the movie in prime time. I switched to the channel,
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
-- maybe you know some back story? I can fill you in on all sorts of
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
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
campaigns - sometimes the music for the movie isn't finished by the
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
do get paid when their music is "borrowed". I don't have that mush
on Private Lessons, though it doesn't seem to have
that much controversy, despite the subject matter and it becoming a big
hit for Jensen-Farley Pictures. Neverless, they went bust not long
and they sold their remaining movie (The Killing Hour) to
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
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