There are some films that one sees in their youth and then remembers nothing about them (save for a few pieces here and there) in their adulthood. It could be a film they saw on home video or cable. It could be something their siblings snuck them when their parents were away, something that feels special, even if you can’t recall a moment of it. This is how it felt watching Richard Benjamin’s (Mermaids) sci-fi comedy My Stepmother Is an Alien, starring Dan Aykroyd (Ghostbusters), Kim Basinger (Batman), Jon Lovitz (Saturday Night Live), and Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother) in her first major theatrical role. With the restoration treatment from Arrow Video, fans can revisit a film that is best enjoyed without an ounce of critical thinking with a clean picture and restored original sound, plus a small grouping of bonus materials to enhance the experience.
Widowed SETI Institute researcher Steven Mills (Aykroyd) lives for two things: his daughter Jessie (Hannigan) and making contact with alien life. When his latest attempt at sending a communication signal appears to go haywire, he’s fired from his position and is unsure of what to do next. That is, until the beautiful Celeste (Basinger) appears, insistent on knowing about his work and how to replicate it. What Steven doesn’t know is that his signal reached her planet, Cosine N to the 8th, damaging its gravity in the process, and she needs him to replicate it in order to save her world, except she can’t tell him who she is or where she’s from. With time running out and the two quickly falling in love, a choice will have to be made over what matters more: a healed heart or a destroyed planet.
Prior to watching the restoration, the only thing I could remember about the film, other than the cast, was that it featured Hannigan’s Jessie going on a date with a kid played by an equally young Seth Green, pre-dating their time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the actors’ respective characters would find themselves dating once more. The dynamic is so memorable within the Buffy fandom that it earns a mention among the sales points in the press kit for this film. The sequence is brief and is only significant in that Jessie is a fairly happy kid who’s a little *too* delighted that her dad is having sex again, but finds that happiness shattered when she returns from the date to see Celeste drinking from their car’s battery. (If anything is going to ruin your first date, watching your dad’s new wife chug battery acid will do that.) Thankfully, for those of us with only the briefest of memories about Stepmother, there’s more going on than just a silly chance casting. The film is a sweet family film about the importance of finding love after loss, that sexual desire is a healthy expression of love in a respectful relationship, and just because we think we’ve evolved to a point of superiority doesn’t mean we’re actually superior. Not to mention that somewhere along the way audiences forgot that Basinger is funny as hell. Only a year prior to Stepmother, Basinger starred opposite Bruce Willis in the Blake Edwards co-written Blind Date where she plays a woman who is entirely mild-mannered until she gets a little bit of booze in her. The way she sells her character’s continuous confident misunderstanding of human customs plays beautifully against Aykroyd’s consistently strong straight-man act. The science in the film may be imaginary, the premise ridiculous, the escalation toward the conclusion absurdly exponential, yet it’s difficult to not be charmed by it. In the parlance of the modern era, the film understood the assignment.
If you’re coming to this as a fan and excited for the restoration, let’s get into it technically first before exploring the bonus features.
According to the liner notes, Sony Pictures Entertainment handled the 2K restoration process. First, a 4K digital scan was made from a 35mm original print negative before the video and audio underwent separate restorative processes from Picture Shop, Hollywood and colorist Mike Underwood, with the audio finished by Deluxe Audio Services, Hollywood. It appears that as many original sources were used to create the restoration as possible. The end result is a solid 1080p HD presentation with clear 2.0 audio. The audio does require a little adjustment when played through a 5.1 stereo as the audio track isn’t set-up for that type of play, but, once used to it, the video is nice enough that you forget it’s a film from the ‘80s (save for the usual datedness). The colors are sharp with artifacting is so low that I didn’t notice any when playing the movie through an Xbox X capable of 4K upscaling on a 4K UHD television.
While it’s clear that a tremendous amount of work went into the restoration process, the bonus features are far more minimal than other Arrow Video releases. There’s the typical materials included (trailer, image gallery, liner notes for first pressing releases with an essay) and only two new pieces to expand the viewing experience. The first is a feature-length audio commentary track from critic Bryan Reesman, where he offers technological and contextual information to enhance the film. The second is a more directly connected piece, a 14-minute featurette titled “Cosmetic Encounters: Directing My Stepmother is An Alien,” a new interview with director Richard Benjamin. This one is more of a free-flowing piece where we listen to Benjamin share little anecdotes about aspects of the film (how it got attached, inspiration for the overall tone and set design, casting, how they were able to get Prince’s “Kiss” into the film, it’s theatrical release) against scenes from the film. There’re no on-camera appearances and no indication of to whom he is speaking, so calling it an interview is a little disingenuous, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Personally, I would’ve liked to learn more about the original intent for the film, which Benjamin describes as being a horror film before he attached himself to it. Director Steven Spielberg’s family classic E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982) has a similar origin story and learning about how/why that shift was made for Stepmother sounds like it would be an featurette all its own.
Over the last 21 months, finding joy, however one finds it, should be celebrated. Did I remember the basic idea of Stepmother before rewatching it? Yep — alien infiltrates a scientist’s life to get information and his daughter discovers the secret. But the discovery comes pretty late into the film and is addressed very soon after, allowing for the film to spend the bulk of its time being stupid silly so that when the resolution comes, we, the audience, are not only more willing to just roll with it, we revel in it a bit, too. There’s nothing wrong with some old-fashioned silliness, especially when it comes from a cast more than up to the task of bringing the laughs through honest jokes that demean no-one in the process.
My Stepmother Is an Alien Special Features
- FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Illustrated collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by Amanda Reyes
- Brand new 2K restoration from the original camera negative
- High Definition (1080p) Blu-ray presentation
- Original lossless 2.0 stereo audio
- Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
- Brand new audio commentary by critic Bryan Reesman (1:47:57)
- Cosmetic Encounters: Directing My Stepmother is An Alien, a brand new interview with director Richard Benjamin (14:09)
- Original trailer
- Image gallery
- Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Colin Murdoch
Available on Blu-ray December 21st, 2021.
For information, head to Arrow Video’s website.
To purchase a copy, head to MVD Entertainment Group.