September 22nd, 1986, television changed forever when the fuzzy, wise-cracking, cat-eating alien from the planet Melmac crash-landed through the roof of the Tanner Family garage. The ‘80s were a wild time when odd couple comedy in sitcoms couldn’t go with the typical anymore (The Odd Couple/Perfect Strangers/Mr. Belvedere) and needed something a little more high-concept. For this, actor/writer/director Paul Fusco (ALF) created the character of Gordon Shumway, more commonly known by the acronym ALF (alien life form). ALF’s series ran for four seasons, with its 1990 season 4 episode “Consider Me Gone” ending on a cliffhanger in which ALF is captured by the U.S. Government instead of catching a ride from some friends and finally getting off Earth. With no more episodes coming, fans of the series couldn’t help but panic as they didn’t know what was to become of their favorite prime-time muppet. That is, until ABC aired Project: ALF on February 17th, 1996, in North America and we learned what went down. Now, Liberation Hall offers the chance to revisit the end of ALF via a home release edition of Project: ALF on both high-definition Blu-ray and standard-definition DVD, as well as a few bonus materials.
Since being captured by the U.S Government, ALF’s (voiced by Fusco) been in the hands of the US Air Force’s Alien Task Force (ATF) where he’s been subjected to rigorous testing for them to learn as much as possible about him, where he comes from, and the technology used to bring him here. But ALF’s gonna ALF and ends up giving more grief unto his handlers than answers. However, not everyone on the project has the patience to put up with ALF’s antics, specifically Colonel Gilbert Milfoil (Martin Sheen), putting ALF’s life in jeopardy. Unfortunately, in trying to save ALF’s life, two team leaders on the project, Major Melissa Hill (Jensen Daggett) and Captain Rick Mullican (William O’Leary) may end up trading the frying pan for the fryer.
If you’ve ever been a fan of ALF, Project: ALF is exactly what you expect it to be, for better or for worse. ALF’s loud, obnoxious, pretty gluttonous, and fairly misogynistic, yet we give him a pass because he’s also pretty funny and the timing of his jokes lands more than misses. The film itself does a great job of answering the three main questions one may have post-season four of the show: What happened to the Tanners, what happened to ALF, what happens next? The answers are: witness protection, research, and the kind of ridiculousness you’d expect, but with a more adult tone. The original program ran on NBC as a sitcom, requiring it to follow certain standards and practices circa 1986-1990. The film, however, was broadcast by ABC in the U.S. as a television movie in 1996, and while there are some places a film like this won’t go in order to maintain the expected audience, it also does include a scene in the tamest strip club in California, so it’s not likely that the scene would’ve worked in the tv show during the original era it ran. The biggest thing that will either delight or alienate its audience is the cast, a literal cavalcade of comic talent of the time that has one wondering if Project: ALF is a Muppete-esque production or maybe someone called in some favors. The main cast includes William O’Leary (Hot Shots), Jensen Daggett (Major League: Back to the Minors), Miguel Ferrer (RoboCop), and Martin Sheen (The West Wing), but also Scott Michael Campbell (Shameless), Charles Robinson (Night Court), John Schuck (M*A*S*H), Lenny Wolpe (Baby Talk), Ed Begley Jr. (Transylvania 6-5000), Ray Walston (My Favorite Martian/Johnny Dangerously), and Beverly Archer (Mama’s Family), among others. As someone who was roughly the right target audience for both the television show and the film when they released (though only seeing the film for the first time now), most of the jokes land and the narrative as a whole entertains. One wonders, though, how well the same things would play for an audience of the same age now without being aware of who some of these actors are and why their inclusion brings such delights!
For quick context, I watched both the pilot and final episodes in preparation for this and consumed both with my eldest who’s close to the age I would have been when the first episode of the original show premiered. Both episodes amused him and he’d like to watch more. Unlike his father, though, he doesn’t have access to Nick at Night, TBS, or other methods of consuming programs before my time (My Favorite Martian) or of my youth (Night Court) in order to understand the hilarity that the brief faces bring to the narrative. As Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023) producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller stated in a recent Variety interview, “And the audience in the theater cannot be sustained on Easter eggs and reveals …”. This quote is in reference to the fatigue audiences feel regarding viewing the same kinds of films told in the same way, but it stands here. A lot of the early jokes in Project: ALF require an awareness of the period and the actors in order to fully take in what co-writers Tom Patchett (ALF) and Fusco are going for. I do think that someone could enjoy this as a thing unto itself, as long as you’ve watched the tv series in preparation, but on its own, would not recommend.
Liberation Hall is offering two versions of Project: ALF: Blu-ray-only and DVD-only. For the purposes of this review, MVD Entertainment Group provided a Blu-ray retail copy. The disc comes in a standard Blu-ray plastic case with only the disc and outside liner. The artwork on the cover is simple (seen at the bottom of the review) and the back includes a few stills, as well as a promo photo of ALF. The on-disc materials are limited to cast/crew bios, a photo gallery, and trailers for the RoboCop tv series. Sprucing things up a little bit is a feature-length commentary track with Fusco, which is accessed through the audio set-up options. Considering he’s the brains of ALF, if you’ve seen the film before, putting that on is bound to teach you a thing or two about the character and the making of the film.
As for the presentation, the video is immaculate. Far better looking than one would expect for a ’96 TV movie. There’s nothing about cinematographer Henry M. Lebo’s (Ebenezer) work that implies lower-grade production value. In fact, the design of the sets and costumes support this sensation of elevation from the original vibe of the series, raising the bar on expectations. Though the audio is 2.0, a downgrade from current 5.1 and higher home theater systems, the on-disc presentation is clean and clear with no hints of degradation or aging. From time to time, an argument occurs regarding sound on older releases not being up-converted or remastered for new systems, but maintaining the original sound is a part of experiencing the piece in its original form and, here, especially as there’s no need for 5.1+, the 2.0 is appropriate for preservation.
Prior to learning about the home release of Project: ALF, I hadn’t given much thought to the refugee from Melmac, but in a recent Target run, my eldest and I came across an ALF figure for sale, so clearly there remains an audience hungry for ALF merchandizing. Amusingly, even though there’s no significant date occurring now (neither for the kick-off nor the finale broadcast), owner of the license, Shout! Factory, is hosting ALF on ALF June 24th and July 2nd on Shout! TV in which Fusco and Patchett chat about their creation. Additionally, you can find episodes of the original series online via Shout! Factory or streaming on Freevee.
All-in-all, as someone who grew up with ALF in my lexicon, the film finale entertains while offering a solid ending for the series. New episodes are purely up to Shout! Factory at this point, but, if it ended here, the closure offered provides enough satisfaction to be ok with it. If you’re like me, then snagging this to resolve your curiosity won’t feel like a waste. But if you’re coming to this without a sense of the era and players, you might not enjoy it as much.
Project: ALF Special Features:
- Cast and crew bios
- Photo Gallery
- RoboCop TV Series Trailers
- Commentary track with Paul Fusco
Available on Blu-ray and DVD June 13th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official MVD Entertainment Group Project: ALF webpage.