When you think about movie and TV genres that are perfect for satire, science fiction (and sci-fi fans) and medieval sword-and-sorcery yarns are ripe for the spoofing. Two new send-ups are out on DVD this week: "Paul," the story of two sci-fi aficionados from England and their close encounter in America with an actual alien; and "Your Highness," the tale of two brothers, both princes, who go on a dangerous quest to rescue a maiden kidnapped by an evil sorcerer.
"Paul" (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, $29.98/$34.98 Blu-ray-DVD Digital Combo Pack, rated R), the brainchild of co-stars and co-writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ("Shaun of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz") and director Greg Mottola ("Superbad," "Adventureland"), is the better of the two films -- funnier, sweeter and less crass.
We first meet British buddies Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) in San Diego, when their long-awaited trip to the U.S. begins with a visit to Comic-Con, the mecca for sci-fi nerds. These lovable losers win us over instantly with their enjoyment of science fiction, their personal failures and their good nature. They rent an RV and embark on a tour of the American Southwest. They meet a genuine, pot-smoking alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) -- who has been living on Earth for 60 years in a top-secret military installation -- and become abettors in Paul's attempted escape from authorities.
The film then turns into a wild chase/road movie, in which the boys, Paul and a new accomplice -- Kristen Wiig, very funny as Ruth Buggs, a religiously devout RV-camp proprietor -- flee a secret agent (Jason Bateman), his powerful but mysterious boss (Sigourney Weaver), two inept rookie agents (Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio) and Ruth's father (John Carroll Lynch). The escapees have one close call after another, but are repeatedly saved by Paul and his superhuman powers of intellect and disguise. We eventually learn why, after many decades of living quietly on Earth, Paul decides he must return to his home planet.
It's fun to catch the many references and nods to sci-fi movies of the past, most obviously "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T." and "Star Wars." Writers Pegg and Frost also delight in making fun of Ruth's Bible-based denial of evolution, a viewpoint that is debunked not only by Graeme and Clive but by Paul with his superior scientific knowledge.
Both DVD editions include a rollicking audio commentary by Mottola, Pegg, Frost, Hader and producer Nira Park, bloopers, three short features, a photo gallery, storyboards and posters. The Blu-ray edition adds eight more featurettes and a 40-minute behind-the-scenes documentary.
"Your Highness" (Universal, $29.98/$39.98 Blu-ray-Digital, rated R): Oscar winner Natalie Portman and Oscar nominee James Franco may be in the cast, but this comedy belongs to Danny McBride (HBO's "Eastbound & Down"), who co-wrote the screenplay and plays Prince Thadeous as a variation on McBride's usual slacker/lout/coward/braggart/stoner/loser who doesn't think he's a slacker/lout/coward/braggart/stoner/loser. Second in line as the heir to a medieval kingdom behind his more virtuous, brave and handsome older brother, Prince Fabius (Franco), Thadeous reluctantly joins his brother on a dangerous mission to save Fabius' bride-to-be, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel), from the clutches of an evil warlock named Leezar (Justin Theroux). Along the way, they team up with a fierce and resourceful female warrior named Isabel (Portman), who has her own reasons for defeating Leezar.
"Your Highness," directed by David Gordon Green ("Pineapple Express," also featuring McBride and Franco), toys with the usual trappings of the genre. In addition to the evil warlock, there's a magical compass, a five-headed, sharp-toothed beast, a minotaur and buckets of blood and gore. There's also a dragon that ended up on the cutting-room floor but is included in the DVD's deleted scenes. To this, "Your Highness" adds the familiar staples of the youth-oriented stoner comedy: F-words galore, multiple weed jokes, rampant vulgarity, jokes about an assortment of sexual acts, gratuitous female toplessness and multiple double entendres.
Supporting McBride's now-familiar shtick is the always-game Franco. As for Portman, she displays a faux English accent, amazing fighting skills and a potty mouth, proving that she was a good sport by merely showing up on the set to make this romp. The DVD gag reel is at its funniest when Portman repeatedly cracks up while trying to say some of her more graphically dirty lines.
All editions include deleted scenes and a 30-minute documentary on the making of "Your Highness." The Blu-ray edition adds an audio commentary with Green, McBride, Franco and Theroux and several short features.