Friday, February 29, 2008

Opening Credits Sequence Theatre: A Fistful of Dollars

I've complained in the past that more and more films these days are skipping completely over opening credits sequences, and the trend continues. It's not that I think these should be mandatory, but the way they set mood and help transition the viewer into the film's world makes them a useful tool and I'd like to just call attention to that now and again. So, without any regularity whatsoever, I induct this new feature, calling attention to good opening credits sequences as I find them on various video-sharing sites.

First up, Sergio Leone's groundbreaking FISTFUL OF DOLLARS:

The cartoon shilouettes have an iconic quality to them, adding a weird postmodern quality- this is not the real American west, but the Wild West as filtered through old movies, fumetti, and pulp novels. It's crude and it's violent and it's fast, as emphasized by the driving nature of Ennio Morricone's score (accented with gunshots and gibberish vocals.) This really sets the theme for the whole "Dollars" trilogy and arguably all of Leone's westerns; the reality didn't interest him nearly as much as the abstraction.

I'll post more of these depending on how easy it is to find them- some studios are quicker to call copyright infringement than others, so I'll see what I can get away with.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Random Movie Report #42: Blade Runner- The Final Cut

Purchase the Four-Disc Collector's Edition from hereI was going to write something commenting about the Oscars, but there really wasn’t anything there that I could organize into a coherent article. I was reasonably pleased, Jon Stewart was mostly funny, some very talented people won. Nothing much to talk about, so instead, let’s review BLADE RUNNER. I only got around to buying the legendary “Final Cut” just recently, and watched it yesternight.

The first time I saw BLADE RUNNER I was overwhelmed. It was a showing at the Englewood Theater in Independence (which USED to show classic movies, I think it’s just a normal theater now) on a screen some fifty feet wide, and the visual and aural overload prevented me from fully understanding what I was seeing. I was fascinated enough to take second and further looks on video, and the picture improved significantly. Now, after many delays, Ridley Scott has been able to assemble and release a version of the film which reflects his definitive vision, and though it’s not a significant revision compared to the Director’s Cut release in 1992, it does seem once and for all to cement the film’s status as a masterpiece of science fiction. Not only is it a visual marvel, rendering a dystopian future in almost sensuous detail, it’s more complex than it first appears, showing the struggle against mortality and the struggle to hold on to a sense of self as they appear in the stories of many characters, from the hardboiled protagonist to his psychotic quarry. The first feature film adaptation of the works of Philip K. Dick (in this case the novel DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?), BLADE RUNNER takes many liberties but confronts many of the same issues with equal measures of intelligence and passion.

The film is set in 2019, in the overgrown and forever polluted city of Los Angeles, where crowds of people live in the kind of squalor that Dickens characters would find intolerable. Most everyone is trying to jump ship to the fabulous off-world colonies, and the Tyrell corporation has developed replicants, near-perfect androids, to do the work of men better than most men can. However, many replicants, especially the newest Nexus-6 models, have developed free will and tried to escape human control. A batch of them have fled back to Earth, and the LAPD enlists the aid of Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former “Blade Runner” whose job it is to retire rogue replicants with as much force as necessary. Deckard’s been trying to retire, but is quickly coerced back into service. While hunting, he falls in a sort of love with Rachel (Sean Young), a Tyrell Corporation secretary who’s also a replicant, but doesn’t know it since Tyrell has given her false memories to try and ensure she behaves more predictably. The rogues, meanwhile, led by Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), are on a desperate search- a replicant has a four year life span, and Batty is nearing the end of his, so he’s trying to wrest secrets from the Tyrell corporation that might help him to stave off the inevitable.

The term “future noir” has stuck with this film so well that it’s actually the title of the making-of book; the plot has the structure of a detective story, with Deckard piecing together clues to find the replicants walking among us, but mirrors this with Batty’s own investigations and attempts to get inside the company. Unlike most detective sagas, however, this movie isn’t really about the details of its plot; the clues fit together, but the investigation is something of a straight line (and Ford complained at points that he was playing a detective who did no detecting.) The excitement is not really in what happens, but how it happens, and where. The look of BLADE RUNNER, itself influenced by HEAVY METAL magazine, has influenced countless films since, even spilling over into architecture and the graphic arts in general. As grimy, damp, crowded, and smoky as the world of the film is, it’s bizarrely beautiful, a sea of lights amongst the darkness with magnificent structures built upon a foundation of poverty and pollution. One nice detail, taken from the novel, is that most animals have become exceedingly rare, creating a market for synthetic animals that aren’t so much pets as status symbols. We have flying cars, but only for the police- everyone else just wishes they could get off the ground. There are giant billboards and a massive corporate pyramid in the heart of the city. The artist Vangelis composed and performed the music for this film, and in its futuristic simplicity it hints at a kind of hope and grandeur as a counterpoint to the visuals.

Many great looking films get accused of being short on substance; and BLADE RUNNER was and is no exception, and you can see where the idea springs up. The dialogue is sparse and the story advanced mostly through visuals (part of this was actually Ford’s doing- early scripts contained heavy amounts of narration filling in details of the investigation, but he wanted to do some on-screen detective work, so some scenes were repurposed.) Of course, in the wealth of beautiful images, the plot significance of a single scale or a pile of photographs can easily get lost, and this is probably why Warner Bros. originally insisted on adding narration back into the picture for its initial release. But these things are quadrinary; before them come the atmosphere, the characters, and the themes raised by what’s happening to everyone.

The atmosphere I’ve dealt with. The characters are based in archetypes- the hard-boiled detective, the femme fatale (three in this picture, if one also includes Joanna Cassidy’s exotic Zhora and Daryl Hannah’s childlike Pris), the thug (Brion James as Leon), the cynical police chief (M. Emmet Walsh), the sleazy cop (Edward James Olmos in an amazing turn), and of course, the villain. Brought to life with ferocious energy, Rutger Hauer’s Batty is a man dedicated to getting as much out of life as possible. He is passionate and moody, given to tenderness as well as murderous rage, and there’s a hint of Milton’s Satan in him as well, as he rises to confront his own God- Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel), the head of the Tyrell corporation. Hauer is utterly captivating and almost steals the show entirely, despite Ford being as well cast as he is. Though Roy does some plainly awful things, he and his comrades are in a life or death struggle, and a key question is whether they deserve life any less than the humans who dispassionately wander this hellish realm they’ve created for themselves. But of course, everyone dies, it’s just a matter of when, and everyone- including Deckard, as a dealer of death- must acknowledge that they’re mortal. (William Sanderson gives an endearing performance as J. F. Sebastian, a Tyrell corporation engineer suffering from premature aging.) Whether they are even alive or not, human or not, is up for debate; Deckard of course makes himself a little less human with everyone he executes (there’s a nicely callous scene where he tells Rachel memories that only she should know, tearing down her illusion of humanity forever.) The question seems to be, is humanity something we’re born with, something innate, or do we have to earn it and fight to hang on to it? This is the same ethical debate that formed the central thesis of Dick’s novel, and though he was more hard-nosed on some elements (his replicants are decidedly sub-human, incapable of empathy towards others), the essential idea that it is empathy that makes us human is retained.

When watching “The Final Cut” I picked out only one shot as definitively new (and this because a photo of it had appeared in FUTURE NOIR)- most of the alterations are very subtle tweaks in effects and editing, to make the film a bit slicker and a bit smoother without calling attention to anything different. Some important ambiguities (and fans of the film will know what I’m talking about) are still there, and it’s more or less the same film that’s been out for over a decade. Nonetheless this DVD release- which also contains the theatrical cut for those who prefer it, plus a couple of other versions- is a great opportunity to get reacquainted with a genuinely great film, a classic that has improved substantially with age. BLADE RUNNER is a film to be experienced, to be immersed in, not needing to be instantly understood but definitely something to be felt.

From the novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick
Screenplay by Hampton Fancher and David Peoples
Directed by Ridley Scott

Grade: A

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Not On Strike: The Belated Wrap-Up

This isn't the most relevant picture I could find, but who cares?
So it’s been a while since the Writer’s Guild of America ended and I’ve yet to post about it. It ended in a very anticlimactic way, which certainly dampens one’s enthusiasm. It wasn’t a defeat for the WGA, who managed to gain residuals for the internet distribution of content which was the entire point of the exercise, but it wasn’t entirely a defeat for the studios either. Of course, when neither side looks like it’s lost, that’s the ideal outcome of a negotiation, and whatever the outcome was, was likely to be spun both ways to start with. Most media coverage, mind you, has been slanted towards the studios for the simple reason that the companies that own the studios own most of the media outlets anyway, and the current gabbing point is that the writers lost more in revenue by striking than they are likely to gain back with the contract.
Even if this were true (and I’ll be damned if I’m going to crunch those numbers), there’s a certain stand on principle that had to be made here. If, as is predicted so often, online distribution becomes the bulk of the market, then a lack of residuals on such distribution would have meant an effective end to the residuals system as a significant source of income. In the short term this probably seemed like a good thing to the AMPTP, but of course getting rid of residuals just means everyone wants more money up front. Residuals have been in place for a while, mainly because they seem to work, and to see that they have been, effectively, preserved is reassuring.

Concessions were made, of course. After the AMPTP stormed out of talks over issues of jurisdiction over animation and reality programming, the WGA decided to drop their related demands. Officially speaking, animation writers and reality writers can join the WGA and even have productions fall under their contract, but unofficially all sorts of skullduggery can be done to make sure this doesn’t happen. There also wasn’t much done about the vanishingly small DVD rates that were supposed to have been increased when home video proved itself profitable sometime around the Reagan Administration. There’s also a free 17-day “promotional” window where the studios can stream content without paying for it, and abuse of that will have to be closely watched. Still, there may be a chance to work on issues like this when the contract comes up for renewal in three years- this is a relatively short period, and the renewal date is also much closer to that of the other unions, meaning that if we get another strike everyone involved will have much more leverage.

Thanks are due to the Directors’ Guild of America, as their early negotiation actually provided a great excuse for talks to restart without anyone losing face. There were some fears that since the DGA wouldn’t make residuals a priority (since they rely more on up-front payments) the writers would be pressured to accept an unfavorable contract, but they apparently held to the principle of Internet residuals even while demanding fairly low rates- getting what they did made it easier for the WGA to negotiate slightly higher percentages, since the AMPTP had basically blinked on the issue.

Of course, thanks are due to a lot of people- the striking writers perhaps most of all, and everyone who supported them on the picket line. This could have been a lot longer and more bitter than it turned out to be, and the below-the-line talent in particular showed a lot of patience. And in the end, you do have to give the AMPTP credit for coming to the table and reaching a deal; for whatever reason, they ended up doing the right thing. There’s still a lot of weirdness and skullduggery in the movie and TV business, but occasionally good things happen. Not the best ending one could hope for, but it could have been worse.

Friday, February 15, 2008

In Theaters: Diary of the Dead

Image from the Internet Movie Poster Awards, at
Through my elite Hollywood connections (i.e. going to a comics shop and seeing they were giving out passes), I was able to catch DIARY OF THE DEAD a whopping day before its limited release, which as you read this should have already started. So, as brief as my feeling of exclusivity has been, I’m still glad to tell you that George A. Romero’s latest entry in his genre-defining series of zombie films is great fun, and pretty much a must see for anyone who isn’t completely sick of shambling undead by this point. It has the misfortune of coming on the heels of CLOVERFIELD, as like that film it covers a horror-movie event from the perspective of some average Joes with a camera, but it actually does more with the premise and sets itself apart as a weird, sprawling journey through a world where the laws of life and death have very suddenly changed.

The film presents itself as a documentary (itself titled “The Death of Death”) being shot by Jason Creed (Joshua Close), a student filmmaker who is actually out in the woods shooting a horror film for his thesis. He and his friends start hearing news reports of the dead coming to life and attacking people, and as it becomes clearer that it’s not a hoax and that this is kind of widespread, they hop in a Winnebago in hopes of finding their loved ones and maybe some safety from an increasing epidemic. Jason decides to keep filming, much to the consternation of his girlfriend Debra (Michelle Morgan), but he feels compelled to record what’s happening in the hope that it might help somebody.

For those who suffered from motion sickness (or just plain irritation) due to the shaky camera work of CLOVERFIELD, I can say that this is not nearly as big a problem here- the camera is handheld, but by someone who knows what he’s doing for the most part, and there are some shaky moments but it’s not excessive. The picture quality is also better than you’d expect (perhaps justifiably) and the gang also find a second camera at one point, allowing for reverse angles and the like. There’s even an incidental score, though there is an explanation for it.

The film struggles to find a tone in its early stages, caught between deliberate camp and realistic horror, but around the time our characters encounter a deaf, dynamite-wielding Amish farmer, the film finds an odd kind of balance. It’s the kind of wild comic book tone that you may remember from DAWN OF THE DEAD, and later films to a lesser extent, and it helps that both the humor and the scares work on their own. (There’s a sequence in a warehouse that is beautifully cut together.)

What really does stand out after a while is how unpredictable the picture is. At first, of course, it has to go through the standard exposition of things we already know: there are zombies, they eat people, their bite turns into a zombie, you need to shoot them in the head to kill them. But the story, which ultimately has a very episodic structure, frequently goes in unexpected and surprising directions. A lot of this applies to the characters as well; at the start this looks like it’ll be your classic Dead Teenager Movie, and some of the characters stand out as obviously there to be cannon fodder, but Romero ultimately likes his cast too much to be that obvious, and though there are casualties, you can never be really sure of what will happen to whom. The performances are generally strong, with Scott Wentworth doing a good turn as a cynical film professor. The beautiful, near-ethereal Michelle Morgan is also memorable.

Romero’s zombie films have all had some element of social commentary, and this is no different. It’s mostly about the proliferation of media in the modern age and how everything anyone does is recorded and made available to the public, for good and ill. Jason’s need to film everything is commented on as a kind of detachment, a way of shielding himself from the horror. Romero is not exactly subtle about this, but of course he’s rarely been subtle about anything. Some of the dialogue along these lines, especially in a couple of interstitial montages, is very clunky, but some interesting points are made, and the film also works in references to racial issues, class issues, 9/11 and the War on Terror, and other neat stuff.

It was, needless to say, a privilege to see the film when I did and with a good crowd of zombie fans, but the picture itself is no slouch. It’s consistently entertaining, alternates nicely between horrific and funny, throws on a good amount of gore (though some of it is obviously being saved for the inevitable unrated DVD), and again challenges the limits and conventions of a well-worn genre. Romero continues to do fascinating work with a limited premise, and with approximately two to four million dollars he’s put together quite the epic. Grim fare though it may be, this film left me with a surprisingly good feeling.

Written and Directed by George A. Romero

Grade: A-

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Academy of the Underrated: 2010

First things first: the Writer's Strike has ended, I'm reasonably pleased with how things turned out, and I will blog about that later. I've got a bit of a content backlog forming, so bear with me.

The sad passing of Roy Scheider earlier this week at age 75 prompted me to go and revisit one of his movies. An odd kind of character actor turned star, Scheider accumulated an impressive body of work during the seventies and eighties, and I had a lot to choose from, but being in a sci-fi kind of mood I decided to go with this. 2010: THE YEAR WE MAKE CONTACT is a solid, intelligent science fiction adventure which benefits greatly from Scheider’s affability and apparent ease in front of the camera. I’m not actually sure I should call it underrated, since it got decent reviews (though RT has it at the cusp of rottenness), but it’s always naturally been in the shadow of its predecessor. 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY is one of the most important films of the genre and a milestone of the cinema in general, 2010 is simply quite good. But I’ve decided just now (and for lack of a better category since this isn’t really a random review) that this kind of obscurity is fair criteria for inclusion in the Academy, and here we are.

Years after the ill-fated Jupiter expedition which left the Discovery spacecraft drifting in orbit around the moon of Io, and its psychotic computer HAL deactivated whilst Dave Bowman went beyond the infinite, both the US and USSR (in this future they still exist, just go with it) are planning missions to find out what happened. The Russian spacecraft, the Leonov, will be ready first, but only the Americans know how to access the information on the Discovery, whose orbit is quite suddenly decaying. A Russian scientist (Dana Elcar in a brief but memorable role) approaches Dr. Heywood Floyd (Scheider), one of the original directors of the Discovery mission, with an offer to take a few Americans on board the Leonov and make it a joint venture. Despite growing tension between the two superpowers over a conflict in Central America, Floyd is able to persuade NASA to okay the expedition, and he boards the Leonov along with Dr. Walter Curnow (John Lithgow) and Dr. Chandra (Bob Balaban), who programmed the HAL 9000 and hopes to be able to fix him. On the way, the Russian crew finds evidence of something stirring under the frozen surface of Europa, and though restarting the Discovery turns out not to be so hard, there’s still the mystery of the giant monolith hovering over Jupiter to contend with. Through it all, the American and Russian crewmembers are affected by a steadily worsening situation at home.

In some ways, making a sequel to a classic movie may actually be harder than just remaking it. Instead of retelling a good story, you’re setting out to continue it, and 2001 has its specific pitfalls, namely that it wasn’t so much a narrative to begin with as a visual symphony built around a narrative. Shifting from science fiction art film to just plain sci-fi is a bit of a thematic shock, and screenwriter/director Peter Hyams (working from a novel by Arthur C. Clarke, who shows up not once but twice in the picture) is not one to dwell on the artsy side. Moreover, this film purpots to explain some of what we saw in 2001, which to fans of the original is a bit of a blasphemy since part of 2001’s appeal is that there is no set explanation.

However, just because the film is more straightforward doesn’t mean it’s dumbed down. It’s an intelligent story in the vein of traditional pre-New-Wave science fiction; smart protagonists going into the unknown and using their smarts to tackle its mysteries. 2001, at its base, was very similar, and apart from caving to audience expectations of having noise in the vacuum of outer space, 2010 shares the original’s grounding of near-mystical transcendence (beings with technology that, as Clarke set down, is sufficiently advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic) in hard science fiction, and both the film’s plot and its visuals reflect the clunky difficulties of space travel and the role of the hideous bitch goddess that is the laws of physics. There’s a particularly good aerobraking sequence when the Leonov enters Jupiter’s atmosphere to slow itself down, and though the film isn’t as consistent about interior gravity as 2001 was, the special effects are remarkably convincing.

What’s really surprising and impressive is just how well this movie works on the human level. Scheider is a huge part of it; he has a way of delivering all of Floyd’s dialogue as though he just now thought of it. He’s basically a character actor in a leading man role, and brings a distinctive personality and warmth to the part. Seeing him paired with Lithgow and Balaban is a treat, to say nothing of Helen Mirren counterbalancing them as the stern, dedicated Russian captain. Prolific Latvian actor Elya Baskin also has an entertaining turn as Max, a cosmonaut who befriends Curnow when the two have to take a harrowing spacewalk over to the wildly spinning Discovery. Even HAL, voiced again by Douglas Rain (and try figuring out who plays his Earth-bound counterpart without looking on IMDB), is given a character arc that’s oddly satisfying and may even leave you a little misty-eyed. The script has some great dialogue, and the alternately serious and trivial exchanges add a real authenticity to all that happens. Hyams’ unshowy direction turns out to be an asset in this way as well, and David Shire’s score is similarly restrained.

Though the film never matches the sheer epic beauty of Kubrick’s cinematic tone poem, it has to be said that it does capture an emotion intrinsic to the science fiction genre, the oft-discussed “sense of wonder” wherein we confront the beauty of things that are fantastic but also may well exist, where we realize just how amazing the universe can be. In that if nothing else it does justice to its predecessor, and though some aspects of the picture are dated most of it holds up remarkably well. And as we remember Roy Scheider, we can mark this as one of many small triumphs. And one that shouldn’t be as obscure as it is.

From a novel by Arthur C. Clarke
Written for the Screen and Directed by Peter Hyams

Grade: B+

2010 can theoretically be found by clicking on the image above, though it's an OOP disc and you're at the mercy of Amazon re-sellers.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Random Movie Report #41: Varan the Unbelievable

I love a good monster movie, or for that matter a bad monster movie. Mediocre ones often get a pass as well. I saw the American cut of VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE many years ago at the now-closed Tivoli theater in Westport, where it was a last-minute replacement for a Godzilla film that was suddenly unavailable. I wasn’t hugely impressed, but it was a heavily re-edited American version, and it wasn’t until years later that the original Japanese cut appeared on DVD. It’s honestly a disappointment, a rushed and half-baked kaiju eiga in which Toho tried to recreate the success of GOJIRA and RODAN with much less effort. It has a good monster who deserved a better shot at stardom, and so fans of the genre should give it a look for that reason, but it’s a minor picture.

The appearance of a rare butterfly in a remote area of the Tohoku region (called “the Tibet of Japan”) causes two scientists to head out to the area to look for more speciments, despite the warnings of local villagers who live in fear of the Baradagi, a mysterious demon god. The scientists are crushed in an avalanche by some unseen horror, causing another group of three people to go out after them. They’re the first to see the “god” with their own eyes- Varan, a prehistoric beast that lives in the lake and occasionally pops out to scare the crap out of everyone. Deciding that a giant monster in the middle of Japan is not an ideal situation, even if it does stay within one fairly remote area, the Self Defence Force launches an attack only to find that the creature shrugs off just about anything. Varan flies away from the attack (he has wings like a flying squirrel), and now everyone has to find a way to kill him before he starts laying waste to major cities.

So far, so good, eh? Sadly there were problems. VARAN THE UNBELIEVABLE started as a Japan/US coproduction for TV (hence a lower budget than Toho’s previous kaiju efforts)- when the US backers pulled out, the studio tried to rework the material into a theatrical film. You can tell from the first scene that this is a pretty cheap production, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure, Varan is prevented from ever really tearing a city apart, but he does go to town on some villages (pun not intended, if it even exists) and tears up an airport.

There’s just not a lot to talk about with this film, which is the real problem. The film has no hook; it’s extremely generic, following a rote story structure with pretty much no twists to it. Which wouldn’t be bad either, but even the traditional destruction and battling-the-military sequences are lifeless and insanely repetitive. When you’re a kaiju fan you expect these sequences to go on a bit, it’s part of the fun, but here the action falls completely flat. There a sequence involving depth charges that runs forever. What’s most baffling is that this is directed by none other than Ishiro Honda, who could direct this sort of thing in his sleep. This film also features what must be the earliest instance of Toho repeating FX footage from its own monster movies to save money- it’s not hard to spot one shot where Godzilla is obviously standing in for our title monster. (Even Varan’s roar seems to be an altered version of the big G’s.)

It doesn’t help that the human action doesn’t register at all. I get that there wasn’t much money for the FX sequences, but just how costly would it be to have the people in the movie do something interesting? In GOJIRA we have great gobs of drama over Dr. Serizawa and his Oxygen Destroyer, in RODAN there’s lots of tension in the mines, but here everyone just goes through the motions. The chief scientist at one point pronounces that “Varan will strike where we least expect” despite there being absolutely no reason to declare this, and of course the monster strikes where everyone’s expecting anyway. Even the solution comes up thanks to a character who pops up out of nowhere.

There’s one thing which keeps this film from being outright bad, and that’s Varan himself. The script never develops his origins or abilities much, but the design for the beast is excellent, halfway between dinosaur and demon, with a lot of personality in the face. He walks sometimes on four legs and sometimes on two, which is an interesting variation, and overall you think much more could have been done with the creature. Varan would go on to make a brief appearance in the 1968 classic DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, his role limited due to the fact that the suit was in poor condition, but he hasn’t popped up much since, which is a shame.

The best of the classic kaiju films stand out for their imagination and invention, for the elaborate craftsmanship put to use in bringing to life absurd ideas. There’s a bit of that in the sequence where Varan flies out of the mountains, but the rest is frankly half-assed. Fans of Japanese monster films should probably still see this, but its only real value is as a curiosity, an obscure footnote in Toho’s otherwise proud history of rubber suit rampages. As for Varan himself, he did show up in GODZILLA UNLEASHED for the Wii, so he hasn’t fallen into complete obscurity. Which is good; one hates to see a promising performer out of work.

Story by Ken Kuronuma
Screenplay by Shinichi Sekizawa
Directed by Inoshiro Honda

Grade: C

Varan the Unbelievable can be purchased here or by clicking on the image above.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Volume 5

So a few days ago I get contacted by the m80 marketing firm, who are doing publicity for the latest AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE DVD set. They offer to send me a copy in exchange for posting a promo video, I decide to do one better and actually review said copy- fortunately I also had a good excuse to post one of the videos (see last post.) So, while I don’t normally review TV shows on DVD, I’ll give it a shot.

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE Volume 5 consists of 14 episodes from just before the movie was released (the last two are a two-part special hosting scenes cut from the film.) A weird period even for this show, it’s a season with its ups and downs; I remember it getting a bit of criticism at the time, at least in early episodes, and while the first couple were shaky it did regain its footing quickly. More importantly, the worst episodes here are still enjoyable, and the set has lots of extra silliness as well.

We start off with “Dirtfoot”, in which Master Shake throws himself down a well in order to meet women, and “Boost Mobile” in which Shake gets an endorsement deal with a mobile phone company, which means inviting a giant talking mobile phone over and basically annoying everyone with it. Both solid entries. “Dickesode”, in which Carl loses something very personal to him as part of a fast food contest, was notable when broadcast for the optical censorship of, well, several thousand or so (unattached) dicks, and the episode is available here in broadcast or uncensored version. It’s basically a whole lot of dick jokes, some better than others, and the visual of thousands of dicks being piled together in an attempt to make some kind of dick-spaceship for King Dick to pilot back to the dick homeworld has... an unusual surreal effect, even for this show. “Hand Banana” and “Party All The Time” are squarely in the “okay, not great” category, but “Bart Oates”, in which Carl attempts to bootleg Giants merchandise and is visited in his dreams by the legendary player (voiced by himself) gets engagingly crazy. “Global Grilling” is a kind of issue episode, but with snot creatures, and “Grim Reaper Gutters” starts out as a clip show, turns into something more Carl-centric, throws in a cameo by Tera Patrick (seen here eating a hot dog), and eventually gets around to something related to the title. “Moonajuana” features the return of the Mooninites, and though it’s not quite as good as their other appearances it has some good psuedo-pot humor. “Ezekiel” might be the best one of the bunch, a brilliant episode in which Master Shake discovers his long-lost “son” (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and spends the rest of the episode proving just how horrible a father he is. It’s brutally hilarious and probably focuses the most on the characters. “Antenna” and “Carl Wash” are both fun traditional episodes, while the two part “Star Studded Xmas Spectacular” showcases deleted scenes from the ATHF movie. At the time I assumed that this was actually material completely unrelated to the movie, but having seen the film in the meantime this does seem to tie into the plot somehow. The framing material, hosted by Master Shake and Meatwad, is pretty funny on its own as well.

Most of the special features are promotional, from the musical ads for the “Favorite Episode” marathon hosted by the creators, to a slew of material connected to the movie including the internet-broadcast premiere hosted by Space Ghost. There are also some psuedo-animated deleted scenes, an episode of “Space Ghost Coast to Coast” that ties into Carl Wash, some voiceover recording footage (including the aforementioned Tera Patrick scene), a promo for the Aqua Teen video game “ATHF Zombie Ninja Pro-Am”, and finally, “The Worst Game Ever”, a parody of bad internet/DVD/DVD-ROM promotional games- I couldn’t actually get this to do anything at all, so it may be a DVD-ROM thingy or else just a very good satire. Also, there are stickers.

ATHF fans should obviously have this in their collection, although they hardly need my encouragement. Generally speaking, it’s a pleasant few hours’ worth of surreal bad-taste comedy, some episodes standing out more than others, but all designed to pleasantly fill up 15 minutes (for certain definitions of the word “pleasant”.) The show’s been better, but on a less relative scale it still delivers. I say a solid recommendation for anyone into this kind of humor, though if you’re not sure you may want to rent or watch a few episodes first.

Grade: B

Order ATHF Vol. 5 here or click on the image above.