The first half of the 2007 summer movie season somewhat…well, sucked. Insufferable cinematic colostomy bags such as Spider-Man 3, Shrek the Third, Ocean’s Thirteen and The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer were about as fresh as month-old bread and as entertaining as a tax audit. Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was an enormous mess as well, but it was one you couldn’t take your eyes off of. If anything, I should be grateful for one thing: at the very least I have a surefire quartet of junk lined up for my worst of the year list (the Pirates sequel may end up getting a pass).
All wasn’t a complete loss in those early summer days: 28 Weeks Later proved to be fairly decent for a horror sequel and the independent Irish drama Once turned out to be the year’s biggest surprise so far. Then there was Knocked Up, now available on HD DVD from 40-Year Old Virgin writer/director Judd Apatow. A successful (to the tune of $149 million in box office ticket sales) mix of risquÃ© humor and genuine heart, Knocked Up proved that even the raunchiest of comedies can find an audience outside of the teen demographic as long as there is some creative effort behind it.
Knocked is the story of Allison (Katherine Heigl), a young woman whose professional life is on the fast track when she is promoted from being a production assistant to an entertainment reporter on the E! Television Network. But her life, on both the personal and professional level, gets acutely sidetracked when she has an alcohol-fueled one night stand with a slacker named Ben (Seth Rogen), which results in an unwanted pregnancy.
Faced with the prospect of either going it alone or getting to know the baby’s father, Allison decides to give Ben a chance. Being that the two are polar opposites, certain issues arise. But for the baby’s sake, the two decide to give it a go as a couple. The more they get to know each other, the less they realize that would make ideal soul mates. Add into the mix Allison’s control-freak of a sister Debbie (Mann) and hen-pecked brother-in-law Pete (Rudd), the only parenting role models the young couple has, things get even more confusing.
It is true that Knocked Up doesn’t have the most original of concepts, and like The 40-Year Old Virgin, this film has the tendency to go on for far too long (133 minutes for a comedy is borderline lethal). But given how consistently hilarious and unexpectedly honest and endearing the film turns out to be, you could really care less about lack of concept originality or runtime.
Apatow’s writing and directing is nothing short of terrific. The dialogue he writes is both truthful and funny, he shows genuine affection for the characters he creates and his sense of comedic timing is spot on. He also gets excellent performances out of his entire cast, Rogen and Heigl being the standouts. Apatow takes the time to create and present situations that aren’t too far from reality, and gives his cast the freedom to grow into and develop their characters, giving audiences a surprise level of empathy that helped audiences connect so successfully with both The 40-Year Old Virgin and this film.
You never would expect a film to have a balance of vulgarity and heart and actually work, but that is exactly what you get here. Smart, honest and hysterically funny, Knocked Up is a bouncing bundle of cinematic joy and my pick for the best comedy of 2007 so far.
Arriving less than four months after its theatrical debut, Universal Home Video has bestowed Knocked Up with a generous amount of supplemental material. While quite the loaded special edition, it isn’t quite the high definition home run fans may have been anticipating.
If there is one thing that can be said about Judd Apatow’s two feature films, aside from the fact that they are great, is that they don’t look very good. ‘Virgin’ was bland looking, and so is Knocked Up. Muted colors, yellowish skin tones on actors and an overall soft picture are not high definition friendly, and those issues created by Eric Edwards’ cinematography are exacerbated on the HD DVD. This is not to say that the presentation is a total miss. Universal did the best they could with the source material, and the 1080p/VC-1/1.85:1 encode itself is pretty solid. The print used for the HD transfer has no marks, scratches or lines anywhere, compression artifacts and edge enhancement are not an issue and black and contrast levels are fine. It’s not the worst looking HD transfer out there, but it certainly is not something you will want to use as demonstration material either.
Being that this is a comedy, you’re not going to get an aural assault from all sides. Still, the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track works just fine. Dialogue comes across clear, as does the right and front channels when the music kicks in. Surrounds and bass are sparing used. But once again, we are not talking about a comedy here, not an action film.
Universal bestowed the 2-disc standard edition of the film with a nice selection of bonus material. Unfortunately, a fair amount of those supplements didn’t make it to the HD DVD release. In their place, however, are two HD exclusive features and some SD extras that range from routine to downright hilarious. Considering how fast the movie hit the home video market (Less than four months? Hey Universal, what was the rush?), I guess fans should consider themselves lucky that they got much at all. All of the video extras are presented in 480p standard definition and, once again, the theatrical trailers for the film are not included on this disc.
I’ll start with the good: Apatow, Rogen and actor Bill Hader (who has a small role in this film and co-starred with Rogen in the Apatow-produced hit Superbad) sit down to provide a Feature-Length Audio Commentary as raunchy and funny as the movie itself. Amidst the un-pc yak track, the trio trade jokes and anecdotes about the production, with Hader slipping in a few dead-on impersonations along the way (his Al Pacino had me in tears). Audio commentaries have always been give or take for me, but this one is definitely one of the most entertaining I have listened to yet.
Universal’s HD DVD exclusive U-Control feature is also included on this disc. When activated, each chapter of the film has a brief picture-in-picture featurette that offers a behind the scenes look at the production and interviews with the cast and the crew. While you’re not going to learn any deep, dark secrets about romantic comedies, pregnancy or slacker life, this is a nice use of the interactive feature. This disc also has Web-Enabled Features, which brings one to the Universal HD website. When I logged on, there wasn’t much there: five deleted scenes from the movie and that a few other commercials not connected to this film (all are presented in standard definition. Yuck!). A promising feature that hopefully will see more content added on as time goes on.
Rounding out the decent section of the bonus material are a whopping 14 Deleted Scenes (running approximately 19 minutes) and four Alternate and Extended Scenes (8:30). The alternate and extended scenes are okay and it’s easy to see why they were not used or cut. And given the running time of the theatrical cut, I can understand why Apatow trimmed the deleted scenes. But that doesn’t mean that those scenes were bad. In fact, a majority of them are as funny as anything in the finished print. Most are slight snippets that run about a minute or two or less. But the one that goes for about four minutes or so (and one that should have stayed in the film) is a scene where Jonah Hill does an extraordinarily vulgar rant about Brokeback Mountain to Alison. While some folks (namely fans of the Ang Lee film) might find this scene offensive, I thought it was pure comedic gold.
Now for the merely adequate section of extras: six Short Featurettes, with a combined total of a scant 21 minutes, come next. They are amusing, but shorts you will only be compelled to watch once. Line-O-Rama (3:35) is a collection of scenes which have the cast doing improvisation of that particular scene. Next up is a Gag Reel (3:27) which is, ironically, not all that funny. The Roller Coaster Documentary (5:20) is a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of the amusement park sequence shown during the opening credits, and how actor Jay Baruchel, who is terrified of riding roller coasters, was forced to ride one for the sceneâ€¦several times over (God help Jay if someone like Stanley Kubrick had directed the film).
Directing the Director (7:40) is a mildly amusing but ultimately pointless mini-mockumentary about Apatow having to deal with Capote director Bennett Miller looking over his shoulder during the production due to arguments Apatow had with Universal Pictures. It’s worth sitting through if only for the fake fight at the end. A rather odd Topless Scene (Of Rogen, not Heiglâ€¦ Damnit!) that runs a scant thirty-three seconds comes next, followed by a decent Music Video (3:48) by musician Loudon Wainwright III.
Knocked Up is an across-the-boards terrific crowd pleaser for everyone. Universal Home Video’s HD DVD is a bit of a mixed bag, but not enough to sway one away from either a rental or a purchase. The audio commentary is as funny as the film itself, and the U-Control feature gives a nice bit of background to the production.
- Score: 7.6