Monday, 22 September 2014

Blu-ray Review: The 'Burbs. Arrow Video

A dark comedy with horror movie overtones might be one way of describing Joe Dante's 1989 feature, which received an overall lukewarm critical reception upon its release. Fast forward to the present day, and 'The 'Burbs' is all set to build on its slowburning acceptance as a genuine cult classic with the release of Arrow's Blu-ray.
Dante's film takes us into the Mayfield Place neighbourhood, courtesy of a bravura opening shot, after which, Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) witnesses strange sounds and lights coming from a newly occupied house where the residents have been sight unseen since their arrival one month earlier. Peterson spies a figure at a window, and is told by his friend Art (Rick Ducommun) that his new neighbours are the Klopeks whose last house burned to the ground. Paranoia and distrust soon kick in as Rick tries to persuade his sceptical buddy that the Klopek's spell trouble for anyone in the vicinity of what he believes will turn out to be a house of horrors.
Ex 'Nam vet Rumsfield (Bruce Dern) adds an outrageous combative streak to the group, while the ladies (Carrie Fisher, Wendy Schaal) try in vain to keep their partners on the leash and out of the melting pot. When all else fails, a belated 'welcoming' expedition sees the group go through the doors of the Klopek's abode, who number Hans (Courtney Gains), Uncle Rueben (Brother Theodore) and Dr Werner Klopek, played by the wonderful Henry Gibson. With a missing neighbour amplifying Art's suspicions of foul play, the bumbling team explore garbage trucks they believe will yield dismembered body parts and when that line of enquiry falls flat on the road, indulge in a spot of breaking and entering in an effort to find the grisly truth.

It's a crying shame 'The 'Burbs' didn't receive widespread acclaim some 25 years back, but the passage of time has seen it grow in stature to emerge as one of Joe Dante's very best films. Bolstered by a fine ensemble cast, 'The 'Burbs is rich in visual and thematic content, and it's no surprise that so many people hail it as a personal favourite; not least for nostalgic reasons. It re-kindles memories of long, hot summers where evenings slowly turned from daylight to dusk: a magic hour when anything could happen and reminds us of times, of situations where our childhood came knocking on the door transporting us back to the days when certain people and places represented mysteries to be solved.
In 2014, Dante's film is more relevant than ever, in a time when new kids on the block are often treated with suspicion and mistrust, for merely keeping a low profile and wanting to be left alone. Just check out Dr Klopek's rant in the alternative ending (included on this disc) and you may well feel a tinge of sympathy for families hounded from place to place for daring to be a little different from the norm. The film also raises the question of how we define the term 'normal', and does so with a combination of humour and social comment.

Arrow Video's Blu-ray features a 2K scan of the original fine grain positive and was graded to Joe Dante's specifications, with the restoration overseen by Arrow's James White and approved by Mr Dante himself. The result is a top-notch transfer where colours frequently pop, and night-time scenes display depth and detail. Fans of this film will surely be delighted with the image quality, while Jerry Goldsmith's score was mastered from the original audio elements and sounds great.
The supplementary material begins with 'There Goes The Neighbourhood': a 66 min documentary on the making of this film, courtesy of High Rising Productions. Here, Wendy Schaal, production designer James H. Spencer, DOP Robert M. Stevens, Corey Feldman and Joe Dante remember a film that touched them all. Amongst the topics discussed are the presence and performance of Tom Hanks who had just become a major draw with 'Big'; early critical reaction to the film and it's gradual emergence as a cult classic and why Dante had to licence some music from Ennio Morricone for the homage to the western scene. It's nice to see the aforementioned members of the team, years after the fact and Corey Feldman in particular comes over as an enthusiastic guy who still loves his work on the film as the young punk revelling in his neighbour's antics. He also takes pride in the fact that some of his lines have turned into catchphrases that will stand for all time.

'A Tale Of Two Burbs' runs for 23 min and uses split screen and optional director's commentary to outline the differences between the theatrical and workprint versions. The workprint runs for approximately 5 minutes longer, and is included on this disc, courtesy of Dante's VHS copy. Additional footage includes a cameo from Kevin McCarthy, who plays Ray's boss during the dream sequence; extra dialogue and additional footage during the hilarious garbage truck scene and a different take when the residents break into the Klopek's scary abode. Of course, the workprint is a must-see for die-hard fans and also newcomers, being a fascinating version of Dante's initial vision.
Arrow's disc also presents the alternative ending for the first time in HD, running for 6 min 38 sec. Watch out for the part where Dr Klopek rants about being an outsider and hounded from town to town for simply being different, with some delicious gallows humour thrown in.

Admirers of this film will also be delighted with the inclusion of a commentary track with writer Dana Olsen, which is moderated so very well by Calum Waddell. Olsen explains 'The 'Burbs' was a personal landmark, being his first big studio picture, and chats about the multi-talented Tom Hanks with great admiration. We also learn his views on the decision to change the film's ending; why the script wasn't intended to make any social or political comment and an amazing scene in his neighbours' backyard which inspired a night-time shoot on this film.
The disc comes with another of Arrow's excellent booklets, this one featuring an article looking at the collaborations between Joe Dante and Jerry Goldsmith, and an essay on the film by Kenneth J. Souza, author of Scared Silly: The Films Of Joe Dante.

Arrow's Blu-ray is locked to Region B, and is available to buy now. It's an endearing, at times scary movie, populated in part by overgrown kids whose childhood fails to relinquish its grip, and nor should it. Just an ordinary American suburb that became something extraordinary for a brief period.
God, I love this street!

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