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Knocked Up (Blu-ray)
Universal Studios Home Entertainment / 2007 / 133 Minutes / Unrated
Street Date: September 30, 2008
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Reviewed by High-Def Digest Staff
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Non-format specific portions of this review also appear in our HD DVD review of 'Knocked Up.'
Hollywood cinema has seen more than its fair share of pathetic losers who, through the charity and guidance of beautiful, worldly women, learn to mature and accept life's responsibilities. It's a shopworn theme, but it can be spun into comedic gold in the right hands. Whether it's sad sack Benjamin being seduced by Mrs. Robinson in 'The Graduate' (1967), Dudley Moore finding the perfect '10' (1979) in Bo Derek, or Tom Cruise seducing prostitute Rebecca De Mornay with a flick of his Ray-Bans in 'Risky Business' (1983), when all of the right elements are in place, audiences can't help but be charmed by the disreputable louse redeemed by the love of a good broad.
Now, the 21st century gets its own blockbuster take on the same formula with Judd Apatow's winning sleeper 'Knocked Up.' Katherine Heigl (TV's 'Gray's Anatomy') stars as Alison. She seems to have everything -- looks, brains, a great up-and-coming gig at E!, and the support of her loving sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, also Apatow's real-life spouse) and brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd). But Alison is single (which, in a romantic comedy, is the equivalent of having cancer), so when a drunk night out leads her into the arms of chubby, sad-sack loser Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), she goes for the quickie and wakes up... pregnant.
In a turn of events that seem to happen only in Hollywood movies, Alison decides to keep her baby and to give Ben a chance to become the ideal daddy to their child. Of course, Ben's "day job" of spearheading an Internet porn site with his beer-guzzling cronies doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Likewise, the disapproving glances of Alison's friends offer little solace, while Debbie's deteriorating relationship with Pete is hardly a model for wedded bliss. Ultimately, Alison delivers an ultimatum to Ben -- shape up or ship out. Will he rise to the challenge and do her proud?
'Knocked Up' is a perceptive comedy that far exceeds its sitcom premise. As he showed so well with '40 Year-Old-Virgin,' and recent producing efforts like 'Superbad' (also starring and co-written by Rogen), Apatow builds his stories around three-dimensional characters that are developed strongly enough so we recognize them as real people, then puts them through such a wringer that universal comedy bursts forth like a fountain of inspiration. Apatow has a knack for refreshing cliches and tropes with his seemingly off-the-cuff, staccato dialogue and terrific casting. 'Knocked Up' crackles with energy, intelligence, and wit in every scene.
For all of its charms, however, there has been some concentrated criticism leveled at 'Knocked Up,’ with some viewers arguing that the film's female characters -- particularly Alison -- are presented simply as male fantasies. Though Heigl is endlessly charming and is arguably the glue that holds the movie together, the complaint is a valid one. Apatow paints his male characters with far more nuance than he does his female characters, and the movie's many detours into male anxiety arguably come at the expense of focusing on Alison’s dilemma -- after all, she is the one undergoing the most dramatic changes. Indeed, the premise itself -- that a woman as alluring, successful, and together as her would not only sleep with a schlub like Ben but think of reforming him into a model father -- smacks of frat boy wish-fulfillment. Tellingly, the word "abortion" is rarely uttered (otherwise, Apatow wouldn't have a movie).
Yet, even if you can't totally swallow Apatow's male-centric view of maternal crises, 'Knocked Up' is simply too damn funny not to embrace. The jokes do teeter on the edge of sheer vulgarity (further exacerbated by the "Uncut and Unprotected" version with four minutes of added racy material), but still Apatow always manages to keep the movie from veering into the grotesque. These days, it's rare to find genuinely hilarious comedies like 'Knocked Up' that are about people and ideas. I didn't buy all of Apatow's sentiments, but there's no doubt he's a major new talent, and that 'Knocked Up' is one of the year's brightest, most engaging movies.
’Knocked Up' features the film's unrated 133-minute cut, spread across a BD-50 dual-layer disc and presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video (1.85:1). This is a re-encode of the same master used for the previous HD DVD, and there is no quantifiable difference between the two. This transfer looks pretty good, but has enough flaws that I remain somewhat disappointed. This is not one of Universal's top-tier next-gen new releases. (Note: Though it is not that prominent on the menu, you can select between the Extended and Theatrical Cuts of the film, both at start-up and with live toggle during playback.)
Topping the list of the pros is a sparkling fresh print. Befitting a new release, there is not a single speck or blemish to be found. Blacks are pitch perfect, and while contrast is a bit on the hot side, the transfer isn't too intense. On the not-so-bright side, color reproduction is a bit skewed. It's rare that I see a transfer with too much yellow, but that's the case here -- fleshtones look sickly, and the entire presentation just looks just a bit left of center. Add the yellow cast to the slightly hot contrast, and highlights flatten out, lessening detail and depth.
Not problematic is shadow delineation, which is above average with fine detail visible throughout. Sharpness is also excellent, and edge enhancement is not an issue. Noise isn't an irritant, and I didn't notice any artifacts. I still wish that 'Knocked Up' looked like a million bucks, but it remains a solid triple.
Considering it's a romantic comedy, 'Knocked Up' sports pretty spiffy sound design. It is presented on this Blu-ray with the benefit of high-res audio, with Universal giving us a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit) versus the Dolby Digital-Plus of the HD DVD. The DTS-MA track is immediately louder and brighter right out of the gate, but after volume matching, there isno't much in the way of a substantial upgrade offered.
'Knocked Up' makes nice use of music -- both score and rock/pop tunes -- which fill up the rears nicely. It's this soundtrack's best asset. Some lively discrete effects also pop up during busy scenes (mostly the repeat excursions to a local nightclub). There is enough dynamic action that the improved dexterity of the rears on the DTS-MA track is evident, though again, it's hardly massive.
Tech specs remain strong. Dialogue is smooth and well-balanced. Frequency response extends cleanly across the entire range, and low bass packs more than enough punch for the material. I was also impressed with the sense of separation across the fronts, which is particularly noticeable with the music. All things considered, 'Knocked Up' is an above-average presentation for a romantic comedy, and this DTS-MA upgrade is probably the best the film will likely sound.
Last year's HD DVD release of 'Knocked Up' was not the ultimate next-gen experience, namely because Universal dropped some of the extras found on the two-disc DVD release, including a few featurettes, a pair of gag reels and a Katherine Heigl audition tape. For this Blu-ray version, the studio has righted its past wrong, and all of the original DVD material is included. Video is presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 only, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
- Audio Commentary - The highlight of the extras, this is a screen-specific discussion with director Judd Apatow and stars Seth Rogen and Bill Hader (although
Hader is barely in 'Knocked Up,' he is featured heavily in the Apatow-produced
'Superbad'). Simply put, not only is this track non-stop, it's frequently hilarious
-- and totally un-PC. From an off-the-cuff discussion of abortion to X-rated
impersonations of everyone from Katherine Heigl (who was initially "terrified" of the vulgar Rogen) to Vincent Price, I'm surprised Universal didn't edit the heck out of this track. But the legal department's loss is our gain, and this track had me laughing for much of its 133-minute runtime. Any fan of the Apatow school of comedy simply has to listen to this one.
- Featurette: "Finding Ben Stone" (SD, 29 minutes) - This is a very funny, very ambitious pseudo-documentry. Apatow creates a whole fake backstory for the casting of Rogen, even going so far as to re-shoot scenes with Katherine Heigl and big-name actors who supposed auditioned for the role first. Among the game participants are James Franco, Orlando Bloom, David Krumholtz, Bill Hader and Justin Long. Though rather too long, I found myself laughing at this quite a bit.
- Featurette: "Directing the Director" (SD, 7 minutes) - A mildly-amusing mockumentary, fictionalizing a set visit by a "replacement" director for Apatow (played by 'Capote' director Bennett Miller), whom we are to believe Universal wanted pulled from the film for ineptitude. This was funny for a couple of minutes, but overstayed its welcome fairly quickly.
- Featurette: "Gummy: The 6th Roommate" (SD, 6 minutes) - Another bit of fakery, this time featuring Krumholtz, who allegedy was to play a sixth roommate before dropping out to do a Woody Allen movie. How Apatow comes up with this stuff...
- Featurette: "Rollercoaster Doc" (SD, 4 minutes) - This is bizarre -- a "making of" detailing a few shots during the opening credit sequence (with the cast on a rollercoaster). Did this really need its own featurette?
- Featurette: "Loudon Wainwright III Scoring Sessions" (SD, 6 minutes) - Features the famous musician recording the film's score. Also includes performance excerpts of the tunes "Daughter" and "Grey in L.A.," plus a full version "You Can't Fail Me Now."
- Video Diaries/Kuni Files (SD, 12 minutes) - This series of vignettes features Apatow with wrap-up comments at the end of a day's shooting. Plus, there is the "Kuni Files," another diary with featuring comedian Ken Jeong (who appears as Dr. Kuni).
- Deleted/Extended Scenes (SD, 24 minutes) - The next best extra after the audio commentary is the collection of 16 deleted scenes. Running nearly 17 minutes, there is some real substance here that's superior to the vast majority of excised scene compendiums you get on most Blu-rays these days. Forget the throwaway alternate ending, but the others are full-on meaty scenes. Granted, only a couple of sequences expand the narrative or deepen the conflict between the Ben and Alison characters, but they are hilarious all the same. The disc also has four additional extended scenes, running about 6 minutes, under their own heading. This stuff is far more forgettable, and is mostly comprised of jokes that were wisely cut for pacing. (Who thought giving Ryan Seacrest more screen-time was a good idea!?)
- Topless Scene: Web Design Company (SD, 1 minute) - This is literally a 30-second alternate shot that includes some behind-the-actors nudity cut to get the flick a PG-13 rating. Probably should have been stuck in the deleted scenes, as it hardly stands on its own as a legitimate extra.
- Gag Reels (SD, 38 minutes) - The "Gag Reel" proper (3 minutes) is funny, but not nearly as gut-busting as the actual film or the deleted scenes. "Topless Scenes" is amusing, featuring alternate verisons of scenes that were shot with Rogen, sans shirt. A nice play on female exploitation. "Kids on the Loose" is 5 minutes of outtakes of Apatow's children, who appear in the film. Finally, "Raw Footage" features two very long scenes, "Geisha House" (11 minutes) and "Swingers" (7 minutes), that include much riffing and improv'ng with the cast.
- Line-O-Rama/Bread-O-Rama (SD, 7 minutes) - An Apatow staple. This is another montage of some of the film's best cut and messed-up lines. Plus, the "Bread-O-Rama" offers similar goofiness involving star Martin Starr and his facial application make-up process.
- Audition Reel (SD, 5 minutes) - Katherine Heigl's original audition tape wrap things up, and features the actress (who famously later dissed the film) running lines with Rogen.
As with the HD DVD, the Blu-ray of 'Knocked Up' comes enhanced with U-Control.
- Picture-in-Picture - This is the disc's only actual U-Control extra, and it replicates the PIP track found on the HD DVD. It is quite good, however, and is not simply a video version of the audio commentary. Instead, we hear from not only director Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen, but also the entire cast and crew by way of extensive on-set interviews. There is also a ton of behind-the-scenes material, and everything is edited with snappy pacing. Unfortunately, I found there was too much focus on the juvenile hijinks of the Rogen character's male posse (who we learn -- over and over again -- are lifelong friends off-screen as well as on-screen). Criticisms that 'Knocked Up' is a male fantasy with underdeveloped female characters will not be reduced, but there is enough insight all around to make this a fine PIP track.
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'Knocked Up' was the sleeper smash of 2007, and it is easy to see why. A smart, perceptive, and very funny human comedy, it earns every laugh with genuine pathos and heart. This Blu-ray easily matches (and exceeds) the previous HD DVD release. The video is on par, but the audio has been upgraded to DTS-MA and there are even more extras than before. 'Knocked Up' is a no-brainer on Blu-ray.
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