Scary Movie 4 (Japanese Import)Overview -
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
You've got to hand it to the Zucker Brothers -- few filmmakers could create a whole new genre of comedy with just one movie. But that's precisely what they achieved with 'Airplane!,' the duo's 1980 now-classic farce that lampooned not only the silliest excesses of '70s disaster movies but just about every pop culture fad and fashion of the time. Sure, it wasn’t the first slapstick movie ever made, whether it be the Three Stooges or the underrated, overlooked 'Kentucky Fried Movie' (1977, also co-written by the Zuckers), but it wasn't until 'Airplane!' scored such blockbuster success that the modern spoof movie truly achieved critical mass.
Though the Zuckers (that's David and Jerry), along with their frequent co-writer and co-director Jim Abrahams, don't really work together anymore as a trio, they've pretty much been mining the same spoof material ever since, in the process churning out such hits as 'Top Secret,' 'The Naked Gun' and 'Hot Shots.' David Zucker has perhaps been the most prolific, especially since taking over the 'Scary Movie' franchise after the Wayans Brothers (what's with all these sibling comedy teams?) left the series after the first sequel. Watching Zucker's 'Scary Movie 4,' it’s like absolutely no time has passed since 'Airplane!' The cinematic target may be different -- horror films instead of airport disaster movies -- but the jokes, the tone, the slapstick, it's all the same.
The 'Scary Movie' movies don't really have a plot per se, so they live and die by the jokes. Predictably, 'Scary Movie 4' is pretty hit-or-miss. Far less ribald and vulgar than the Wayans, Zucker keeps the humor comfortably within the zone of PG-13. He also quickly runs out of horror movies to lampoon -- we get the expected assortment of 'Grudge,' 'Saw' and M. Night Shyamalan parodies, but also take-offs on 'Brokeback Mountain,' 'Million Dollar Baby' and even Tom Cruise's couch-hopping on "Oprah."
Some of this stuff is indeed funny. I laughed heartily at the more clever gags, from amusing dialogue between Anna Faris and that little ghoul kid from 'The Grudge' done entirely in the names of Japanese electronics manufacturers, and a hideous press conference striptease by longtime Zucker stalwart Leslie Nielsen. But I groaned just as equally at the ton of lame one-liners, and relentless over-mugging by much of the cast (particularly co-lead Craig Bierko, who somehow manages to make Simon Rex seem like Buster Keaton).
If the 'Scary Movie' franchise has one ace in the hole, however, it is Faris. She has somehow managed to keep utter stupidity endearing for four movies now, which is no small feat. Her wry delivery makes even the most obvious visual and verbal gags seem lively and inspired. I only wish the writing and direction were up to her level of knowing wit and enthusiasm. Still, it’s hard to hate a movie this silly. And we certainly need more stupid comedy in the vein of 'Airplane!' -- the world would be a sadder place without it. Is 'Scary Movie 4' a great comedy, or even a great 'Scary Movie?' Heck no. But did I still laugh a lot? You bet.
'Scary Movie 4' first hit high-def in the United States back in late 2006, but on HD DVD only courtesy of the Weinstein Company. Due to a typically convoluted distribution pact between the Weinsteins and Walt Disney Studios, Buena Vista is handling release chores for the film in International territories, and thus we have this Japanese Blu-ray edition.
The two versions are not, however, identical. The U.S. HD DVD features the film's unrated 91-minute cut, while this Blu-ray contains the 83-minute PG-13 theatrical cut only. The codecs are also different, with the HD DVD sporting an AVC MPEG-4 transfer, and the Blu-ray debuting in MPEG-2 (both are 1080p).
Overall, my opinion of the Blu-ray is similar to that of the domestic HD DVD. The transfer has a somewhat harsh look. The source material certainly looks great, with rock-solid blacks and contrast that is on the hot side. Black crush is also a bit steep for my taste, giving the image strong depth but sacrificing realism and fine texture (even on close-ups). Colors, while well saturated, tend to look somewhat artificial, particularly fleshtones.
Noise was noticeable and consistent on the HD DVD encode, and here it is slightly heavier, though not really to the naked eye -- I really only noticed the difference after a series of direct comparisons, and then only on large solid patches with the most vibrant hues. I also thought the Blu-ray was just a bit softer in select shots, though again this is largely nitpicking. I didn't find these slight differences enough to really knock down the Blu-ray in terms of the overall video rating, because quite frankly neither of them blew me away.
If the video for 'Scary Movie 4' is a tad bit more problematic than the domestic HD DVD version, it's audio is clearly superior. Disney has supplied a full-blown uncompressed PCM 5.1 surround track (at 48kHz/16-bit/4.6mbps), easily topping the meager Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track (640kbps) on the Weinstein release. (Note also that the Blu-ray also includes a bevy of foreign language options, including soundtracks and subtitles in Japanese, Italian, Portuguese and Thai.)
The main beneficiary here is the sense of dynamics. Bass extends much better down to the low tones, and if the subwoofer never really chugs, at least it's more powerful. I was also surprised that dialogue seemed brighter and more pronounced -- there is an increased richness and full-bodied warmth than on the domestic HD DVD.
Granted, this is 'Scary Movie 4' we are talking about, so the film's sound design is still pretty flat. To be fair, the surrounds aren't that much improved even with the PCM track, which still sounds front heavy. Discrete effects have a bit more punch, but that's only on the most outrageous gags (particularly the 'War of the Worlds' parody scenes). Consistent and sustained atmosphere is just about nil, so even uncompressed, don't expect big audio dynamite from 'Scary Movie 4.'
Both the international Blu-ray and the domestic HD DVD do share one thing in common -- an identical spate of extras. And if they make one thing clear, it’s that David Zucker is a guy with a true sense of humor. That may seem obvious, but it remains amazing how many comedy filmmakers are sourpusses, who seem as if making people laugh for a living is more painful than pulling teeth. So it makes perfect sense why so many big Hollywood actors do these kinds of movies with Zucker -- because they actually have a good time.
Zucker is all over this disc's extras, beginning with his audio commentary with producers Robert Weiss and Craig Mazin. After suffering through such dull-as-dishwater tracks for comedy films, such as Ron Howard's on 'Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas,' this one was a real relief. Zucker, Weiss and Mazin take nothing too seriously, least of all the horror movies they are lampooning. Zucker freely admits that it is his "least favorite genre," yet he's grateful for all the spoof material it gives him. I can't say I learned much about the making of 'Scary Movie 4' beyond the obvious (Anna Faris is fantastic, many of the jokes were developed or improvised on-set etc.), though some may be surprised at how little spontaneity the more effects-heavy scenes allow, as Zucker illuminates with the many 'War of the Worlds' parodies. Is this a must-listen track? Maybe not, but it is a lot of fun.
Zucker, Weiss and Mazin also offer additional commentary for the 15 Deleted Scenes. Highlights include Craig Bierko doing his best Tom Cruise and crawling up Oprah's dress, and Leslie Nielsen, as George Bush, shredding the Declaration of Independence. Not exactly subtle, but some worthy chuckles to be had. Which is more than I can say for the actual "Bloopers Reel," which is surprisingly unfunny. Perhaps that's because non-thespians Dr. Phil and Shaquille O'Neal get the most giggle time? And there is also a brief "Improvisation of Craig Bierko" vignette, which is just more of the actor riffing on Cruise. Trust me, the best stuff made the movie.
There are a wealth of additional featurettes, but they are all short (never stretching more than three minutes or so). "The Scary Truth -- A Conversation with the Filmmakers" is your basic series of EPK interviews, all goofy. "The Cast" is more of the same. "The Man Behind the Laugh" profiles Zucker, who, we learn from the cast, has quite the distinctive guffaw. While "Zany, Spoof Humor Zucker Style" and 'The Visual Effects of 'Scary Movie 4'" go slightly in-depth into the Zucker brand of high-concept, gag-driven humor that sometimes proves tricky when special effects are involved.
Rounding it out are two complete throwaway featurettes. "The Youngbloodz" profiles the Atlanta rappers and how thrilled they were to be in a 'Scary Movie.' "An Interviewer's Worst Nightmare" is a nearly incomprehensible, staged bit with select cast explaining what questions not to ask should you ever interview a 'Scary Movie' alumni. Totally skippable.
Last but not least is the film's Theatrical Trailer. Note that the video quality of all of the above video-based material is a disappointment, as it is presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 only, and windowboxed at a 4:3 aspect ratio.
'Scary Movie 4' is a review-proof movie. It's a series of gags, not a story, so it lives and dies by its jokes, but there are enough hits here that it's worth at least a watch. Was I blown away? No. Same goes for this Disney import Blu-ray -- it's a nice transfer, the soundtrack is even better, and there are a few amusing extras. It's just nothing substantial -- but then neither is the flick. Unless you are absolutely fanatical about the 'Scary Movie' series, this is far more satisfying as a rental than a purchase.
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