The odds seemed to be against 'The Simpsons Movie' from the start. Years in development, the script for the movie went through a reported hundred-plus drafts and so many different concepts and iterations that even its creators publicly stated that it might never see the light of cinema screens. On top of that, the television series has been running for nearly twenty years now, and even its biggest fans will admit that its glory days are over. So what were the chances that audiences would pony up to see Homer, Bart and the rest of the Simpson clan on the big screen, when most weren't even bothering to watch them on TV for free?
Turns out, there plenty of people who still care about The Simpsons. Their long-in-gestation epic finally roared into theaters this past summer, and it was an unqualified blockbuster. With grosses that took even Simpsons creator Matt Groening and Fox executives by surprise, the film has raked in over half a billion dollars worldwide, and still counting. Anyone concerned that Homer might have run out of dough for those donuts need not have worried.
Still, despite the film's success, I have to wonder if the audience appeal of 'The Simpsons Movie' was simply the thrill of finally seeing such iconic, beloved characters on the big screen. Indeed, it's almost impossible not to smile while seeing a bright, shiny Simpsons logo flash by in panoramic widescreen dimensions, as the familiar strains of the theme song burst forth in Dolby surround. But watching the film for the second time now on Blu-ray, I've come to the harsh realization that for much of its thrifty 87-minute runtime, 'The Simpsons Movie' feels like little more than an overlong episode of the TV show.
Make no mistake -- there is an actual plot, and it's quite global in scope. After Homer accidentally pollutes the Springfield's water supply, the town is encased in a gigantic dome by the Environmental Protection Agency (yes, Al Gore and Arnold Schwarzenegger are involved, and even Green Day, too). The Simpsons are soon declared fugitives by EPA head Russ Cargill, so Homer hatches a plan to move the family to the more family-friendly confines of Alaska. But when Cargill pronounces Springfield salvageable, and schedules it for destruction, Homer, Bart, Marge, Lisa and Maggie must go on a rescue mission to save Springfield and, potentially, the entire planet.
The story of 'The Simpsons Movie,' like any episode of the show, is really just an excuse to string along a host of pop culture references. It's always been a hit-or-miss affair, with one's enjoyment of any particular gag depending on how well the writer's allusions happen to connect. Happily, the success ratio is quite high here. I laughed throughout the movie -- often heartily -- even at the lamer material. (At one point, the movie even parodies 'Titanic' -- ten years after the fact.) If the filmmakers tamper not one iota with the established formula, at least they give the audience exactly what they want.
Unfortunately, at the same time that makes 'The Simpsons Movie' an entirely safe proposition. Too safe, in my opinion. Aside from the PG-13 rating (which allows Groening and company to give us slightly "racier" fare, including lots of jokes about pedophilia), I found the movie's overall lack of ambition disappointing. Where the makers of, say, the "South Park" movie really pushed beyond the boundaries of what they could say on TV, as well as toying with a more creative narrative structure, 'The Simpsons Movie' doesn't take any such risks. For a show that's long prided itself on skewering everyone and everything (including itself), you'd hope for a more self-aware, post-modern vibrancy -- it's almost as if the makers were so exhausted by developing the movie for so many years that they forgot to consider what the point was in taking the show to the big screen in the first place.
Still, if you're a Simpsons fan, there is absolutely no reason not to see this movie. It's a testament to the show's unique sensibilities and the amazing resiliency of its characters that watching Homer and Bart on the big screen elicits such emotion. They may be animated, but they are now firmly and irreplaceably a part of our shared American pop culture family, so it's impossible not to cheer their first trip to the big screen. 'The Simpsons Movie' may not be all that it could have been, but it's certainly a fun way to spend 87 minutes.
I have to admit walking into this one with relatively low expectations. Visually speaking, "The Simpsons" is certainly a step up from "South Park," but let's face it -- the TV show is a far cry from Pixar. However, the creative team behind the 'The Simpsons Movie' clearly put a lot of effort into upgrading the show's visuals for the big screen, and the results are often downright eye-popping. Likewise, this Blu-ray presentation looks way better than I expected it to.
Fox presents 'The Simpsons Movie' in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video. The most striking aspect of the presentation is certainly the colors. Hues are wonderfully vivid and smooth, with bold uses of primaries and subtle shadings and gradients that far exceed anything seen on the TV series. As you would expect, the source is immaculate, with not a whiff of grain or any other imperfections. Blacks are rock solid, with contrast expertly modulated across the entire grayscale. This image really pops with depth and detail, and it's sharp as a tack. I was continually surprised at how three-dimensional it all looks -- even "dark" scenes have a richness of texture that's faultless. Finally, despite the bold animation style, I noticed no posterization or macroblocking.
I'm going to go out on a limb and award 'The Simpsons Movie' a five out of five stars for video. Not because I think this one replaces 'Ratatouille' as the greatest animated movie yet to hit high-def, but simply because I can't find a single thing wrong with this transfer. It appears to be a perfect representation of the source material, and you just can't get any better than that. So don't have a cow, okay man?
The video quality of 'The Simpsons Movie' may have exceeded my expectations, but the audio doesn't offer any such surprises. Although this is a fine mix overall, the film's sound design is not nearly as creative as it might have been, and as a result this Blu-ray doesn't offer much in the way of a overwhelming aural experience.
Fox offers up another of their DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround tracks (48kHz/24-bit), and it certainly handles the source material with ease. This is a bright and bouncy mix, with the familiar Simpsons theme and score sounding punchier than ever before. There is not tremendous bleed to the rear channels, but it is nicely opened up from the small screen. There's also a fair use of discrete effects, but atmosphere is not consistently engaged so envelopment remains sporadic. Dialogue is very crisp and very nicely balanced. Dynamics don't overpower, but this mix certainly sounds clean across the entire frequency range, and there is even a little bit of oomph to the low end.
Again, don't expect to have your socks knocked off, but considering the content, this is a perfectly satisfying presentation.
'The Simpsons Movie' is hitting Blu-ray day-and-date with the standard-def DVD, with both releases receiving a matching set of extras. The good news is that Fox has bumped up the video on this Blu-ray edition to full 1080 high-def. The bad news is that despite the extra gloss, this assortment of throwaways feels like a bit of a rush job.
Twenty years in the making, 'The Simpsons Movie' finally hit movie screens this past summer and was an unqualified blockbuster. Although the spectacle of the experience loses a bit of its luster when viewed again outside of an actual movie theater, there are certainly enough belly laughs here to satisfy any Simpsons fan. This Blu-ray is very nice in the technical department -- it looks as fantastic as a Simpsons movie possibly could, and the soundtrack isn't bad, either. The only real disappointment is the cobbled together supplements package, which screams "double dip." Otherwise, this is an easy recommend for Simpsons devotees and more casual fans of the series alike.