Bigfoot has long been one of the greatest mysteries/hoaxes in world history. Is there some species that is a proof of the link between man and monkey? Are the blurry photographs evidence of this creature's existence, or are they just nature photography of your mom? Yes, I am aware “yo’ mama” jokes are a bit past their prime, but I find them quite relevant here. Why? Because this review is for ‘Strange Wilderness,’ a “comedy” that was a bit past it’s prime before it was even released.
Peter Gaulke (Steve Zahn) is the host of a nature program entitled Strange Wilderness. The show has been in a rut ever since Peter inherited it from his late father, who was a natural with animals. Peter would rather take the easy way out, doesn’t do any research, nor does he even appear to give a damn about the animals or his work. The same can be said about all of his colleagues. The time slot for the show has been shifted to the super late night, and the brass are ready to pull the plug. Something needs to be done to save the show, a big story is needed...and what story is bigger than Bigfoot? Therefore, the crew must pack up and hit the road, with their ineptitude turning the routine trip into an absolute disaster.
I think of ‘Strange Wilderness’ as an unusual case. I judge comedies by their ability to make me laugh, or even just crack a smile. This is a fair system, in my mind, since the genre’s intention is humor. That said, although ‘Strange Wilderness’ mades me laugh (and on my third viewing, still makes me laugh some), it's still an absolutely dreadful film.
There are so many flaws that if I tried to point them all out, I’d run out of digits, so I’ll just take aim at the most egregious offenses. Unfunny jokes don’t just kill this film, they mutilate and torture it first. The main focus of most of the gags in the film revolve around, as medical professionals and animal experts alike call it, the trouser snake. It all starts to get a bit old. Between the character with the name Dick (and the barrage of immature jokes about his name, all in a row, mind you), a chance meeting of genitalia and a turkey, a war torn penis, and the only female character in the film being constantly bombarded with sexual comments and attention. Her sole existence in the film is to lessen the “sausage fest” and provide someone to sexually objectify.
Additionally, we’re constantly given a “how could this get any worse” outcome to nearly every twist in the road. I get it, things aren’t going to work out according to plan, it’s going to be a disaster one way or another, with each “bigger than the last” situation ratcheting up the stakes in some random way. Additionally, there are a few less than inspired performances, particularly those of teen comedy-fave Jonah Hill, portraying crew member Cooker, and Broken Lizard member Kevin Heffernan as Whitaker. The entire crew of actors seem to lack any real chemistry with each other, despite the heavy veteran acting presence. They can’t seem to truly play off each other, as lines feel forced, routine, and boring.
There are some funny parts to the film that make me laugh no matter how bad the jokes around them are. The nature commentaries are an absolute laugh riot due to their extreme inanity, including the amazingly bizarre laughing shark loop that is truly the climax of the film. I can only speculate, but the film probably would have been a success if it were to have focused on these zany clips, rather than on the actual adventure/road trip story. Zahn gives a fairly solid performance, Ernest Borgnine (easily the odd duck out in this cast) is believable and fun, and Justin Long (Picking up where he left off in 'The Sasquatch Dumpling Gang?') steals nearly every scene he’s in. There is fun to be found here, it's just covered by the rotting carcasses of bad acting and unfunny jokes.
‘Strange Wilderness’ bows on Blu with an AVC MPEG-4/1080p codec. Detail can be a crisp at times, with small details such as wild strands of hair constantly popping out (especially on Hill’s curly fro), to some amazing detail at times on clothing, especially in the few shots of Borgnine and his silly get up, with it’s mesh vest that is perfectly transparent, or the apparent experience (read: wear and tear) on his facial features. The shots on the road trip are incredibly sharp, detailed, and deep, unlike many films that use obvious stock footage in such scenes. There is a great range of colors to be seen, as the colorful outfits of the crew pop, especially in wilderness shots that are draped in countless green shades, while black levels are fairly strong and solid.
There are some negatives here, though. Soft scenes can be found without much difficulty, sometimes caught in between sharp shots in the same scene, while others can be prolonged; for example, the shots in Gaulke’s residence near the end as he’s finishing up his phone call recounting his tale are amazingly flat and dull. Skin tones can seem a bit unnatural, which isn’t too surprising as the entire film seems to run hot at times. I also noticed a few moments of artifacting, though it wasn’t too aggressive. All in all, fans of the film will be happy, though just like the film itself, every positive has a negative waiting right around the corner, ready to pounce.
Paramount’s release of ‘Strange Wilderness’ has a solid Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that exceeded my expectations. That was mostly due to my going in with absolutely no expectations from this track. The dialogue is clear and easy to comprehend, even as score or effects increase in volume. Atmospheric effects are constantly popping up, in nature shots from leaves and birds chirping, to even the mundane dentist office, with the occasional sound of a drill filling the background. The bass exerts itself a few times in the film, though it’s not a constant presence, due to the emphasis on spoken words. That’s more or less a nice way of saying your subwoofer will pop up every now and again, say hi, and then go back to sleep for a bit. The scene with gunfire had every speaker blazing, though it's definitely not the scene to judge the surround usage by, as localized effects, while present, aren’t exactly a frequent occurrence. I noticed some of the dialogue to have a bit of bassy undertone to it, which was slightly annoying.
Paramount released ‘Strange Wilderness’ on DVD nearly a year before this Blu-ray release, with a package of terrible extras, all of which made it onto this Blu-ray. This is one of those instances where less would have been more.
I can see some people truly enjoying this film for what it is, and there are some laughs to be had in certain portions. I can also see people being incredibly frustrated by it’s meandering storyline, misogynistic viewpoint, and numerous flat out unfunny jokes that make even the likes of Tim Allen look like a comedy god. This Blu-ray is a solid upgrade from the previously released DVD, but that doesn’t mean it gives a standout performance, either, with average audio and video qualities, and some horrifically awful extras. If you’re considering a blind buy, do a blind rent first, or just do as many others will so, and pass altogether.
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