For a recent high school graduate toiling away behind the concession stand of Hoyt's Airport 8 Cinemas in Hyannis, Massachusetts (Cape Cod, for the geographical unaware), July 18, 1998 remains perfectly clear in my mind some twelve years later. It was Mary weekend. Between showings that long ago Saturday eve, two guys walked in to ask about the newly released 'There's Something About Mary.' "How's it doing?" "What are the people saying?" I told these strangers I thought it was going to be a huge word of mouth hit (which might seem obvious, but historically, 'Mary' opened in 4th place behind 'The Mask of Zorro,' 'Lethal Weapon 4,' and 'Armageddon.' The key to its success was like 'Avatar,' strong box office returns playing for months in the top ten.). And that's when the two strangers introduced themselves as co-director Peter Farrely and producer Bradley Thomas. Just some local New England guys checking to see if people enjoyed their movie. Hollywood seemed so far away, but here it was talking to me, in my butter-drenched polyester vest.
Today, it's hard to imagine a cinematic universe where the Farrelly Brother's 'There's Something About Mary' doesn't exist. Every gross out, foul-mouthed, R-rated studio comedy since the summer of 1998 must trace its ancestral lineage to this comedic gem (if for no other reason than every studio exec in town needed their own 'Mary' after it grossed a staggering $370 million worldwide). As expected, most imitations failed, and the Farrelly Brothers themselves have yet to make something quite as funny or heart-felt. Now we have Judd Apatow as the R-rated comedy king, and the entire tonal landscape has changed. All except one element, that is. Losers always fall in love, and must vie against douchebags in order to win The girl's heart.
And so is our tale of the altruistic Ted (Ben Stiller), who at the age of 16, earns the heart of the most coveted girl in school, Mary (Cameron Diaz), by coming to the defense of Mary's "special" brother. But due to a pair of a-hole pigeons and an ill timed, quickly pulled zipper, Ted's dreams are dashed. Until some year's later, when Ted hires sleazy private investigator Pat Healy (Matt Dillon) to find out if Mary's single. Trouble arises, as it always does, when Pat himself falls for the perfect prize that Mary has become (lesson to all young men: warm-hearted, caring women who drink beer and love sports must be snapped up. Post haste!), and vows to woo Mary for himself. Ted eventually learns the truth, and begins a quest to find and win the one that got away.
The set-pieces are outrageous and plentiful. The film's tone ranges from that of a traditional romantic comedy to something more akin to a cartoon. But somehow, this odd concoction works well. Political correctness is tossed out the window (as it always should be), but the real touchstone of the film remains its heart. Despite hair gel, 7-minute abs, Brett Fav-re, over-tanned lady parts, and (temporarily) electrocuted dogs, 'There's Something About Mary' remains grounded in honest emotions. Mary is a fantastic, strong woman worthy of competition. While Ted is in love with Mary (and not in a stalker way). Everyone's had a broken heart. Everyone's wanted that special unavailable someone. At the end of the day, it's this universality that binds the whole picture together. Combine that with shocking (for the time, and mostly still today) gags, and it's not hard to remember what it felt like in July of 1998 when this became the summer's runaway comedy blockbuster. The film also features a plethora of great (often Boston) comic cameos including one of my favorites, Lenny Clark.
I hadn't revisited the film in years, but am happy to report it holds up well. For this presentation, Fox offers both the theatrical version and an extended cut of 'Mary.' For my money, the theatrical cut is a much tighter, funnier film. The extended cut has a few dud scenes that should have remained on the cutting room floor, despite more Jeffery Tambor moments.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB dual layer Blu-ray disc is Region "A" locked. Using seamless branching, viewers can choose the 119 minute theatrical or 130 minute extended edition. You can also choose to watch the film with an alternate Claymation title sequence, which is actually much sharper than the one used, but tonally doesn't fit as well.
The 1080p AVC-MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio 1.85:1) is a definite upgrade over the standard definition DVD, but added resolution doesn't always make for a superb visual presentation. Flaws are obvious and dramatic from the opening titles, where there is visible dirt on the print. Most of the movie is sharp and nicely detailed, but again, starting as early as the opening titles, shots drop in and out of focus. Further, during production Ben Stiller cut his forehead (during the scene where he's hauling a wardrobe), and the makeup to cover this wound pops in and out of the movie. The soft focus and makeup blunder lead me to believe that these problems have always been on the movie, but went undetected without the 1080p upgrade (in the same way Warner Bros. had to deal with special effects wires in 'The Wizard of Oz' when mastering for their Blu-ray.). Colors pop well, skin tones seem natural, but like many catalogue titles, the overall image is flat. It's a shame the movie hasn't been preserved in perfection, but it's the best version I've seen since July of 1998.
The disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is pretty typical for comedy. Front heavy. Lacking atmosphere, deep LFE, or sonic rear surround effects. But that is to be expected here. The pop music score, and occasional musical interludes sound strong. Dialogue is clear and always serves the comedy (see the scene were Pat Heally is running surveillance on Mary eating lunch with her friends). It's adequate, and again, a clear upgrade from the DVD.
There are also French, Spanish, and Portuguese DTS 5.1 soundtracks, as well as 2.0 Dolby Digital Thai. For Subtitles, Fox provides English SDH, Korean, Spanish, Mandarin, Portuguese, Cantonese, Indonesian, and Thai.
The many, informative, funny extras are all ported over from the 2003 Collector's Edition DVD. Other than the Theatrical Trailer in 480p, the remaining extras are presented in 480i.
'There's Something About Mary' holds a fond place in my heart. As one of the top grossing R-rated comedies of all time, it also remains relevant today both in terms of hilarity and in the landscape of current studio comedies. This is clearly the best the movie has looked and sounded in a very long time, though it's certainly not perfect. Is this worth a double dip? It depends. If you have the Collector's Edition DVD, this won't really give you anymore behind the scenes information, but the picture is a vast improvement, and plays well on larger screens. For those who don't already own 'Mary,' it's an easy recommendation for a decent HD picture and a library of behind the scenes documentaries.