I can't say I knew much about 'Year One' going into it, other than there were cavemen, Sodom, and the fact that the film starred Jack Black and Michael Cera, an odd pair for a comedy film of any variety.
After watching the movie, I can't say I really knew much more than what I knew going in.
Zed (Black) isn't much of a hunter...or gatherer, really. In his tribe, he's more the village idiot than anything. After a few mishaps cost the tribe a great meal and a thatched hut (atop of munching the forbidden fruit), Zed is banished, but not before his wimpy pal Oh (Cera) is forced to come along with him. The duo set out in search of a new place to call their own, while their minds focus on the past, with Zed thinking of Maya (June Diane Raphael), and the virginal Oh daydreaming about Zed's little sister Eema (Juno Temple).
Zed and Oh encounter a barrage of Old Testament happenings, from Cain (David Cross) and Abel, to Isaac (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and Abraham (Hank Azaria), before landing in the infamous Sodom. The cavemen, thrust into a civilized world (kind of) must learn the values of friendship when it is strained the most, if they are to save their former neighbors from a cruel fate.
'Year One' is more akin to what you would imagine if you took the 'Movie' movies (think 'Scary Movie,' 'Disaster Movie'), and threw in a biblical theme. The barrage of biblical characters soon wears thin, especially when crossed with the gross out humor involving licking feces, hairy women, prolonged fart jokes, or giving body rubs to big hairy men. There is some humor to be had in the twists on classical tales known by many, like the first murder, the sacrifice of family, circumcision, or the value of virgins in terms of precipitation. What there isn't is any consideration of the timelines of these characters, who are strewn through biblical history, yet all clumped within the same timeline here, from the first man's children (including lesbian daughter Lilith) all through the lair of sin, and many things in between in one big melting pot.
While 'Year One' is pretty damn bad, it does have its moments. Not moments of genius or brilliance, mind you, but there are some fun sequences, such as the hunting ineptitude shown by the cavemen out on their own for the first time, or the first straight man/lesbian woman encounter. Such gags belong in a film not populated with bathroom jokes. Black pulls his usual shtick, throwing his body around and making noises like a less-coked-up Chris Farley, but Cera does little to justify why he keeps getting cast in these films, providing a deadpan counterpart that just seems like an odd match for a character as zany as Zed. To boot, there's not a single hint of stereotypical caveman talk, with super white teeth unbecoming of those without toothbrushes, and a very modern, self aware sense of humor, with many more modern jokes ("Who's got two thumbs and..."). I get that the point is to have modern cavemen, in a sense, but it would have been great to have a few nods to convention with grunt talk.
Director Harold Ramis (who also cameos as Adam), who co-wrote this tale, manages to hit a career low. It's hard to believe the brilliant man who wrote such comedic classics as 'Ghostbusters,' 'Groundhog Day,' 'Analyze This,' 'Animal House,' 'Stripes,' or 'Caddyshack' is behind this misfire. Thankfully, I can just dismiss this tale as another uninspired Jack Black creation, as well as a vehicle for that kid who can't show any facial expression (other than dumbfounded) to save his life, rather than the latest tale from one of the most brilliant men in cinema.
'Year One' arrives on Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encode that boasts a video quality much like a modern high grade blockbuster, nowhere near as gritty or dingy as one would think when pondering cavemen.
Colors are vivid and striking, and do not have any banding or bleeding issues. Contrast is superb, picture depth is near infinite, with fine detail lighting the place up (in other words, every single little thing is super sharp and clear). Edges are clean and rich, and there doesn't appear to be any kind of digital tinkering to be found. Night sequences were a bit off, with the blue from the moon giving the whites of eyes and teeth a blue sheen, while skin tones often took on their respective scenes fire lit glow. Black levels were a bit too bright for their own good, but delineation was superb. Fans of this film will have no complaints here.
While the video side of the 'Year One' Blu-ray is cutting edge, the audio, presented with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, is stuck in the past. One can't expect the latest and greatest from a semi-gross out comedy, but a little effort would have been appreciated.
The film is dominated by vocals, mostly exchanges between Black and Cera, and each little ironic revelation or light jab comes through clearly, never outshone by score or atmospheric effects. Bass levels are a bit tame, popping up for some music, but not much else. Surround use is where the big problem is. Rear channels aren't excessively active, as much of the ambiance in the film comes through the front end, with very light rear hints, but there are numerous sequences that should have been alive with noise from all angles, from caveman congregations, to lynch mobs, and there is noise coming from each speaker, but it's tame and forced. The scene in the "holiest of holies" has a nice echo effect, but really, that's about as advanced as this one gets. It's passable, with no real errors, but it's just underwhelming.
'Year One' isn't the best comedy released in recent years, but it's far from the worst. Ramis' direction is solid, the pacing is strong, and Black is his usual madcap self. Cera's performance made me want to go "burny burny cut cut." This Blu-ray has some fantastic video, underachieving audio, and a nice assortment of extras. Jack Black fans should have no problem buying this one, but the casual viewer should rent it first.