'Cemetery Junction' should have been an event. The debut feature from writer-directors Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, the mad geniuses who gave us the British 'Office' and the depressing/funny showbiz spoof 'Extras' (not to mention, with bizarre everyman Karl Pilkington, the most wonderfully silly podcast ever), should have been something that every hardened cineaste or casual moviegoer took note of.
But then, it wasn't an event at all, and in fact, it barely registered.
In England it was released to a handful of rapturous reviews, but not exactly dynamite box office, causing its American distributor to forgo a theatrical release, instead dumping the movie direct-to-home video, a dubious distinction usually reserved for some Z-grade vampire movie starring Eric Roberts.
And now it stands to be assessed: was 'Cemetery Junction' an underrated future classic or was it a bomb that got what it deserved? Well, the answer is… a little of both.
'Cemetery Junction' is set in the early-1970s in a small English town of the same name. It primarily concerns the coming of age of three friends, Freddie (Christian Cooke), Bruce (Tom Hughes) and Snork (Jack Doolan). Cemetery Junction is a factory town, and Freddie doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of his father (Ricky Gervais) who works all day and has nothing to show for it but a modest home and a large beer belly. Instead, Freddie decides to start selling life insurance for a local businessman (Ralph Fiennes, oscillating between chilly and power-hungry nicely), while Bruce is content to start fights and cause trouble, and Snork is just a bumbling goon who works at the local train station and has an elaborate tattoo on his chest and back depicting a comely female vampire and his own very noticeable arousal.
Since this is a coming-of-age comedy/drama in the most classic mold, Freddie falls in love with his boss's daughter (Felicity Jones, quite foxy), who of course is already engaged to a slimy weasel (Matthew Goode, channeling some of his villainous 'Watchmen' performance) and must make the biggest decision of his life: stay in the small town and, even with a seemingly "glamorous" job, fall back into the life of his family members, or strike out on his own.
Truth be told, 'Cemetery Junction' is not without its charms. It was filmed in a way to emphasize the romantic nostalgia of youth, with every experience heightened and hyper-real. And then there are the lead actors, who have an amiable, freewheeling togetherness about them which doesn't always work, but works enough of the time that you actually buy them being friends. They aren't superb by any stretch of the imagination, and both Freddie and Bruce are too pretty to be believable as small town English boys.
And while Gervais and Merchant, for the most part, nimbly nail the tonal balance between comedy and drama (and photographically, it never resembles television), there isn't anything that ever seems all that authentic. Instead, what we're treated to is a simulacrum: a coming-of-age story made by a bunch of guys that love coming-of-age stories without any grit or integrity to elevate it above mediocrity. Maybe with time (and repeated viewings), 'Cemetery Junction' can truly come to life. But right now, it feels like it's stuck in a small town, waiting to break free.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The 50GB Blu-ray disc is Region A locked. It does auto-play, after which you're treated to a terrible assortment of trailers, including Jennifer Lopez's 'The Back-Up Plan.' The disc is BD-Live equipped.
Despite the movie's many, many, many faults, one thing is for sure: the 1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.40:1) is really great.
Full of brimming primary colors befitting of its heightened 70s setting that pop brilliantly, the 'Cemetery Junction' transfer works so well because it's so true to the intent of the source material. For example, sometimes the image definitely has a "softness" to it, but far from this being a flaw, it actually is one of the transfer's chief assets, replicating the "soft" look of many movies from that period.
The transfer also comes through where it counts: skin tones look good, black levels are deep and dark, textures (like the waviness of Felicity Jones' hair) shine through, and there's enough grain to make it feel like a theatrical presentation, even if it never made it to North American theaters.
Additionally, there are no distracting technical glitches to speak of.
All in all, this is a very handsome presentation of a movie that works as a wonderful transfer and as a deliberate extension of the movie's narrative. In other words: it's awesome.
This disc has a shockingly strong lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. (I wasn't expecting much, truth be told.) There's really nothing to say against this mix.
Everywhere it counts, the mix delivers: dialogue is strong, crisp and clear, and unlike some other British productions, you probably won't have to slap on the subtitle option to understand what, exactly, they're saying. Music is also strong and well defined, both the original music by Tim Atack and the period-specific music selections.
Even more surprising is the dimensionality of the track. Almost every location that the surround fields can spring to life, they do: inside the factory, in the home, at the disco. These instances add a much-needed sense of depth, atmosphere, and ambience, and are very much appreciated, especially since we're talking about a fairly middle-of-the-road comedy/drama.
There's also a French DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track available and subtitles in English, English SDH, French, and Hindi.
There are voluminous extras on this 'Cemetery Junction' Blu-ray, most of which appear on the standard definition DVD. There are some goodies that are only on the Blu-ray, though, which I'll get to in juuuuust a minute.
It pains me to say that 'Cemetery Junction' is, at best, a rental. Like I have said before, this movie, the first big screen outing for Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, wound up going straight to the small screen, and it's kind of fitting. The movie is a very middle-of-the-road coming of age story about a bunch of kids stuck in a loser British town dreaming for bigger, better, brighter things. I felt the same way: I wanted this movie to be bigger, better, and brighter. Thankfully, the AV on the disc is impeccable, and there are a couple of fun special features but you can get through it all in a weekend; it's not worthy of your collection.