Every now and then I'll turn off the lights, watch a movie, chuckle at a few lines throughout, roll my eyes at others, and then sit through the credits with a blank, wholly passive expression on my face, before I then turn the lights back on and forget the whole damn thing. The 2011 remake of 'Arthur' is such a film. Neither overly offensive nor anywhere near praiseworthy, it just sort of… is. I haven't seen the original Dudley Moore film, so I'm judging this new take solely on its own merits (or perhaps, lack thereof) but looking just at the premise, I can't for the life of me understand what Hollywood saw in the idea that made it seem ripe for a remake. It was done before (and by most accounts, fairly well) and has its fans, but why do it again, especially if the results are going to be so utterly mediocre? Though I continue to be haunted by the thought process that leads to rehashes like this (lately I've been waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat and sheer terror from the sight of the trailer for the upcoming remake of 'Footloose') the fact of the matter is, there are still some occasional laughs to be had, and the cast is undeniably talented. Unfortunately, none of these positives even comes close to justifying the effort as a whole.
Much like the original, the plot follows a rich, alcoholic playboy named Arthur (Russell Brand) who is being forced to marry a heartless socialite, Susan (Jennifer Garner), in order to keep his substantial inheritance. When the lovable drunk falls in love with a sweet tour guide, Naomi (the lovely Greta Gerwig), the situation gets complicated and Arthur must eventually choose between money and true love. The script seems to plug the basic plotline of the original into a contemporary romantic comedy formula, leading to a bland, predictable, but still slightly entertaining film.
The cast is the real strong point here, and the considerable array of talent make an admirable attempt at elevating the material. Brand's comedic sensibilities seem to be hit or miss with many people, but I tend to like his mixture of quick witted remarks and high energy unpredictability. Much of the humor relies on the actor's improvisational skills, timing, and charm, and his lines are the source of most of the film's biggest laughs (I too, don't trust horses). Helen Mirren is great as Hobson, Arthur's trusted nanny and motherly figure, lending a credible aura of class while still offering a few nice bits of crass humor. The relationship between the two provides some of the movie's stronger emotional scenes. Greta Gerwig is wonderful as usual, adding some extra heart and soul to the proceedings. Garner and Nolte do what they can with their underwritten and cliched characters, but both do manage to scrounge up some laughs. Disappointingly, Luis Guzman is painfully underused and isn't given much to do.
The main issues with 'Arthur' are its by-the-numbers approach to its material, some one-dimensional characters, and an uneven, tonally confused presentation. Like most films of this type, we know exactly how this will end and there are no real diversions from the traditional romantic comedy road-map along the way. The antagonists are broadly defined, cookie-cutter archetypes that lack substance and eventual dramatic reversals all fall flat due to a lack of emotional investment. This would be forgivable if the story offered some consistent laughs and charm, but outside of Brand's lines, most of the other attempts at humor just don't connect. There is certainly a level of sweetness and appeal to the characters and the film does make an attempt at nourishing a deeper core revealing the virtues of love and simplicity over greed and materialism, but these themes are all tried and true and nothing about the filmmakers' take on these ideas offers anything new or particularly good.
The movie's approach to Arthur's alcoholism is also problematic. Though again, I haven't seen the original so I can't compare its treatment of the subject, here the film never really seems to know how to tackle the issue. Arthur is depicted as a lovable, childlike rogue who just happens to drink a lot. His binges are shown in a light and breezy manner offering no real consequences and we don't really see his drinking as much of a real threat. This wouldn't necessarily be a major concern, but the movie eventually makes attempts to take on Arthur's addiction in a more serious manner and these scenes come across as out of place and underdeveloped.
'Arthur' isn't horrible, but honestly, there is no real reason why it should even exist. Brand and the rest of the cast provide some laughs and there is a bit of charm to be found in the script, but ultimately, even if this wasn't a remake, there isn't a lot here that we haven't already seen done better many times before.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Arthur' comes to Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Bros. in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo pack. The movie is presented on a single BD-25 disc housed in a standard case with a cardboard slipcover. A separate DVD disc comes packed in with a DVD version of the film and a digital copy. Some skippable trailers play upon start-up before transitioning to a standard menu.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Though technically proficient, whether one is impressed with the visuals or not will come down to a matter of artistic preference.
The print itself is nice and clean, with some natural grain visible throughout but also some occasional unwanted noise. With that said, a few scenes do exhibit a minor smearing quality which may be indicative of some sporadic use of DNR (close-ups during Arthur and Susan's first scene together are a good example). Detail is strong, however, providing a nice level of depth to certain sequences, showing off the architecture and flashing lights of New York City. The main strength and weakness to the presentation is the film's extremely vibrant color palette. While colors do pop off the screen, they also appear over saturated and unrealistic. The vibrancy and sheen that radiates from characters and locations resemble something more akin to the sensibilities of Narnia or Middle Earth, than modern day Manhattan. Ultimately, whether or not this is seen as a positive or negative will come down to personal taste, though I myself prefer a more natural look. Contrast and black levels also follow in a similar vein, with an overly aggressive presentation leading to blown out whites and crushed shadow detail.
The transfer seems to accurately represent the filmmakers' intentions of furthering a slightly fairy tale quality, but the forcefully bold and rich colors might be an eyesore to some.
'Arthur' is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, along with French, Spanish, and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. Like many comedies of this type, the audio is serviceable but bland, with some occasional bursts of life.
Dialogue is crisp and easy to understand. Directionality between the front soundstage is good, but surround activity is very sparse, with some very soft music cues and faint atmospheric effects. The opening scene, featuring a joyride in the Batmobile, showcases some of the more lively aspects of the audio with some aggressive punch, but from here things really die down. Dynamic range is decent but never much of a factor, and bass does kick in every now and then with some of the music choices. Balance between elements is handled well, placing emphasis on the comedic dialogue, giving Brand's quick witted and often improvised remarks ample room to breathe.This isn't demo material by any means, but it gets the job done just fine without any pops, crackles, or other technical issues.
Warner Bros. has provided a small collection of pretty disposable material that may offer an extra laugh or two. All of the supplements are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound and English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitle options.
'Arthur' offers some sporadic laughs and a bit of genuine heart, but really, this is just a mediocre remake that probably shouldn't have been made to begin with. Video and audio are both solid, but supplements are severely lacking. Despite its faults, fans of contemporary romantic comedies and Russell Brand may want to give this a rent.