It's almost hard to believe that it's been nearly six years since 'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' took America by storm. It's even tougher to swallow that to this very day people are being fooled by this now-retired alter-ego of Sacha Baron Cohen. Most recently, a sporting event in Kuwait bombarded a gold medal winning athlete with the mock national anthem, her proudest moments reduced to a mockery, her country belittled as a bunch of anti-semite whore mongers. The film has been the cause of endless controversy, due to its willing participants claiming they were duped by the release forms stating the filming was for a documentary to be shown in Kazakhstan only...where, it turns out, the film has been made illegal due to the way it has damaged the country's reputation.
Adapted from a character featured in the short-lived 'Da Ali G Show' (the same show that brought the 'Brüno' character to life), 'Borat' takes us on a journey along with Kazakhstan's number one news reporter as he travels to America along with producer Azamat (Ken Davitian) to help improve his country's sense of humor. Afraid to travel by air, in case the Jews attack again like in 9/11, Borat purchases a beat-up ice cream truck and travels from city to city, his secret goal to meet and marry the woman of his dreams, Pamela Anderson.
The mock-Kazakhstani is an enigma of sorts, his prejudices and backwards culture making him quite the dick, yet he's as lovable as can be. 'Borat' is not a mean spirited film in any way...unless you're a Kazakh. The over-enthusiastic worshipper of the hawk, hater of Jews, women and gypsies, sister banging buffoon is the fish out of water, who seems genuinely excited to be where he is, caught up in kitsch Americana. His cries for high fives, his gleaming pride and million dollar smile really sell the character. His misconceptions and general ignorance only further sell him as a good guy, despite the truth of the matter.
Due to the fact that most Americans had not heard of Borat Sagdiyev, Cohen performs his trickery on the unsuspecting public, nearly inciting riots and leaving a trail of wreckage in his wake. The thing is, this is not scripted. Some performers (such as Anderson or Luenell) are in on the joke, to further troll the unsuspecting public caught in the crossfire. The rash of lawsuits that this film spawned is proof enough that those who made the mistake of engaging Cohen did so under their own volition, not for compensation. It's this level of truthfulness that gives 'Borat' one of its layers of appeal: it's genuine. The thoughts and feelings coaxed out of the random interview subjects are their own beliefs, and their xenophobia is not fake in any manner.
This film (and its breakout success) would form the structure for 'Bruno,' taking a European touring America, capturing people saying or doing idiotic things, but even this first film isn't fully original. A number of skits in 'Borat' were seen on the show where the character was derived from, most particularly the nude photo gag that was done twice before. Still, even with the fact that a few stunts made the news (most particularly the rodeo performance where Borat dupes an audience to cheer for genocide), there's a lot of memorable, fun sequences in this film, the most infamous being the naked fight, which took place at an undisclosed hotel as Cohen and Davitian engage in one of the crudest bits of fisticuffs ever recorded, its setup looking like an awkward, disturbingly hairy bit of mating.
Few other characters can elicit laughter from a man who asks a car salesman about the Jew smashing abilities of a Hummer, whose past work highlights include his coverage of the running of the Jew (complete with the laying of a Jew egg in the streets), a man whose anus was broken by an unfortunate incident with a rubber fist. The joke is on everyone as this seemingly naive man from an impoverished land turns the tables as a man who brings out the worst in others. 'Borat' has a blazingly fast-moving runtime, with only a small amount of repetitiveness, and plenty of replay value. Bears in ice cream trucks have never been funnier, nor has the exploitation of an entire people. While this film has earned its share of detractors over the years, I see it as a film that only gets more relevant with each viewing, including a cameo from a politician who was in the running for the upcoming election at one point.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan' is not yet available in America on Blu-ray, though Fox has released the film in the UK on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc. Sadly this disc does not reproduce the broken/bootleg version of the national anthem at the menu as the DVD did, nor does it come on a mock-bootleg disc. Even with the impending theatrical release of Cohen's newest creation, 'The Dictator,' there has been no word of this title hitting Blu-ray domestically.
'Borat' isn't your traditional, conventional Hollywood movie. Due to the way it was filmed to try to trick people into thinking they were making a documentary that would air in Kazakhstan, there are often very unfortunate conditions, like low lighting, or tight spaces creating the need for lesser camera equipment. As such, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode found on this disc can only do so much, and the film does get a passing grade, looking about as good as it did when it hit theaters.
The film starts on a very low note, as the mock village hometown whose name in real life translates to "mud" looks, well, muddy. The shots are not detailed or clear in any way, with no depth to speak of. While later, particularly in New York City, the film would portray superb depth, it's very hit or miss. Grain levels are untouched, though some digital manipulation exists, as there are a few bits of very serious edge enhancement (including the humor coach bit, which, coincidentally, also features a fair amount of artifacting to boot). The low grade footage is prone to more severe artifacting, chroma fringing, and softness, and since these bits are mixed in at random moments, the disc takes a dive on a few occasions. Aliasing is kept in check, but can be seen a little here and there if you keep a close eye on the picture. Color saturation and contrast levels are also affected by the bizarre filming, though, surprisingly, contrast does hold more steady than one would think. This disc is an obvious upgrade to the DVD disc, but this film will never be a high video scorer due to the methods it employed to fool the idiots who participated.
While 'Borat' is given a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, it is very limited by the film it is for, and rarely "shines." Dialogue reproduction is clear, with no prioritization issues or distortion of any sort, which is a huge plus. Very few noises find their way to the rear channels of this disc, with some random activity at the rodeo...then little else, and that includes the soundtrack of the film. Perhaps the film tries to reproduce a "documentary" type feel, coming from the cameras. That said, bass levels are a little uneven. For early songs, there is hardly any thump, whatsoever, with tiny improvements as Borat leaves his home country; by the time the film ends, we've had some heaving thumping bass, from the music of MC Hammer to the roar of a Pentecostal church. Heck, there's even a light roar when the pictures of the Jewish bed and breakfast owners are revealed. Fans of the film know not to expect much from this one, but what we do get is quite good for the film it's for!
'Borat' seems to have been slightly forgotten in recent years, the DVD disc no longer found in stores, relegated to sub-dollar secondhand prices. The character has been retired due to fears that the public would catch on too easily and the same kind of footage would no longer be capable of being made. As such, this is a nice blast from the past, and makes for a great viewing experience for fans on its first or fiftieth viewing. This Blu-ray is limited due to the filming methods, and features the same bundle of goodies as the DVD release. With no sign of the USA disc anytime soon, this may be worth an import at its current low price, especially seeing as the domestic release is assuredly going to be of similar quality.