At first glance, 'Pitch Perfect' looks like nothing more than a 'Glee' rip-off. A story about competing collegiate a cappella groups; the movie got surprisingly good reviews. Perhaps it wasn't so derivative after all. Turns out the script was penned by '30 Rock' writer Kay Cannon. And, in many ways, 'Pitch Perfect' mirrors '30 Rock'. It starts out with surprisingly sharp humor, catching the audience off guard, only to become derivative and unfunny by the end.
Anna Kendrick plays Beca, an isolated girl who wants to be a DJ, but is forced to go to the college where her estranged father teaches. He makes a deal with her that if she really gives college a try and still doesn't like it, he'll pay for her to go to LA and enter the music biz. Beca joins an all-female a cappella group, the Bellas, who are facing irrelevancy as they refuse to change their antiquated setlists and conservative choreography. They're determined to win the International Championship of Collegiate A Capella, but face some stiff competition, especially from their main rivals: The Treblemakers. The Bellas have a lot of work ahead of them, as they have to turn a new group of girls into a polished singing machine. Beca also has to contend with her feelings for a Treblemaker, Jesse (Skylar Astin).
'Pitch Perfect' starts out wonderfully. The film opens at an ICCA performance, and at first it seems like it's going to be just a 'Glee' rip-off. But things take a surprising turn when Aubrey (Anna Camp), a member of the Bellas, pukes all over the audience. From there we go right into the opening credits, and you know you're watching a movie that is willing to take chances. This impression lingers as we meet the main characters. Beca is closed off and an unwilling participant in a cappella, a far cry from the happy go lucky characters we've come to expect from movies like these. Even better is Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson), a charming, ostentatious, and hilarious young woman who has no qualms being exactly who she is.
The opening twenty minutes of the film have plenty of great gags, from a girl with baloney breasts to a college DJ group turning out to be an organization for deaf Jews. Like a good '30 Rock' episode, the gags are fast, furious, and unexpected. The movie even seems to set up expectations that the resolution will not be the same old thing, as Beca has a speech about how movie endings are boring and predictable. Unfortunately, Kay Cannon seemed to forget all of this, because the second half of the film is exactly what you'd expect from this kind of movie. All of the surprises vanish, like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
I could have lived with the cliché ending if the gags had kept on coming fast and furious, but sadly, they dry up once the movie turns its attentions to the Bellas. And that is really the heart of the problem for 'Pitch Perfect': No matter how witty it might be, it's still a film about a cappella groups. And let's face it; a cappella is a losing proposition. There's a scene in the film where the Treblemakers get into a fight with an a cappella group comprised of men who all graduate college years before. They make a point to say how pathetic it is for grown men to still be dedicated to a cappella, but the movie itself takes the a cappella far too seriously.
It's a bizarre thing to see a movie so adroitly address what is wrong with generic rom-coms and sports flicks (with the music standing in for whatever competitive sport is on display), and then so quickly fall into all the pitfalls that it spent so much time pointing out. Things get especially bad when Aubrey repeats her puke performance in a rehearsal, and one of the Bellas lays down in the vomit and makes angels in it. This is about as far from funny as I can think, and sadly that is far more indicative of the type of humor found here than the opening scenes.
The script feels sloppy in other areas. Except for Beca and Aubrey, there's little in the way of character development. Jesse likes Beca from the moment he sees her, and even though he's cross with her in the second act, he comes around in the third just like you'd expect. The film introduces characters early on that seem like they're going to be important, or at least be around, and then they're completely ignored until the plot requires them. Even memorable characters like Fat Amy don't do much other than crack wise. And there are members of both the Bellas and the Treblemakers who literally never speak. The writing is terribly uneven all around.
I can see why so many people liked 'Pitch Perfect'. It's comfort food, no different than a thousand other generic comedies. But it's wrapped with a veneer of edginess, to make people think they're seeing something more risky and daring than they actually are. The truth is that 'Pitch Perfect' has potential, but squanders it in favor of lame gags and tired plot points. 'Pitch Perfect' is more like a sour note.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal offers 'Pitch Perfect' in a two-disc set. The first disc is the Blu-ray, while the second is a copy of the film on DVD, which also includes a digital copy. Finally, there is an Ultraviolet code housed inside the case.
'Pitch Perfect' has some of the most aggressive use of BD-Live I've yet seen. When you start the disc, instead of seeing an on-disc ad, the Blu-ray will instead connect to Universal's servers and download a fresh ad. Once you get to the main menu, ads for new Universal releases will pop-up in the upper right corner. On one hand, it's cool to see the technology being used in new ways. On the other hand, it's a little disconcerting to think that a company can use the same disc to keep advertising to you for years.
'Pitch Perfect' looks gorgeous in this 1.85:1, AVC-encoded 1080p transfer. Shot on digital Arri cameras, the source looks pristine. The transfer takes full advantage, with vibrant colors and clear images. From the first frame you'll be impressed at this transfer's sharp detail and glorious colors. The image practically jumps off the screen. Contrast is perfect, with deep black levels that leave plenty of shadow detail, and strong whites. Take the scene where the Bellas induct their newest members. Lit by candlelight, the image never wavers. You'll be able to make out plenty of detail even in the darkest areas. Fleshtones are very accurate, whether it's Beca's alabaster complexion or Aubrey's rosy cheeks.
Try as I might, I could not find even a hint of compression artifacts, macro-blocking, banding, or other transfer issues. Even during the competition sequences, which have concert-style lighting that can frequently be a bane to high def transfers looked immaculate. The film is no great shakes, but the presentation is stellar.
Universal offers a strong DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. As much as I didn't enjoy the singing, I can't deny that it sounds gorgeous in this mix. The mid tones come across especially warm, absolutely vital for a film centered on a cappella groups. When singing is involved, the mix comes to life, with a full, expansive soundstage that will shower you with rich sound. The ICCA performances sound especially good, with audiences active in the rears and a deep, heavy LFE track. The entire dynamic range sounds excellent, without a single instance of distortion or error.
Outside of the songs, you're looking at a dialogue-heavy film, and the mix does not do much other than present the dialogue clearly. There's nothing wrong with the imaging or balance, but the focus sits in the front channels and firmly remains there until another song presents itself.
I don't have a problem with movies that follow a formula, as long as they're well made. 'Pitch Perfect' starts strong, looking like it might be clever enough to defy expectations, but it quickly devolves into a generic comedy with no bite, and even worse, no good humor. Even Rebel Wilson's breakout performance as Fat Amy isn't enough to save this mess of a film. On a technical level this Blu-ray disc will not disappoint, with reference level video and very strong audio. Outside of the commentaries, the extras feel light, veering towards unfunny improv instead of behind the scenes footage. I would say to skip the movie, but if you don't, at least the disc will look and sound great.