Professional figure skating is a subject so ripe for cinematic satire that it's truly a wonder that 'Blades of Glory' is first big budget comedy to exploit it. The costumes, the music, the pageantry, the preening -- as much as we may watch in awe as the enormously talented athletes create magic on the ice, it's hard not to also stifle a giggle at the grandiose excess of it all.
Much the same way he did with formula one racing in 'Talladega Nights,' Will Ferrell lampoons the sport to great effect with 'Blades of Glory.' This fantastically silly, utterly preposterous comedy was the sleeper hit of early 2007, grossing over $100 million and for once delivering all the laughs its trailers promised.
Ferrell stars as Chazz Michael Michaels, an uber-hetero world-class figure skating champion (and adult film star, but nevermind that). After a on-rink run-in with his rival, the angel-cheeked skating prodigy Jimmy MacElroy (Jon Heder, not straying too far from his classic 'Napoleon Dynamite' persona), both are stripped of their gold medals and permanently banned from men's single competition. However, after a few desperate years stuck on the has-been, quasi-celebrity skating circuit, the two find a loophole that will allow them to qualify as the world's first all-male pairs team.
Here is where 'Blades of Glory' could have simply been another of those one-joke movies -- nothing more than a series of cringe-inducing homophobic barbs about how funny men in tights are. But if 'Blades of Glory' isn't exactly high-brow, Ferrell and Heder find just the right tone in satirizing not "gayness," but instead the male discomfort with the sexual stereotypes of "effeminate" sports like figure skating. Ferrell in particular creates such a hyper-masculine alpha male in Chazz -- one who's overcompensating to a ridiculous degree, that it becomes truly inspired social commentary. 'Blades of Glory' is actually quite astute, even sublime, in skewering male anxieties.
The film also doesn't limit itself to obvious satire by having a field day with the highly-competitive nature of Olympic sports. Fulfilling the villain requirement are Stranz and Fairchild Van Waldenberg, a brother-sister team of rival German skaters who will do anything to defeat Chazz and Jimmy. As played by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler (who also happen to be married off-screen), they're like Boris and Natasha on ice, twirling their mustaches as they hatch a series of increasingly bizarre schemes. It all leads to an extended chase sequence, as Stranz chases Chazz over ice, through a crowded shopping mall and finally onto the rink in a madcap bit of lunacy that is one of the movie's highlight sequences.
If 'Blades of Glory' were only spandex and slapstick, however, it probably would have been nothing more than a second-rate "SNL" sketch that quickly wore out its welcome. But typical of Ferrell's more recent penchant for humanistic comedy over sheer satire (particularly in the underrated 'Stranger Than Fiction'), he sets the tone for the rest of the film by plumbing some genuine (if completely ridiculous) pathos out of these larger-than-life characters. When Chazz is forced to endure a stint inside a giant furry animal costume in the kiddie spectacular "Grumlets on Ice" (a pitch-perfect parody of those awful Icecapades shows), he somehow manages to make it simultaneously sad, touching, and hilarious. Indeed, we will come to like all of the characters in 'Blades of Glory,' because however over-the-top they may be, there is a kernel of recognition to even their most outlandish behavior that rings true.
Of course, 'Blades of Glory' is ultimately impervious to critical analysis, because it aims to be nothing more than just a very funny movie. It takes a sport that just cries out to be made fun of, hits the laugh bull's-eye more than it misses, and has a few truly inspired, memorable setpieces that are sure to get a lot of repeat spins in your Blu-ray player. This is the kind of check-your-brain-at-the-door, memorize-your-favorite-lines-and-recite-them-over-and-over-again guilty pleasure that you can throw on any time you need to forget your troubles and just laugh your ass off.
Originally announced for release on both Blu-ray and HD DVD last year, Paramount's last-minute switch to HD DVD exclusivity meant the 'Blades of Glory' Blu-ray was yanked at the last minute before it hit store shelves. Though a few copies leaked out (particularly on eBay), for the vast majority of Blu-ray fans 'Blades of Glory' will be brand-new. Paramount hasn't made any changes to this disc's 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode, which mirrors the previous HD DVD and is just as good-looking.
As you would expect for a very recent release, the print is pristine with nary a speckle or blemish to be found. Although grain is slightly more noticeable in the film's darker scenes, blacks are spot on, and contrast does not appear overcooked or blown out. Colors are also generally well-saturated, although perhaps not as vibrant as one might expect given all the flamboyant costumes and larger-than-life production design. Hues, meanwhile, are stable, and noise and bleeding are not a problem.
Detail is generally strong, although a few of the wider shots look a bit softer and lacking in true depth than the best new releases. Also, while there's none of the irritating edge enhancement that has plagued some Paramount next-gen titles in the past, some of the softer shots do look a bit tweaked, with very slight edge halos visible. All in all, in terms of picture quality, 'Blades of Glory' earns a silver medal.
The one area where this Blu-ray easily trumps the previous HD DVD is the audio. The previous next-gen release included standard Dolby Digital audio only, but here we get a full-blown uncompressed PCM 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit). This is still a fairly typical comedy presentation, but definitely a jump up from the HD DVD.
The surrounds are very active with directed discrete effects and strong atmosphere. The competition scenes in particular are a highlight, with crowd noise and other ambiance very strong in the rears, and far more full-bodied in PCM. Likewise, the extended chase scene between Will Ferrell and Will Arnett features excellent localization of sounds and even more seamless imaging over the standard Dolby track. The use of music is also nicely done, with the classic rock/pop songs scattered about the soundtrack adding a nice heft to the overall mix.
Dynamics are also improved. Low bass offers deep subwoofer action when required, but isn't overpowering. The rest of the range is expansive but not booming. Dialogue is also very nicely balanced and prominent, as I found no volume level adjustments necessary. A very strong soundtrack for a comedic film.
'Blades of Glory' comes to Blu-ray with the same extras as the HD DVD and standard DVD editions. It's a fun and varied assortment, and the presentation is strong as well, with most (but not all) of the video-based supplements presented in full 1080 video. (Optional subtitles are provided in English, French and Spanish.)
'Blades of Glory' is not only very funny, but it's smarter and better acted than you might expect. This Blu-ray easily matches the previous HD DVD version in terms of video, and even better, offers an upgrade to high-res audio. The extras are also fairly extensive and entertaining. It's been a long wait for Blu-ray fans, but 'Blades of Glory' is well worth picking up.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.