Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
|Title:||EDtv: Collector's Edition (1999)|
Universal Studios - Fame. Be careful. It's out there.
It's the unforgettable story of a nobody..that everybody's watching! Mathew McConaughey and Jenna Elfman star in the hilariou romantic comedy Joel Siegel calls "Big-Laugh Funny." Ed Pekurny (McConaughey) is just a regular guy who feels he has nothing to lose by agreeing to be a star of a new reality-based TV show. Almost overnight, the program becomes a hit, and suddenly this goofy but engaging video clerk is a national celebrity! Everything's fabulous..until Ed falls head-over-heels for Shari (Elfman), the girlfriend of his brother Ray(Woody Harrelson). Suddenly their most private moments become public entertainment- and the ratings go through the roof - as millions of fans tune in to watch a real soap opera filled with comedy and romance.
|Cast:||Matthew McConaughey, Jenna Elfman, Ellen DeGeneres, Woody Harrelson, Martin Landau, Sally Kirkland, Rob Reiner, Dennis Hopper, Elizabeth Hurley|
|Box Office:||Budget: $60 million. Opening Weekend: $8.311 million (2626 screens). Gross: $22.362 million.|
|DVD:||Widescreen 1.88:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1, French Dolby Surround; subtitles none; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 18 chapters; rated PG-13; $34.98; street date 8/17/99.|
|Supplements:||Documentary; Deleted Scenes; Audio Commentary; Outtakes; Production Notes; Talent Bios; Film Highlights; Theatrical Trailer; Soundtrack Presentation; DVD-ROM Features .|
|Purchase:||DVD | DTS DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists|
When it arrived in the spring of 1999, EDtv received many inevitable comparisons to the previous summer’s Truman Show. EDtv was called a rip-off of the older film, and on the surface, that accusation may seem appropriate. After all, both movies featured main characters who lived their lives on TV.
However, I think the two pictures take pretty different approaches to the subject and are really dissimilar enough to negate the “rip-off” factor. Whereas Truman features a protagonist who’s lived his whole life on TV but never knew it, EDtv takes on the topic in the opposite manner; it views an average dude who thinks being on TV day and night will be a hoot but finds out otherwise when he learns he has virtually no privacy.
Truman had no privacy either, but he never knew that, so his mindset was completely different. EDtv really focuses on the pressures and problems that come with fame. In that regard, it doesn’t succeed as a deep and penetrating examination of the trials and tribulations attached with being well-known, but it does provide a fairly enjoyable ride.
As the film starts, we see representatives from “Reality TV”, a foundering cable network. Spearheaded by programmer Cynthia Topping (Ellen Degeneres), a new show will broadcast the life of one “lucky” goof on his own TV program. Cameras will follow him everywhere and display every facet of his life.
After he pops up in the audition for his brother Ray (Woody Harrelson), Ed Pekurny (Matthew McConaughey) is chosen as the subject of the channel. Initially he thinks this is a lot of fun, but eventually, the life begins to become a strain, especially as Ed learns how invasive the press and the public can be when he pursues a relationship with Shari (Jenna Elfman).
Despite the similarities to The Truman Show, EDtv actually was inspired by a 1994 French Canadian flick called Louis 19, le roi des ondes. Unlike Truman, Ed tries harder to play the situation for laughs. If you learn a little lesson along the way, that’s great, but it seems clear that the movie’s intent is mainly to entertain.
In that regard, it does a fairly good job, largely thanks to the very solid cast. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of the actors come from a TV background; Degeneres, Elfman, Harrelson, Martin Landau, and Rob Reiner all spent years on TV, and let’s not forget director Ron Howard’s supreme pedigree in tubeology. Hey, he even managed to slide old co-worker Donny “Ralph Malph” Most into the project! (Surprisingly, this was the first - and so far only - Howard movie in which Most appeared.)
Anyway, the TV background of so many cast members does them good since Howard plays on that aspect of his career throughout EDtv. Really, the movie resembles little more than a very good sitcom much of the time. That may sound like an insult, but it’s not meant as one; as a whole, the film offers an entertaining experience.
Frankly, there’s not much else to say about EDtv. As a biting, incisive commentary on the nature of fame, it doesn’t do much for me. As a fun little piece of comedy, it’s fairly amusing and compelling. No one will mistake it for a classic, but as a light piece of entertainment, you could do much worse.
EDtv appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall the movie looked terrific, with very few problems on display.
Sharpness seemed virtually immaculate throughout the film. The picture appeared consistently crisp and detailed, with no signs of any soft or fuzzy images. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and the print used also appeared clean. I witnessed a few examples of white speckles, but these were very infrequent, and the movie provided no other physical defects.
Colors looked nicely natural and well-saturated. The film used a life-like palette, and these hues came across as realistic and clear, with no problems related to noise or bleeding. Black levels were similarly rich and deep, and shadow detail appeared appropriately thick but never excessively heavy. In the end, I found EDtv to offer a very satisfying visual experience.
Although the film’s Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack wasn’t as terrific as its picture, it nonetheless worked very well for the material. After all, EDtv isn’t a film that lends itself to loud, overwhelming sound, so the quietly immersive track found here seemed solid. Not surprisingly, the soundfield presented a strong emphasis on the forward channels, which offered a reasonably broad and engaging spectrum of audio. The front speakers showed nicely localized effects and a little dialogue, and the music displayed good stereo separation, all of which blended together well. The surrounds lacked much activity, but they added positive ambiance and worked especially nicely during louder scenes such as those at the club and at the hockey game. This was a modest soundfield, but it complemented the material.
Audio quality seemed excellent. Dialogue consistently appeared natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and realistic, and they displayed good dynamic range as well. Music worked best of all, as the score seemed bright and vivid, and it offered nice, tight bass. Ultimately, the soundtrack appeared clear and warm and it was a solid piece.
As part of Universal’s “Collector’s Edition” series, one might expect a slew of extras on EDtv, and one would expect correctly. The disc includes a lot of material, starting with two separate audio commentaries. The first provides a screen-specific look at the film from director Ron Howard. He’s a veteran of these programs - Howard also added a commentary for Apollo 13 - and he offers a nicely chatty and informative track here. The piece filled us in on the many improvisational moments in the movie and differentiated between the scripted incidents. Howard also covered the basics of making the film and generally was engaging and useful.
Also interesting was the second commentary, which came from screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. The two men were recorded together for this screen-specific track. The piece starts out very slowly and it suffers from an inordinate number of empty spots, but it you stick with it you’ll get a good look at filmmaking from the writer’s perspective. These two have been in the business for many years, and it was fun to hear their wit and wisdom, especially when they discussed the “math of comedy”. The gaps and the generally slow pacing of the commentary mean that it’s not a great track, but it deserves a listen.
Next up are some video extras. We find a decent little documentary about the film. Called Caught In the Camera’s Eye, this 31-minute and 20-second program mixes interviews with the main participants - mostly actors plus Howard, Ganz, Mandel and producer Brian Grazer - with film clips and shots from the set. As a whole, it’s a moderately interesting but fairly puffy piece. We hear a lot of “he was great/she was great/we were great” talk and don’t learn all that much about the making of the film. The documentary includes enough useful details to merit a viewing, but it wasn’t a strong program.
Much more interesting were the Deleted Scenes. In this area we find a whopping 40 minutes and 45 seconds of unused footage. Although clearly not all of this stuff should have remained, there’s quite a lot of interesting material found here. We see a lot more of the abuses Ed suffers due to his fame, and there are a couple of totally excised subplots. For example, we learn of a competing “real-life” show that pops up after EDtv makes it big. Many times deleted scenes are pretty dull, but that wasn’t the case here; most of these snippets were rather compelling.
My only quibble about the “Deleted Scenes” section relates to the presentation. Although the quality of the clips seems poor, I didn’t mind that particularly; it goes with the territory much of the time. However, I was bothered that the snippets appear completely out of context, so some of them may not make much sense. Howard offers a very general introduction at the start of the program, but we never hear from him again; additional intros could have given us more information about the scenes and the reasons they were cut. The “Deleted Scenes” also have no chapter marks, so it would be insanely difficult to find the ones you liked without watching most or all of the package. I still really enjoyed this area, but the package should have been more “user friendly”.
Additional unused material appears in the Outtakes section. Here we find seven minutes and 55 seconds of the usual flubs and mistakes. Some of these are moderately interesting - such as when Woody Harrelson starts to melt down - but for the most part, there’s nothing out of the ordinary here.
Reprise Soundtrack Presentation starts with 30 second ad for album then goes to stylish but dull videos for Barenaked Ladies’ “Call and Answer” and Bon Jovi’s “Real Life”. “Universal Showcase” provides trailers for then-new theatrical releases of Bowfinger and Mystery Men. We also get the theatrical trailer for EDtv itself.
The Music Highlights program lets you jump immediately to any of 24 different songs heard in EDtv. Note that this feature doesn’t present the tunes isolated; the audio heard is the same track that accompanies the regular film.
Lastly, some text pieces complete the DVD. We get brief but decent biographies in the Cast and Filmmakers area. This section includes listings for 10 actors plus director Ron Howard. A trailer for Apollo 13 can also be found in Howard’s filmography. In addition, we get some solid Production Notes on the DVD, and an alternate set of details on the project appears in the disc’s booklet.
EDtv won’t ever be considered a great film, but not many flicks will achieve that status. Nonetheless, it offers a fun little experience that should keep you interested and entertained throughout most of the movie. The DVD provides very strong picture and sound plus a fine batch of extras. All told, EDtv is an excellent DVD that deserves your attention.
|Equipment:||Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.|
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