Clue: The Movie (US - BD)
Gabe rolls the dice on the first and best board game movie on Blu-ray disc...
On a dark and stormy night in 1954, six individuals with ties to the government are assembled for a dinner party at the swanky mansion of one Mr. Boddy (Lee Ving). Boddy's butler, Wadsworth (Tim Curry), assigns each guest a colorful code name – Mr. Green (Michael McKean), Col. Mustard (Martin Mull), Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), Miss Scarlet (Lesley Ann Warren), and Mrs. White (Madeline Kahn). Two additional servants, the Cook (Kellye Nakahara) and Yvette, the French maid (Colleen Camp), assist Wadsworth as he informs the guests that they have been gathered to meet the man who has been blackmailing them – Mr. Boddy. When Boddy turns up dead, however, the guests must try to figure out who killed him so they can protect their own reputations and keep the body count from growing.
People can joke all they want about how silly it was to adapt the Battleship board game into a blockbuster alien invasion movie (mostly because it was silly), but the concept of turning a board game into a feature film was proven viable in 1985 with the release of Clue. Clue is one of those understated little classics that worms its way into personal top ten list after personal top ten list without ever garnering the massive recognition it deserves. It wasn’t beloved by critics upon release, and audience reaction was equally luke-warm, as it didn’t manage to make its modest budget back at the box office. I believe these factors all add up to a textbook case of a cult classic. Even I constantly forget Clue even exists until I’m reminded by a surprise television airing, which makes occasional rediscoveries like this one all the more enjoyable.
Clue is often compared to Robert Moore’s Murder by Death, and both films take their most obvious inspiration from the work of Agatha Christie, especially her similarly ensemble cast/confined space work Murder on the Orient Express and And Then There Were None (aka: Ten Little Indians). Director/co-writer Jonathan Lynn, who made his feature film debut here, following a successful career writing for British television, treats the film very much like a stage play, and begs comparisons to other brilliant play-to-film adaptations like Sidney Lumet’s Deathtrap and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Sleuth (the original, not Kenneth Branagh’s remake; a huge personal favourite that you all need to see right this minute). Of course, this all points to a particularly old-fashioned brand of filmmaking, which likely explains why the film didn’t really connect with 1985 audiences. Lynn’s direction is simple and stagy, utilizing few major camera moves while opting for a point and shoot structure, and dependant on editing to speed the story along. Occasionally the movie does get away from him, as apparent in some shots where interaction takes place off-screen for no apparent reason other than he didn’t have the coverage. For example, there’s a brief shot where Mr. Green fails to catch a fainting Mrs. Peacock and we only visually witness the end of the fall.
But Lynn was a first time filmmaker and the screenplay more than makes up for his occasionally sloppy direction. Clue properly embraces its source material, which is an achievement in itself. Obviously, the Parker Brothers board game playing dynamics lend themselves to a narrative format, as the very process of playing the game is a form of narrative development. But there are plenty of games with similar sensibilities (video, board, and pen & paper) that have been adapted to film, and you can probably count the successful ones on one hand (assume you have low standards). The screenplay doesn’t work quite as well on a murder mystery level as it does on a comedic level (there’s nothing realistic about the set-up), but there’s still a number of clever twists and not one, but three climaxes. Clue’s credited co-writer was John Landis, who was busy in 1985 directing two flops – the forgotten Into the Night and the notorious Spies Like Us – neither of which were based on his own screenplays. I’m not sure exactly what Landis contributed, especially since Lynn’s follow-up features could almost all be confused for John Landis movies ( Nuns on the Run, The Distinguished Gentleman, Greedy, Sgt. Bilko, and even My Cousin Vinny).
Given Lynn’s obvious talent with writing for ensembles, I can’t imagine he needed Landis’ help tying things together, and none of the jokes strike me as strictly Landis-ian, except maybe the sudden death of a singing telegram girl. The film’s sense of humour chiefly surrounds slapstick and fast-talking, often manic performances, which makes it something of a neo-screwball comedy in the Frank Capra/Howard Hawks tradition. This allows Lynn to lean pretty heavily on his actors (another trait he shares with Landis), meaning most of his job is done following the casting process. The top-tier cast is made up of a wall of character actor greatness, the likes of which are usually delegated to B-budget westerns, and everyone does their very specific job in a delightfully theatrical manner. Each character here is simply, yet consistently defined. Tim Curry is the obvious cast frontrunner and Clue’s Wadsworth is certainly among his most memorable performances. He unravels mouthfuls of exposition without missing a beat or losing vital performance. His rundown of the first hour of the film is utter, breathless perfection. It’s hard to choose a second favourite, outside Colleen Camp’s glorious cleavage (not to say her performance isn’t nearly as glorious), but Madeline Kahn’s decidedly deadpan Mrs. White lands some of the film’s heaviest and most undervalued laughs. Her delayed squeak of a scream and ‘flames on the side of my face’ speech slay me every time.
This new 1080p Blu-ray transfer is a sort of hit and miss affair, but a sizable overall upgrade over a standard definition release. It appears that Paramount has put very little effort into remastering the original footage. There are hints of print damage, mostly in the form of white flecks and a few shutter effects, and the grain levels pump up and down throughout the film, but none of these are particularly distracting. Even with an expensive digital overhaul, I don’t believe Clue would ever appear super-sharp given Lynn and director of photography Victor J. Kemper’s penchant for softer and shallower focus, the overall lack of lighting, and rather uncomplicated colour schemes. I do believe that the transfer is too dark given the crushed quality of the blacks, the dim quality of highlights and the loss of textures in even the moderately darkened hues. There’s clearly a mood Lynn and Kemper had in mind, but I’m guessing it wasn’t quite this stark. The detail levels are consistent throughout, with a handful of brief exceptions, but again, things are so dark that it’s hard to really appreciate anything outside of the more complex background décor. The warm colour quality doesn’t lead to much in the way of bleeding or compression artefacts, and the occasional blue highlights stand out sharply enough, but the crushed qualities do create a bit of a brown wash at times.
There’s little specifically wrong with this DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono soundtrack, I’m just surprised a major 1985 release wasn’t mixed into some kind of stereo or surround mix. I’m usually not a fan of re-mixing up mono tracks into multi-channel spectaculars, so I suppose this is the best option, but it certainly doesn’t sound great. The flat aural qualities of the track aren’t really a problem, given the film’s conservative sound design, but there are a few sequences where ambience is effectively turned to mush. The much bigger issues are the tinny and inconsistent qualities of the vocal effects. The words are all clear enough to understand and dynamic enough to differentiate who is speaking, but there’s an unnatural, canned quality to every word spoken. There’s also a noticeable degree of distortion on the higher volume levels, especially those shrill screams. Of the qualities I had forgotten about the film, John Morris’ quirky Tales from the Crypt-meets-dinner theater score is very high on the list. The monoraul sound quality does hurt the scope of the music a bit, but generally, the fidelity doesn’t suffer and instruments aren’t muddied.
Will Clue ever get a proper special-edition release? Maybe someday, but today is not that day, and the shelf life of physical media is dwindling pretty quickly these days. The only extras here are the original trailer and presence of all three endings (which better well be on there, anyway).
Clue remains every bit as buoyant and fun as it ever was and continues to deserve multiple viewings, so I’m sure core fans will be happy to upgrade their old DVDs despite this Blu-ray release’s lack of special features. Unfortunately, the 1080p video quality doesn’t look like much of an upgrade to me and the DTS-HD MA mono audio doesn’t impress. Still, the improvements are there and those that don’t already own the DVD release should be plenty happy with the disc overall.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer. Thanks to Troy at Andersonvision.com for the Blue Underground Blu-ray screen-caps.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 1st January 1995
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono English, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Spanish, French and Portuguese
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese
Extras: Three Different Endings, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jonathan Lynn
Cast: Tim Curry, Eileen Brennan, Martin Mull, Lesley Ann Warren, Christopher Lloyd, Michael McKean, Madeline Kahn, Colleen Camp
Length: 96 minutes
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