Dictator, The (US - BD RA)
Jonathan checks out the new Blu-ray release of the Sacha Baron Cohen film..
From the creators of Borat comes the hilarious story of a North African dictator (Sacha Baron Cohen) who, on a visit to New York, is stripped of his power and forced to get a real job at a Brooklyn health food store. (From the Paramount synopsis)
I was fresh out of high school and working at a movie theater when Borat came out. It was the first time I really had to card a bunch of underage kids who were trying to get into an R-rated movie (don't look at me like that, it was my job!), and spending 8-hour shifts doing that gave the film an alluring notoriety. When I finally watched it I thought it was a complete riot. This was a complete original who was not afraid to offend or throw himself in harms way to get a laugh or expose some wildly intolerant sides of American culture. The shock value wore off with subsequent viewings, but there was no denying how much fun the first showing was. Three years later Brüno came out. I still found it funny, but a lot of the jokes felt meaner and the character lacked the witless charm that Cohen pulled off as Borat.
Another three years pass and that brings us to The Dictator. This is one of those films that might come off as very edgy to somebody who has never watched an episode of South Park or another film from Sacha Baron Cohen. His third outing with director Larry Charles finds him dropping his real world reporter shtick and taking a stab at a more traditional narrative. It's your standard fish out of water plot, similar to the Eddie Murphy vehicle Coming to America, but without any of the charm. It's primary focus is to shock you into laughing, and every other aspect of the film from the story to the characters are just there to fill in the gaps between each gag. Aladeen, aside from a change in nationality and wealth, isn't that far off from Brüno or Borat when you think about it. They're always stupid characters who find ways of inadvertently offending people. But with The Dictator there are no real people being offended or having their skewed morals put on the spot. The offensive element of the formula is still there but it loses its potency in this story setting. And watching a fictional character be offensive to other fictional characters is just, well, boring by comparison. I can't blame Cohen. He has become too recognizable to pull off the public shenanigans, but I felt like The Dictator was trying too hard to cling to what made those movies work and it falls short as a result.
That isn't to say there aren't some good laughs in The Dictator. There are a few inspired moments that work very well, including one of the more disgusting and awkward public birthing scenes I've seen in a comedy. There's a high-wire bit where Aladeen is suspended above the city and must drop random objects out of his pockets to lighten his weight. It had some silent era charm to it and fondly recalled some old Buster Keaton stunts, even if it was clearly a special effect and relied on a defecation joke for a laugh. Other highlights include a great satirical rant about current government during the finale, and in the extended cut there is a particularly gross but funny scene where Aladeen is beat up by one of his female bodyguards who crushes cinder blocks with her breasts. Ben Kingsley's talent is wasted but it is kind of fun to watch the Oscar-winning actor put in awkward situations. Anna Faris's Zoey character is just grating, but that might very well be the point. She's the complete opposite of Aladeen's materialistic background, but equally as repulsive of a character. Jason Mantzoukas, who never fails to make me laugh on The League, is Aladeen's sidekick character. He's mostly there for Cohen to bounce lines off of, but he gets a few good laughs. I think Sacha Baron Cohen is a talented force in comedy, but I hope he breaks away from these characters and lends his talents to more worthy causes, like he did with Hugo. My inclusive love for even the worst of comedies won't allow me to hate The Dictator, but I would really only recommend it to the curious and fans of Sacha Baron Cohen's previous efforts.
Paramount delivers on the video front with a solid 1080p video transfer. Filmed in digital on the Arri Alexa, the film has a generally clean look. I recently reviewed Bernie which was filmed on the same camera, but had a lot more detail to the picture. Though the image isn't quite blurry, it doesn't look nearly as sharp as some other films that use the technology. It is flat by comparison, but that could be due to post-processing effects and some green screen work. You can still see plenty of detail in Aladeen's curly beard or the excessive decorations of his lodgings. Colors are a big stand out. Aladeen's outfits and various marks cover a wide spectrum of very saturated colors that standard definition could not bring out the full depth of. Most of the Wadiya scenes have that orange, sunny filter over them. Most of the sets are full of brown and gold hues to begin with, so the effect is compounded. When Aladeen is stripped of his power and working in the health food store, colors find a more normal spectrum but still retain some of that warm comedy appearance. In the extended cut of the film, some of the scenes appear to have the actors imposed into a scene. The high resolution allows you to see the shortcomings of the green screen effect very easily. Certain shots in the extended version exhibit a lot of digital artefacts that is very inconsistent with the rest of the film (see the third screen cap). It's not pretty, but is thankfully isolated to a few brief moments.
First and foremost I should note that the extended cut of the film only has an option for English language. The additional languages listed are only for the theatrical version of the movie. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is well-produced and more adept than most comedies. For the most part everything is kept to the front channels, as expected, but in scenes with protesting crowds or when Aladeen makes an announcement to the people of Wadiya, the noisy citizens make some presence in the surround channels. The soundtrack, which includes an amusing and catch song for Aladeen, sounds great in the mix. The individually produced sounds are split up among the front channels in a lively manner. Dialogue is crisp though occasionally hard to make out in some noisier crowd scenes, but it's not a real issue. There's not a lot happening as most of the film is just people talking, but its more active and dynamic than your average comedy audio mix and won't let down anybody with reasonable expectations.
Special features start off with Deleted and Extended Scenes (HD, 33:43). There are fifteen total. Though there is about half an hour of material here, much of it is in the extended cut of the film that is on the Blu-ray. It's nice to see all this extra footage on the disc, but to be completely honest I didn't really find any of it that funny. A lot of the extended scenes are just extensions of jokes that didn't work for me in the feature film, so I found them more tedious than enjoyable.
Next is Music Video - Best Love Song "Your Money is on the Dresser" (HD, 01:35), which is a funny and strange music video that features Cohen's wife, Isla Fisher ( Wedding Crashers, Confessions of a Shopaholic). The overused auto-tune effect is amusing and the video production has a hint of that public domain channel charm. Lastly is Larry King Interview (HD, 02:49), which is a complete version of the Larry King interview shown briefly in the opening news montage of the film. I got a couple of chuckles out of it.
The Dictator is my least favorite effort from Sacha Baron Cohen to date, but his dedication to his characters is admirable and there are some great big laughs dispersed throughout the film. Sadly, everything in between left me cold and surprisingly bored. Paramount's video transfer is strong but can be strangely inconsistent during scenes from the extended cut. The audio track has no apparent flaws and extras are small in number but should amuse fans of the film.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release 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.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Release Date: 21st August 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1 Portuguese, English Audio Description
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Deleted and Extended Scenes, Music Video, DVD Copy, Ultraviolet Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Larry Charles
Cast: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Fair, Ben Kingsley
Length: 83 minutes
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