Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest (UK - DVD R2)
Chris Gould dons his rapid reviewing hat to knock this one out quick fashion
When the power goes out in the middle of the Griffin's nightly television viewing, Peter decides to regale the rest of the clan with a story of love and loss, fathers and sons, and the foresight to retain international merchandising rights—yes, the story of Star Wars. What follows is basically a semi-faithful retelling of A New Hope, with the cast replaced by the regular Family Guy characters in the show's usual style of humour. Peter becomes Han Solo, while Lois and Chris become Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker respectively. Brian shows up as Chewbacca, with Quagmire and Cleveland fulfilling the C-3PO and R2-D2 rolls. Of course it should come as no surprise that Darth Vader is played by none other than Stewie, and Meg is relegated to a short cameo as the dianogah. Even old Herbert the pervert shows up as Obi-Wan Kenobi!
I know that Family Guy has its detractors, but I’ve always been a fan. South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone may have got it right with their assessment of the show’s comedy, but I happen to like the non-sequitur style. Of course I’m also a massive Star Wars fan, so it follows that a combination of the two would be something that I’d immediately warm to. The first time I saw clips on the web (from Comic-Con) I laughed hysterically, but when I finally saw the episode on TV I discovered that many of the funniest scenes were in the teaser. Unfortunately, as with most comedies, once I knew what was coming I just couldn’t get as worked up about it on subsequent viewings, and it was for this reason that I was slightly concerned about reviewing the DVD.
Thankfully the show’s creators have reinserted around four minutes of footage into the episode, most of which provided me with belly laughs. There’s a welcome return for Tom Tucker and Diane Simmons, along with some great one-liners from Stewie ('I Sithed my pants') and a few little extensions to key scenes. The new bits are frequent enough and far enough apart to inject new life into the episode, making it one of the funnier Family Guy outings in recent memory. While it’s not the most sophisticated parody/spoof in the world there are some amusing observations, from the whole ‘design flaw’ in the Death Star to Han Solo’s ‘manoeuvres’ while evading the Imperials. It’s not a comedy ‘classic’ by any stretch of the imagination, but there should be enough here to amuse die-hard and casual fans alike.
Family Guy Presents: Blue Harvest is presented in its televised aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and is one of the best looking episodes of the show to date. You could be forgiven for thinking that much of the on-screen action has been lifted directly from the films by way of rotoscoping, but that's not the case—everything was created from scratch. This is very impressive considering how closely certain scenes match their big-screen counterparts, such as the reveal of the Rebel Blockade Runner and Imperial Star Destroyer, the escape pod spiralling towards Tatooine, the Millennium Falcon/TIE Fighter battle and the attack on the Death Star.
This is actually the first standard-definition title I've reviewed since getting my HDTV and I was a little worried that it wouldn't hold up to scrutiny after being up-converted to 1080p, but my worries proved to be unfounded. As you would expect from an animated series, the image is very bright and colourful. Blacks are not as inky as I would have liked, frequently appearing lighter than even the borders to the sides of the screen, which themselves are somewhat short of pure black because of the nature of LCD technology. Things could also have been a little sharper. Even so, I still found the transfer a pleasing representation of the source material, if not up there with the best the DVD format has to offer.
Blue Harvest is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, which actually makes a bit of difference for a change. While the dialogue is anchored firmly at the front of the soundstage, there are plenty of discrete effects on offer—far more than the usual episodes. TIE Fighters fly from right to left, the Millennium Falcon roars overhead and the score fills the room in suitably atmospheric fashion. Still, what really sets the episode apart from the rest of the series is the use of effects and music lifted directly from the Star Wars films, such as the famous Wilhelm scream and John Williams' awesome orchestral score. It would be very easy to get carried away by the Star Wars theme, but in trying to keep things in perspective I have to recognise that this is still very much a TV soundtrack. It's not going to challenge the average mainstream movie, which is reflected in the scoring.
Things kick off with a feature-length commentary from Seth MacFarlane and a number of the show’s creative team, but sadly none of the other regular voice artists are featured. If you've listened to any of the episode commentaries you'll know what to expect—irreverent discussion and plenty of banter. The track strikes a decent balance between providing technical info and just goofing around, which is just how I like things. The participants point out subtle additions like the appearance of Futurama's Bender and the evil monkey in the cantina scene, along with the deliberate 'Vaseline' effect added under the landspeeder. They usually mention when a piece of footage has been reinserted as well, so if you missed the show on TV you'll know what gags were added.
‘A Conversation with George’ is exactly what it says—a short (thirteen-minute) chat with Star Wars creator George Lucas, hosted by Seth MacFarlane. The questions range from interesting to idiotic (but in a good way), covering such topics are film, television, symbolism and dating. Yes, dating. Highlights include MacFarlane testing Lucas on his Star Wars knowledge (he doesn’t know much) and the revelation that Lucas’ TiVo is chock full of Family Guy episodes, even though he’s never bought it on DVD (oh the irony).
‘Once in a Lifetime: The Making of Blue Harvest’ is also pretty self-explanatory. Running for around nineteen minutes, the making of examines the origins of Blue Harvest, touching on the creators' love of Star Wars and how the special came into existence (it involved lawyers and clearance issues). It features a number of interviews with the writers, artists and producers responsible for bringing Family Guy to our screens, along with behind-the-scenes peeks at the creative process.
Next is an animatic version of the film, which shows how the animation evolved throughout the production. There’s no music, but sound effects are included, as is temp dialogue (which is often different from the completed version). This is followed by the ‘Family Guy Star Wars Clip Show’, which is basically just a compilation of most (but not all) of the Star Wars moments from the various series. They’re funny enough, but work better in context and you’ve probably seen most of them on YouTube.
A 3D Blue Harvest scene comes next, but my check disc didn’t come with any 3D glasses. Luckily I had a pair left over from a rental edition of Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare, so I was able to check it out (I knew they’d come in useful one day). The scene in question is the TIE Fighter attack on the Millennium Falcon, which is probably one of the better scenes to use, but it made my head ache. The 3D scene is followed by a ‘trailer’ for the next Star Wars parody, entitled Something, Something, Something, Dark Side. It’s basically twenty-two seconds of scrolling text with a shot of the chicken (you know the one) dressed as Boba Fett at the end—not particularly exciting.
A short (just under six minutes) ‘Introduction to Family Guy' follows. It does a fairly good job of selling the show's irreverent humour and introduces the characters by way of a series of clips. There's also the option to view the introduction before the main feature, if the mood takes you. The final bonus feature on the disc is a complete Family Guy episode, entitled ‘North by North Quahog’, which was the first episode to be screened after the show's hiatus. I'm not going to review it, but suffice to say it's one of the more memorable episodes and features a special 'appearance' by Mel Gibson.
Blue Harvest is undoubtedly one of the best Family Guy episodes of recent times, and a superior effort to the Robot Chicken special that aired three months previously (half of the gags in that show were recycled from old episodes). Whether or not you feel the same will largely depend on your opinion of the show, because apart from the Star Wars setting it really is ‘business as usual’. This DVD presentation just about manages to surpass the quality of the full series sets and the bonus material is also a step up from what's usually on offer, even if some of the features fall a little flat (the clip show, 3D sequence and trailers). This is reflected in the overall score for the extras section.
Apparently there are both standard and special editions of the DVD on offer. Due to the inclusion of the 3D fight sequence it would seem that I got the special edition, minus the 3D glasses, T-shirt, trading cards and brochure. Whether these things are worth the extra money on the asking price is something you’ll have to decide for yourself, but personally I think that the best of the bonus material is included on the standard edition. Of course I have no hesitation in recommending the purchase to Family Guy fans, but naysayers be warned—there’s really nothing new here to convert you to the cause.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 21st January 2008
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Aspect: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentary, A Conversation with George, Once in a Lifetime: The Making of Blue Harvest, Animatic Version, Family Guy Star Wars Clip Show, 3D Blue Harvest Scene, Something Something Something Dark Side Teaser, Introduction to Family Guy, Bonus Family Guy Episode: North by North Quahog
Easter Egg: Yes
Director: Dominic Polcino
Cast: Seth MacFarlane, Alex Borstein, Seth Green, Adam West
Genre: Animation, Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 46 minutes
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