Paul (UK - BD)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the recent Pegg and Frost comedy...
British tourists and sci-fi nerds Graeme Willy (Simon Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Nick Frost) are in the USA to attend Comic-Con and visit the country’s UFO hotspots. While on their trip they are almost run off of the road by a black car which subsequently crashes. When they stop to investigate they discover that the occupant is a small green alien named ‘Paul’, who is fleeing the US authorities after learning that his sixty-year stay on Earth is to be cut short by an untimely ‘alien autopsy’. The quick-witted, smart-mouthed Paul enlists Graeme and Clive’s help to escape his pursuers, who include the father of a young woman they ‘accidentally’ kidnapped from an RV park and the relentless Agent Zoil, who is attempting to stop Paul from rendezvousing with his mother ship.
This Blu-ray viewing marked the third time I’d seen Paul and I have to say that my feelings towards it haven’t really changed all that much. The first time I saw it I was enamoured with the constant stream of geek references peppered throughout and pleasantly surprised by Seth Rogan’s voiceover work and the strength of Paul’s character animation. Pegg and Frost are always likeable and the supporting cast is incredibly talented, so it’s fair to say that I found the film quite enjoyable. This was reinforced on my second and third viewings, but while I do like the film I think it falls just short of the standards set by Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The main reason for this is that Paul is considerably more Americanised than either of those British productions and as a result some compromises had to be made. Pegg and Frost have discussed this during interviews (and indeed on the commentary), but their take on it is that if a company is going to give you millions of dollars to make a movie you have to play ball to some extent. In some cases they even acknowledge that the studio notes were beneficial to the finished product, so it’s not like we’re getting some bastardised version of their original vision. Film is a collaborative medium and while I did long for a little more bite in some of the gags there’s no way a relatively low budget British indie film could have incorporated such a sophisticated CGI character like Paul without it looking like a bad episode of Doctor Who.
If the above sounds like I’m scrambling to defend the film, well there might be some truth to that. There have been some quite vocal cries of ‘sell-out’ and a few negative reviews from the Pegg and Frost faithful and as a fan I’m hoping to redress the balance. It’s not their best work, but it’s still a lot better than most of the comedies that come out of the States. Perhaps the most refreshing thing about Paul is that it’s a relatively good-natured comedy. About the only ‘offensive’ thing it does is poke fun at religion, but whether you take issue with that will undoubtedly depend on your personal outlook. I don’t follow any particular faith so I wasn’t bothered by any of the jibes, but I can see why others might not feel the same way. I don’t think the film goes out of its way to be mean spirited though, as the characters freely admit that there could be some kind of guiding force in the universe—just not a bearded old dude sitting on a fluffy white cloud.
Paul is also a geek’s dream, as there are simply dozens of references to other sci-fi franchises. We’re talking both visual and aural cues here, and off of the top of my head I can recall nods to Hot Fuzz, Titanic, Mac & Me, The Blues Brothers, Battlestar Galactica, Mork and Mindy, The Karate Kid, Back to the Future, Jaws, Aliens, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. and multiple Indiana Jones, Star Wars and Star Trek bits. This is all outside of the Comic-Con scenes, which are themselves packed with a ton of nerd pleasing moments. (I kind of wish Universal had included a trivia track on the disc pointing them all out.)
It’s probably worth mentioning that the disc includes both the theatrical and ‘unrated’ versions of the film, the latter of which runs for around six minutes longer than the version I saw at the cinema. That might not sound like much, but it’s actually quite a lot of time in film terms, although here the content is comprised mainly of short extensions to existing scenes rather than entirely new sequences, so don’t go expecting any earthshattering revelations.
Paul arrives with a 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) widescreen transfer that is remarkably faithful to the theatrical version I saw (twice). I remember that the film looked quite soft at the theatre, but even so detail is solid throughout with Paul himself looking particularly grand, especially in the close-up shots. The colour palette is intentionally muted, but varied and natural (as far as stylistic choices allow). Comic-Con is the perfect showcase for this, as there are many different hues vying for the viewer’s attention. Contrast runs a tiny bit hot, although this is intentional and something that seems increasingly prevalent among today's feature films. Black levels are nice and solid and there’s plenty of detail in the shadows, while print damage and serious digital artefacting are nowhere to be seen. To cut a long story short this is a perfect example of a capable transfer of a modern feature that should look great on any setup.
The splendid visuals are complimented by a very lively DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that has everything you'd expect from a modern sound mix. There's plenty of directionality, from mundane effects like cars passing by to more elaborate sequences like the shootout at the house and the climactic sequence with the helicopter. There's even a really neat effect when Paul uses his healing powers, which sounds like a buzzing, electrical sound that zips around the soundstage. Dialogue is pretty much perfect and there's some fairly aggressive LFE during the action scenes, and even some of the more pedestrian moments have a reasonable amount of kick to them. David Arnold's score is spread around the soundstage to great effect as well. All in all it’s an impressive effort and the film actually sounded a little better than it did when I watched it theatrically.
Filmmakers’ Commentary: Available only on the theatrical version of the movie, the commentary track features director Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Hader and producer Nira Park. As you’d expect Pegg and Frost drive the track forward with energetic chat and banter, although Mottola and Hader chime in fairly frequently (there’s a running gag about Nira Park’s lack of input). It’s also a pretty informative track as the participants recount stories about the genesis of the film, how the script changed and people were cast, Paul’s evolution and more. It’s definitely worth a listen.
Bloopers (10:51 HD): A moderately amusing selection of goofs and outtakes follows, with the usual cracking up and line flubs.
Between the Lightning Strikes: The Making of Paul (40:04 HD): This two-part making of documentary tells you all you could realistically want to know about the making of the film, from its inception right through to post-production. There's footage of Simon and Nick's road trip across America prior to writing the script, interviews with the cast and crew, a ton of behind-the-scenes footage and plenty more.
BTS Featurettes (01:02:49 HD): There are eight featurettes totalling more than an hour’s worth of material, including ‘RV Doorway: The Cast of Paul On-Location’, ‘Runaway Sanata: An Interview with Nancy Steiner’, ‘Smithereens’, ‘5th Date Level Direction: The Cast on Greg Mottola’, ‘Mexico Zero: The Locations of Paul’, ‘The Many Pauls’, ‘Paul the Musical’ and ‘The Traveller Beagle’. It’s a mix of fun an informative stuff that is deserving of your attention.
The Evolution of Paul (15:05 HD): This short featurette discusses how the animators went about designing and realising the character of Paul. There’s interview footage with the director and the animators, along with behind-the-scenes footage, early character tests and motion capture.
Simon’s Silly Faces (01:20 HD): As the title suggests, this is simply eighty seconds of Simon Pegg mugging for the camera. It’s not the most ground-breaking feature I’ve ever witnessed.
Who the Hell is Adam Shadowchild? (02:10 HD): This is an amusing look at the science fiction writer played by the great Jeffrey Tambor, with plenty of shots of his fake books and expanded scenes from his Comic-Con appearance.
Theatrical Trailers (07:29 HD): We get the domestic (read US), UK and Red Band Internet trailers for the film, the latter of which is rather cool.
TV Spots US (02:25 HD): There are five US TV spots on the disc, including ‘Legend’, ‘Trouble’, ‘Two Grown Men – Alternate’, ‘Who is Paul?’ and ‘Evolved’.
TV Spots UK (01:59 HD): We get four UK TV spots, including ‘Extra’, ‘Pedigree’, ‘Aliens’ and ‘America’s Most Wanted’.
Galleries: A large selection of still galleries are included, with tons of photos, storyboards and posters for the viewer to peruse.
While not as well-received as their work with Edgar Wright, Pegg and Frost’s Paul is still an amusing, feel-good comedy/road-movie that packs in enough belly laughs and subtle nerd references to keep the loyal fan base happy (at least if this fan is any indicator). It’s definitely more mainstream than their previous work, but that’s not necessarily to the detriment of the piece because it offers something different from Shaun and Hot Fuzz. If making something that can be enjoyed by a wider audience brings more people to their earlier work that can only be a good thing as well. Of course the quality of the film is largely subjective and I’m really here to tell you whether or not the Blu-ray is worth your money. In this case I’m happy to report that it’s very good from a technical standpoint, serving up solid AV along with a collection of interesting and amusing bonus material for a winning combination. In my opinion this should definitely be on your list of considered purchases.
* 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 Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 13th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DVS English
Extras: Audio Commentary, Making of Documentary, Featurettes, Bloopers, Trailers, TV Spots, Galleries
Easter Egg: No
Director: Greg Mottola
Cast: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogen, Kristen Wiig, Jason Bateman, Bill Hader, Joe Lo Truglio, Blythe Danner, John Carroll Lynch, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor
Genre: Comedy and Sci-Fi
Length: 109 minutes
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