South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season (US - BD)
Gabe is in for some major boobage, a super fun time, and some startling...
It’s pretty ironic that I’m just now getting a review copy of a season of South Park for the first time, because this is the first time since the show started that I’ve had the time to watch an entire season. Not only was I home watching TV during most episodes, but I got cable with ‘on-demand’, and I discovered SouthParkStudios.com while I was in the hospital. Not only did I see every episode this season, I saw them several times each. I know people throw the word ironic around a lot, but I don’t think I’m being very clear on how bad I usually am at keeping up on this particular show.
I’m not complaining though. This is one of the better full seasons of the series. There’ve been single episodes that topped the best this year had to offer, but there isn’t an obviously weak episode in this particular bunch either. South Park might be the only sitcom in television history that manages to improve with age, or at least not become boringly repetitive. I didn’t even like the show when if first started, and still don’t like the early seasons, but the creators have managed to find their footing. We can’t actually compare the show to other sitcoms because of its lack of continuity, and wickedly quick turnaround time. It’s more like Saturday Night Live, and has effectively replaced all such shows in my eyes as the source of up to date pop-culture spoof.
The startling (‘I’m so startled’) thing about South Park, at least all seasons following the brilliant theatrical release, is how often I find myself agreeing with the writers’ overall reading of ridiculous political situations. I’m particularly fond of some of season twelve’s underlying morals, including taking responsibility for your children, sticking to one’s ideals, avoiding unneeded controversy, accepting alternate lifestyles, and generally not taking life so damn seriously all the time.
It’s hard to pick the season’s stand out episodes, but there are some obvious contenders. As is often the case my personal favourites are all episodes that have some kind of personal connection for me. A big one is the Heavy Metal inspired ‘Major Boobage’. About a year before the episode aired I re-rented Heavy Metal on DVD and was gob-smacked at how awful it was. ‘Major Boobage’ captures every ounce of what made the movie great when I was thirteen, and what makes it terrible now that I’m almost thirty. ‘Super Fun Time’ was another favourite, and probably is for anyone that’s ever been to a ‘living museum’ where the actors refuse to break character. ‘Breast Cancer Show Ever’ is also great, as any episode featuring Cartman getting a proper dose of comeuppance is always a special treat.
But I have to say that the ‘Pandemic’ two-parter was the best, and not for any particularly personal reasons. The South Park writers have teased blockbuster action, disaster and conspiracy movies several times before (not to mention the movie Team America), but they’re so good at it. Cloverfield and pan flute bands weren’t begging to be spoofed or anything (I haven’t seen a pan flute band in almost a decade), it’s simply a perfectly amusing episode. Sometimes watching South Park is like going to see your favourite band in concert. You enjoy the new songs, and you’ll probably put them on your iPod later the next day, but you cheer the loudest when they play the classics. ‘Pandemic’ is the ‘Freebird’ of this set.
South Park, a series that exists in its current state because it’s so crudely animated, isn’t the best candidate for a Blu-ray release. Just looking at the box is enough to make you giggle a bit. Much of the charm of the show is its internet look. It’s cheap. It’s made to be seen on basic cable. The hi-def does nothing to improve things. It’s all very clean, very colourful, and the colours are perfectly divided. There’s a minor issue with interlacing, but the animation is so herky jerky it doesn’t really matter.
The problem with the transfer isn’t that it’s silly to even put the show out in HD, but that it had been reformatted to the HD standard 16x9. Most of South Park season twelve clearly wasn’t made with the 1.78:1 aspect ratio in mind. Some television shows are shown in 1.78:1 even while being shown in standard television 1.33:1, while most others are cropped on the left and right. This HD presentation has been cropped on the top and bottom, and it’s a problem. The general layout of each episode is composited with the 1.33:1 ratio in mind, so even when the 16x9 cropping isn’t deleting information, as in the case of on-screen text (especially mock news items), the composition is off. One of the key elements of the show is the vast height difference between the children and adults, which lends itself to the square framing of 1.33:1. In hi-def the head and foot room is at a minimum.
However, interestingly enough, the final disc of the set, which houses episodes 177-181, mostly corrects the framing problems. I can’t find any information to back myself up, but I suspect that these episodes were made after Comedy Central announced they’d be airing the following season in HD, and after they announced a Blu-ray release of the season. Just a theory.
The use of Dolby TrueHD is equally silly to the use of high definition video, but doesn’t come with any problems. It could’ve been presented in simple stereo and it would’ve effectively been the same thing, but the added clarity and bass is nice. The surround effects are mostly doubled stereo effects. For example, during ‘Britney’s New Look’ the townsfolk chant like Jerry Goldsmith’s Omen Score. When the chanting gets particularly intense the stereo and stereo surround tracks are identical. The show is mostly dialogue based, and the dialogue is nicely centred, except, of course, when the characters move to other channels. Things come to genuine life with the music, especially the source tracks. You’ve probably never heard the Heavy Metal soundtrack sound this expansive or bassy.
Trey Parker and Matt Stone offer mini-commentary tracks for each episode in the set. These usually last somewhere around five minutes, which is barely enough time for the creators to do more than sum up the plot and their inspiration. The most excited they get is during ‘The China Probrem’, when they go off on how much they hated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and how much Lucas and Spielberg deserved to watch themselves rape their creation violently. It’s also fun hearing stories of shooting video of frightened guinea pigs, and watching the presidential elections with bated breath, not because Stone or Parker particularly cared for Obama, but because they didn’t bother making an alternate version of their election episode.
Behind the scenes features begin with a look at the making of ‘Major Boobage’, which is probably the most technically impressive (by South Park standards) episode of the season. The show’s perfect recreation of the cheap and dirty rotoscoping animation of Heavy Metal was the product of a mix of very expensive software, and old fashioned, hand drawn animation. The vehicles—a car and an airplane—were 3D computer models, which were later put through filters to make it appear sketched. The character elements of the drug induced world were done by hand, sometimes tracing live action footage, just like they did it in the days of Heavy Metal.
Disc two features ‘The Six Days of South Park’, a look at each day of the six day creation process, as it specifically pertains to ‘Super Fun Time’. I knew that the show had a quick turn around, but I didn’t know how quick. Six days is insane. This extra features scratch track dialogue, story boards (which are usually put together in sections before the script is even finished), and early animation (which is ready as early as day three), all set to crew commentary. The problem with the feature is that it pretty much runs the entire length of the episode the last three days, and the animators have mostly run out of stuff to talk about, so the epic runtime becomes pretty exhausting.
The final extra makes its appearance on disc three, and it’s a last day break down of the ‘About Last Night’, the post-presidential election episode. Again, the animation producers run down the process in commentary form, and because it’s only a day’s worth of production the final effect is a little more like a standard commentary.
Season twelve isn’t the show’s best, but it’s very solid overall. I’m entirely unconvinced that the show needs to be seen in high definition, or heard in Dolby TrueHD surround. It’s a lo-fi show that’s readily available for free on the internet. Blu-ray just seems like overkill. The 16x9 reframing is the only real bone of contention (though complaining about the framing of something so outwardly artless is a little lame of me), though the extras are a bit of a disappointment. If you’re a fan of the series you’re going to want to continue your collection, and support it, but if the standard DVD is full frame I recommend that instead.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 17th March 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English
Extras: Creator Mini-Commentaries, Behind the Scenes, 'Six Days of South Park',
Easter Egg: No
Director: Trey Parker
Cast: Trey Parker, Matt Stone
Genre: Animation and Comedy
Length: 308 minutes
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