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Twenty years after their first epic pub crawl attempt, the 'five musketeers' reunite in their hometown to complete the ultimate challenge – one night, five friends, twelve bars – a boozy quest on which only the strongest will survive. But after a bizarre series of encounters with the out-of-this-world locals, they soon realize that reaching their final pub, The World’s End, may be the least of their troubles.  They’re having the time of their lives, ready to take on the world… but, tonight, they may have to save it. (From Focus Features’ official synopsis)

 World's End, The
Starting with their outrageously great television sitcom, Spaced, and continuing through their feature films, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost have created a truly unique brand of comedy motion picture. Previously, I avoided discussing these movies by interviewing DVDActive’s very own Kevin and Nick Wilson, aka: The Wilson Bros., about their experiences on the films (read that here and here. The Wilsons are, along with Pegg, Frost, and Cornetto ice cream treats, the unifying components of a loose ‘trilogy’ of funny movies with warm hearts. Following Hot Fuzz, Wright made the quirky Canadian comic book adaptation, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, and Pegg & Frost wrote/starred in an American sci-fi comedy called Paul for director Greg Mottola. Now, one year shy of a decade since their first film, these three friends have reunited (along with producer Nira Park) for a final hurrah under the fitting title The World’s End.

The World’s End doesn’t only mark the end of the ‘Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy;’ it is presumably the last movie of its kind we’ll see from Wright, Pegg & Frost. I assume they will continue to work together for the remainder of their careers, but their genre-centric analyses of modern manhood are over and done with (for the time being, at least – I fully expect there will be some kind of Grumpy Old Men-like reunion another couple decades down the line). That puts added pressure on The World’s End to deliver a fitting finale for one of the most unique cinematic team-ups of the last 20 years. What’s interesting about encapsulating the entire series of films is that Hot Fuzz ends up feeling like the odd one out. This has nothing to do with the film’s standalone quality, but with its satirical tone. It parodies conventions more directly than its bookends. Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End are movies where mundane people find themselves trapped in a genre film, while Hot Fuzz is a movie where a genre character is trapped in the mundanity of the real world. All three movies have messages about growing up and finding happiness in difficult situations, but the apocalyptic finalities of Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End press the issue with a bit more hyperbole.

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However, the process of directly comparing Shaun of the Dead and The World’s End is convoluted by the thematic complexity of The World’s End’s climax. In some ways, it directly contradicts the ‘moral’ of the zombie apocalypse (take responsibility!) by creating a different kind of apocalypse that appears to support Gary King’s (Simon Pegg’s) childish and destructive lifestyle. It’s a difficult ending to parse, because it feels so irresponsible. It’s also an uncharacteristically fatalistic attitude for Wright & Pegg to take, following the sunshine-and-roses endings of the other two Cornetto Trilogy films. Perhaps they’re simply jaded by age and the lingering naiveté of their Generation X-centric output has worn off. Are these characters realizing they’ve wasted their time growing up and that there’s no substantial reward for good behavior? Is selfishness an inherent part of the aging process? The deeper message might even be something more despondent and ironic. I’m pretty sure everyone over the age of 25 has had a Gary King in their lives – a guy or girl that peaked socially in high school or college and never managed to move beyond that period of their life. I definitely knew a Gary King and, when I left the theater after seeing The World’s End, I suddenly found myself worrying about him. As the film draws to an end, Gary’s way of life starts to make sense to the other characters and, eventually, leads to the world itself being restructured to fit his arrested development. But, even as the final images assure us that Gary is finally and truly happy, there is an air of melancholy in the truth of this conclusion. His way of life/happiness can only be achieved if the civilized world is crumbled into a Mad Max-like hellscape. Our Gary Kings are doomed to fail in the real world.

The World’s End is more of a genre grab-bag than the zombie-centric Shaun of the Dead or the cops ‘n robbers-centric Hot Fuzz. It was sold as the Cornetto version of Armageddon, but only becomes an apocalypse movie during its post-climax coda. The more obvious influences are the allegorical science fiction movies made during the Cold War era – movies like Don Siegel’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where an alien race attempts to replace humanity with emotionless ‘pod people,’ or Robert Wise’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, where a different alien race attempts to correct humanity’s destructive tendencies. The World’s End succeeds where so many other satires fail not only because it resonates with the material on a thematic level, but because it subverts the precedent. In this version of the story, humanity tells Klaatu that they don’t need intergalactic assistance – that freedom of expression is more important than order. Again, it’s an entirely irresponsible ‘moral,’ but it’s a generally unique one, at least in terms of science fiction films. (Edit: in this release’s extra features, Wright mentions taking inspiration from a number of specifically British analogous sci-fi flicks, including Day of the Triffids and The Quatermas Experiment)

 World's End, The
Wright & Pegg also break with analogous expectations by correlating genre conventions with emotional arcs, rather than politics or social domga. Movies like Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, Matt Reeves’ Cloverfield, and, of course, Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, appropriated the ‘50s/’60s sci-fi films’ Cold War fears and replaced them with post-9/11 nightmares, but, even as they told stories on personal levels amongst world-changing chaos, their themes were universal. The World’s End simmers everything down to the personal relationships of a handful of characters. It is among the most intimate portrayals of its kind on this level and possibly the most intimate since Philip Kaufman’s 1978 Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake. A typically cyclical and clever screenplay can only carry them so far – the poignancy that the film achieves is dependent on sympathetic characters and moving performances. Shaun of the Dead had some profoundly touching moments, but there’s almost no comparing the accomplishments that the core actors make here on a dramatic level. I’m especially amazed by Frost, who takes unlikely place of straight man in the Pegg/Frost dynamic.

Dramatic successes aside, The World’s End is a step up for Wright as a technical director, as seen specifically in the film’s fight and special effects sequences. Hot Fuzz had more than its share of explosive action, including all the gunplay and physical brutality of the more serious films it was referencing. But that violence was confined (charmingly) by the movie’s small town scale. While apart from Pegg and Frost, Wright made a more elegant, effects-heavy brand of action movie in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. For that film, he got a lot of mileage out of placing average-looking young actors into unlikely and dynamic martial arts sequences. Clearly, Wright didn’t get this imagery out of his system, because The World’s End has three fantastically absurd fight scenes that feature surprisingly adept, middle-aged schlubs taking on blue-blooded (literally), action-figure inspired robots. These extremely ambitious Jackie Chan/Yuen Woo-Ping-inspired brawls seek to re-create the digitally-augmented, long-take action seen in Scott Pilgrim, though in a (largely) analogue format. The effect is impressive from a choreography and stunt execution standpoint, but the clarity is sometimes sabotaged by overly frenetic camera work. The problem is normalized a bit during the second and third fight and, fortunately, is much less distracting on a smaller screen.

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The World’s End was shot mostly on 35mm film with a few flashback moments shot in grainy, oversaturated 16mm for that ‘aged’ look. The 35mm footage is appropriately gritty with extremely fine grain patterns that intensify slightly during some of the higher contrast shots. Other artefacts, like minor edge haloes, are minimalized, but not obliterated by post-production tinkering. Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope (a Sam Raimi and Wachowski favourite that Wright picked up on Scott Pilgrim) don’t shoot digital, but they certainly use digital grading tricks to create an eclectic and thematically appropriate palette. The early scenes are contrasty, cool, and desaturated, as if the mundanity of adulthood has sucked the colour out of life. As they enter New Haven, the world warms up. Whites turn yellow, skin tones turn auburn, and shadows/blacks turn a bit teal (I know, I know, another O&T movie…). The daylight scenes are still relatively lush in terms of natural greens, but these also cool as darkness falls. Homogenized, powdered blues become a common highlight – at first, seemingly without purpose, then to signify the presence of ‘blanks,’ who bleed blue and emit blue light. The only hues that have any notable macro-blocking issues are the harshest reds, but there are no signs of bleeding, cross-colouration, or banding (the blends are very smooth during the disco scene). Details are needle-sharp, faltering only on occasions when the lighting is at its absolute darkest. Wright and Pope don’t use a lot of deep focus, aside from location establishing shots, so the tightest textures are usually in close-up. The depth of field is nicely established via intricate focus differentiations and dynamic contrasts. The deep blacks, which are important to the crisp differentiations, are actually more consistent than the occasionally brown ones that appeared when I saw the film digitally projected in theaters.

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Edgar Wright productions always have wily and aggressive soundtracks. Even Spaced with its minimal budget managed to fill the channels with stylized noise. As the most expensive film in the Cornetto series (a paltry $20 million), The World’s End is no exception and is presented here in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The sound design follows the film’s structure, becoming more dynamic as the sci-fi action escalates. The early scenes in the mundane world are aurally dry environment in terms of basic ambience. As in the case of the other Cornetto movies, transitional sequences give the stereo and surround channels their biggest work-outs before things finally get wacky. The action scenes are generally louder than the rest of the film, but not at the risk of the little details that make a good sci-fi sound mix work. The whir of robot servos and the soft clunk of fleshy firsts against plastic skin punches through the directional assault of screaming schlubs and robotic alarms. Composer/music supervisor Steven Price’s work is also expectedly busy, brimming with directional movement, warmth, and aural depth. The score springs to life the most aggressively during Gary and Andy’s final foot race to The World’s End pub. This reminds me of the symphonic-techno stuff Don Davis/Juno Reactor did for the Matrix sequels. Though never as complex as the action sequences, the ‘90s-loaded pop music additions greatly benefit from the lossless qualities, pumping loudly without distorting at higher volumes.

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This discs substantial extras include:
  • Commentary with Wright & Pegg – This is the writer’s commentary, so the focus is presumably placed on the screenplay and its cyclical storytelling style, though plenty of time is spent discussing the behind-the-scenes process as well. I’ve found myself ‘unprepared’ to listen to the commentaries on films I really enjoy lately, because I’m usually not finished mulling them over. I’m always sure to finish the feature part of my review first to avoid ‘spoiling’ myself. There is a whole lot of information and subtext unveiled here and much of it never occurred to me (admittedly, I skipped between the tracks while reviewing them, so I missed plenty), but Wright & Pegg are also careful not to specifically tell us what to think about their movie, which is appreciated.
  • A ‘technical commentary’ with Wright and cinematographer Bill Pope – This commentary (obviously) covers the technical processes of making the film, but also delves deeper into the locations (Wright more or less gives point-by-point directions to each of them) and Wright’s filmic inspirations than the first track. There’s surprisingly little overlap, zero down-time, and the technical discussions aren’t nearly as dry as one might expect.
  • Commentary with stars Pegg, Frost, and Paddy Considine – This final commentary is, like most cast tracks, a bit sillier and more unfocused than the other two, but I suppose fans on their third commentary track will welcome the uptake in goofiness.
  • Completing the Golden Mile: The Making of The World's End (49:00, HD) – A two-chapter behind-the-scenes documentary that covers the film’s themes, the script’s biographical elements, inspirations, acting/casting, characters, and Wright’s direction. It includes interviews with Wright, Pegg, producers Edward Felner and Nira Park, and actors Pierce Brosnan, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Martin Freeman, Eddie Marsan, and Rosamund Pike.
  • Four brief advertising featurettes:
    • Director at Work (2:30, HD)
    • Pegg + Frost = Fried Gold (3:30, HD)
    • Friends Reunited (3:50, HD)
    • Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (5:10, HD)
  • Filling in the Blanks: The Stunts and FX of The World's End (27:40) – A deeper look at the film’s stunts/training, cinematography, choreography, and physical/digital effects.
  • Hair and Make-Up Tests (4:10)
  • Two animatics (11:20, HD)
  • FX, acting, and training rehearsal footage (6:20, HD)
  • Stunt tapes:
    • The Bathroom Fight (3:20, HD)
    • Twinbot Fight (1:50, HD)
    • Beehive Fight (3:30, HD)
  • VFX Breakdown (8:50, HD)
  • Bits & Pieces (outtakes/alternate takes, 3:20, HD)
  • There's Only One Gary King: Osymyso's Inibri-8 Megamix (4:40, HD) – A mash-up of Gary King’s best moments set to music.
  • Signs & Omens (7:50, HD) –  A montage that highlights some of the films visual clues and dialogue callbacks.
  • Edgar & Simon's Flip Chart (13:10, SD) – Wright & Pegg show & tell their script chart (they’ve done this on all of their DVD/Blu-ray releases so far)
  • Deleted scene (1:00, HD)
  • Outtakes (another word for bloopers in this case, 10:40, HD)
  • Alternate edits/more outtakes (4:30, HD)
  • Picture-in-picture storyboard U-Control option.
  • Trailers
  • TV spots
  • TV safe edits (3:40, HD)
  • Image galleries
  • Trivia track

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I’m not quite ready to call The World’s End my favourite film in the Three Flavors Cornetto Trilogy – there’s just so much to love about all three films that I can’t imagine forcing myself to chose one over the others. It is certainly the most complex and challenging film in the series and a fitting finale on a thematic level. It’s also a blast and a film I’m going to enjoy revisiting alongside Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. This Blu-ray release meets the expectations set by Universal’s other Cornetto Trilogy releases, including a crisp 1080p transfer, a brash and complex DTS-HD MA soundtrack, and a pile of special features that will take fans hours to cull.

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 World's End, The

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* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking the individual images, but due to .jpg compression, they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.