Year One (US - BD)
Gabe travels back in time with Harold Ramis, and is generally not thrilled...
When failed hunter Zed (Jack Black) eats forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil he’s banished from his tribe. Zed’s friend, a nebbish gatherer named Oh (Michael Cera), reluctantly follows him to the end of the known Earth. The two embark on an adventure across a Biblical landscape, where they continuously reconnect with the love interests they left behind. The trek eventually leads them to Sodom, and one last chance at greatness.
Year One is a massively unremarkable movie. It’s not dreadful, or entirely devoid of effective comedy, but it seems more like something talent people write on an off weekend. I’d pretend I was disappointed with Harold Ramis, but as a director the guy’s been coasting on the goodwill of Groundhog Day (a truly wonderful film) for more than a decade now. For every semi-entertaining monetary flop ( Multiplicity, The Ice Harvest), Ramis the director produces at least two genuinely terrible movies ( Stuart Saves His Family, Analyze This, Bedazzled and Analyze That). Year One belongs in the former camp, which means we can avoid his next two films as director. For Year One Ramis’ technical direction is actually good, which isn’t really a surprise. The film looks decent, like Terry Gilliam minus the obsession with superfluous fine details. The writer/director’s shortcoming is found (as per the recent norm) more in the ‘writing’ half of his job title. Year One isn’t a straight spoof, and does feature a plot, but it only works as a series of sketches, and as a series of sketches it pales in comparison to its most obvious predecessor, Monty Python’s Life of Brian. It’s not completely fair to compare the two films, but I kind of can’t help myself.
One assumes that Ramis mostly let his cast do their own thing with very few limitations, and they certainly do. If you like the comedians and actors in the cast you’ll likely enjoy their performances here, assuming you’re okay with watching them do the same thing you saw them do last time. I’m a little tired of Black and Cera’s bits myself (though I admit they have some chemistry together), but I enjoyed Vinnie Jones’, Oliver Platt’s and Hank Azaria’s work, predictable though it may be. Even at their most predictable the cast is the element that keeps the film amusing. There are some funny vaudevillian gags, and some of the word play is pretty quick, but there’s also a whole lot of weak sexual and gross-out humour. The sex and gross-out stuff falls short because it’s obvious, and because the filmmakers were going for a PG-13 rating (there was apparently some major trouble in avoiding an R), robbing the bawdy streak of genuine outrage.
Unlike the majority of light-hearted modern American comedies, Year One clearly has a budget, so it doesn’t look like it’s being produced on a soundstage in someone’s basement. This isn’t an overly flashy 1080p transfer, but it’s nearly flawless for what it is. Alar Kivilo’s cinematography is actually pretty inspired, encompassing different lighting and colour schemes for each location. The golds and reds are bright and full, and the green and purples pop nicely without blooming or bleeding. The transfer is crisp and clean, featuring extremely fine, difficult to notice at all grain, and no obvious compression noise. Contrast levels are reasonably soft, as is even the brightest lighting, and most of the gradations are subtle and even. The details aren’t super sharp, but this is mostly due to the photography. Details are still much sharper than standard definition, and consistent regardless of camera placement and darkness.
Despite the impressive production design and beautiful photography Year One features a relatively low-key DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack. The mix features lots of low-level ambient noise in the surround and stereo channels, and some reasonably impressive action scenes, but is rarely all that impressive, especially in the LFE channel. The dialogue is clearly the most beloved of the audio elements, and as such it’s plenty clear, clean, and relatively natural. The film’s musical soundtrack is often surprisingly low on the track, even during the action scenes, where the dialogue continues to be the loudest element, even if it consists only of grunts and screams. It’s too bad because the music is pretty good, pulling out rather epic stops without a wink or nod.
Besides a whole bunch of BDLive and Cinechat options (stuff I would probably die for if I were a teenager), and a ‘Cutting Room’ feature that allows limited editing abilities to the viewer, the Year One extras begin with a commentary track featuring writer/director Harold Ramis and actors Jack Black and Michael Cera. I was expecting quite a bit out of this mix of personalities, but everyone seems tired and bored. There’s a lot of blanks space, which is usually spiked by kind of interesting technical specifics, and a whole lot of giggling at the on-screen gags. I learned a little from track, and it is valuable in pointing out the key differences between the PG-13 and unrated cuts.
Next up is the alternate ending (8:10, HD), with optional commentary from Ramis, Black and Cera. The alternate ending is one of the most genuine alternate endings I’ve seen in quite some time. It’s also the better ending, but it is pretty dark. This is followed by two deleted scenes (4:00, HD), ten alternate/extended scenes (HD), alternate line readings (5:10, HD), and a gag reel (8:30, HD). ‘ Year One: The Journey Begins’ (18:00, HD) is a decent EPK, with cast and crew interviews and plenty of behind the scenes footage. Writing, costume design, cast, location shooting, and working with animals. Things come to an end with ‘Sodom’s Got ‘Em’ (2:00, HD), a fun little faux-informercial for the city of Sodom, ‘Leeroy Jenkins: The Gates of Sodom’ (2:00, HD), a mini-movie featuring a cast reenactment of the famous internet meme, and trailers.
Year One is a nice bit of harmless fun, but hardly a return to glory for writer/director Harold Ramis. The all-star comedy cast is stuck coasting, but some members manage to eek out a few glorious moments. At the very least it’s a fantastic looking film, at least for a broad comedy, and high definition video does it a great service. The DTS-HD audio track is relatively tame, but the extras are more amusing than the film itself, including a mammoth sized pile of outtakes and bloopers. I recommend a rental for fans of the cast, but can’t find the enthusiasm for a purchase recommendation, as it’s an overall forgettable experience.
* 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: 6th October 2009
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 Spanish, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Extras: Director and Actor Commentary, BDLive, CineChat, Cutting Room, Alternate Ending, Deleted Scenes, Outtakes, Bloopers, Line-O-Rama, Year One: The Journey Begins, Sodom's Got 'Em, Leeroy Jenkins: The Gates of Sodom, Trailers
Easter Egg: No
Director: Harold Ramis
Cast: Jack Black, Michael Cera, Oliver Platt, Hank Azaria, Vinnie Jones
Length: 100 minutes
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