Release Date(s)1989 (September 15, 2014)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION B Blu-ray release.]
In every neighborhood, there’s always that one house that everybody talks about; nobody ever seems to be home, nobody ever sees who lives there coming or going, and everybody begins starting rumors about what goes on behind the closed doors of that house. Welcome to paranoid suburbia, which is the core mechanic behind Joe Dante’s dark comedy classic The ’Burbs.
The premise is simple enough: a white picket-fenced, suburban neighborhood filled with eccentric characters is disrupted when a seemingly unusual family moves into town. Several of the neighbors begin to wonder if they’re devil worshipers or serial killers, due to the fact that they only seem to come out at night and dig in their backyard during rainstorms. They soon realize that they need proof of what’s going on after one of the neighbors mysteriously disappears, so they take it upon themselves to get into the house and find proof, by whatever means necessary.
When The ’Burbs came along during the late 1980’s, it was billed and released as a comedy, but many people saw a lot of reality upon the screen. Not that everyone that lives next door is doing unsavory or horrifying things, but the lengths that the characters go to in the movie to find out more about their unusual neighbors feels almost factual at times. I think that’s part of the reason why the movie works so well, is that it pokes holes in the national consciousness of what normalcy means to the average citizen. It could be nothing more than raising a flag and saluting it every morning, or wearing a toupee and owning a poodle, that makes you the odd duck on the block.
It was also a time when Tom Hanks was at the height of his comedic powers. Prior to his ongoing career as a serious actor, he was an 80’s comedy star with the hit TV show Bosom Buddies and a string of popular movies under his belt including Splash and Big, amongst many others. Part of the movie’s initial box office success was due to his presence in it. It was also an unusual comedy with an odd cast, which included Rick Ducommun, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Wendy Schaal, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson, and Gail Gordon (Joe Dante cameo veterans Dick Miller and Robert Picardo also popped up in the film as well). However unusual, it was a cast that worked well, with Hanks leading the race.
Today, The ’Burbs has a devoted fan base, but perhaps isn’t as well-remembered as some of Tom Hanks’ other starring comedy vehicles from the 80’s, or for that matter, Joe Dante’s films. It’s a movie that is very well designed with some extremely memorable and funny moments. Unfortunately, as of this writing, it still hasn’t had its due as a Special Edition release here in the U.S., which is why the Arrow Video Blu-ray release of the film is such a highlight. It should be duly noted that Arrow Video’s release is Region B locked, meaning you need a native or region free player in order to watch it.
This release of the film contains the film’s original theatrical cut “newly-restored from the original film elements”, and fully-approved by Joe Dante himself. The results are quite splendid, indeed. Some might be turned off by the high volume of grain, but it might all depend on how accustomed you are to 80’s movies when a lot of the film stock used in those days had high grain levels. That said, I found it to look entirely organic. Image detail is amazing, especially in close-ups, with some excellent depth to it. The color palette is quite vibrant, especially during daytime scenes, and skin tones are very natural. Black levels are very deep, and both brightness and contrast levels are perfect. Lastly, there are no signs of artificial sharpening or digital augmentation of any kind to be found. The same kind of quality can be found in the audio, which is a single English 2.0 LPCM track. It’s virtually perfect with dialogue front and center, wholly audible, with the sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score backing up the proceedings beautifully. To be succinct, this is a top-notch presentation from top to bottom, and likely the benchmark for future releases of the film on Blu-ray. There are also subtitles in English SDH for those who might need them.
The major draw of this release are the extras, obviously, and this release really packs a wallop. Starting things off is an alternate isolated music and effects audio track; an audio commentary with the film’s writer Dana Olsen, moderated by author Calum Waddell; the terrific There Goes the Neighborhood: The Making of The ’Burbs documentary, featuring interviews with nearly everyone involved; the workprint version of the film, sourced from Joe Dante’s personal VHS copy and containing lots of deleted and alternate footage; the A Tale of Two ’Burbs segment, which shows side-by-side comparisons of the workprint and theatrical cut with optional audio commentary from Dante; an additional alternate ending; the film’s original theatrical trailer; and an insert booklet with an essay on the film by author Kenneth J. Souza, an article by Michael Heintzelman about collaborations between Joe Dante and composer Jerry Goldsmith, and a set of stills and posters. There’s also a Steelbook option available, if you prefer.
If you’re a long-time fan of The ’Burbs, this Blu-ray release is the mother lode of Special Edition releases. A spectacular transfer and amazing extras make this a most memorable release that U.S. distributors will find hard to top. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons