When you dive head first into the world of Blu-ray, as I have, you come to realize very quickly that the extra dollar isn’t always worth it. In fact, there are many occasions in which the 1080p video quality does nothing for a movie, and if it doesn’t come gift-wrapped with a copious amount of special features, it might just having you wishing you could get that extra $10-15 back. That is why I started this little column, known as The Blu-ray Patrol. It gives me the opportunity to keep an eye on your best interests, especially in the realm of high definition home entertainment. And in this round, we will take a look at two titles, both from Universal Home Entertainment, that will serve as perfect examples as to why Blu-ray isn’t always the better option.
Baby Mama, Blu-ray, Release Date: September 9, 2008
First up is Baby Mama, which stars Tina Fey as a single, well to-do organic foods executive who has caught the fever of motherhood. And instead of finding a man — a task which has proven both timely and difficult — she opts for surrogacy, in the form of a white trash money-grabber played by Amy Poehler. This is a film that I praised during its theatrical release, as it is a wonderful testament to the comedic duo of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler — together, they can make anything funny. As well, the film is cleverly written and features fun supporting performances from the likes of Greg Kinnear and Romany Malco. As a movie, it is certainly still amongst the best comedies of the year so far.
As a Blu-ray release though, Baby Mama and I are currently having some drama. The biggest problem, I suppose, is the fact that I sought to compare the special features of the BRD release with those of the standard DVD release — and the results left me sad and confused. The standard DVD features an alternate ending, a few deleted scenes, a featurette about Saturday Night Live, a featurette about the making of Baby Mama and “more.” The Blu-ray release — it has the fancy, but not overwhelming U-Control commentary with Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, producer Lorne Michaels and director Michael McCullers — and that’s it. I’m not making this stuff up.
Sure, I get it — producing Blu-ray discs is not a cheap affair, so studios are now opting to use the BD-25 format, which stores 25 GB of information rather than the more expensive BD-50, leading to less space for special features. But with a film that sees no benefit from better video and sounds quality — it’s a romantic comedy, for heaven’s sake — what am I really getting if I spend the extra pesos for the Blu-ray? The answer — absolutely nothing. While U-Control and Picture-in-Picture commentary is a cool novelty that you can’t get with a regular DVD, I can’t in good conscience recommend buying this Blu-ray release.
Leatherheads, Blu-ray, Release Date: September 23, 2008
The period comedy Leatherheads, which features George Clooney as an aging 1920s football player trying to stay relevant in the ever-evolving world of pro football, all while fighting off a young, college hotshot (played by The Office’s John Krasinski) for the love of a tough-as-nails journalist (played by Renee Zellweger), is the same sort of deal as Baby Mama. As a film, this romantic comedy was well-made, but somewhat uneventful — I enjoyed George Clooney’s eye, as a director, for putting together the details of the 1920s time period and assembling an enjoyable cast. John Krasinski is, as always, very expressive and naturally funny; and Renee Zellweger is once again the perfect, tough dame for the 20s. The problem is that the story falls flat somewhere around the middle of the film, struggling to maintain focus on any one of its many core plotlines. Overall, the experience is potentially enjoyable, but generally underwhelming.
As a Blu-ray release, Leatherheads is even more underwhelming — if you can imagine such a thing. Where there should be copious amounts of special features, quirky little featurettes that tell the story of how Clooney the director built his 1920s world with a level of authenticity, there is nothing. In fact, once again we see the substitution of the Picture-in-Picture U-Control feature, with commentary from George Clooney and his producing partner Grant Heslov, for anything that would otherwise be construed as interesting. Once again, the U-Control feature can be flashy and interesting at times, but it is no substitute for a buffet of solid special features.
Overall, the message here is simple — some Blu-ray releases these days just aren’t cutting it. Sadly, these two come to us from the same studio. But that isn’t to say that Universal can’t hack it in the world of HD home entertainment — for a long time they were the best at producing engaging HD-DVD releases, and I am sure that they will come around in the near future. In fact, I am anxious to dig into the copy of Forgetting Sarah Marshall that just arrived the other day — it appears to have a metric ton of special features. But that’s for another day. Until then, you’ve been warned.
For more Blu-ray reviews, check out the Blu-ray Patrol Archive.