New Line // 1997 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // September 19th, 2000
Debonair. Defiant. Defrosted.
Or in this case...the REAL review.
Hope you enjoyed my little tongue in cheek take on this farcical romp on '60s secret agent movies; spoofing films like the James Bond flicks and other efforts like In Like Flint. While Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery may not be a combination of Citizen Kane, Lawrence of Arabia, and Casablanca; it is a very funny film. A far superior film to its sequel, its combination of parody, stereotypes, physical and visual comedy works on a gut-laugh level, and I've enjoyed it even through repeated viewings. New Line released this film as a Platinum Series release that really helped set the studio up as the standard of excellence for others to follow. While the disc has been exceeded by others in quality since, it still holds up today. This one is another review I've felt was long overdue, and a disc that newcomers to the format should know about.
Austin Powers, a British secret agent, is ultra-hip and a major part of the swinging free love scene in 1967 London. When he wasn't enjoying the hedonistic lifestyle of the times, he was pursuing his nemesis Dr. Evil (both parts played by Mike Myers of Saturday Night Live and Wayne's World fame). Dr. Evil was a stereotypical villain; the megalomaniacal pursuer of world conquest who is always foiled by Powers. To escape final capture, Evil has himself cryogenically frozen and blasted into space in his Big Boy rocket, and Powers has himself frozen to await Evil's return. 30 years later Dr. Evil has returned, and Austin is thawed out to face both Dr. Evil and life in the '90s. Aided by the daughter of his former partner Mrs. Kensington (Mimi Rogers) Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley), Powers must defeat Dr. Evil, learn about the new morays of life in the modern age, and try to win the heart of Vanessa despite bad teeth and bad behavior.
Dr. Evil has his own problems adjusting to modern life, as he wants to hold the world ransom for ONE MILLION DOLLARS, poke a hole in the ozone layer, and use other now-quaint means for world domination.
What a great spoof! There are so many references to various oh-so-cool spy thrillers within this script that you have to be observant to get them all. The whole feel of the film comes right out of James Coburn's In Like Flint and the Matt Helm films as Austin is the cool fashion photographer with a bevy of beauties by day and top secret agent by night. Just as these films were more tongue in cheek and over the top than the James Bond films, Austin Powers goes a step beyond in making every single line and scene move farther over the line into intentional satire, while maintaining a warm regard for its predecessors.
In my other "review" of the film I touched on the qualities of the main pair of characters played by Mike Myers. It is surely true that I took those attributes about as far in a dramatic direction as I could, but there is just a hint of truth in there. Austin Powers is even more likable for the struggles he has dealing with the 1990s, as is Dr. Evil. The dichotomy between the free love '60s and the sexual responsibility of the modern age plays a major part in the development of Austin as he pursues an actual relationship. But I probably have spoken enough of this element since any real depth is completely overshadowed by the comedy.
A funny comedy it is too; with so many scenes worthy of a laugh that I think it was one of the funniest films of the 1990s. Even the bathroom humor worked in this film; something that almost no one gets right. The timing of someone going to the bathroom for the first time in 30 years is perfect; utilizing the method of comedic exhaustion but not to the point of annoyance. Fortunately, the crude humor is only occasional, while snappy lines and familiar scenes re-tuned for laughs is constant. The humor even ingrained itself into the culture; with lines like "yeah, baby, yeah!" getting used around the water cooler and in normal conversation. My parents, ever the stodgy types who more often prefer classics of the golden age to any modern comedy, even liked this film (and hated the sequel). The film is upbeat, constantly funny, and memorable both in characters and in story.
As I begin to describe the picture quality of this fine New Line Platinum disc, I'll mention the use of color in the film first as it is pertinent. Bright, often day-glo colors predominate, especially during the early '60s scenes but are common throughout. There isn't much of anything dark in the film, but whites and bold colors are predominate. These colors are brought out beautifully on this anamorphic transfer; bold and vivid as they should be without any hint of blooming, bleeding, or smearing. The detail level is very sharp, though a hint of noise betrays its earlier incarnation in the DVD format. However, that level of noise is so minuscule as to be nearly non-existent. The two sided disc has a heavily cropped pan&scan transfer on the flip side; which I never review but does have similar picture quality for the half of the picture that is still there. The anamorphic widescreen transfer is presented in the original 2.0:1 aspect ratio.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is pretty much flawless; with a high degree of clarity, aggressive use of all channels, and great spaciousness and directionality. The directionality even extends to the commentary track with star/screenwriter/co-producer Mike Myers and director Jay Roach, as Myers speaks from the right channel and Roach from the left.
A fun and interesting commentary track it is too; leading a collection of quality extra content that the New Line Platinum series is known for. Both seem to be having a great time talking about the film, but give plenty of information about the comedic ideas for the film and how scenes were done, and even admitting where they felt mistakes were made. Besides this excellent commentary are deleted scenes including a scene aboard the psychedelic jet, a Rob Lowe cameo, and two alternate James Bond-like endings. Cast and crew information also has hidden trailers you can access from this menu. Everything on the disc is presented in a fun and entertaining way. There is a cameo section which takes you to all the numerous cameo spots done by well known actors, and a short Q&A section leading to a psychedelic "Music to Shag By" section. The theatrical trailer rounds out the extra content. All told a fantastic package that promises good times for anyone who brings this disc home.
It is certainly true that this disc doesn't have quite the level of innovation and superb menus and extras that came on the sequel Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. But the film itself is much funnier and for that reason I prefer this disc. Otherwise I have no complaints and as I said this review was done because I felt such a great disc deserved a review and had been overlooked.
A very funny film, great picture and sound, and high quality extras; what more do you want? I heartily recommend this disc and if you haven't already bought it then you should give it a second look. New buyers for DVD would be well advised to purchase this disc as one of the first series of discs they buy to introduce themselves to the format.
It aint Shakespeare, but it gets my vote! Case dismissed, and New Line is commended for the consistently great work they've done and the high standard they set even early on with their Platinum Series.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.00:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track
* Deleted Scenes
* Cast and Crew Info
* Cameo Scene Access
* Joke Question Section