Blue Underground // 1993 // 114 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge William Lee (Retired) // July 31st, 2009
He's been in his room for 35 years. It's time to let him out!
Bad Boy Bubby has maintained a cult popularity since its 1993 debut on the art house cinema circuit. Actor Nicholas Hope (Scooby-Doo) was plucked from obscurity to headline as one of the strangest movie characters ever. Director Rolf de Heer (Ten Canoes) employed a number of experimental touches including sound recorded from the protagonist's perspective and a different cinematographer for every scene. Now this dark comedy from Down Under gets the Blu-ray treatment from Blue Underground. For HD-equipped viewers looking for something different, this is definitely worth checking out. Those who have already experienced Bubby's story in standard definition, however, shouldn't rush out from their hovels for this one.
When we first meet Bubby, age 35, it's immediately clear that he hasn't had a normal life. In fact, he's spent his entire life in a two-room dwelling with his mother. When his mother isn't putting the fear of God into him, she's using Bubby for her sexual gratification. Bubby also interacts with cockroaches (he eats them) and a cat (it's probably fair to say he tortures it). Bubby's education is limited to the knowledge that the air outside is poisoned and he can't leave without wearing the one gas mask they have. It's all a lie, of course, and this false reality shatters when Bubby's father turns up at their doorstep one day.
I knew this movie by reputation, but hadn't watched it until now and was surprised by how little it shocked me. Perhaps its notoriety had inflated my expectations but I was not expecting the gentle yet dark humor that underscores the proceedings. Remarkably, most of the people Bubby encounters are quite charitable toward him. His childlike innocence becomes his armor during his adventure in the world. It could even be argued that he doesn't appear to "suffer" too much when he's raped in jail. His life, which started out as a cruel joke, gradually becomes a pretty uplifting tale. Nicholas Hope puts in an amazing performance as Bubby, managing to be slightly threatening and helpless simultaneously.
The technical innovations that de Heer used for this film are less impressive on the small screen. The decision to use 32 different cinematographers doesn't enrich the visual experience to the expected degree. I was aware that certain scenes looked markedly different -- funhouse mirror-style at one point -- but style should be in the service of the story rather than randomly determined. Much is also made of the fact that the sound was recorded from Bubby's perspective through the use of microphones worn by Hope. Since there are hardly any shots from Bubby's point-of-view, from which to establish this aural reference point, I wasn't even aware that this unconventional sound design was in play. Those are some neat ideas but the results don't appear or sound too successful as they're replicated on home video.
Presented in 1080p resolution via the AVC codec, the video upgrade afforded the movie is noticeable but not impressive enough to make jaws drop. The added resolution makes colors stronger and details sharper but only to the extent that an upscaled DVD's picture would look improved. Perhaps this is due in part to the intended look of the movie. The first act takes place in the confines of Bubby's apartment and it is nothing to look at: ugly grey walls enclosing people and furniture that seem to have had all life drained from them. There is certainly more color once Bubby goes out into the world, but the film's modest production values don't provide for a lot of eye candy. The image looks like a decent film print and a clean one at that since many of the stray pops and dust specks that appeared in the previous DVD release have been significantly reduced.
At the time of this writing, I can't properly assess the audio quality of this Blu-ray release based on the preview copy we received. Blue Underground identified a technical glitch that they are correcting before the retail disc goes to press. The intended audio tracks are DTS-HD and Dolby TrueHD, both in 5.1 surround sound. That seems like overkill considering the original movie was mixed in "binaural" stereo. The 2.0 stereo soundtrack option that was on the DVD release is not offered here. That being said, if the final audio tracks are nothing more than a lossless version of the surround track from the DVD, the sound should be satisfying.
The supplemental materials from the DVD are ported to this release and presented in standard definition. The first interview, "Christ Kid, You're a Weirdo," is a 24-minute featurette with director Rolf de Heer. It's a very informative piece that covers the genesis of the idea and production of the film. "Being Bubby" is a 14-minute interview with Nicholas Hope discussing his feelings on the title character. The short film Confessor Caressor features Hope as a serial killer in an equally weird performance -- this is the reason de Heer hired him as Bubby. Another omission from the DVD, a gallery of still photos and poster art is absent this time around. Some may think this is a minor thing to leave out; others may ask why leave it out?
Bad Boy Bubby is definitely worth seeking out, even though its shock value and experimental power has diminished with time. The Blu-ray presentation is good but doesn't exhibit the night and day difference over its standard-def counterpart that would make it a clear winner. Also factoring against it are the cutbacks in audio options and extras. Fans of the movie will be content sticking with their DVD copy.
It's a decent Blu-ray release but it doesn't justify an upgrade from the regular DVD. This bad boy gets house arrest.
Review content copyright © 2009 William Lee; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
Running Time: 114 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Short Film