Universal // 1999 // 119 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // May 8th, 2000
Hello, my name is Andy and this is my DVD.
Andy Kaufman was a pretty strange entertainer by anyone's standards, but he still holds a place in the hearts of many fans. His act was an eclectic mix of impression, characters, songs, and performance art that defies true description. He played seemingly to himself, as he didn't care whether you liked him or hated him so long as you felt something. Certainly as many hated him as liked him, and he was not the most successful comedian around. In fact, toward the end of his career he had bottomed out and had been ousted from appearances on "Saturday Night Live" after a voting poll only garnered him 28% support. Andy, like so many other comedians who went against the flow, died far too young at the age of 35, though from cancer rather than excess. Those who knew him, along with an acclaimed director, have made a biopic of his life. A truly amazing performance by Jim Carrey (Liar Liar The Truman Show, Dumb and Dumber) seemingly brings Kaufman back from the dead; virtually disappearing into the role. An Oscar nomination was truly deserved and did not happen. He did win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy, which vindicates him at least. Other performances are very good but all fade next to the bright light Carrey shines in this role. Universal brings another stellar day and date release on DVD for this fine movie, by again bringing near-special edition treatment to a disc not labeled as such.
First off, I have a confession to make. I was among those who really didn't appreciate Andy Kaufman and his act. My reaction to his performances ran from an occasional chuckle to outright disgust. It is safe to say I was never a fan. Until this film I'd never troubled myself to learn anything about him, other than knowing about his death at an early age. His reputation is repaired somewhat to my mind by this movie. Not because the movie changes the truth; when one of his performances went poorly in real life, the recreation of it was equally painful. But the movie humanizes Andy, and shows you why he did what he did, and makes you realize just how far ahead of his time he was. In fact his time may not yet have totally arrived. To call some of his work avant-garde would be to make the normal use of the term seem quaint.
The movie came about largely because of a birthday party. Two-time Oscar-winning director Milos Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, The People vs. Larry Flynt) met actor Danny DeVito (Renaissance Man, Batman Returns, Twins) there and somehow the conversation turned to Andy Kaufman. DeVito of course had starred on the TV show "Taxi" with Kaufman. The germ of the idea was laid there and eventually led to many who knew him during his life volunteering their experiences to contribute to the screenplay. What results is a script that is a series of events in his life, both personal and professional. Many of his performances will be very familiar to his fans, as both the good and bad will be recreated accurately for all to see. Reportedly many actors, including several well-known ones, sent in tape auditions for the part of Andy, but Carrey really wanted the role and impressed everyone.
The film has a truly inventive and unique prelude. Carrey makes his first appearance as Andy and the impersonation is amazing. He then tries to tell you, using Kaufman's "Foreign Man" character, that the movie stinks and he's ending it now. Credits roll as he plays a record on his little stand-alone record player. Only after that, and an uncomfortably long fade to black, does he reappear and tell you that he was just weeding out the people who weren't serious about the movie and then introduces the first reel. The movie is almost worth watching just for that.
When the film finally begins it quickly moves from Andy's childhood to the shaky beginning of his career. As he develops his act, George Shapiro, played by producer and co-star DeVito, approaches him. Shapiro becomes his manager for the rest of Kaufman's life, and gets him his first gig on Saturday Night Live, where he breaks up the crowd with his silly (but funny) pantomime during a record of the Mighty Mouse theme song. Next up we see the process of getting Andy on "Taxi," where Andy insists on a separate contract for guest appearances by lounge singer Tony Clifton. Clifton is played both by Carrey behind makeup impervious to detection, and by Paul Giamatti (The Negotiator, Saving Private Ryan, The Truman Show) who also portrays Kaufman's writer and friend Bob Zmuda. Clifton's obnoxious behavior quickly gets him fired from the show, and one of the funny moments in the film is when Andy keeps protesting that he isn't Clifton. We are also "treated" to Clifton's lounge act, which was every bit as awful as I remember the real one back when. Very accurate recreation, which resulted in my hating the character just as much as before.
On moves Kaufman's career to his fascination with pro wrestling, when his small (for a wrestler) size results in his fighting against women, and declaring himself the "Inter-gender World Champion." During this phase he meets Lynn Margulies (Courtney Love, The People vs. Larry Flynt, 200 Cigarettes) who becomes his lifelong girlfriend. When Memphis pro-wrestling champion Jerry Lawler challenges him to fight a real man, a long chest thumping session gives way to Lawler piledriving Andy twice. When Kaufman appears for the next weeks, including on the Letterman show, in a neck brace people become convinced it was real, and only the movie really revealed to the public that it was in fact staged, and Andy wasn't really hurt. Even Andy's friends weren't in on the secret, which led in part to nobody believing anything Andy said or did, since they always had to consider it was a part of the act. Later when Andy was diagnosed with lung cancer, even his own family did not believe him; thinking even the doctor and hospital were in on the joke. There are still a few today who think he didn't really die, and has been waiting 16 years to reappear. Andy knew the method of comedic exhaustion well, and I could almost buy he'd wait that long.
A truly stunning performance by Jim Carrey is what brings this film past mere sentimental reminiscence. Carrey has always been known for his incredible powers of mimicry, but here he goes even past that into near method-style immersion into the role. Seeing him as Andy is simply uncanny; in that one of Hollywood's most known actors could disappear into the being of another. His performance in large part won me over to liking Kaufman more in the film than I did in real life. Other parts of the story I enjoyed were his performances of the "Foreign Man," his Elvis impersonation (terrific!), the wrestling scenes (which was much better than I expected), and the scenes of him on "Taxi" where most of the cast, including Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner, Jeff Conaway, and Christopher Lloyd reprised their roles on the actual set. Obviously Danny DeVito was left out as he already had a part in the film. The scenes of Andy at home and with those he cared about were touching as well.
Kudos to Milos Forman for a great job in directing this movie as well. His pacing and framing for the movie was nearly flawless. The supporting cast members were all great as well, but as I said they simply couldn't compete. The spotlight of Carrey's performance outshone anything in its path.
On to the disc. Universal comes through again with an excellent anamorphic transfer in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. There were a few flaws; minor artifacting on Andy's checkered "Foreign Man" jacket, fleshtones that weren't quite perfect, and a bit murky on shadow detail, but I bring these up only because part of my job is to tell you these things. Overall the look is excellent, without any film defects or major problems.
Again Universal provides both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtracks, as well as a French Dolby Surround. Neither of the English tracks were particularly active in the surround channels, but dialogue was always clear and anchored to the center and music and effects did move across the front soundstage, with occasional reinforcement from the rear. The DTS track did have a bit more detail and imagery than the Dolby Digital, but either are fine for this type of film. I was quite satisfied with the sound quality.
The only thing lacking in the extras department is a commentary track, but Universal provides a great package of extras nonetheless. First is the "Spotlight on Location" feature on all Universal's day and date releases, which is a 20-minute look first at Andy's career and interviews with those who knew him and then moves on to the making of the film. Very nice. 20 minutes of deleted scenes are mostly fluff but one scene might have made one part of the film more understandable. The "Universal Soundtrack Presentation" gives a promotion for the soundtrack CD and music videos of "Man on the Moon" and "The Great Beyond" by R.E.M. One of the best features is the text of Andy's life and career, and when you see little pictures of Andy highlight them and press enter to see clips of the real Andy's performances and snippets of interviews. A nice contrast in some cases to seeing the same act done by Carrey impersonating him. Cast and crew info, production notes, and the theatrical trailer are also included, along with a bonus trailer of Klumps and DVD-ROM content. The DVD-ROM offers weblinks to more production notes and interviews. Again, a serious package of extras from Universal for a disc not labeled as a Collector's Edition.
Aside from a few minor quibbles with the transfer I have only one complaint about the disc. That complaint is the casing, which uses that strange keep case with 6 teeth that hold a death grip on the disc, almost threatening breakage trying to remove it. Go with the Amaray! So far as the movie goes, my only complaints come from the standpoint of not being a fan of Andy Kaufman. Various parts of his act were nothing I would ever want to go to a club to see. For me those scenes dragged, but only because I didn't like the original performance that was being accurately recreated. Kaufman fans will likely completely disagree with me on that point, and I have no problems with that. Andy Kaufman was a love-em-or-hate-em kind of performer, and he made no apologies for it. Overall this is a great film, and many think it among the best of last year. Even an old Kaufman hater like me can admit this is an excellent work.
Man on the Moon is a biography that doesn't try to soften the impact of Andy Kaufman's life; presenting it both good and bad with an incredible sense of realism. Still the film does manage to humanize and bring a better appreciation of him to even those who didn't know him or didn't like him. I'm sure fans of his will like it even more than I did. So if you're a fan of his work, buy this disc without a care, and if you fall into the other two categories, buy it or maybe try a rental. I think most people will be moved and impressed by both the film and the disc.
Jim Carrey, who already had my respect, has garnered even more with this performance, and he is absolutely acquitted, as well as the rest of the cast and filmmakers of Man on the Moon. Universal is likewise commended on another great disc; if only all the studios would follow their example, and everyone would treat their catalog titles with this much love.
Review content copyright © 2000 Norman Short; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
Running Time: 119 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Spotlight on Location
* Deleted Scenes
* Performance Clips
* Music Videos
* Cast and Crew Info
* Production Notes
* DVD-ROM content
* Official Site
* Bob Zmuda's Biography Book Site