Sony // 2009 // 100 Minutes // Unrated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // October 6th, 2009
Meet your ancestors.
Can I disown them?
Cavemen Zed (Jack Black, Tropic Thunder) and Oh (Michael Cera, Superbad) are best pals and the losers of their village. When Zed, a failed hunter, breaks the rules and eats fruit from The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, he's cast out of the tribe. Oh joins him and the two are bound for an exciting adventure which takes them to such pivotal moments in history as Cain and Abel's violent encounter, the introduction of circumcision, Isaac's near-sacrifice, and good times in Sodom.
There a handful of laughs sprinkled throughout Year One, but otherwise this film overwhelmingly fails at everything it attempts to accomplish. As a comedy that offers consistent gags? Failure. As a prehistoric adventure? Failure. As a playful bit of religious and historical satire? Failure. As a serviceable way to spend 100 minutes? Failure.
This is all a massive disappointment, not because it's the usual waste-of-your-time-crappy-movie, but rather there's such an abundance of talent here it's mind-boggling such a catastrophe was borne of their effort. You've got Harold Ramis writing and directing, the man responsible for two of my all-time favorite comedies (Groundhog Day and Multiplicity); Michael Cera and David Cross, two of the funniest guys from the greatest television sitcom of all time (Arrested Development); plus Hank Azaria and Jack Black. The sum total of all this talent is less than nil. Year One is a plodding, disjointed mess. The cast tries hard to make the material work -- Black does his usual manic schtick and Cera plays the awkward, lovable nerd persona he's punched his ticket with -- but the script just isn't there and the two leads end up looking they're trying too hard. And they are.
Aside from the comedy, you have a premise whose potential is squandered through head-scratching storytelling. The stuff in the village actually starts out fairly strong -- easily the high point of the film -- but, as soon as our heroes venture out, it all craters. The Cain and Abel sequence is loud, rowdy, and witless, and I wouldn't be surprised if some people found the Abraham material offensive, not because it's religiously insensitive (which it is, as Ramis has Zed and Oh as the cause of Abraham's inspiration, instead of God) but because it's so noisy and unfunny.
The second half of the film is set entirely in Sodom, where David Cross (miraculously) overstays his welcome, the lovely Olivia Wilde does nothing but look pretty, Oliver Platt makes an ass out of himself in a series of gross-out chest hair gags, and everything culminates in a formulaic, overblown finale that's emblematic of Year One's misshapen script. In fact, it's hugely different from the alternate ending (included with the bonus material), an eight-minute denouement depicting the destruction of Sodom with different outcomes for all the main characters. This wasn't a cheap sequence to produce and is actually somewhat amusing to watch, if only for the special effects. But Ramis pitched it for what I can only guess is because this is the one piece of the film that explicitly depicts God as a real entity. Not like it would have made any difference; Year One was a lost cause from minute one.
The Blu-ray isn't bad, though. The 1.85:1 widescreen is impressive in its detail. There's a lot of stuff going in Year One and the high-def treatment catches it all remarkably well, especially when the action moves to Sodom, an impressive combination of location scouting and set design. As the accompanying making-of featurette tells us, a lot of effort went into the props and production, and though it was all ultimately wasted on a crap movie, it looks top-shelf and comes across brilliantly in HD. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio (English, French, Portuguese) matches the picture quality, delivering a clean, loud aural mix.
Blu-ray specific extras: The video-creation Cutting Room app (Hint: you can't salvage this movie), and the BD-Live In-Movie Experience Movie IQ, an exhaustive pop-up-text featurette. However, given the amount of time it takes to connect and set-up (at least in my experience), I'm not sure it's worth it. Traditional extras: Commentary from Black, Cera, and Ramis who seem oblivious to the badness of the film; a nice-looking, lengthy making-of featurette; a gag reel; deleted and alternate scenes; the improv line-o-rama; a PSA for tourism in Sodom, which is easily the funniest thing on this disc; and a lame and esoteric live-action "Leeroy Jenkins" re-enactment that falls flat.
Did I mention how lovely Olivia Wilde looks?
The Blu-ray is a winner, but avoid this film like a rabid Woolly Mammoth.
Guilty. Keep this fossil buried forever.
Review content copyright © 2009 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (French)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Unrated
* Theatrical and Unrated Versions
* Movie IQ
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Gag Reel
* Official Site