"Unpacking? Let me. Crowbar. Dynamite. Cyanide. Fester…as if we'd run out."
Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty, For Love or Money, Men in Black) has quietly become one of the most talented, most original directors working in Hollywood today. He's also developed a knack that Hollywood's executives really admire; his films tend to be extremely popular, and thus make a lot of money. Sonnenfeld has done this without fanfare or press, he's just quietly cranked out several instant classics that are audience favorites.
Foremost of these is his very first directorial effort, The Addams Family. Obviously a remake of an existing entertainment property, the movie was approached by Sonnenfeld with an eye for quirky humor, off-beat lines, a distinctive visual style, and a great score. The resulting movie was patently funny, dark humor without being overly dark; not one of the easiest tasks to get right in filmmaking.
In addition to the budding talents of Sonnenfeld, The Addams Family assembled an all-star cast that really delivered the knockout punch for the film. Foremost was Raul Julia (The Rookie, Presumed Innocent, Tequila Sunrise), who took the role of Gomez Addams and embraced it with passion and heart. Unfortunately, it's now the late Raul Julia, and his loss is sorely felt by the film community.
Morticia Addams is ably handled by Anjelica Huston (Ever After, The Grifters, Prizzi's Honor); her Morticia is delightfully dark and delicious, bright without being sunny, inviting without being gingham. Matching Huston beautifully is a very young Cristina Ricci (Sleepy Hollow, The Opposite of Sex, The Ice Storm), who took the role at the age of eleven and proved she has some acting chops. As Wednesday Addams, Ricci is very, very dark, with a spark of impish child humor, yet retaining a very mature sense of cutting wit throughout it all.
Opposite Ricci as Pugsley Addams is Jimmy Workman, who's seen very little work in Hollywood at all. Still, his Pugsley is very durable, genuine, and possibly the most likeable of the entire Addams clan. From a mundane perspective anyway; you almost get the impression Pugsley could easily be a member of the normal family next door if you took him out of the gothic setting the Addams Family lives in.
Rounding out the Addams' immediate family is Christopher Lloyd (Back to the Future, Clue, TV's Taxi) as Uncle Fester. As the long lost brother of Gomez, Lloyd's Fester is just plain Odd, with a capital "O." He survives ludicrous amounts of damage to a comical point, has a naïve sense of the world, yet manages to make his way through it untouched.
The film itself is very straightforward, and honestly doesn't need a plot to be amusing and entertaining. We're introduced to the Addams and discover Fester is missing, having had a falling out with Gomez over a minor slight. Suffering from amnesia, Fester is roped into a plot to steal the Addams family fortune by their bankrupt family lawyer (Dan Hedaya, Clueless, A Night at the Roxbury, The Usual Suspects) and a loan shark who's convinced Fester she's his mother (Elizabeth Wilson, Nine to Five, Regarding Henry, Quiz Show). Over the course of the film Fester comes to realise he really is Fester Addams, and that he loves his family; every last warped one of them.
For a ten year old film, the video transfer could have been in pretty bad shape. In fact, some of the video material on the disc illustrates this; but the film itself looks great. Presented with an unspecified aspect ratio, though it looks to be in the vicinity of 2.35:1, the anamorphic transfer is very crisp, very bold, very good. Colors are strong and without bleed, edges are distinct and clear, and overall the video is very pleasant to look at. Even to a critical eye, it's hard to find fault with the transfer. In fact, in some scenes, the video is so good stunt doubles can be more clearly identified as stand-ins during action sequences than they could in lesser quality transfers of this film.
While The Addams Family is mostly a drama with some action sequences, the soundstage is very well presented. Offered in both Dolby 5.1 and Dolby 2.0, the surrounds are used to provide ambiance and background; and the subwoofer particularly comes into play during the numerous crashes and bodily thumps that frequent the film. Voices are forward and clearly discernable, music and effects never overwhelm the dialogue. And the absolutely marvelous soundtrack, by Marc Shaiman (Sleepless in Seattle, In & Out, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut), sounds amazing. Until I checked the credits, I assumed Danny Elfman had done the film's score, which is some of the highest praise I can offer a score's composer.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Unfortunately, however, The Addams Family is a Paramount property. This, of course, means a pathetically under whelming disc in terms of all the things discerning DVD buyers have come to expect. The studio really phoned this one in, not even bothering to offer the usual throw-away extras like text biographies on cast and crew. There are no extras at all on this disc. A audio commentary is sorely missed, as are any production notes, script notes, or even deleted scenes.
Further evidence of the lack of attention to this marvelous catalogue title are the trailers. They're direct-from-film transfers, without any attention given them at all. If anyone ever doubts the video quality a proper DVD transfer offers, watch The Addams Family with them, then immediately play the trailers. They're soft, faded, very washed out; they're a clear example of how bad film can look without proper attention.
The Addams Family is a simply marvelous film seriously hindered by a pathetic disc offering. Only the fact the video transfer is anamorphic saves this disc from being a complete waste of the consumer's time. Perhaps there is hope Paramount's marketing department is holding a special edition disc back, to force die-hard film fans to make two purchases. This, of course, would be an extremely underhanded tactic, but never put the chance to make money past a Hollywood studio. And it would get a SE version in our hands, which is what we're ultimately after. Time will tell.
If you love the film, the disc is a must buy. For everyone else, here's hoping a proper SE disc is making its way to consumers soon. Paramount is taken to task for low balling the extras, but receives some rehabilitation for their attention to the video and audio.
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