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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Noises Off!
Noises Off!
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment // PG-13 // May 4, 2004
List Price: $14.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted June 10, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie

Noises Off, the 1992 comedy from director Peter Bogdanovich (based on the play by Michael Frayn), is one of the silliest and most laughter-inducing movies I've ever seen. And by all rights, it should be: it's based on one of the silliest and most laughter-inducing Broadway plays ever produced. And therein lies its only flaw; more on that in a second.

Noises Off centers on the almost never-ending series of disasters that plague the production of Nothing On, a lightweight British chamber farce put on by a group of (mostly) American actors. Michael Caine plays Lloyd Fellowes, the director of the play who is clearly at his wit's end. The movie begins with the play's dress/tech rehearsal; it is past midnight, the play opens the following night, and nothing is going as planned. The actors are missing their marks, there are technical glitches aplenty, nerves are frayed beyond the realm of sanity, and that's only the beginning. Between the six actors, the director, and the two main stagehands, there are enough subplots, innuendos, and inanities to cripple any semblance of progress. That's right: it's a play within a play! Or rather, a movie within a play. Or is that a play within a movie? Or the movie version of the play within a play?

Where was I again?

Classic farce material, Noises Off definitely generates more than its fair share of laughter. The cast is comprised of a group of talented actors who clearly were chosen for their comedic prowess, including the aforementioned Michael Caine, Carol Burnett as the cynical and clearly burnt-out, once-was Dotty, Denholm Elliot as Selsdon, the hard-drinking thespian whose predilection for imbibing and passing out poses a serious hazard to the play's success, Julie Haggarty as the put-upon stagehand Poppy, Marilu Henner as the sassy Belinda, Mark Linn-Baker as the harangued technician Tim, Christopher Reeve as the constantly flummoxed and nosebleed-prone Frederick, John Ritter as the self-absorbed and the hardly verbose Garry, and Nicolette Sheridan as the scantily-clad and contact lens-losing Brooke. Through a series of affairs, misunderstandings, petty jealousies and general incompetence, their live performances turn into the type of onstage disasters that snowball from minor glitches into utter comedic catastrophes.

I first saw Noises Off on Broadway in December of 1984, and it was one of the most entertaining experiences of my life. That having been said, what works as a play does not necessarily succeed quite as well in a film. The play was structured in three acts: The Dress/Tech Rehearsal, Backstage, and Frontstage. The film is similarly structured, but what makes for such compelling material in front of a live audience isn't as easily portrayed on film. Pratfalls, crackerjack comic timing, and seemingly bone-breaking physical comedy goes over like gangbusters with a live audience, but in an editing room one cannot achieve quite the same effect. Gone are the spontaneity, the "anything-can-happen" feel of theater, and the delightful blurring of the fourth wall between audience and stage. Still, Noises Off delights and entertains as a film. Credit Bogdanovich's direction and the engaging cast for making the film succeed as well as it does. There's no doubt that the film is a hoot: even if, in the end, it seems to go on for too long, the movie never truly wears out its welcome.

The DVD

Video:

Noises Off is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and has been anamorphically enhanced for your widescreen-viewing enjoyment. The transfer is acceptable, albeit with some flaws. There is noticeable print wear, edge-enhancement, and compression noise present throughout the video, sometimes making the transfer seem overly digitized and heavily processed. On the plus side, colors are sharply rendered, with deep contrasts and fine range. Sharpness levels are also very reasonable; the image seems to be very well-rendered. If it weren't for the excessive noise, this transfer would garner a good rating, but as it stands it falls square in the three-star range.

Audio:

The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, with an optional French language soundtrack and French and Spanish subtitles. The soundtrack sounds warm and reasonably expansive, with fine dialog levels and subdued but effective use of the soundstage. Surround effects are used effectively to underscore the theater-like acoustics of the presentation. There was a little bit of shrill to the upper-end at times, but overall this is a well-delivered audio presentation.

Extras:

There are no extras on this DVD.

Final Thoughts

I'm of two minds when it comes to this DVD. I enjoy the movie, but wasn't overly impressed with the disc. I only wish that the video transfer were stronger and that director Peter Bogdanovich had recorded a commentary track for Noises Off . The film was not a huge box-office hit, but became something of a cult favorite since its release, and there is a small but eager audience waiting for this DVD release. Still, this relatively inexpensive bare-boned release is probably worth a purchase for fans and a rental for the curious. The only thing that's really missing is a good old plate of sardines!

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