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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Family Guy Presents: Something Something Something Dark Side (Blu-ray)
Family Guy Presents: Something Something Something Dark Side (Blu-ray)
Fox // Unrated // December 22, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted December 31, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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I became a Family Guy fan right from the beginning, and although I still enjoy catching all the new episodes whenever they air, I can't deny the quality of the show has been in rapid decline ever since its triumphant, yet lackluster return after being cancelled... twice. The show isn't nearly as bad nowadays as some might lead you to believe, it's just been wildly inconsistent on delivering the goods. Despite catching a lot of flak for a slew of substandard episodes, the writers were eventually able to redeem themselves with the release of Blue Harvest, a hilarious one-hour parody that flung most of the Family Guy cast into the Star Wars universe. It's a diamond that stands out amongst a rough batch of episodes, and in fact just might be one of the best episodes in the series to date. So naturally, many a fan wondered if the Griffins would ever get around to reenacting The Empire Strikes Back. Their prayers have finally been answered with the Blu-ray release of Something, Something, Something, Dark Side, but unfortunately, 'the force' isn't very strong with this one.

Being the cultural phenomenon that it is, there's been more parodies and jokes about the Star Wars universe than a Jedi can shake a lightsaber at, but if you ask me, Family Guy raised the bar with their take on Episode IV - A New Hope. I'm sure Robot Chicken and Spaceballs fans will find such a claim to be blasphemous at best, but my fondness of Blue Harvest only begins with the fact that it's a spoof of Star Wars. Visually, most of the major scenes were reproduced right down to a tee, and the inclusion of John Williams' epic score helped solidify the illusion that this animated parody was a part of the Star Wars canon we all know and love. The writing staff focused more on observational gags than anything else, and needless to say, this was a welcome change from the 'remember when' jokes that were hurting the series more than anything else. In the end, the laughs were plenty and the pacing was quick, and this nearly masterful blend of both franchises undoubtedly brought new fans over from each side of the fence. If I were George Lucas, I would have been proud of what the Family Guy staff had come up with. That being said, I knew it was only a matter of time before The Empire Strikes Back would receive the same kind of treatment.

Much like its predecessor, Dark Side draws an enormous amount of strength from its ability to make every scene visually identical to their live action counterparts. The way in which these scenes are animated is just as impressive as the first time around, if not more so. I can't imagine the amount of time and concentration the animators had to put in every scene, every shot. The fluidity of camera pans, the first person view from the cockpit of a snowspeeder, the Millennium Falcon's descent into a seemingly harmless asteroid - If these weren't so blatantly animated, you would almost be inclined to think these shots were lifted directly from The Empire Strikes Back itself. The painstaking detail that went into Dark Side is that good.

Of course, the true test of any Family Guy endeavor is how much it was able to make you laugh after all is said and done. For me, there were plenty of laughs throughout Dark Side's entirety, but much like the majority of Family Guy episodes we've seen as of late, they were hit or miss to a frustrating degree. One second I'd be roaring with gut-busting laughter, and the next I'd be staring at the screen with a blank expression on my face, totally unamused. Constantly being flung back and forth between both extremes was, needless to say, exhausting. There's unfortunately nobody else to blame for this other than the writers, as they let themselves slip into the same pitfalls that have plagued the series for a while now. Sure, most of these jokes were lovingly written by observationally sharp Star Wars fans, but to me, a lot of these jokes just wreaked of laziness. Take this early gag for example - A rebel stationed at the Hoth base approaches Peter with a bag of ice, and while barely being able to contain his laughter, asks Peter if he could use some... *cough*. What the writing staff of Family Guy fails to realize, is that the 'so lame it's funny' routine really isn't funny at all, it's just lame. To make matters worse, the writers continue to sour the overall experience with a bunch of jokes we've already seen a zillion times before. Why is Consuela the lazy housekeeper making an appearance, and why are we once again being treated to the ole' 'banged my knee' gag? Yawn. My biggest gripe of all however, is the fact that the role of Yoda was assigned to Chris' old boss from the mini-mart. If you're only a casual fan of the show, you might find yourself asking, "Who in the hell is that? I don't remember that character." I don't know if the writers simply ran out of characters to use or what, but man, what a wasted opportunity.

Despite my seemingly endless rant, Dark Side isn't exactly a total loss. It's still an above average Family Guy episode, which doesn't exactly say a whole lot considering how uninspired the show has been for quite some time, but don't expect it to hold a candle to Blue Harvest. If you're a die-hard Family Guy or Star Wars fan, you're probably going to enjoy what Dark Side has to offer. However, if you're a fan that thinks the show has lost its touch, or perhaps just a person that loathes Family Guy in general, then Dark Side isn't going to be the episode that changes your mind.


Video


Some of you might be disappointed to learn that Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is presented in a full frame 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and who can blame you? Why is it a shot-by-shot parody of The Empire Strikes Back gets the box treatment, while a train wreck like The Cleveland Show has somehow been deemed worthy enough for widescreen? It boggles the mind. That being said, this 1080p AVC encode is still undoubtedly the best Family Guy has ever looked, upconverted on FOX-HD or otherwise. Color saturation leaps off the screen like never before, all defining lines are bold and strong, and black levels are immaculate. Edge enhancement isn't a concern, and compression artifacts aren't generally a concern, although there is a very brief moment where they do appear. There's also some slight banding to speak of, but it's never noticeable enough to distract. The real question I suppose is simple: Is the video presentation on this Blu-ray worth the extra few bucks? Well, I had a friend come over with his DVD copy earlier in the week, and although the DVD looks very good, there's just no contest when comparing color saturation and contrast. So whether you're going to rent this or give it a blind buy, you won't be disappointed with the high-def presentation on this disc. The only downside I can think of, is that you're going to wish Family Guy looked this good over the air!


Audio


The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is actually pretty decent. Typical for a show like Family Guy, Dark Side is pretty front heavy, but still head and shoulders over any previous DVD release or broadcast. The most impressive aspect of the lossless track is easily John Williams' epic score. The only thing that's holding it back from sounding even better than the Star Wars DVD's themselves, is the fact that it's not as boisterous across all five channels as it should be. That being said, the front channels are very effective at creeping the score in the background while the story inches along, as well as impressively filling the entire room when the action picks up. There are a lot of minor sound effects that stay front and center within the sound stage, but key scenes such as the AT-AT battle on Hoth, as well as when the Millenium Falcon is trying to outmaneuver empire scum in the middle of an asteroid field, shows the track is willing to offer nearly pinpoint precision from front to back when the source allows it to. The bass certainly isn't as impressive as a Hollywood blockbuster Blu-ray would provide, but considering this is an episode of Family Guy we're talking about here, it's actually pretty satisfying. Most importantly of all, no matter what's going on with the score or sound effects, the dialogue is always distinguishable.

The only real complaint I have other than the noticeably front heavy design (which was to be expected), is the fact that the dialogue can sound a little too bright. Since Family Guy is prepped first and foremost for television, the sound design seemingly assumes the audience at home is going to listen at a 'normal' volume, so you probably won't notice the issue unless you're cranking the volume up as you would with a film. Despite this minor issue, the Dark Side Blu-ray still easily trumps its DVD counterpart in the A/V department once again, making the decision to pick the Blu-ray over the DVD that much easier.


Extras


Commentary with Executive Producers Seth McFarlane, Mark Hentemann, and David Goodman, Writer Kirker Butler, Actor Seth Green, and Director Dominic Polcino - This commentary is full of laughs and the guys constantly rib on each other, but it doesn't really go as in-depth with the whole 'transforming Family Guy into Star Wars' discussion as much as it should have. There's certainly some information here about the writing process that's worth hearing, as well as some discussion about combining 2D and CGI animation to bring the episode to life, but these guys are usually too busy busting on each other, or giggling over the gags in the episode to make this a truly informative experience. It's fun to listen to for a little while, but in the end, you should probably just skip the commentary.

Family Fact-Ups - This is a trivia track that continually pops up throughout the episode in its entirety. There's plenty of good information here about both Family Guy and Star Wars, which ultimately makes this a far more enjoyable experience than the provided commentary.

The Dark Side of Poster Art - This nearly 10 minute featurette sits down with Character Designer Mick Cassidy and Painter Joe Vaux, and they detail how they were able to transform the original Empire Strikes Back poster art into something more fitting for the Family Guy universe.

Animatic Scene-to-Scene with Commentary by Director Dominic Polcino - We get to see six 'final product' scenes side-by-side with their storyboard counterparts. Director Dominic Polcino provides a little more insight as to how the 2D and CGI mixing process went, and informs us that this is the last Family Guy episode to use conventional animation. It'll be interesting to see how fast Family Guy can put a spin on 'current' events in upcomming episodes...

Table Read of "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" Acts 1 and 2 - We get to see a bunch of people scrunched into a room to go over a rough read of the episode. It's entertaining to watch Seth Green squawk out Chris Griffin's unique voice, and it's also a joy to see Seth fluidly switching between numerous character voices... but only for about 10 minutes. As entertaining as this can be at times, the camera is stationary, which tends to make things a little boring. It's certainly not the first time Family Guy incorporated table reads in supplemental features, so why not do something a little more professional? Why no camera changes? Why no close up shots? Other than that, the only thing that really bothered me about the table read is the fact that everyone is laughing at everything that's in the script. To me, this only indicates that most of the minds behind Family Guy are sorely out of touch with what's funny, as well as the fanbase and their growing concern that the series will never return to its consistently hilarious roots. I'll tell you one thing though, watching these guys laugh at every little joke no matter how bad, certainly brings a lot of things into perspective...

Sneak Peek of "Family Guy - Episode VI: We Have a Bad Feeling About This" Table Read - I can't help but say it - "We Have a Bad Feeling About This" is definitely a fitting name, because whaddya know, I have a bad feeling about it too! Anywhoo, this is only a two and a half minute glimpse at the script for the Star Wars spoof to come, but what I saw didn't really make me laugh. Granted, it might end up being a lot funnier once I can see it with some animation, but I'm very skeptical about this Return of the Jedi parody after seeing Dark Side. Ah, I can see it now! "It's the return of the Jedi!" "Wait, I think you mean it's the revenge of the Jedi..."

A digital copy is also included.


Overall


The Empire Strikes Back might be superior to its predecessor, but I can't say the same for Something, Something, Something, Dark Side. Sure, there are plenty of clever gags that are sure to make everyone chuckle at least a few times, but lazy writing and lame joke repetition keep this one from gaining any real momentum. I mean, how does one acquire the rights to parody the Star Wars franchise shot for shot, and then use that rare opportunity to use the same stupid jokes that were never funny to begin with? If there's one thing that I learned from Dark Side, especially after watching the table read, it's that these guys need to gain a critical eye for their own work instead of patting themselves on the back every chance they get. I'm sure not everyone is going to share my opinion however, so let me get straight to the point. If you're a big Family Guy fan you're probably going to have a blast, but if you've grown weary of the lesser quality episodes we've been treated to as of late, then proceed with caution. Based on the quality of the episode alone, I can only recommend a rental for this one. If you've already decided you're going to pick this one up however, there's no question that the Blu-ray release is the way to go. The video quality is a pretty big step up from the already fine looking DVD, and the lossless audio track, although not perfect, is also an improvement.
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