"The future is now! Soon, every American home will integrate their television, phone, and computer. You'll be able to visit the Louvre on one channel, or watch female mud wrestling on another. You can do your shopping at home, or play Mortal Kombat with a friend in Vietnam. There's no end to the possibilities!"
The Cable Guy had it right: With one click of the remote, on the menu of this very Blu-Ray, users can hop through the BD-Live gateway over the kind of connection Chip Douglas (Jim Carrey) was theorizing about. The TV, almost impossibly more now than it was in 1996, is a hub for information, interaction, education, entertainment, and the line between it and its biggest attention-deficit competitor, the computer, becomes more and more blurred every day. Sure, as simplistic as it was, the internet as we know it today existed in 1996, so it wasn't exactly a Nostradamus-level prediction, but it was a smart bit of forward thinking...much like The Cable Guy's sense of humor.
Although Ben Stiller already had a feature film under his belt as a director (1994's Reality Bites), The Cable Guy feels closer to his short-lived 1990 sketch comedy TV program "The Ben Stiller Show". Not only do all of the cast members make cameo appearances (Stiller, Andy Dick and Janeane Garofalo make prominent appearances, but Bob Odenkirk also in gets a great line reading as one of Steven's relatives, and John O'Donohue has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it appearance as a prison guard), but an up-and-coming Judd Apatow, one of the head writers and executive producers on "TBSS", also served as producer (and uncredited writer). Apatow's influence is obvious; although the film lacks his loose, "everything that works" editing style, some of the film's funniest lines have the same distinct, improvised ring of his movies' best one-liners ("I was just blow-drying my hair, thought I heard the phone ring. That ever happen to you? Call me, and we'll talk about it," is both a masterwork of comic escalation, and a remarkable tweak in terms of how seriously the audience takes Chip's creepiness).
The studio promoted the fact that Carrey was taking his first $20 million paycheck for the film, but disaster loomed on the horizon. Audiences went in wanting another "fun" character, like butt-talker Ace Ventura or Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, but instead they got Chip, a lonely cable installer who smothers customer Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) with obsessive, stalker-like friendship. As Chip continually and obnoxiously inserts himself into Steven's personal life, audiences ended up sympathizing with Steven so thoroughly they missed the joke. When the film flopped, Carrey's payday became a punchline, but the irony is that the film probably failed more because he's so good in the role. Almost immediately, he finds the line between awkwardly funny and repulsively intrusive and practically dances on it, playing up each bit of Chip's selfish desperation with obvious relish. Later, as the film builds to a climax, he tops himself, simultaneously injecting Chip with a hint of genuine pathos that lands while simultaneously assisting Stiller's satirization of The Cable Guy's supposed message. It's one of Carrey's funniest performances, one which modern-day audiences accustomed to the uncomfortable comedy of "The Office" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will probably find Chip easier to digest.
Stiller's direction is not particularly showy, but he does a surprisingly good job of crafting a complete and consistent heightened reality. Subtle touches, like the production design of Steven's apartment, Steven's office, and the giant satellite dish (a real set!) use a similar color scheme and slightly dingy appearance that make them feel like parts of a whole. Stiller also meters Carrey's madness. While other directors would be fully tempted to let him riff to his heart's content (especially for $20 million), Stiller effectively prevents Chip from becoming a sketch character whose comic potential runs out in the first ten minutes.
Calling The Cable Guy a "timeless classic" might be a stretch, but it's remarkable how relevant and fresh it feels 15 years after it was made. In addition to the tone and technological insight, future stars Jack Black and Owen Wilson appear in supporting roles, while David Cross and Kyle Gass pop up on the fringes, and Apatow's future leading lady / wife Leslie Mann plays Robin, Steven's on-and-off girlfriend. A few deconstructive pop culture references (such as Chip singing his own "danger music") also feel ahead of their time. Were it not for references to Sleepless in Seattle, UPN, and Soundgarden, The Cable Guy could've been made yesterday. Opposites aligned perfectly: on one hand, a creative team of writers, producers, and actors, all driving to go dark enough to be a risk; on the other, the blind confidence of a studio that never really considered what the stakes were. It's luck that Stiller and Apatow managed to get the film all the way into theaters before anyone realized it was out of step with America's taste. Thankfully, tastes change. The future is now!
The Cable Guy arrives on Blu-Ray with slightly updated cover artwork. Not surprisingly, this new version trumpets the cast's future big names by including photos of Wilson and Black on the back cover, and a sticker on the front noting the new commentary with Judd Apatow. Inside the plastic-saving ECO-Vortex case, there's an insert for Sony and Sony 3D, as well as a montage of stills printed on the inside back cover. At least two of the stills aren't from the finished film.
The Video and Audio
Although The Cable Guy was initially released as a double-sided disc containing an anamorphic widescreen presentation on one side and a full-screen version on the other, most audiences have spent the time between the DVD and this Blu-Ray watching the latter version, thanks to a decision by Sony to strip almost all of their first-generation DVDs of one side on future pressings, and in most cases, unwisely choosing to drop the intended aspect ratio. I always thought the old widescreen transfer looked pretty good: the colors seemed strong and detail was high, especially for a title that started with an ad explaining what a DVD was. Still, this new 2.39:1, MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer is a step-up in both color and clarity, adding depth and more detail to the picture. It's definitely not perfect: there's an occasional harshness to the color and fine detail that suggests a dated master (not to mention the occasional pop and fleck), while on the compression/transfer front, some of the grain behaves oddly (look at the sky during the satellite dish scenes), contrast is a little steep (not enough range between "light gray" and "deep blacK"), and I spotted at least one shot with extreme banding (when Chip goes to Robin's, rings are plainly visible when she answers the door), but it's definitely an upgrade, especially if you've been stuck with the full-screen version all these years.
A 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is provided, which has more going on than I expected. It's more obvious than ever that Carrey is not performing "Somebody to Love" on-set, but the party scene features pretty great ambience, use of music, background levels compared to dialogue, etc. It also seems like the score is much more audible during the finale than before. The sound feels fuller and more rich compared to the 5.1 track on the DVD, benefitting noticeably (if not overwhelmingly) from the jump to high-definition. A French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is also included, as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and the disc includes English, French, Spanish, Chinese, Korean and Thai subtitles, and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing.
I love The Cable Guy, but never in my wildest dreams did I imagine such a fully-loaded special edition would ever materialize. Best case scenario: a commentary by Stiller and maybe some deleted scenes (a little less than Universal offered on the more-popular Bites). Instead, not only does the film's audio commentary have Stiller, but he brings along producer Judd Apatow and star Jim Carrey (the latter participating in his first commentary ever, and only his second supplement created explicitly for home video). It doesn't disappoint: the trio's laid-back, very funny discussion is loose and wide-ranging, covering the group's inexperience at the time of shooting and the film's lukewarm reception by America at large, Hollywood's interest in taking risks, the emotional investment one has in a film's box office success, and the film's laundry list of cameos. Carrey dominates the discussion, and his thoughts are almost always interesting or amusing (he repeatedly jokes about his commentary inexperience, asking "good info?" over and over), while Apatow makes for a good moderator whenever chatter subsides. A wonderful, extremely enjoyable chat that justifies the purchase price of the disc all by itself.
Video features are next, beginning with additional footage. A gag reel (6:31) starts awkwardly, but improves as it goes along. Nine deleted and alternate scenes (24:04) follow. There's a snippet from almost all of them in the film's trailer, so they're interesting from a historical standpoint, but most were probably deleted for a reason. The funniest is a scene where Chip manipulates Steven into making his nephew cry, while the most interesting is a disturbing and surreal alternate dream sequence, where Chip's head, made of television static, pops out of the screen and harasses Steven. I'm also amazed that I've never noticed Chip and Steven are covered in mud during the finale, but the last scene fills in some gaps and paints Chip as more genuinely dangerous.
Two TV specials are included: "HBO First Look" (24:14) and "Comedy Central's Canned Ham" (21:38). Although both are heavy on clips and focused on explaining the plot, they're also from a time when before these kinds of things were heavily studio controlled and devoid of personality. Instead, both of these are very candid and funny, with the first chock full of B-roll and on-set footage, and the second offering interesting interviews with Carrey, Broderick, and Mann, conducted by Apatow (Carrey's "junket" bit from the Canned Ham special is one of the funniest things on the disc).
A few odds and ends round out the package. In the First Look special, Stiller talks about videotaping a read-through with Carrey and Broderick, and that's exactly what "Rehearsal Footage" (17:15) is. Although the selections seem to be based around the movie's "big" sequences like the basketball game and the joust, the best one, by far, is Carrey's alternate (much more weepy) take on the post-karaoke breakfast scene. Dance rehearsals for a version of the karaoke scene set to an entirely different song are also amusing. A snippet of a camera test (1:14) for Carrey's "nightmare look" is also included, as is Leslie Mann's audition tape (3:01). A music video (4:35) for Jerry Cantrell's "Leave Me Alone" (which utilizes the same static-face idea as the alternate nightmare sequence) closes out the extras.
A "Blu-Ray is High Definition!" spot and a trailer for The Green Hornet play before the menu. The film's goofy, misleading original theatrical trailer is also included.
If there's anything missing from this set, I can't deny I would've appreciated a retrospective chat with other cast members, particularly Broderick, but I'm really not complaining.
For fans of The Cable Guy, this disc is a no-brainer, and for those who weren't into it in 1996, it's a great opportunity to give the movie a second chance. The presentation is a nice improvement (especially for anyone unable to track down the widescreen DVD), and the movie gets unexpectedly great treatment in the extras department, including a wealth of great archival features, and a hilarious, all-new commentary. Highly recommended.
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