"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!"
In many ways, The Cable Guy was right. With one click of the remote, on the menu of this Blu-Ray, users can hop through the BD-Live gateway over the very 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 lines between it and its only major attention-deficit competitor, the computer, become more and more blurred every day. If the various comic minds behind The Cable Guy thought the world was overly obsessed with the boob tube then, things have only gotten worse, but, then again, even the movie's "message" is delivered with its tongue in cheek.
Although Ben Stiller already had one feature film under his belt at the time he tackled The Cable Guy (1994's Reality Bites), the film (fittingly) takes more cues from his short-lived 1990 sketch comedy TV program "The Ben Stiller Show" than anything. Not only do all of the cast members make cameo appearances (Stiller, Andy Dick and Janeane Garofalo are the most obvious, but Bob Odenkirk gets one good line in 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 serves as producer (and uncredited writer) on Cable Guy. The influence is obvious. Although the film lacks Apatow's loose, "everything that works" editing style, some of the film's funniest lines have the same distinct, improvised ring of Apatow's best one-liners. The line "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 hilarious bit of escalation, and a fine-tuned give-and-take in terms of how seriously the audience takes Chip's creepiness.
Not that it mattered. Sony notoriously trumpeted the fact that Carrey, at the height of his meteoric rise, was taking his first $20 million paycheck to play Chip, but anyone who bothered to wipe the dollar signs from their eyes and looked at the character, a lonely cable installer who smothers customer Steven Kovacs (Matthew Broderick) with obsessive, stalker-like friendship, might've seen disaster on the horizon. Carrey is great: he locates the fine line between awkwardly funny and repulsively intrusive and practically dances on it, even injecting the character with a bit of genuinely tragic pathos, but the audience, still used to butt-talking Ace Ventura or Lloyd from Dumb and Dumber, felt like it was a twist too far. As Chip continually and obnoxiously inserts himself into Steven's personal life, they had no choice but to become Steven, sympathizing to the point where the comedy dies on screen. It's not hard to imagine that modern-day audiences, accustomed to "The Office" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm", will find Chip easier to digest.
Stiller's direction is not particularly showy, but there are impressive things going on if one knows where to look. Most importantly, he shows a remarkable eye for tone, pitching the whole film with a slightly off-kilter sensibility. Subtle touches, like the production design of Steven's apartment, Steven's office, and the giant satellite dish (a real set!) all contain similar shades of color, creating a heightened, uniform reality. He also meters Carrey's madness; while other directors would be fully tempted to let the actor 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.
To say that The Cable Guy is a "timeless classic" would be overstating the film's qualities, but it's remarkable how relevant it is, both topically and comedically. In terms of casting, future stars Jack Black and Owen Wilson both have notable chunks of screen time, while David Cross and Kyle Gass pop up on the fringes. Apatow's future wife Leslie Mann plays Robin, Steven's on-and-off girlfriend. Tonally, the film's grab at awkward comedy and numerous references to pop culture (such as Chip singing his own "danger music") feel ahead of their time. Were it not for mentions of Sleepless in Seattle, UPN, and Soundgarden, The Cable Guy could've been made yesterday. In retrospect, it's the perfect double-edged sword: dark enough to be a risk, but made on a leap of faith by a group of comedians who never considered there were stakes. Of all the film's qualities, that energetic spirit of comic anarchy is still potent today. 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 double-sided first-generation DVDs of one side on future pressings, and, in most cases, unwisely choosing to drop the intended aspect ratio. Although I was never inspecting it as a review title, 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 2.35:1, 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: on the print side, some shots look a bit soft, and there's 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), blacks turn inky quickly (not enough range between "light gray" and "deep blacK"), and I spotted at least one shot with extreme posterization (when Chip goes to Robin's, it's plainly visible when she answers the door), but there's a nice, filmlike sheen of grain and 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.
As you may have noticed, I love The Cable Guy, but even my wildest dreams, I envisioned a commentary by Stiller and deleted scenes would be about the best that Sony would ever muster for this title (a little less than Universal offered on the more-popular Reality 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 -- hell, practically his first participation in any extra feature created just for home video). Color me impressed. The trio's laid-back, very funny discussion focuses mainly on the group's inexperience at the time of shooting and the film's lukewarm reception by America at large, but also finds time for fringe topics such as 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. Not surprisingly, Carrey dominates the discussion, but his thoughts are almost always interesting or amusing (or mocking -- he repeatedly asks "good info?" from time to time), and 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 out lacking in context, 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 they were probably deleted for a reason. The funniest is a scene where Chip manipulates Steven into making his nephew cry, while an alternate version of the dream sequence where a giant, 3D face of Chip, made of television static, harasses Steven, is disturbingly surreal. I'm also amazed I never noticed Chip and Steven are covered in mud during the finale, but the last scene, an alternate ending, 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 former chock full of B-roll and on-set footage, and the latter some 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, hey, I'm really not complaining.
For fans of The Cable Guy, and for those who may have misjudged the intent back in 1996, this disc is a no-brainer. The film may not be an HD demo disc in either the video or audio departments, but it looks and sounds noticeably better than the DVD, and the movie finally gets the lavish treatment in the extras department with some excellent archival features, and a funny, insightful commentary. Highly recommended.
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