It's really sad to see the Hollywood greats that provided so much entertainment in my youth, fizzle out by taking any leading role that comes along merely because it has a hefty payday attached to it. Take Adam Sandler for example - Personally, I feel his career as a whole has consisted of more misses than hits, yet the so-so films and even the blatant stinkers can easily be forgiven because of the memorable work he's done early in his career. Who could forget his work on Saturday Night Live, his comedy albums ("Hey Goat!"), Billy Madison, or if his arsenal of whiny-child voices isn't your thing, how about Happy Gilmore? For me, this was the film that showcased Sandler in his prime, and although I'm sure there are some of you out there that would argue that opinion, I can't imagine most people not being on the same page with me here. Sure, some of his other films have been decent, but none quite exhibited the same 'spark' Sandler had in Happy Gilmore. Not only that, but Happy Gilmore has defied the drastic nosedive in replay value comedies inherently possess. It's for this very reason that this has been one of my top go-to films for consistent laughs since the days of VHS. No matter how many times I've seen it over the years, I still look forward to screening it on what's seemingly an annual basis. Now, with Happy Gilmore finally making its Blu-ray debut, there's never been a better reason to watch this highly memorable, and quotable film.
Yes, I have a very high opinion of Happy Gilmore, but I'm not going to sit here and oversell it just because I have a strong bias towards it - This is not a perfect film by any means. For starters, the premise of the film is as basic as they come. Happy was raised since birth as a hockey fan, and it's virtually the only thing he cares about besides his sweet and loving grandma. Year after year he tries out for the local hockey league, but because he mistakes pain tolerance and powerful slap shots with talent and skill, year after year he's sent packing. Happy has more to worry about as of late than hockey though, as his grandma has been kicked out of her house by the government for failing to pay her taxes for over a decade. Forced to live in a nursing home, Happy desperately scrambles to come up with enough money to buy her house back before it's auctioned off, and finds the answer in a freak discovery - His slap shot skills translate well to the golf course. In fact, they translate well enough to let Happy go pro and have a fair shot at earning the money he needs to save his grandma's house. As an added bonus, he practically becomes a star overnight by being everything that most professional golfers are not - Crude, loud, foul-mouthed and short tempered. Did Happy just punch Bob Barker in the face on national television? Who cares?! Happy's antics have brought more ratings to the game than it's ever seen... but someone does care - Longtime pro, 'Shooter' McGavin. He feels that Happy is a disgrace to the game, and Shooter isn't about to watch some hot-headed newcomer steal his claim to fame.
Hockey player tries his swing at golf in order to make money and save the day - As I said, it's not the most clever story to be committed to celluloid, to say the least. The other problem with Happy Gilmore? I never felt a real connection between any of the characters, which seems like a wasted opportunity. Happy's background involves losing his father at an early age, as well as losing a girlfriend over his fruitless pursuit to play hockey. Those emotional morsels could have plucked on our heartstrings just enough to let us connect with Happy, but it just never happened. As the film progresses, Happy makes friends with golf expert Chubbs Peterson (Carl Weathers), and even attempts to romance golf's PR rep Virginia Venit (Julie Bowen)... even still, the characters on screen didn't really connect. Another wasted opportunity. I suppose in the grand scheme of things, dwelling on Happy's emotional past or the relationships he makes throughout the film would have spiraled the final product straight into a sand trap. After all, this is a comedy, and if you want a film in this genre to be a hole in one, pacing is the most important thing a filmmaker has to command. That being said, what seems like a textbook mistake in scriptwriting matters little to Happy Gilmore, because each member of the cast is just as memorable as the last. Carl Weathers is quite the comedic surprise as Chubbs, because I'm used to seeing him in serious roles kicking some serious ass (Predator, Rocky). Julie Bowen is kind and sweet, yet down to earth... and let's be honest, a fairly nice piece of eye candy. Probably the most noteworthy performance however, is Christopher McDonald as Shooter. He was somewhat over-the-top in a cartoon villain sort of way, but he never crosses the line where he becomes more of a joke than he's intended to be. And Sandler? As I said before, he's in his prime here. With a culmination of hysterical line delivery, physical comedy, and immaculate timing, I don't think I've seen him perform as well (in a comedy) since. I mean, all I have to do is mention Zohan in any social gathering, and I'm guaranteed to get a room full of groans. It's also worth noting Ben Stiller for his bit part as the nursing home orderly, as well as Frances Bay, the woman who played the sweetest grandma you may have ever seen on film.
Yes, Happy Gilmore handles its pacing (while sacrificing character development) quite well, and the cast is mostly unforgettable. However, the film's primary strength comes from the comedy that's both contained within in the script, and acted out by Adam Sandler. Most films in the chuckle genre rely on offering an endless supply of 'zing!' words and silly catch phrases to make the audience laugh. However, these kinds of jokes usually have a 'one and done' life expectancy, destroying any chance such a film has at obtaining any replay value. Adam Sandler and the people behind the scenes seemingly went into Happy Gilmore with this knowledge in mind, because the final product speaks for itself - Although there's still an indulgence of funny quotables throughout, most of the gags in this film rely on a combination of physical, situational comedy, as well as Sandler's immaculate ability to deliver any line with hilarity. In short, it's funnier to see characters react in a movie, as opposed to seeing a character create the situations they react to by acting silly. It's for this reason why I feel Happy Gilmore is a far superior effort to Sandler than Billy Madison.
Sure, the premise and character development are pretty poor, but Happy Gilmore still happens to hit all the right spots. For me, it's not only provided a bunch of laughs in the 90's, but the same jokes I've been watching for 15 years are still able to crack me up today. Are the jokes wearing out a little after such a long time? Yes, but for me to see a comedy three or four times, let alone losing count over how many times I've seen it, says a lot... and Happy Gilmore has withstood the test of time and I assume it will continue to do so. If you haven't seen it yet but you're familiar with other work from Adam Sandler, you should make it a point to sit down and watch this on Blu-ray, because for me, this is easily the best film in his filmography.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from Happy Gilmore's 1080p, VC-1 encoded transfer (1.85:1). Universal has a reputation for being one of the least reliable studios out there when it comes to providing pristine transfers that honorably represent the source. This is especially true when it comes to catalog titles, as they typically seem to get pushed out onto retail shelves without much time or attention paid to quality. Imagine my surprise when I discovered Happy Gilmore actually looks pretty good for its Blu-ray debut... for a film that's 15 years old anyway. There's a fairly natural grain structure intact throughout the entirety of the feature, so those worried about Universal applying excessive DNR need not worry. The film that was used for this transfer is in pretty good shape here as well, as there's only the occasional speck making an appearance. Detail and clarity are also better than expected, although there are some soft shots that pop up once in a while. I don't believe this to be a fault of the encode however, as it's likely a product of the photography. Color and contrast are simply fantastic, and when it comes to the negatives on this release, there aren't many to speak of, other than the film occasionally shows its age. There's no digital compression issues banding, although there is a little edge enhancement that's been applied, but this isn't a major distraction. All in all, this isn't a perfect release in terms of video quality, but I imagine this is as close as Happy Gilmore is going to get, and as an upgrade over the DVD, there's no contest. Happy Gilmore on Blu-ray is superior in every perceivable way.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track isn't as impressive as the video, but again, this is due to what the source has provided, and not a faulty encode. Happy Gilmore was never designed to be an immersive experience - It's typical of comedies from the 90's, or of the comedy genre in general for that matter, to focus primarily on the dialogue. After all, comedies are heavily dependent on actors delivering their jokes, so putting a lot of effort into creating a 'full' surround sound experience just didn't make sense. So, unsurprisingly, Happy Gilmore is front heavy throughout, but that's not to say that the rears or LFE are completely irrelevant. The directionality provided from the entire surround field is average (which is better than I expected, actually), and the rears do attempt to provide a little ambience... although it seems to hardly be worth the effort, considering the rear channels hardly pull you into the film. As expected though, the dialogue is crisp, clear, and there's no compression anomalies to be heard. Despite the complaints I have, this is the best the film has ever sounded, and I imagine, as good as it's ever going to sound.
This isn't exactly a bare-bones release, as there's some Deleted Scenes and Outtakes included here, but at this stage of the game, this seems like a primitive supplemental package even for a DVD. I'm grateful that this film got the A/V treatment it deserved, but this is sorely disappointing. Happy Gilmore is largely responsible for providing Sandler with stable footing as a movie star, so the only question I can't help but to ask is - Where's the commentary with Sandler? One would think he would have been more than willing to revisit such an important part of his career.
So although it's sad to look back on films such as Happy Gilmore, as they provide memories of the talent some of Hollywood's A-list actors used to possess, at least the home video market is providing us with ample opportunity to enjoy the hits of yesteryear again and again. Now, I'm sure I don't have to sell you on the film in question itself. You most likely already know if you love or it not. For my money, Happy Gilmore has been one of the most replay worthy comedies to ever grace my collection. The real question is - Did Universal do right by this staple in Adam Sandler's filmography? The answer is somewhat of a mixed bag with a 'yes, and no'. If your reason for upgrading is to get a vast upgrade in picture and sound, then there's no question about it - Happy Gilmore on Blu-ray is worth the money. If you were hoping Universal would stack this release with a plethora of special features, you'll be sorely disappointed. It's for this reason I can only give this release the average recommended rating. Fans of the film will love this release regardless of its lack of features however, and considering the immense replay value this film provides, it's definitely worth the purchase.