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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Your Highness (Blu-ray)
Your Highness (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // August 9, 2011 // Region Free
List Price: $39.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 30, 2011 | E-mail the Author
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I used to daydream about one day making a very serious, very sober courtroom drama...intense, gripping, masterfully directed, and all that. After an hour, in the middle of some weepy testimony, zombies would storm
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the courtroom, and the rest of the flick would be nothing but the undead feasting on those poor bastards for a half-hour straight. Fade to black. Roll credits. There's just something about ridiculous genre mashups that totally fascinates me, and that's part of the reason why I was really looking forward to Your Highness. It's a head-on collision of a fantasy epic -- complete with sweeping cinematography, lavish production design, and ambitious visual effects -- with a stoner comedy. I mean, in the middle of a very serious fantasy adventure and these towering production values is a cast with deliberately half-assed British accents smoking weed and cracking dick jokes, not even pretending to give a shit. That's kind of ingenious. Plus, I mean, with so many of the folks behind Eastbound and Down and the howlingly hysterical Pineapple Express on both sides of the camera, supporting turns by Zooey Deschanel and Natalie Portman that completely guarantee that I'll fork over my twenty bucks or whatever...Your Highness really can't miss, right? Well...umm...hmmm...

...but I'll bitch about all that later. This is the part of the review where I'm supposed to say something about the story anyway. So, every hundred years, the world is eclipsed by the meeting of two moons. If a warlock ravages a virgin under the...um, something of that eclipse, she'll give birth to a dragon who'll carry out the sorceror's every command. Yeah, so it's that every-hundred-years time right about now. Valiant hero-type Prince Fabious (James Franco) has just returned from a quest to rescue the fair maiden Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) from the clutches of evil warlock-du-jour Leezar (Justin Theroux). On the ride back from that tower where she's been locked up her entire life, Bella and Fab fell head-over-heels in love, and the two are to be wed. Awwww...a future king and his to-be queen! Cause for celebration, right? Well, before any rings can be swapped or anything, Leezar snatches his virgin of choice back. After all, this whole dragon-hatching scheme of his has been in the works for a couple of decades, and where else are you gonna find a certified virgin on that kind of short notice anyway? So, Fabious grabs some of his most trusted men and sets out on an
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epic quest to re-rescue his lady fair and rid the kingdom of Leezar's mystical tyranny once and for all. Oh, yeah, and Fabious could never consider embarking on such an adventure without his brother fighting right alongside him. 'Sjust that his brother Thadeous (Danny McBride) is a booze-swilling, pot-puffing chronic masturbator. Gallant hero on one side and an overentitled man-child on the other. The Sword and the Stoned? Is it okay if I steal that joke? Anyway, many dangers lay in wait...stinging betrayals, mythical beasts, tittified gladiatorial games, plus that whole invincible warlock deal and the clock ticking down to The Fuckening...

The story goes that Your Highness churned through a bunch of different drafts during pre-production, but once the actors actually showed up on the set in Dublin, all of that was chucked out the driver's side window. The skeleton of the plot was left intact, but pretty much all of the dialogue you hear was adlibbed...and you can totally tell too. I love the idea of Your Highness, and I'm even all over the concept of having a couple actors not give less of a shit that they're in the middle of a big-budget fantasy epic. It's just that there's hardly a single laugh in this thing. The improvised "comedy" -- and what a sick burn putting 'comedy' in sarcastic fingerquotes is! -- doesn't aim any higher than "oh, that guy from the old timey fantasy land just said 'fuck'!" or "it looks like the 1200s or whatever but that dude's air-humping that other guy!" I mean, saying "penis" isn't a joke. Maybe it could be part of a joke, but Your Highness just stops right there, hoping you'll hear someone say "butthole" and start cracking up. Director David Gordon Green says
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in one of the extras on this Blu-ray disc that he wanted to make a movie that he would've dug when he was eleven and watching trashy sword-and-sorcery movies on late-nite cable. If I were eleven and watching this, I'd probably have loved the hell out of it too. "The fat man just said the F-word! The minotaur's penis is hanging out! The squid puppet wants them to touch his penis! Ooh, look! Boobies!" I just...kinda expect a little more out of my comedies now. I don't mean that in some kind of stiffy, stodgy way. Remember, I'm the guy who wrote however many hundreds of words raving about how amazing Sex Drive and Macgruber are. It's just that those movies are funny, and Your Highness doesn't feel like it's even trying to be a comedy. It's dumb by design but never really figures out how to translate that into a laugh.

That gaping black hole of comedy is a drag because there's so much about Your Highness that's pulled off brilliantly. I mean, the movie looks incredible...the cinematography, production design, CG, and practical creature effects are first-rate straight across the board. It takes a while for Natalie Portman to show up as Isabel, but she's easily the best thing about the flick, and I'm not just saying that as a lonely, nerdy movie reviewer. Yeah, yeah, she's gorgeous and everything, but the brilliance of Portman's performance here is that it's played completely straight. Not only is she a shit-kicking bad-ass, but Portman proves herself completely credible as a fighter. Your Highness doesn't play it for laughs that she's five-foot-nothing and weighs a hundred-nothing...Isabel is introduced beating the holy fuck out of everyone and everything in sight, so her fighting prowess is never in question. Very inspired and very effective casting right there. Your Highness also makes it a point to cast respected British actors in pretty much all of the supporting parts wherever possible rather than familiar comedian types. Again, it's that collision of the serious and the
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ridiculous. Zooey Deschanel's barely in the thing, but she scores a couple laughs playing around with the idea that Belladonna has been holed up in a castle alone for so long that she doesn't exactly have any social graces. The action sequences are also elaborately staged and a hell of a lot of fun to watch. Your Highness at least tries to add some depth to the relationships between some of these characters, especially between brothers Fabious and Thadeous. So, yeah, if it weren't supposed to be a comedy, Your Highness would be amazing!

A big part of the driving concept of Your Highness is "ha ha, we're not even trying", and...ack, it just doesn't work. There's enough skilled craftsmanship elsewhere and more than a little inspired casting to keep the movie completely watchable, but it's pretty much never funny, and that's kinda critical for something passing itself off as a comedy. There's just nothing really here but "fuck" and "penis" every other line against a backdrop of gorgeous cinematography and lavish visual effects. A movie this spectacularly lazy and laughless...? Skip It.

Oh! That's right. This Blu-ray disc serves up two versions of Your Highness: the theatrical R-rated cut and a shiny new unrated version. I didn't pick up on all of the differences between 'em, but here are a few: Marteetee's head bursts out of the ground after his lifeless body plummets in a cauldron of magic mustard, there's an extra impaling, and some of the dialogue is a little more graphic, like a riff about fingerbanging bridesmaids and a line about brotherly fist-fucking. Even in an R-rated movie, I guess the MPAA frowns on the idea of a dude's fist being rammed up some other guy's ass. There's around a three minute difference in runtime between the two versions, although the use of alternate lines suggests that the total differences amount to more than that. I don't think there's anything dramatically, earth-shatteringly different between 'em, though.


Video
Your Highness is kind of a knockout
This scene captures every last one of my fish stick/Zooey Deschanel/bondage fantasies.

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in high-def. Pretty much every dollar in the budget is up there on the screen, and it really shows. The cinematography is glossy and polished, the visual effects -- CG and practical alike -- are first-rate, and the production design is ridiculously impressive. Every bit of that is reproduced flawlessly on Blu-ray...razor-sharp, strikingly colorful (especially those lush, vibrant greens), and just overflowing with fine detail. Since Your Highness is nicked straight from the digital intermediate, there's no generation loss and not even a little bit of speckling or wear. No ringing around edges, no hiccups in the compression, no heavy-handed noise reduction...I mean, as much as I guess I like bitching about Your Highness, I really can't think of anything critical to say about the way it looks in HD. What a pretty, pretty movie.

Your Highness takes advantage of pretty much every last byte on this dual-layer disc, using seamless branching to pile on the R-rated and unrated versions of the flick rather than full, separate AVC encodes. As you could maybe tell from the screenshots scattered all over this review, Your Highness is presented on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.


Audio
The same as, well...pretty much everything trotting straight out of theaters anymore, Your Highness is lugging around a 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. The movie generally sounds pretty slick. Dialogue is consistently rendered cleanly and clearly. Steve Jablonsky's big, theatrical, orchestral score roars from every speaker. Bass response can pack a wallop, from the thunderous clatter of hooves in chase to an oversized snakey hand crashing to the ground. The surrounds aren't as aggressive as I'd expect for an action/adventure/fantasy kinda-sorta-epic, but they get a mild workout: Fabious' mechanical bird sidekick whirling around, zappy
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wizardly blasts of magic, reverb in some of the more cavernous chambers, a camp coming crashing down, and even a little directionality to the voices when our intrepid, whatever-ly heroes are lost in a sprawling stone labyrinth. Sometimes dialogue can get a little overwhelmed in the mix during some of the more manic sequences, but...I mean, with as shitty as the dialogue usually is anyway, I didn't really feel like I was missing anything important, especially since that sort of thing doesn't happen all that much. Um, pretty good, overall.

There are also lossy DTS 5.1 dubs in Spanish and French. Optional subtitle streams are served up in English (SDH), Spanish, and French. Oh! And Your Highness supports D-Box rigs. I didn't know that was still a thing, but apparently it is.


Extras
The long list of stuff that's on the DVD too:
  • Damn You Gods: The Making of Your Highness (30 min.; HD): Most of the chatter in this half-hour making-of featurette swirls around lining up the cast and what they brought to the flick. There's also some discussion about how long in the making Your Highness was (I figured it was a lark to cash in on Pineapple Express, and I was wrong), using practical effects wherever possible, how ridiculously ambitious the $120 million first draft of the screenplay was, and the allure of setting up shop in Belfast. It's a decent making-of, although it seems like there's a lot more they could've talked about here than just cast, cast, cast, cast, cast, cast, cast.

  • Deleted Scenes (8 min.; HD): This reel of deleted scenes lobs out
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    six different clips in high-def, including a setup for the dick necklace, a kinda great musical number with Zooey Deschanel and James Franco, and a payoff for the whole dragon birth thing. For whatever my vote's worth, several of these scenes really should've made it into the extended, unrated cut.

  • Alternate Scenes (2 min.; HD): There's a slightly different version of Fabious and Courtney having a heart-to-heart about brotherly love along with an alternate take on some wedded bliss or whatever.

  • Gag Reel (5 min.; HD): Did you know...? Natalie Portman can't say "beaver" without cracking up. Ditto for Zooey Deschanel who laughs her way through an onslaught of "cocksucking"s and "fuck a butt"s. If you weren't tuned into that before, I guess you are now.

  • Audio Commentary: Apparently there's supposed to be a video introduction for this commentary, but that didn't pop up on my PS3. Maybe I did something wrong. Don't know. Don't really care. Anyway, this commentary track features director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, James Franco, and Justin Theroux. It's chatty but kinda relaxed, and I kind of like that. They're not mugging for laughs or forcing any artificially manic energy into this thing. The four of 'em run through some of the movies that inspired Your Highness: everything from Excalibur to Willow to The Dark Crystal to...um, The Goonies. Again, there's a lot of emphasis on the minotaur rape, which seems to be everyone's favorite thing, ever. They run through casting serious, respected actors in so many of these roles, emphasizing the brotherly relationship that wasn't really there in early drafts, and how this whole thing started as a joke. There are also shocking revelations like digital testicle removal and that Belladonna wasn't named after a porn starlet. My favorite stuff was hearing about what was chucked out of other versions of the screenplay, such as an Eyes Wide Shut-flavored orgy, Fabious returning home with his arms ripped off and leaving Thadeous to go on the quest solo, and even a hula hoop of doom. On the other end of the spectrum, James Franco comes off as kind of pretentious and having bought into his own hype, and that siphons off some of the fun. Not an essential listen but definitely okay.
...and then there's the Blu-ray exclusive stuff:
  • Extended Scenes (15 min.; HD): These four extended scenes kinda drag on endlessly, so it's not all that hard to see why they were trimmed down for the final cut. There's way more banter
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    between Leezar and Bella about her betrothed being a man-whore, more of Thad awkwardly trying to mack on Isabel, a whole lot more minotaur rape, and lots of chatter about the logistics behind prophecies and fair-maiden-snatching. If you're like me and had a sad, frowny face that Your Highness was so light on Zooey, everyone's favorite manic pixie dreamgirl gets a good bit more screentime here.

  • Line-O-Rama (4 min.; HD): Lotsa variations on ways to talk about clits, cocks, titties, buttfuckin', and masturbation.

  • Perverted Visions (2 min.; HD): Outtakes from the scene with the aging, pedophiliatastic, squidly wizard...Danny McBride and James Franco cracking up while they try to make out with a puppet along with oodles of different ways to say "ram your tongue up his ass".

  • A Vision of Leezar (3 min.; HD): More outtakes, this time of a Suspiria-lit Leezar cackling and mock-orgasming.
Tucked inside the case is a digital copy download code for iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices.


The Final Word
Your Highness might've been a pretty good SNL sketch or whatever...dropping a foul-mouthed fuck-up into the middle of a glossy, big-budget fantasy epic and seeing what happens. Dragged out to feature-length, though...? Fucking yikes. I get what Your Highness is trying to do, and on paper, I think it's kind of incredible. It's just that the writing is really, really lazy, and the improvs that were dreamed up on the set are terrible straight across the board. I'm totally for dumb comedies, but...c'mon, just saying "penis" or "butthole" doesn't pass as a joke. Good concept. All the right talent on both sides of the camera. Total misfire. Skip It.
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