Note: Although this is a review of the region free UK Blu-Ray, Universal's domestic release, which hit stores on August 9th, 2011, is the exact same disc in regards to content. The film portion of this review is also a revision of my theatrical review of Paul, updated to reflect how I felt after multiple viewings.
If Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz fired at their satirical targets with laser-guided precision, Paul is more like a handful of lovingly referential buckshot blasted across a whole shooting range. Written by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost without the aid of usual cohort Edgar Wright, it's a peak-and-valley affair with several jokes (perhaps a surprising amount) missing their targets entirely, but on the whole, as long as fans understand the project lacks some of the honing their other works received, there's more than enough here to recommend the film as a bucket of spare comic parts held together with the same half-love/half-luck integrity of the Millennium Falcon.
The film follows Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost), two geeky lifetime friends finally embarking on a years-in-the-making journey across America that starts at the San Diego Comic Con and is meant to conclude in Roswell, New Mexico. Before they get there, they witness a car crash, out of which crawls a rather congenial alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen). After some shock and awe at the appearance of a real, live spaceman, Paul explains to the guys that he needs help getting across the country in the hopes of catching a ride back to his planet. As Paul's existence serves as proof that Graeme and Clive have been right about aliens all along, it doesn't take much convincing to get them to help.
Although many of the movie's jokes are based around the duo's fish-out-of-water Britishness in the middle of the American midwest, it's very apparent throughout that Paul has been written with the American audience firmly in mind. Unfortunately, that broader sensibility means "anal probe" jokes, a hint of slapstick, a mild fascination with profanity, and characters repeatedly questioning whether Graeme and Clive are a gay couple. The duo also heap on the references like there's no tomorrow: nods to Close Encounters, E.T., and a bucketful of Star Wars dialogue are tossed in throughout, but few of them pack the as much subtlety or surprise as the ones they've devised in their collaborations with Wright (although a hat-tip to Aliens is perfectly timed). It's as if Paul was in front of cameras on the first draft thanks to Pegg and Frost's reputation.
Still, a Pegg/Frost "first draft" probably still packs more wit than some people's fifth. Although the guys are probably a bit too old for the roles they've written (the characters read more like 30-somethings than 40-somethings), they're more than able to make Graeme and Clive a likable set of hosts. Even better, they've surrounded themselves with a supporting cast that's comedically foolproof, some of whom may contribute more to Paul's success as a film than the dynamic duo, if only because Graeme and Clive aren't that different from the pair's "usual" roles. Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio play a pair of bottom-rung FBI agents, and it's impressive how both actors are both funny and convincing as their characters turn from slapstick to ridiculously bloodthirsty in their desperate attempts to capture Paul before their supervisor, the cold-blooded Agent Zoil (Jason Bateman). Kristen Wiig and Blythe Danner contribute the funniest female character and most emotional heft, respectively, that a Pegg/Frost collaboration has seen to date. Most importantly, Rogen nails the role of Paul. On the surface, Rogen is almost too easy a pick for a pot-smoking interstellar party guy, but he finds the right sort of affable attitude that holds the whole movie together. Paired with the visual effects, he's a character worth building a film around, and an integral piece of the film's charm.
As director, Mottola brings a similar "anything goes" attitude as Paul to the table, feeling free to lounge around to whatever joke or setting the script dictates without too much fuss or setup. Sometimes it works (the explosion of a farmhouse seems startlingly large scale) and sometimes it doesn't (the movie often feels like it plays its cards too early, telegraphing jokes and plot developments). Still, Paul is a fun ride: the movie may be firmly caught within the grasp of Earth's gravitational pull, but it's still a funny, entertaining trip from one side of the country to the other.
The Unrated Cut
The Unrated Cut of Paul runs about five minutes longer. Extensions include more of Graeme and Clive talking to Adam Shadowchild, an added bit in the hotel that turns a throwaway joke from the theatrical cut into a running joke, the pair waiting for their RV at the valet service with a hilarious one-liner from Bobby Lee, more action for Kristen Wiig in the bar scene, and a longer speech from Tara, plus other new lines here and there. There's also one substitution (the conversation between Haggard and O'Reilly after Clive asks "May I ask what you're searching for?"). All in all, I feel like the two cuts are essentially equal: if you've seen the movie and you're a fan, I'd watch the Unrated just to see the additions, but if you're a newcomer, watch the TC first and the Unrated later.
The particular edition of the Blu-Ray I picked up is an Amazon Exclusive Steelbook "Triple Play." The front of the Steelbook is graced with Paul's amused mug, with the title highlighted on the all-gray background with glossy finish for the lettering and matte finish for the rest. The back has one of the UK posters, of Pegg and Frost staring at Paul through the front of their Winnebago, and the interior has a cap from the pair's adventures at Comic-Con. A flyer includes the code to download the digital copy, and the two discs -- one, the region-free Blu-Ray; and two, the Region 2 DVD/digital copy disc -- sit comfortably in an overlapping tray. Sadly, this edition is already out of print, but a standard "Triple Play" is also available, or, if you really want the steelbook, there are plenty on eBay and Amazon.co.uk for around $10 or $15 more than it was initially going for. And again, Universal dropped their domestic Combo Pack on August 9th, and the actual content on the disc is identical to this release.
The Video and Audio
Paul is granted a 2.35:1 MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer that is accurate, and as a result, maybe somewhat less eye-popping than viewers may be expecting. Mottola's film features a light, handsome sheen of film grain and a warm color palette that limits the amount of depth the image is capable of. However, fine detail is consistently and absolutely exceptional at all times -- the interior of Graeme and Clive's RV is a wealth of varied and perfectly-defined textures -- an excellent reminder that this is indeed a brand-new high-def transfer.
Like the picture, the sound is pretty low-key until the third act, centered mainly around dialogue. Until then, DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is mostly used on David Arnold's charming orchestral score, which is nicely spread across the soundfield. When the film starts ramping up, the track has no problem with the larger bangs and booms of explosions, helicopters, gunshots and more. Again, not exactly demo material if you've just bought a fancy new system -- Paul is trying to play it mostly small-scale -- but there's no faulting the mix for accurately reproducing the filmmakers' mostly reserved intentions. An English Audio Descriptive 2.0 track and English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
Although it's the second thing on the extras menu, the likely first stop is the overall documentary "Between the Lightning Strikes: The Making of Paul" (40:05), which has a shaggy-dog feel in keeping with the feature. Not to sound like I'm criticizing the movie more than I am -- it really is an enjoyable and funny movie -- but it is interesting to see how the movie's few flaws (the broader, less-focused style and the built-on qualities of the film) stem from the movie's zig-zagging journey from idea to screen. Right after that, a series of eight behind-the-scenes featurettes (total running time 1:02:49) flesh out individual aspects of the production, including the movie's excellent ensemble cast, Mottola's style as a director, the filming of the gigantic farmhouse explosion, and other behind-the-scenes goofiness. Honestly, if you only have time to watch one of these two, as DVD critics always like to say, then I'd go with the featurettes over the documentary, which are funnier and feature more of the cast's behind-the-scenes antics, conveying a better sense of what it was actually like working on the film.
One featurette, "The Evolution of Paul" (15:06), is set apart from the others as a post-production document about the CG creation of the film's title character. It's a fascinating look at how much research and development went into making Paul seem like any other actor in the movie, including a years-old effects test that has Pegg and Frost in far more extreme costumes and makeup. With so many films these days hitting theaters with weak or underwhelming CG, it's pleasing to see how much work went into making Paul a convincing creature. Two just-for-fun montages, "Simon's Silly Faces" (1:20) and "Who the Hell is Adam Shadowchild?" (2:09), a reel of bloopers (10:52), and three galleries round out the video features.
Lastly, the theatrical cut features an audio commentary by Greg Mottola, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Bill Hader, and producer Nira Park. It may not be an all-time classic, but as is to be expected with this group of commentators, it is a funny, light overview of the film, without significant repetition or carry-over from the documentary and featurettes. The group chats about the development of specific scenes and gags, unused jokes (I like the line they dropped from the bar sequence), collectively eggs on Nira to make more comments, and take turns doing several silly voices.
No automatic trailers appear to be encoded on the disc, although most of the Universal Blu-Rays I have will load a trailer over a BD-Live connection if one is available. However, an entire gallery of Paul's original theatrical trailers (7:30) and television spots from the US (2:25) and UK (1:59) are included.
The only odd thing about the package is that it doesn't contain any deleted, alternate, or extended scenes. Most of "the good stuff" probably made it into the Unrated cut, but the one glaring omission is an alternate ending that appears frequently in the video extras, where Graeme and Clive sign copies of their book at Comic Con. It's also too bad the viewer is not given a chance to actually watch the effects test excerpted in the CG featurette, which had Hader voicing Paul (the clips shown there are presented with the sound muted).
Paul is an enjoyable film with the same attitude as its title character: just go with the flow, relax, and have a good time. It may not be as sharp as Shaun or Fuzz, but it makes up for it by being cinematic comfort food, the kind of movie you could throw on at a moment's notice. Armed with a faithful A/V presentation and some entertaining extras, it's highly recommended on Blu-Ray, whether you import this Steelbook, or wait for the American release on August 9th.
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