It was Charles Caleb Colton who said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery", and while this isn't a dogma that British filmmakers Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg precisely sought to follow when they started banging out their Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy (also known as the Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy), it has become a booming and prevalent force as their work has blossomed over this ten-year span. Dubbed a "trilogy" on a lark during a press junket for the second film in the loose-connected series, each installment embraces a specific genre -- horror, crime-drama, science-fiction -- and loosely spoofs its tropes while following a concurrent plot about, in essence, different stages of growing up and getting older. A special brand of movie-making magic emerges underneath Wright's meticulous direction of the Cornetto Trilogy: within each, he crafts the rare kind of parody that demands to be taken seriously as its own piece of work, where impeccable timing from the actors and a reverent, playful perspective on cinema weaves together into three of the best comedies from the past decade.
Shaun of the Dead:
Building off their mutual appreciation for Romero's zombie films and the germ of an idea from one of their episodes of Spaced, Wright and Pegg wrote Shaun of the Dead on the simple desire to produce a zombie comedy that pays homage to their inspirations -- not really to craft a parody. Unlikely heroes and familiar tactics against human flesh-eaters surface around the story of Shaun (Pegg), a directionless guy stuck in an unrewarding retail job and a waning relationship, who eventually discovers that zombies have overtaken his small English town. Together with his unemployed, oafish roommate, Ed (Nick Frost), the pair clumsily learn the ropes of killing the undead -- with a little help from the telly -- while hatching a plan to reach a safety point with Shaun's family and friends. Already shouldering some extra responsibility from trying to repair his relationship and deal with his roommate's lethargy, Shaun's far from the ideal leader, but they're going to have to make do while the world's crumbling around them.
Shaun of the Dead might not be the most openly riotous or tightly-scripted of the Cornetto trilogy -- don't think too hard about the zombies' extreme sluggishness and how it affords extra humor -- but its gleeful fusion of horror-violence, situational gags, and visual flair culminate into smashingly charismatic entertainment. Quick, clever edits pump mirthful energy into its bloodshed and mad scrambles from place to place, revealing the early nuggets of the director's exceedingly creative (and painstaking) eye for craftsmanship and impressive usage of budget. Wright and Pegg's script liberally skewers the genre's commonalities while creating this magnetic setting, blending a sound grasp of authentic emotional connection with the film's zany send-ups of striking zombies in the head and plotting an idealistic escape. All the while, though, Shaun of the Dead sneakily envelops the romantic and friendship angles in effectual end-of-the-world musings, leading into an ending where farts, cigarettes, and video-games mix with zombie bites for an ending about the strength of the human bond.
Along with Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead was one of the stragglers during the initial high-definition format war, eventually seeing a Blu-ray release in 2009 after lingering as one of Universal's better offerings on the HD-DVD format. The transferred quality, while a ways away from perfect, still does a splendid job of conveying the film's robust visual aesthetic, sporting splashes of warm reds and revealing crisp details through an intermittently heavy veil of grain that encapsulates the 2.35:1-framed theatrical experience. Sounds like cricket clubs to the head, the spatter of blood, and the shattering of records adorn the 5.1 Master Audio track, while Wright's precise, eerie musical selections successfully contend for attention against the sound effects and well-pitched dialogue. Also lumbering along is a hefty, extensive collection of supplements that'll undoubtedly satisfy fans of the film, including a foursome of commentaries, video diaries from the cast members, visual effects comparisons, and deleted scenes and outtakes.
Check out DVDTalk's full review of the Blu-ray here.
Shaun of the Dead established a tone and rhythm for Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's brand of humor to take shape, but Hot Fuzz showcases what they're really able to do with it. This time, they take on raucous buddy-cop action cinema as the film follows an almost obsessively-dedicated police officer, Nicholas Angel (Pegg), during his reassignment to a rustic, violence-free town away from the busy streets of London, simple because his performance level makes the other officers look bad. Disgruntled and a stickler for the rules, he stiffly integrates into the lax environment of a regular "Village of the Year" contender, while dealing with the lackadaisical police work from his colleagues, namely the division chief's affable son and his new partner, Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). When a few deaths start to amass in the town of Sandford, however, "accidents" that Angel's trained eye sees to possibly be connected, he's got to work against the grain with the citizens' eerie unwillingness to take the matter seriously.
Angle Angel's inability to loosen up -- and the town's insistence that he pull the stick from his behind -- provides a clever backbone to the mystery that's to be solved in Hot Fuzz, where a tack-sharp script hits brilliant comedic beats while sending up gung-ho '90s action films and crime procedurals. Wright's brisk, precise visual tempo couples well with the demands of a police investigation as the action escalates, especially once foot chases and gunfire become involves, while the camaraderie angle built between Nicholas and Danny is brilliantly elevated by the natural chemistry between Pegg and Frost. More than that, though, Hot Fuzz more appropriately exploits the comedic opportunities that the story presents than Shaun of the Dead does, while smartly saying little things about people's tunnel-vision focus on perfection, professional lives, and "the greater good". Once the film reaches its riotous final act, full of gravitas, bullets and explosions galore, both Hot Fuzz's action-film inclinations and its sense of humor cement Edgar Wright's band of jesters as some of the best comedic talents currently on the big screen.
Considering its bigger budget, more explosive intentions, and Wright's refinement as a visual storyteller, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Hot Fuzz looks and sounds quite a bit better on Blu-ray than its predecessor. The stone roads and walkways underneath the low amount of sunlight blanketing the town provide ample opportunities for sharp details and reactive skin tones, while low-lit scenes in Angel's temporary hotel and in the local pub express incredible awareness of deep contrast and detail preservation. Gunfire, police sirens, and, yeah, one or two Bay-worthy effects test the limits of the Master Audio track, while faultlessly cradling the dialogue and atmospheric touches that accentuate Wright's kinetic sonic experience. The Blu-ray presentation -- labeled "ultimate" on the standalone release -- also brings the exhaustive special features previously available along for the ride, including five (!) commentaries, a wide and comprehensive spread of featurettes, deleted material, and other goodies.
Check out DVDTalk's full review of the Blu-ray here.
The World's End:
It's more difficult to pinpoint a specific genre parodied by The World's End than the rest of the Cornetto Trilogy, blending a medieval brotherhood quest with elements of eerie science-fiction ... and a dash of Withnail and I for good measure. This time, however, Simon Pegg fills the role of the self-destructive, immature character in the story: Gary King, a dead-end alcoholic driven by hubris who never left his idealistic high-school mentality. Only now, he's in his forties and wants to get his old pals together -- all four of them successful businessmen of varying degrees -- for another try at The Golden Mile, a pub crawl they attempted as schoolmates. Reluctantly, they return to their hometown after some coercion from Gary, only to discover that things seem a little, well, off as they walk through revamped versions of their old bars and catch glimpses at faces from their past. Is that the effect of age and nostalgia, or has something been forcibly changing the town of Newton Haven while they've been away?
A nostalgia-driven pub crawl designed to relive Gary's glory days abruptly turns into an exciting, enigmatic sci-fi mystery similar to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, as The World's End cleverly brews up spoofs in the process about franchise businesses, lost loves, and the scars and unforgotten memories from one's younger years. The bread and butter of the film rests in the synergy between the five guys -- Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Paddy Considine, Eddie Marsan, and Martin Freeman share a tremendously comical and bittersweet rapport -- as they trade stories and direct their attention to Gary's manipulative reasoning for their reunion. This becomes crucial once they've discovered the eerie, blue-blooded truth behind those "blank" versions of the people they once knew, emphasizing an emotional underbelly as tensions (and alcohol levels) rise towards their journey to the final pub. Surprisingly, Wright's scrupulous composition and flair for the outlandish guide The World's End towards a unruly conclusion that reflects on the chaos of humanity itself, a wild but bizarrely cathartic and memorable last gulp of Cornetto goodness.
Universal Home Entertainment had quite the pair of Blu-rays to match in quality while finishing off Wright's trio of comedies, but The World's End delivers to an even more capable and demonstrably potent degree than the previous films. Aside from the expected rich contrast in pubs and smooth, perceptible details as the guys strut from place to place, the film also pours out some surgical visual effects -- eerie blue-white lights, steel statues, cobalt-colored blood and body sockets -- that flex plenty of muscle in the 2.35:1-framed high-definition transfer. The 5-channel Master Audio track also packs a punch -- literally! -- during hand-to-hand brawls and the thud of heavy metal on the ground, while the often aggressive soundtrack and ambient elements adeptly use the channels for an incredibly immersive sci-fi experience. And, of course, it wouldn't be a Cornetto release without a bevy of supplements: this time, three commentaries (general, technical, and cast) accompany a familiar slate of behind-the-scenes features, including a great two-part Making Of piece, featurettes, make-up/effects tests, storyboards and more.
Check out DVDTalk's full review of the Blu-ray here.
The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy arrives somewhat unceremoniously on Blu-ray from Universal Home Entertainment on the same day that The World's End receives its individual release, contained in a standard flip-tray Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover on the outside that replicates the front and back covers. Within are three silver-topped discs -- the exact same pressings previously available on Blu-ray -- along with three Ultraviolet Digital Download Codes for the separate films. Granted, these presentations really don't need any further content, with the expansive amount of commentaries and featurettes already available for both. However, there's little justifiable reason to abandon the previous releases, or avoid purchasing the single releases, outside of the slimmer packaging and the availability to have them all in one spot. For sure, this set is designed for Cornetto newcomers, as these are the same discs already available for Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, packaged together with the day-and-date Blu-ray release of The World's End.
Click each image below for DVDTalk's original coverage of the Blu-rays:
Recommended. These recycled-disc film collections are always tough to pass judgment on, but Universal's presentation of Edgar Wright's Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy presents a bigger challenge than others. Why? Well, all three films -- which I consider to be essential repeat-viewing experiences -- will likely never look better than they do in this collection of Blu-ray discs, nor will they ever require additional special features (save, maybe, a retrospective in ten years or something). All three look and sound fantastic, and all three are packed to the gills with terrific, exhaustive supplements: commentaries, featurettes, organized making-of pieces, screen comparisons, the works. However, fans of the previous two films already know this because, well, most already own those previous discs, and if they don't, they're easy to find at inexpensive prices; there's even already a cheap Shaun / Hot Fuzz collection. This quick and dirty set unfortunately isn't geared towards long-running Cornetto enthusiasts -- even if the individual discs themselves were, ultimately, designed for fan overload -- but towards newcomers.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site