"Two heads are better than one."
If you really believe that saying, the British comedy How To Get Ahead In Advertising might change your mind. Released in 1988, it didn't get a terrible lot of attention from American audiences. It's a shame, too; this biting satire may have been just what the extravagant 1980s needed: a swift kick in the pants. I can see why it didn't do well with the average movie-goer, though…it was probably way over their heads.
Without reservation, I can say it's one of the strangest movies I've ever seen, all things considered.
How To Get Ahead In Advertising was a product of Handmade Films, which some might know as a company associated with Monty Python member Terry Gilliam (Brazil, Time Bandits). Handmade Films was formed by the whole Monty Python troupe and a few of their good friends, who provided much-needed financial support (including The Beatles' George Harrison). The first picture produced through the studio was The Life Of Brian, arguably the funniest Python film ever conceived. While this movie isn't up to those high standards, it's still a wild ride. Here's the basic plot: Advertising executive Dennis Bagley (played brilliantly by Richard E. Grant) has a creative block for a new pimple cream campaign. The stress mounts considerably, resulting in Dennis growing a huge boil that has a mind of its own! The battle between the two "heads" is one of the most mind-bending plots for a movie I've ever seen…this is a very clever little story with several layers of well-conceived comedy. Heck, even the name is clever (I didn't get the joke right away either, so don't worry).
While by no means a perfect movie, How To Get Ahead In Advertising is a highly entertaining romp through the dangerous world of business. This is a perfect choice for any fan of Monty Python or other British comedy, or for anyone slightly cynical about the world's commercialization. While it starts a little slow, you'll eventually find plenty of reasons to love this overlooked gem!
The technical end of this release is where things get a little interesting. You see, this movie was originally released on DVD by The Criterion Collection, more or less the benchmark of DVD production. A review for that disc was done by our own Aaron Beierle and can be seen here…I'll be comparing the two on occasion, so you might want to read both. This disc is a newer release by the folks at MGM, so the question remains: which version is the one to get? Read on for the scoop!
Quality Control Department
The video on this disc is quite good…it's presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen (although a fullscreen version is on Side B), and is a modest step up from the Criterion version. This is a new transfer, and appears to be in excellent shape…and the fact that it's enhanced for widescreen TVs is an additional bonus! There's virtually no dirt or debris on the print, and colors look excellent; although it should be noted that most European films have a more subdued color scheme. There's a bit of softness in some of these scenes, but that's most likely due to the source material. All things considered, this is an excellent visual presentation and remains the best currently available.
The audio is presented in Dolby 2.0 Surround, which is also a small step up from its Criterion counterpart. There's a bit more activity in the mix, though there's not a terrible lot of difference between the two. For what it's worth, though, this is a good mix and should please fans of this dialogue-driven film. Anyone looking for demo material should look elsewhere, but fans of the film won't be able to complain here.
Boy, did MGM drop the ball on this one. Both versions only exhibit one lonely bonus feature: the trailer. Oh wait, we get "More great releases from MGM!"…nice try, but this disc is lacking in the extras department. Maybe there wasn't much available, but MGM could have made this the definitive version with even a modest amount of effort.
Menu design and presentation:
The menus were a little on the boring side…basic static menus with themed backgrounds (nearly identical to the cover art). Criterion's menus were also static, but a little more on the creative side. Also, a few points off the score for the lack of an insert...that's just plain lazy. Again, it would have been nice to see a bit more effort in this department from MGM.
Should anything else have been included?
You bet! A commentary track or some behind-the-scenes stuff would have done the trick, for starters. Although this was a low-budget production, the effects were well-done…how about a short featurette about those? The highly creative nature of this picture would really lend itself to an equally creative DVD presentation, but this is sadly average. Once again, MGM could have really knocked this one out of the park, but the lack of any substantial extras may leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. Well, at least the price is right.
The movie was great, but the DVD was a little lacking. Still, this is a slight step up from the Criterion version, so take that into account before you buy. If that's the version you have already, this may or may not be worth the upgrade: the audio/video presentation is a little better, and the price is low, so it's your call. Any interested parties who don't own this yet are better off buying this version, though…the Criterion version is out of print and a lot more expensive. Even though this release could have been better in the extras department, the asking price of only $14.95 is pretty sweet, so consider this one Recommended. If you're mildly interested, be sure and give this a rental…it'll make for a very unique viewing experience (and I mean that in a good way!).
Randy Miller III is a part-time cartooning instructor based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in an art gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.