I'll admit it from the beginning, I had only seen one John Waters' movie before watching these two DVDs, Serial Mom. I had also seen bits and pieces of Crybaby and Hairspray on Comedy Central and such, but I had never really sat down, watched and studied one of his films all the way through. It was upon recommendations that I picked this two-pack of films to review. Several people said Pecker was a great film, so I took their word for it.
I'll start with Pecker, which I watched first, expecting it to be the better of the two films. I won't say that I was disappointed, but the film seemed amateur at times. From my knowledge of Waters, he seems to me to be the anti-Tim Burton. His every film must exude kitsch and over-the-topness like a Burton film will have darkness and a twisted sensibility. This kitsch is here, but it's not over-the-top enough to be the focal point. The serious-enough story of Pecker achieving sudden fame for his hobby of photography is at times over-shadowed by the caricature characters that populate his world.
The story seems rushed to happy ending as Waters takes light shots at the art world and New York in general. There are several great performances in the film to make still worthwhile. Lili Taylor is great as Rorey, the New York art dealer that discovers Pecker. She genuinely cares for him, but gets a little caught up in his sudden fame, like everyone else. My favorite performance definitely came from Brendan Sexton III, who plays Peckers friend Matt. He's a hilarious thief (similar to the one he played in Empire Records) who has his life of crime ruined by his sudden fame-by-association.
Now, on to the second film in this DVD two-pack. I'll admit I wasn't looking forward to watching Hairspray. After being somewhat disappointed by Pecker, I thought a 1960's dance movie starring Ricki Lake, Debbie Harry, Sonny Bono, and Divine would be the last thing I wanted to see. Let me be the first to say how wrong I was. This was a truly fun film, fixing the problems I had with Pecker. It was way over the top, but it seemed more acceptable being the sixties.
Ricki Lake is an overweight teenager that works her way onto the Corny Collins Dance Show. As she becomes a standout star she has to deal with some of the other characters dislike of her. Rather than cry and moan she takes everything in stride, all the while pushing for the desegregation of the Baltimore community. Continuous music throughout the film and a great cast made this a surprise favorite. It's just a fun film.
Video: Both films are presented in an anamorphic transfer that preserves their 1:85.1 ratio from the theater. There are no complaints on the video front for either film. Warner Brothers has produced a great with the bright colors of Waters' world being reproduced stunningly. The contrast is great with little to no artifacting or edge degradation. Likewise, there are few visible flaws from the print, making for an undistracted viewing experience.
Sound: It seems I'm on a music DVD trend here lately and I can't complain. The sound on both of these discs is a great Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. While both are light on action and surround, it is still a satisfying presentation. There is no problem with hearing the vocals and enough ambient noise seeps in the surrounds in the right places to help immerse you in the film. Hairspray also has the extra advantage of lots of music in the soundtrack. The levels are noticeably sharp due to many cuts from the television program to people watching the program. The sound changes flawlessly every time with noticeable effect.
Menus: Both have animated, two-color menus that are similarly designed. There is enough action and audio to keep you interested for several minutes on both. It's also a great way to tie the package together.
Extras: Hairspray sadly only has a commentary track with director John Waters and star Ricki Lake available. The two were obviously not in the same room. Waters dominates the commentary with the editors inter-cutting a comment from Lake every-so-often. Waters himself provides enough interesting tidbits about the making of the film to keep it interesting. He comments on how he cobbles together names from old yearbooks and baby books for his characters and how lawyers check the names against local, New York and LA phone books. Pecker has another interesting commentary from Waters, who is a little more talkative on this film. You get the idea that much of Pecker is in a sense autobiographical from his comments. Pecker also has a short interview/documentary on Chuck Shacochis, who was the photographer that took all of the pictures prominently featured in the film. He explains about his technique and the fame that seems to be reaching toward him from this assignment. It's and interesting look at one behind-the-scenes player.
Finally: There is one simple conclusion, buy this two-pack of DVDs to get the wonderful copy of Hairspray that is only available here. You should be able to find it for what you would pay for Pecker alone. Both films are worth owning and watching.