When I first flirted with the idea of buying a DVD player a little over three years ago, I cobbled together a list of titles that I was fairly confident I could not live without. At the very top was UHF, a movie I loved so dearly that I wore one VHS release out entirely and had a second on the brink. Its star, famed parodist "Weird Al" Yankovic, shaped my life in ways that no celebrity probably should. "In 3-D" was the first addition to my tape collection way back in 1984, and I didn't own an album by another artist until I bought They Might Be Giants' "Flood" during my junior year of high school. I've seen Al in concert four times, more than any other musician, and half of those trips included front row tickets and backstage passes. He (with additional influence by the squeezebox slingers of They Might Be Giants and Moxy Früvous) inspired me to buy an accordion, which I never did learn to play, but frequently use to terrify neighbors and small children. "Ricky" was the first music video I ever remember seeing. The soundtrack to UHF was my first CD. The first website I created a lifetime ago in the bitter winter months of 1995 was a "Weird Al" fan site. My first attempt at building a database-driven web site -- something I now do professionally for the travel and wireless industries -- was the now-horrendously outdated weirdal.org. I have close to 200 photos that I've taken...autographs scattered everywhere...a framed poster hanging on a wall in my bedroom... I could continue, but I think I made whatever point I have twelve or thirteen sentences ago. I generally shy away from reviewing movies that mean a lot to me. I'm all too aware of my limitations as a writer, and I'd hate to feel like I wasn't doing a favorite film justice. UHF fell into my lap a couple of weeks ago, and I dragged my feet reviewing it because I was afraid the review would turn out much like this, actually.
George Newman ("Weird Al") has quite an imagination, though he's been unable to find any profitable outlet for his constant daydreaming. He aimlessly bounces from job to job on a near-daily basis with his best friend Bob (Dave Bowe), and his girlfriend Teri (Victoria Jackson) finds her sympathy quickly dissipating. A bluff in a game of poker nets George's uncle Harvey a UHF station on the outskirts of town that's long been teetering on bankruptcy. George quickly sets out to revamp the station's programming, putting his offbeat ideas to good use, though U62 seems to be just as dismal a failure as every one of the other countless jobs he's held. Just as things look to be at their worst, the station has a break-out hit with Stanley Spadowski's Clubhouse, a children's show hosted by the station's infantile janitor (a pre-Seinfeld Michael Richards). U-62 quickly spawns a number of other offbeat successes, including the frequently quoted Wheel Of Fish and Raul's Wild Kingdom, whose host takes it upon himself to teach poodles how to fly. The local network affiliate, helmed by the tyrannical R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy), doesn't appreciate the competition and sets out to destroy the fledgling station. UHF is much funnier than I'm making it sound. Really. The plot is really just an excuse to string together a series of spoofs, parodies, puns, and gags, skewing scores of commercials, action heroes, trash TV, boring local talk shows, and kiddie programming.
If the terrifying tirade two paragraphs back was not enough of an indication, I'm far too biased to possibly provide an objective opinion about UHF. I've noted in a number of reviews that nearly everything I enjoyed when I was a kid seems unbearable now, and as several years have passed since I last watched this movie, a smidgen of fear lurked in the back of my mind that I'd now feel the same way about UHF. To my very pleasant surprise, I laughed just as hard and just as often as I did when I first caught UHF on video some twelve years ago. Sure, a fair percentage of the humor is a bit dated, and not all of the gags work. The jokes come so quickly, much in the style of Airplane! or The Naked Gun, that it's rare for more than a minute or two to pass without a laugh. Al's acting ability, though vastly improved upon earlier efforts such as The Compleat Al, still leaves a bit to be desired. A solid, memorable supporting cast -- including some notables as Michael Richards, Victoria Jackson, Billy Barty, Fran Drescher, Emo Philips, Kevin McCarthy, Stanley Brock, Trinidad Silva, and Gedde Watanabe -- contributes greatly to the film. An appreciation for "Weird Al" and his somewhat twisted sense of humor is required to get much of anything out of UHF, and this is most definitely not a movie for everyone.
I'd have been thrilled if UHF were released on DVD in any form, even if no special features had been provided. MGM has gone well above the call of duty for this DVD release, which is overflowing with supplemental material and includes a spectacular 16x9-enhanced visual presentation. Even better, this DVD is priced at a very respectable $14.95, meaning that quite a number of retailers will stock the disc for under ten dollars.
Video: UHF is presented in anamorphic widescreen at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with a full-frame version perched ominously on the flipside of the disc. This DVD marks the first widescreen release of the film on home video, as even Image Entertainment's 1990 Laserdisc sported an open-matte presentation. MGM has done a phenomenal job bringing UHF to DVD in every conceivable way, and the quality of the video is particularly well-represented. Black levels are deep and inky, and the vibrant, richly saturated colors (if a bit on the ruddy side at times) practically leapt off the screen and kicked me in the ass. The source material must have been in immaculate condition, free of any visible damage or the tell-tale signs of half-hearted digital tweaking. Speckles and flecks are practically non-existent. The relatively minor grain clearly visible in a handful of shots can likely be attributed to the film's low $5 million budget or the lack of care taken with Orion's films after the company's highly publicized bankruptcy some years ago. The image is so crisp and detailed that, when factoring in the bright, almost decadent palette, I would have no problem believing some of these shots were from a far more recent film. One of several such examples would be portions of the first visit into Philo's workshop. I could probably nitpick about the slight fluctuations in contrast or the way colors appear in certain less interesting sequences, but I'm too bowled over by the overall quality of the presentation to trot down that path. Excellent work from MGM, who is quickly becoming one of my favorite DVD houses.
Audio: Though UHF boasts a Dolby stereo surround track, the audio is structured like the majority of comedies and is almost unwaveringly anchored front n' center. I can't gush about the audio in quite the same way as the anamorphic widescreen presentation, but it's decent enough. The crystalline highs and foundation-threatening lows expected with a more recent film are noticeably absent. The track just seems a bit dated, though every utterance from the cast is easily discernable. I don't really have anything else to say, so I'll shut up and move on.
Spanish and French dubs have also been provided, as well as English closed captioning and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French.
Supplements: UHF is perhaps the most unexpected and welcomed special edition since Killer Klowns From Outer Space, itself a budget release from MGM.
When rumors of UHF's release on DVD first made the rounds across the Web, my fingers were crossed in the hopes that "Weird Al" would take some time out and record a commentary track. He and co-writer Jay Levey did just that, and they have managed to assemble what is perhaps my second favorite commentary ever. (If anyone's curious, and I'm fully aware no one else is, my favorite would still have to be the commentary on the Idle Hands DVD.) This commentary has a healthy balance of everything I look for in these sorts of discussions. Al is, not surprisingly, hilarious, and he had me laughing before the movie even started with some impromptu singing over the Orion logo. Either Al has a photographic memory, or he did extensive research before sitting down in front of the mic. To Levey's frequent astonishment, Al's comments are so detailed that he even recalls the Tulsa, Oklahoma street addresses for most every shot. The motivation behind certain gags, some of the actors and actresses considered for certain parts (most notably Mystery Science Theater 3000's Joel Hodgson as Philo and Jennifer Tilly as Teri!), cast members left on the cutting room floor, how Al and company made do with a $5 million budget, Orion's botched handling of the film after its enormous success in test screenings...anything and everything Al could possibly bring up is discussed in some shape or form. Levey doesn't contribute much, but his presence is appreciated. A few guests -- Emo Philips, Victoria Jackson, and Michael Richards -- pop in momentarily and toss in a couple of quick comments before disappearing. There are also a couple of neat subtitle tricks near the end. This is one of those rare sorts of commentary tracks, nearly as entertaining as the movie itself.
The full-frame portion of the disc isn't totally useless, as a lengthy deleted scenes segment and a smattering of Easter Eggs lurk on that side. Al, dripping with self-deprecatory humor, introduces each snippet of footage and details why he dislikes it. These scenes were culled from a VHS tape buried in the back of Al's closet, which is probably where they should have stayed. The great majority of them are every bit as useless as Al claims, but his hilarious comments make their inclusion worthwhile. During one particularly excruciating scene, Al even fast forwards through the slow part. The most infamous deleted portion, that for the U-62 show Those Darn Homos!, is included, but it's not nearly as interesting or long as its reputation would suggest.
Though "Weird Al" is most frequently associated with his parodies of chart-topping hits, those only account for around half of his musical output. The video for his original title song features visual spoofs of a wide variety of artists, including Prince, Guns N' Roses, the Talking Heads (twice!), the Beatles, George Michael, Billy Idol, ZZ Top, Robert Palmer, Peter Gabriel, and more than likely quite a few more that I can't remember offhand,
A brief vintage promotional featurette takes a quick look behind the scenes and features the obligatory fluffy interviews, years before the thrice-damned HBO First Look format would become so prevalent. Also on the promotional tip are a full-frame teaser trailer, an anamorphic widescreen theatrical trailer, and around 25 images of posters, home video covers, and various bits of artwork from a number of countries. Rounding out the supplements is an extensive collection of production stills, right at 182 by my undoubtedly incorrect count.
The menu design is based around newly-recorded footage of Al, similar to the menus on Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me but maintaining the television theme of the film. There are rumored to be quite a few Easter Eggs scattered about both sides of the disc. I'm not sure how many there are in total, but I stumbled upon two without even trying. Devoted Al fans will not be surprised to learn that there are a total of 27 chapter stops.
Conclusion: I adore UHF far more than any reasonable person should, and there wasn't a single aspect of this DVD release that I found wanting. Though obviously not the sort of movie that will appeal to everyone, fans of "Weird Al" Yankovic and the rapid-fire humor assault of movies like Airplane ought to find UHF more than worth the ten bucks this DVD goes for at most retailers. Very Highly Recommended.