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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Bruce Almighty (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Bruce Almighty (HD DVD) (HD DVD)
Universal // PG-13 // June 12, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Don Houston | posted June 18, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Background: Religion has long been one of the biggest points of contention among many folks, our varying levels of belief, our specific deities & moral codes, and our willingness to impose them on other people through laws, societal norms and various sanctions knows no end. That is why anytime a movie or television show deals with religious topics, there are some who would forget the adage "it's just a movie" and start ranting about political messages. My personal observation is that the more specific the religious reference in a movie or show, the more likely someone will complain loudly that they aren't being treated "fairly" (recent examples being The Last Temptation of Christ, The Book of Daniel, and others). For that reason, comedies broaching religious topics tend to use nondenominational deities as was the case in Bruce Almighty (HD DVD); a recent release on the high definition format starring talented comedian Jim Carrey; coming out while the sequel, Evan Almighty is finishing up its run at the box office.

Movie: Bruce Almighty is a romantic comedy about a Buffalo, New York second string newscaster named Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) who is having a particularly acute case of bad luck of late. He has a beautiful girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston) that has put up with his selfish attitude for five years and his number one goal in life is to become the anchorman for his small town news station. Because of his likeable, goofy antics, he is stuck doing the human interest stories, including those involving record breaking cookies, Niagara Falls ferries, and blood drives while the rest of his associates get the starring (and presumably better paying) positions. When he finds out he has lost the spot to a dweeby loser while he is just about to go on the air, he explodes and his luck gets even worse; from a car accident to a group of gang members beating him up so he launches into a diatribe against God. Now remembering that God in the movies has been played by all sorts of characters in typically folksy ways (George Burns comes to mind), it should come as no surprise that Bruce Almighty uses likeable Morgan Freeman as a down to earth type of deity. God likes Bruce but after getting called out in a frothing rant by the newscaster, the show is set in motion to prove that the man in charge has a sense of humor (the last straw being Bruce screaming "Smite me, O mighty Smiter!" at the top of his lungs). After steering Bruce to what appears to be an abandoned office building, God meets the man in the most humble of ways, establishing fairly quickly that he is no parlor magician.

Taking a cue from such classics as Death Takes A Holiday, God decides to take a vacation while leaving Bruce in charge of the world, or at least a small corner of it in Buffalo. Much like Carrey's character in Liar Liar, Bruce is a self centered egomaniac that proceeds to use all his powers to get what he wants, from setting up his coworker Evan (who stars in the sequel) using the body of Jimmy Hoffa, to using his abilities to gain headlines, to rivals that were mean to him, to the monkey trick, not to mention a romantic encounter with Grace that causes all sorts of calamities. In fact, the moral of the story is as much to be careful what you ask for due to unintended consequences as it is to be happy with what you have; Bruce finding out the hard way that the two imposed conditions God places on him to really prove bothersome.

When God occasionally checks in with Bruce to see how he's doing, it is apparent that Bruce is so far over his head in terms of the role of a deity that it limits his own effectiveness. Why drive a fancy sports car when you can be anywhere you want with the snap of your fingers? In fact, that was one of the decisions made by the writers and producers of the flick; to keep it all fairly tame in terms of what Bruce does to illustrate his own narrowly focused mindset. The use of bathroom humor (like the dog using the toilet that popped up from time to time) was limited too, thankfully, and while this was far more special effects laden than Liar Liar by a wide margin, it was still conceptually in the same ballpark as part of the characterization. The biggest weakness in the movie from my point of view was the lack of any substantial supporting characters; no cute kid like Justin Cooper to temper his sensibilities, Aniston coming off almost exclusively like a clone of Maura Tierney's character of Grace, and the rest of the cast merely filling in generic roles as needed to prop up Carrey's wild side. I'm a fan of Carrey's work but aside from Morgan's version of God (which is too limited a role), there was nothing of substance for him to work with; even the femme fatale in Catherine Bell appearing a watered down version of either Jennifer Tilly or Amanda Donohoe; the role never fleshed out enough to ascend to anything other than two dimensional status.

Granted, I liked the lazy way Bruce handled the constant droning of prayers by setting up a computerized email pray line (after some cute attempts with filing cabinets and post it notes) but the writers could have done a lot better in the result of Bruce's manner of granting assistance than was shown or provide some sort of balance to the character after his initial screw ups. In that sense, the movie was about two thirds set up as a series of barely related skits (Carrey's forte) and then pushed the romance angle so hard that it made me wonder if anyone read the script and suggested spreading out the better material with the sentimental pap piled on so heavily during the last portion of the movie. The physical humor of Carrey was as appealing to me as ever but it struck me like a bipolar manic depressive in how good the funny sections were and how flat major portions of the movie felt to me (I watched it three times; once in HD, once in SD and once with the commentary so your mileage may vary). This was nothing new in a Carrey flick, us fans have grown accustomed to it, but it limited the movie in numerous ways that it didn't have to, making what could have been a great movie only lightly cute and pleasing; a virtual watered down slice of Jim Carrey for those wanting more out of him. The movie may have made hundreds of millions of dollars and scored some populist nominations and/or wins of awards, but the best I could give this one was a rating of Rent It.

Picture: Bruce Almighty (HD DVD) was presented in a true 1080p High Definition widescreen color with the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 as originally released in theaters. The HD DVD was not surprisingly encoded in the common VC-1 codec, on an HD-30 disc and while it was not the movie to showcase a high end set up, it wasn't bad either. I saw this one on cable when it came out so I ended up renting the SD version for comparison purposes. This being an HD DVD, I expected more but a comparison this weekend between the SD anamorphic widescreen edition and this one showed some nice improvement in terms of detail, colors, and clarity but some parts looked like they were softer than others and there was less difference than in such recent HD releases as Liar Liar (granted, using ten year old movies versus more contemporary titles adds a different level of problems for comparison purposes). There was some edge enhancement observed, and for me to notice it you know it was more than average, but it was still decent looking for the majority of consumers. In all, I expected more of an upgrade from a top of the line box office blockbuster like Bruce Almighty but it definitely looked better here, though less of a jump with more recent titles on the market.

Sound: The primary track was a 5.1 Dolby Digital+ in English with a secondary French track that I didn't bother listening to. There were English and French subtitles as an option and for comparison purposes, I listened to the SD version in DTS. The thing I noticed the most here compared to Liar Liar was the use of the soundstage during the action oriented effects and the loudness of the music at times, almost as if boosted for dramatic effect. While the dialogue stuck firmly in the center speaker, when the voices started buzzing in Bruce's ears, they seemed to be coming from the back channels more and the thunderstorm was clearly using the entire range, albeit a bit less thunderous than it could have. Bother versions were pretty solid in that sense though so the marginal improvement was appreciated but nothing to get worked up over.

Extras: The extras package was a direct port from the original release, the best I could tell. I thought many of the deleted scenes (which did not look like they were finished in terms of production values here) added something to make the movie more layered but even they did not flesh out the secondary characters enough to make it a better movie. The outtakes were so limited that they amounted to a few flubs here and there lasting a few minutes but taken as a whole, the ~35 minutes of added material was fun to watch. Of less value was the featurette: The Process of Jim: Inside the creative mind of Jim Carrey. It was short and amounted to a fluff piece that I'll never watch again. Perhaps best was the audio commentary by Director Tom Shadyac. I know he has been vilified for some of his works in the past, including this one, but listening to the commentary gives a different look at the man who went to great lengths to detail his role in the film. It wasn't the most exciting commentary I've listened to but it did help explain some aspects of the movie that caused me to temper my disappointment in a couple areas of the release.

Final Thoughts: Bruce Almighty (HD DVD) took a sly look at some heavy material about a man pushed to his limits thinking he could do a better job with unlimited power; reminding the viewer that we make our own miracles for the most part and should not rely on others to make them for us. In many ways, the sappy part of Bruce Almighty (HD DVD) was in direct conflict with the comedic aspects I liked so much but like Liar Liar, what I consider the best companion piece to the movie due to the many similarities they share, the movie simply suffered largely at the hands of the folks trying to rely too much on sight gags to explore some of the possibilities that were overlooked instead. Technically, it was a decent looking HD DVD that might not serve as a showcase piece for your home theatres but it was worth considering if you don't already own the original SD DVD release. It harkened back to the light comedies of old, reminding me of how much I miss the good old days when movies were made by visionaries instead of committees led by directors that like to play it safe.

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