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Family Guy - Blue Harvest

Fox // Unrated // January 15, 2008
List Price: $22.97 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted January 9, 2008 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Imitation is the least sincere form of comedy

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Animation, good sitcoms
Likes: "Family Guy," Star Wars
Dislikes: Reference as comedy
Hates: The Fox niche-marketing Industry

The Show
Considering the way "Family Guy" used pop‑culture references to build a huge and loyal audience, it was no shock to see the series make an entire episode out of these call‑backs. That it would arrive in the form of a retelling of the sci‑fi classic Star Wars is a tad surprising, but it does make sense when one envisions the near‑complete overlap of the two franchises in a venn diagram of their audiences. Slide that chart in front of Fox' home‑video execs and you get a pool of drool and a one‑episode DVD release.

The story will be familiar to anyone who has seen Star Wars, as it truly is a retelling, with all the names and main plot points in place, just with the "Family Guy" cast standing in for the original actors, and a bunch of jokes in the usual "Family Guy" vein. With young Chris Griffin as Luke, Peter as Han Solo and Stewie as Darth Vader, the jokes pretty much write themselves, especially when you include Chris' creepy admirer Herbert as a creepy Obi Wan Kenobi. You just know that "using the force" will never be the same.

There's obviously a great deal of Star Wars admiration in this episode, if only because of the incredibly detailed and meticulously recreated images throughout the film, created with a mix of computer animation and traditional techniques. The perfection of some of the starships and deep‑space explosions mark a triumph of artistry and technical skill, if not exactly creativity. There's also some ribbing delivered that one could only present with love, as some of the larger logistics issues in the film are humorously noted and work best as in‑jokes for the loyal fans.

The story is the same one you'll remember, and so are the jokes, as they cover the same ground as any other episode of the show. Gags about close relationships between men and on-the-job normalcy in very not-so-normal situations, and jokes about black people are joined by a couple of musical numbers and appearances by several regular characters, just in new forms. Oddly, perhaps because the episode is one big flashback, the "that time" segues that have plagued the show are kept to a bare minimum, lending at least a sense of freshness to comedy that's already well worn.

Surprisingly, what should have been a one‑note gag in Herbert the perv jedi master, is one of the more entertaining elements in this special, but putting buddies Cleveland and Quagmire in the seemingly natural roles of C‑3PO and R2D2 doesn't pay off the way it should. On the other hand, the guest casting, one of the show's biggest strengths, is as good as it ever has been, with appearances by Chevy Chase, Beverly D'Angelo and Rush Limbaugh. Disappointingly, Leslie Nielsen is here as well, but it's an example of when the show doesn't work. Instead of getting him to reprise his famous role from Airplane, they just chopped the line from the film and used it as is, so it sounds like the re‑use it is. No change, no creativity, no effort, no laugh: "Family Guy" at it's least finest, which both fits with the rest of the episode's warmed-over concept, and stands out like a sore thumb, thanks to an otherwise gorgeous episode.

There are two releases of "Family Guy: Blue Harvest" available, a standard release and a collectible version with a bunch of packed-in extras. We received the standard disc, and as usual, we got a screener from Fox, so we can't give you any idea about the packaging, but the single-disc release features an animated anamorphic widescreen main menu, with options to watch the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out the extras. The look of the menus should be familiar to fans of the trilogy, another example of the show's attention to detail. There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French, along with closed captioning.

The Quality
As usual, we'll hold back on making any call on the visual quality of the episode's full-frame transfer, as this screener is visually watermarked, which affects the quality of the video. Overall though, the color looks pretty solid and the images are bright, with vivid color, and some impressive computer animation, but, hopefully due to the watermarking, there's a great deal of compression artifacts, pixilization and jagged lines.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is more engaging that your usual "Family Guy" DVD audio track, but oddly, there was nothing in the LFE channel (perhaps the audio is watermarked now?) The sound draws heavily on the music and effects of the original films, and everything sounds just as you would hope it would, including the memorable orchestral score, which is powerfully presented. The dialogue, including nice touches on the robot voices and Darth Stewie's masked sound, is clean and clear, delivered front and center, with some effects and enhanced music in the surrounds.

The Extras
The main extra is an episode-length audio commentary, a standard for "Family Guy" DVDs. This time, the participants include Seth MacFarlane, music editor Patrick Clark, editor Mike Elias, executive producer David Goodman, assistant director Joseph Lee, director Dominic Polcino, producer Danny Smith, writer Alec Sulkin and producer Kara Vallow. If you've ever heard a "Family Guy" commentary, this is the same deal, and if you haven't, expect a very friendly chat with lots of jokes and ribbing, with some actual info about the episode sprinkled throughout. As this was truly a labor of love for this crew, they have a lot to say about it, especially regarding the Star Wars material. Though there are a lot of participants (two join halfway through) it's a rather orderly affair and an entertaining listen for fans of the series.

"A Conversation with George" is a 12:26 interview between MacFarlane and George Lucas, that's a bit more composed than Chris Farley's famous interviews with celebrities like Paul McCartney. Lucas plays along, answering serious and silly questions from MacFarlane about his films and "Family Guy," and even curses at one point, which surprised the hell out of me. The segment reaches almost surreal heights when MacFarlane hums segments of Star Wars music and asks Lucas to identify where in his movies they come from. Lucas is always fun when he's in his comfort zone, and he's definitely there in this bit.

If the commentary didn't fill your desire to learn about this episode, the 19-minute "Once in a Lifetime: The Making of 'Blue Harvest'" should cover it, as the crew talk about how the episode came together, including thoughts about how to adapt the film into the look and feel of "Family Guy," with lots of behind-the-scenes footage from the studios and clips from the animatics included. It's a quality look at the creation of the episode, though it's a bit self-congratulatory.

If the animatics clips whetted your appetite, you're in luck, as you can watch the entire episode in this form, which usually only appeals to animation buffs. The "'Family Guy' Star Wars Clip Show" is much more interesting, as it compiles all the series' references to the film to this point. That there's over nine minutes of scenes tells you a lot about what kind of obsession the crew has with the trilogy.

The extras wrap with a promo for the show.

On the Hunt
There are at least two easter eggs included on this DVD, one with footage of a table read and one a teaser for an upcoming "Family Guy" special. They are pretty easy to find if you poke around the menus.

The Bottom Line
The cynic in me views this release with severe distaste, in that it comes off as such a pure cash grab aimed at milking two groups of DVD buyers who have shown themselves to be easy marks. The single episode the disc holds is your average "Family Guy" episode, just double-length, with wall-to-wall Star Wars jokes and direct references. It's a technical and artistic success, but comedically it comes up a bit short, thanks to the focus on getting the references right. The DVD sounds good (video quality will need to be evaluated with final product) and the extras are pretty nice considering how little content there is in the main feature. Since this single, solitary episode is bound to be included in one of the myriad of half-season collections still to come, a rental is most people's best bet, since fans of both the show and the movie will want to see the material that was cut for the air and the extras.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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