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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection
Mr. Bean: The Ultimate Collection
A&E Video // Unrated // December 16, 2008
List Price: $69.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jeffrey Kauffman | posted November 22, 2008 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
Rowan Atkinson is annoying, there's no doubt about it. His face is annoying, his voice is annoying, his mannerisms are annoying, everything about the man screams annoyance to anyone within arm's length. So it's only obvious that he should have chosen to become a comedian, where he could put this strange predilection of his to good use in roles as varied as the many iterations of Black Adder to his most delicious annoyance ever, the ultra-bothersome Mr. Bean. About the only thing more annoying than Mr. Bean in fact is A&E's apparent new trend of out-Disneyfying Disney by repackaging and re-releasing its older product. While at least some of the other recent A&E rereleases contained some new material (like the most excellent new Monty Python Megaset), this rehashed Bean not only doesn't offer anything new, it actually has the gall to offer the two feature film Beans in pan and scan versions. Now that's annoying.

If you've never seen Mr. Bean in action, suffice it to say he's the sort of person you want to stay as far away from as possible, for any number of reasons. He's boorish, petulant, opportunistic and often not very smart. He's also one of the most absolutely hysterically funny characters ever created for British television (and later films), which is saying quite a lot. Atkinson's Bean is both childlike and childish in equal measure, prone to committing one stupid act after the next while somehow still managing to stay at least somewhat endearing. The most remarkable thing about Bean, at least in his television incarnation, is the almost total lack of dialogue. Each of the Bean episodes plays virtually like silent cinema, with one delicious sight gag after another, and a surprising amount of quasi-verbal humor delivered as well that doesn't depend entirely on Atkinson's incredible ability to twist his face (and body) into unexpected shapes.

Mr. Bean--The Series is probably the most undiluted and enjoyable excursion through Atkinson's particular method of madness with this character. While the feature films and animated series also included in this set have their charms, Mr. Bean probably works best in small, delicately balanced portions, which is what the television series perfectly provides. You might be worried whether you will enjoy a show with little or any of the patented U.S. sitcom approach of a spoken joke every few seconds, but let me be the first to allay those concerns. Bean delivers the comic goods in hysterical fashion, over and over again. I don't want to spoil any particular punchlines, but suffice it to say each episode is layered beautifully, with a general premise (e.g., Bean taking a math test, Bean attempting to change into a bathing suit in front of another man, or Bean getting ready for the Christmas holiday) which then becomes the foundation for an astounding array of funny business. For instance in the beach bathing suit episode, Bean descends an impossibly long bulwark of stairs to get to the beach, still clad in his omnipresent suit, only to find one lone beach lover lounging in a chaise. Bean has his swimsuit in his hands and has to figure out how to get it on with this other man right there. It turns into an amazing display of physical dexterity comedy, which is capped by a killer punchline (which I won't spoil for you), something that the television version inerrantly provides. Note: these are evidently the slightly edited syndicated versions of the series, so caveat emptor).

Bean, the first feature film starring the reticent Mr. Bean points up both the pluses and minuses of moving the character into something longer form. While there's more opportunity for character bits and even speeches (Bean actually delivers a monologue or two of sorts in this piece), there's also the hazard of trying to deliver the laughs in a through line for close to two hours, something that the conceit of Bean can't always easily sustain. Bean posits Atkinson against a very funny Peter MacNicol as Bean is hired to deliver Whistler's Mother (as in the painting, not the person) to the American museum which has just purchased it.

Of course that's simply the means to an end, the end being a traditional "fish out of water" scenario where Bean gets to interact with a bunch of stateside hoity-toity types (including Sandra Oh and Burt Reynolds in cameos), all of whom fall victim to Bean's penchant for wreaking havoc. The best sections of Bean are the smaller ones, where Atkinson gets to display his physical comedy chops (his turkey stuffing scene is great, though obviously a throwback to his similar scene in the Mr. Bean Christmas episode of the series). And there's one laugh out loud moment where Bean is told to shut up (more or less), something that of course is intentionally ironic.

Bean unfortunately falls pretty flat at times--there are moments of inspiration here and there, but overall this is a very stale Bean indeed.

Note: this section repeats portions of my content specific previous review of Mr. Bean's Holiday.

Despite Atkinson's half-hearted protestations to the contrary in one of the extras on this DVD, there is little doubt that Mr. Bean's Holiday owes a spectacular debt to Jacques Tati's own Gallic mime leaving a trail of disaster in his wake, Monsieur Hulot. Both characters barely utter a word, are seemingly made of some space-age rubbery material that allows them to bend their bodies (and in the case of Atkinson, his face) into shapes that seem to defy the laws of physics, and both have an uncanny knack of wandering blithely unaware into an environment, causing domino-like events of cascading tribulations for those around them.

Mr. Bean's Holiday centers around its title character's winning ticket to a vacation in Cannes. Suffice it to say that the going is not particularly smooth, and soon Bean finds himself shepherding a young boy (winningly played by Max Baldry) who, due to Bean's customary idiocy, has been separated from his father. Also playing into the lunacy is an absolutely pitch-perfect Willem Dafoe as a self-obsessed cinema auteur (albeit one not above filming a yogurt commercial in one of the more--no pun intended--delicious bits in the film) and the lovely Emma de Caunes as an actress who repeatedly enters Bean's manic world.

The film is full of the great physical comedy at which Atkinson is so adept, where eating a gourmet French meal becomes an exercise in facial expressions, or where getting trapped in a shed strangely placed at the edge of a country lane proves that Atkinson can be funny even when he can't be seen. More interestingly perhaps, at least from a visual angle, is the stunning French scenery that provides a gorgeous backdrop to the proceedings. Stunning vistas of fields of wheat and flowers slowly waving in the breeze are suddenly interrupted by Bean's buffoonery and, strangely, it all seems to flow effortlessly. This beautiful visual aspect is of course completely (or at least mostly) destroyed by the unbelievably stupid decision to include the full frame version of the film in this set.

Mr. Bean's Holiday has an abundance of heart beating through its comic episodes, which tends to ground the more cartoonish aspects of both the character and the film in general. When Bean, after one "situation" after another, is finally able to realize his dream of standing on the beach at Cannes, it's actually one of the most heartfelt moments I've experienced in film recently.

Mr. Bean: The Animated Series makes the transition into actual cartoon-land (as opposed to the virtual cartoon world of the original "live action" character) amazing well. Atkinson is on hand to deliver the minimal voice work the character requires, and the series is a well-designed and scripted vehicle to allow Bean even more latitude when it comes to buffoonery and other nonsense. Stylistically the series reminded me of another largely wordless creation, DePatie Freleng's The Pink Panther. Both cartoons offer slightly exaggerated and elongated forms with a bold graphic palette that highlights the unreality of the surroundings. While there's nothing exceptionally new or improved here (so to speak), this is an enjoyable "alternate universe" for Mr. Bean, with several great comic moments scattered throughout the 36 episodes presented here over two discs.


May I just say right off the bat that whoever decided to release the full frame versions of the films in this set ought to be summarily fired from A&E? What a stupid, stupid decision. So, that said, all of these full frame transfers look OK, if not exceptional (the one exception being Holiday, which boasts a very sharp, now sadly truncated, image). The television show has actually aged pretty well, image-wise, without that omnipresent softness that seems to affect so much British tv. There's a bit of softness in the older material, but nothing too horrible. Bean looks pretty good, though not quite as sharp as Holiday. The Animated Series is quite bold and colorful and looks excellent.

Everything other than Holiday, which sports a 5.1 mix, is offered in DD 2.0 here. The soundtracks are all perfectly fine, but you have to remember there's not a lot to work with, since Bean is such a relatively silent character. Holiday comes off the best in that regard, with ample immersive ambient effects as Bean travels the Frenchc countryside.

All of the extras from the previous releases of these titles have been ported over to this new boxed set. The series provides the best overall extra, "The Story of Bean," a nice and informative piece on the history of the character. There are also deleted scenes and a biography/filmography for Atkinson, as well as a trailer for the animated series. Bean offers bios/filmographies, trailers and a music video. Mr. Bean's Holiday offers a host of deleted scenes and three featurettes. Animated has an interesting piece showing the creation of "Bean in Love" from storyboard through finished product. There are also trailers and galleries.

Final Thoughts:
Mr. Bean is a singular creation and anyone who enjoys physical comedy is going to have a blast watching this set. The full frame transfers of the film is a real problem, however, and one for which A&E should be chided mercilessly. Overall, this set is Recommended.

"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet

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