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South Park: Bigger Longer Uncut
The four boys we all know and love (Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman) are thrilled that their favorite Canadian comedy duo, Terrence and Phillip, are finally hitting the big screen. They excitedly gather ticket money from their parents, but are promptly denied access to see Asses of Fire because it has too much vulgar language in it for a younger audience to hear. They'll be damned if they're going to let something like that get in their way of seeing this bigger than life event, so they do what any helpless kid armed with a strong sense of wits would do - They bribe a homeless person to buy their tickets for them. After witnessing the most jaw-dropping film of their lives, the kids show off their newly 'expanded' vocabulary to everyone they know. It isn't long before every kid in town is cussing up a storm, both at home and at school. The educators try to ban the kids from wearing anything Terrence and Phillip related on school grounds, and they even try placing the offenders in naughty language rehab with Mr. Mackey, the school counselor. When all else fails, the parents are pulled together by Kyle's mom, Mrs. Broflovski, to figure out what the next logical step should be in order to keep their children's fragile little minds out of harm's way. Naturally, the very parents that were too busy to keep tabs on what their children were doing in the first place, go on a witch hunt and decide that Canada is to blame for peddling such extreme filth in the US of A. Eventually they gain enough support to warrant America's military to make Terrence and Phillip prisoners of war, an action that brings with it the wrath of World War III, as well as the apocalyptic return of Satan and Saddam Hussein.
Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were fairly certain their beloved show was on its way out the door shortly before beginning work on the film. The sophomore year of their show had been a disappointing follow-up to the highly praised first season, so they wanted to make sure South Park went out with a bang. They surprisingly took some pretty big chances in order to achieve that goal. The premise of the movie was literally thought up in about twenty seconds or so, and during the course of development they decided the film would work best as an R rated musical. Needless to say, it wasn't easy for Matt and Trey to deal with Paramount while trying to implement such unorthodox ideas, but the finished product clearly speaks for itself. South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is easily one of the best television to film translations to date.
Transforming South Park into a musical was a fact the advertising team at Paramount hid from the public, but why? The songs are far from being half-assed additions to the film. They're feverishly catchy, and not once do they feel as if they've simply been added to bloat the film's run time. The songs all flow together to tell a coherent story, such as 'Blame Canada' (which was nominated for an Oscar), or even Terrence and Phillip's 'Uncle ******', which helped to demonstrate how a piece of entertainment can unwillingly become a martyr when adults refuse to take the blame for their own shortcomings. The film did a great job at conveying its storyline in this unusual method of storytelling (for South Park at least), and even became a stepping stone for improving the writing of the televised South Park format in every perceivable way. Messages in the first couple of seasons seemed like an obligatory after thought, a tacked on book-end to wrap up an episode, but that changed after they made this film.
South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut made every piece of violence and profanity relevant, never once wandering too far off the beaten path and never coming off as gratuitous. It all gelled together to form an intriguing tale of action and adventure that was chock full of laughs, and it did all that while pointing out the major hypocrisies our society faces every time someone turns on a television. The message in this particular chapter of South Park's history is best said by Mrs. Broflovski herself - "Horrific, deplorable violence is okay, as long as people don't say any naughty words!" This movie stands up to that hypocrisy and says, "You know what? They're just words. You can show corpses or people being brutally murdered on a regular basis, but you can't say a small list of certain words? Eat it MPAA, because the very things you call 'deplorable' can be acceptable as long as the context supports it." Make no mistake about it, this animated flick is probably going to be amongst the most foul-mouthed, shocking pieces of cinema you'll ever have the pleasure of seeing outside of a Quentin Tarantino film, but you'll never once feel disturbed or violated because of a terrific script that keeps all the gasp inducing language and visual gags relevant to the story that's being told. South Park may have started out being perceived as another potty mouthed fart joke show, but one only needs to watch this film to see how South Park transformed into one of the most relevant and clever pieces of social satire on television today.
The 1080p AVC encode (at 1.78:1) isn't a flawless presentation, but it's certainly a huge improvement over the DVD. The most noticeable difference that's going to hit you right from the very first frame is the color saturation. The reds presented in Hell are more pronounced than ever before, Kenny's coat is a vibrant orange, the green mountain landscape is lush, and that's only the tip of the iceberg. As far as contrast goes, blacks are deep and the whites never appear to be blown out. The image is also fairly sharp and edges are well defined without any edge enhancement to muck things up. Keep in mind that this appears to be a film source transfer as opposed to a digital one, so don't expect this to look as pristine as South Park Season 12 did on the Blu-ray format. There's no compression artifacts to worry about either, so all in all this is a pretty substantial upgrade when compared to the previous DVD release from 1999 (yes, it really has been that long).
The above paragraph would almost lead you to believe the picture quality on this release is near perfect, and although it looks pretty darn good, it's far from perfect. Paramount has struck again with its digital scratch removal software, causing distinct lines to disappear and reappear on Cartman's white gown and eyes as he's being shocked by the V-Chip for the very first time. Why Paramount, why? After that other high profile Blu-ray release was met by fury and dare I say even hatred, why continue to churn out products that haven't been given the proper attention they deserve in the quality control department? I can't actually be sure how often this magic trick actually occurs throughout the film, but it stuck out to me like a sore thumb in this particular scene. Fortunately, the scratch removal software doesn't affect this particular animated feature as much as it would a live action piece, as South Park is mostly made up of well defined lines and color blocks that can't be misinterpreted for flaws on the film print itself. There are still pieces of dirt and specks that appear throughout the film, but it's much less apparent than it used to be on the ancient DVD. Also, sharpness tends to take a rather inconsistent turn in the latter half of the film. Occasionally, certain shots will appear to be overly sharp and even produce a bit of a jaggie effect from time to time. I'm not sure if this is due to digital tampering or if that's how the film looked in theaters or what, but it's still a noticeable issue nonetheless.
I've had a lot of negative things to say about this Blu-ray release, but I'm really only trying to cover all of my bases here. All in all, South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut is head and shoulders above the DVD. If you're a big fan of the film or just of South Park in general, it would be hard for me not to recommend this release based on the picture quality alone. Could it have looked better if we were given a direct digital transfer of the film? Yes. Could it have looked even better if Paramount left well enough alone in the digital clean-up department? Absolutely. Maybe someday we'll get that, but this is a suitable enough upgrade for now. If however you're a hardcore video aficionado that won't accept anything less than what the studio should have provided, then you might want to give this a rental first.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track is also a fairly substantial upgrade when compared to the DVD in every possible way. Sound effects are much more pronounced across the entire sound field than ever before, but it's the musical numbers that really sound a lot better in lossless. The rest of the film is very front heavy however, and there's not exactly a lot of environmental sound effects that are utilized to enhance the viewers overall experience. We're talking about South Park here however, so I guess much else couldn't have been expected. Bass is quite a bit deeper than what was offered on the old DVD, but one shouldn't expect it to sound anything close to what today's top Hollywood hits have to offer in low end frequencies. All in all, the sound comes across exactly the way it was meant to sound (as I would imagine) in theaters. This is an accurate representation that I don't think fans will find much to complain about after all is said and done.
There's really next to nothing as far as extras go on this release, but fans will be delightfully surprised to hear that there's finally a FULL LENGTH Commentary with Trey Parker and Matt Stone! Fans of South Park are used to the duo recording mini-commentary tracks, a method that's been used to ensure all the good and interesting pieces of info get said within the first four or five minutes. This way the viewers get to hear the goods without all the silent/awkward pauses whenever they run out of things to say. Fans should keep in mind however that these guys have worked on roughly 150 episodes since working on this film and it's obvious they really don't remember all that much about its production. They were at wits end due to working on both the movie and the show at the same time, constantly running back and forth between two different buildings day after day to make sure things were getting done on time. There were back and forth battles with Paramount as well as the MPAA over numerous issues (the R rating, making the film a musical, how to promote the film, the content that would be appropriate in the film). You'll also hear about how their staff mutinied to take an unscheduled 'holiday' to see Star Wars - Episode I when it hit theaters, as well as Matt and Trey's astonishment at just how bad and time consuming the animation was during this era in South Park's history. After about 35 minutes or so, the fellas run out of interesting things to talk about, so they pull various people that work on the show into the studio to discuss what they remember about working on the film. The additional insight sparks more entertaining stories from the co-creators, making this a commentary track fans will not want to miss. After all, they've been waiting ten years for it!
The only additional extras are a few trailers for the film and a music video for What Would Brian Boitano Do? It's a shame that after ten years of a bare bones DVD release this is all Paramount could come up with. However, it's hard to ignore the greatness of the commentary track that's been provided.
Matt and Trey admit on the commentary that they groan whenever they hear a television series is getting the Hollywood feature film treatment. Instead of letting previous TV-to-film translations discourage them though, they actually used it for inspiration to make sure their beloved show got the theatrical treatment it deserved. That meant fighting with the MPAA to ensure the tone and integrity of South Park remained intact every step of the way. Even better is that they used the hypocritical MPAA system for the core of the film's story, and ended up making not just a great movie while doing so, but even earned an Oscar nomination for one of the featured songs to boot. This film is the moment that South Park truly began to find its voice, and showed the public as well as Hollywood that a theatrical translation of a show doesn't have to be bastardized in order to be good. Although Paramount did a great thing by bringing South Park Bigger, Longer, and Uncut to a high-def format, they unfortunately didn't make the video presentation all it could have been, and they once again left the supplement starved fans blowing in the wind. That being said, this is easily a recommended release. I'd love to give this film the 'highly recommended' rating it deserves, but there's really no excuse for there not to be a pristine digital transfer of the film on this disc.
-About the Author- Michael Zupan is primarily a film guy, but has a variety of places where you can enjoy his work otherwise. Check Bytesizeimpressions.com for video game op-ed pieces and podcasts, and be sure to check out the sister site, Byte-Size Cinema, linked up top. This writer also contributes significantly to in-print magazines such as Minecraft Explorer and Fortnite Explorer!