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Swiss Army Man

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // October 4, 2016
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 7, 2016 | E-mail the Author
"The film is sort of us kind of trying to reprogram the way we think about...not just farts, but everything that we are just immediately, like, are willing to throw away. Which our main character is that character: the kind of person society has immediately been able to push aside, and the whole film is really about loneliness and the shame that keeps us from love, and we had to keep the farts as authentic as possible throughout the film in order to make sure that we could get you to that place."
- Co-writer/co-director Dan Kwan on Swiss Army Man

Stranded. Alone. Starving. Dehydrated. Bored.

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Hank (Paul Dano) is tightening the noose one final time to put an end to his torment when he sees someone wash ashore this hopelessly remote desert island.

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The bad news...? Whoever this poor bastard (Daniel Radcliffe) is, he's long dead. The good news...? Dunno if it's because of gas building up from decomposition or what, but he still farts like a mule. Like, relentlessly. Mightily. Powerfully. So powerfully, in fact, that Hank wraps what's left of his broken noose around one end, grabs hold of this corpse's necktie, and rides him outta there like a Sea-Doo.

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So, yeah:

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As if clawing their way back to civilization were gonna be that easy. Look at the screencap above; we're only at the opening titles! Hank and...well, let's call him Manny eventually wash up on another beach. Hank has no clue where they are, exactly, but they must be closer to home. This tropical whatever-it-is is littered with pizza boxes, broken sunglasses, discarded bags of microwave popcorn, and mounds and mounds of other trash. Hank's still soul-crushingly hungry, dehydrated, and lonely, unless you count the farting corpse he keeps lugging around to have someone or something to talk at. It's an awfully one-sided conversation until...errr, it's not.

The frustrating thing about reviewing Swiss Army Man is that there's so much I want to say, yet this is the sort of film best experienced knowing as little about it as possible beforehand. Take my word for it that this is a movie desperately worth seeking out, stop reading this review, and give this Blu-ray disc a spin already.

Oh, wait, you're still here? I guess I'd better keep writing anyway then.

For those suckered in by the novelty of its low brow/high concept premise, Swiss Army Man delivers. True to its title, Manny's corpse serves as a grapple gun, a retch-inducing water fountain, a bottle rocket, a shower, a hammer, a flint, a rebreather, an assault rifle, and a logsplitter, with the list going on and on from there. When he gets an eyeful of an old swimsuit issue of a "Sports Illustrated" knockoff or the winsome girl (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on Hank's just-about-dead smartphone, his raging boner doubles as a compass. If all Swiss Army Man bothered with were stringing together a bunch of sight gags with Daniel Radcliffe's stone-dead corpse swiss-army-knifing their way outta one bucket of syrup after another, I'd still probably be hammering out a rave review right now. It aims so much higher than off-the-wall novelty, though. Swiss Army Man is an examination of life, death, love, and happiness. It's about what we hide...what we discard...what makes us recoil in horror...what we dismiss, including ourselves. It's about friendship and brotherhood. It's a romantic comedy, for crying out loud, though to say more would be ruinous. The way the film embraces yet skewers every rom-com cliché is daringly ingenious, though. There's a line separating "protagonist" and "hero", just as "dream girl" and "actual human being" are invariably two very different things.

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For their first feature length film, the writing/directing pair of Daniels -- Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert -- have crafted a love letter to cinema. You see, although he certainly isn't alive, Manny isn't quite dead either. Though the immobile corpse gradually creaks back to un-life, he has no memory of the world in which he once lived, so Frank recreates some of the most iconic moments ever committed to film with sticks, mud, and garbage in the hopes of kickstarting his putrefying brain. Plus a café, a bus, and even that alluring abstract of a woman who for all they know may be on the other side of the world but drives them forward just the same. Swiss Army Man is propelled by a deep-rooted passion for imagination, creation, and discovery, and that's very much reflected in its dazzling production design. Its cinematography is achingly gorgeous as well. There are precious few films in which the score is so brilliantly woven into the narrative. Soaring, triumphant, and blending together choral vocals with textures drawn from nature, what portions of the compositions by Manchester Orchestra's Robert McDowell and Andy Hull aren't diagetic still very much feel as if they've organically emerged from this world. From its endlessly quotable screenplay to its editing to its sound design to the way Paul Dano's pants ruffle when he rips one, every last element of Swiss Army Man is thoughtfully, deliberately, and masterfully crafted.

I never could've dreamt that a fart could bring a tear to my eye -- at least not in a good way -- but such is the incomparable power of Swiss Army Man. Warm, uplifting, exultant, dark, disturbing, resonant, and...yeah, peppered with wieners, hairy butt cracks, crossdressing, and farts, I remain in awe that something so strange, unique, and wonderful could even exist. Swiss Army Man is about as divisive a film as they come, but those people aren't writing this review. I am, and I say it's a masterpiece. Highly Recommended.

From its painterly use of color to its stunningly imaginative production design, Swiss Army Man's visuals put the "art" in "fart". Its piercing blues, its deep, inky blacks, the way it plays with light and embraces lens flares at the greatest possible moments, that feeling that I could discern each individual pebble on the beach that Manny and Hank wash up on together: what an exceptional presentation this is. A Blu-ray release this nice makes me tingle just like Manny when...well:

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Swiss Army Man and its extras devour most every last byte on this BD-50 disc. As if you couldn't tell from the screenshots scattered throughout this review, the image is letterboxed to preserve the film's theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

I feel woefully inadequate. Not only do I lack the proper hardware to take advantage of the Dolby Atmos track on this Blu-ray disc, but I'm a couple speakers shy of even fully seizing hold of the 7.1, 24-bit Dolby TrueHD fallback. Despite being saddled with a plain ol' six-channel rig at the moment, what I can hear is nothing short of glorious. The clarity of every last element in the mix consistently dazzles. Its dynamic range is astonishingly expansive, boasting crystalline highs and, courtesy of the largely choral score and a roaring bear, thunderous lows. A film as immersive as Swiss Army Man demands to be experienced on some sort of home theater setup rather than built-in TV speakers or a plain-jane soundbar. Sounds swirl and bound from one channel to the next, from atmospherics to the vocals in the score to a beast encircling his prey. I cannot put into words how exceptional the music and sound design are, and such sonic wizardry heightens an already unparalleled experience.

Also included are subtitles in English (SDH) and Spanish. There are two alternate soundtracks as well, but those are better left for the next leg of this review.

  • Audio Commentary: Writers/directors Daniels -- y'know, Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert -- are joined by production designer Jason Kisvarday and sound mixer/fartist Brent Kiser for this outstanding commentary track. The quips come rapid-fire, making for a hell of a lot of fun. Among the many, many highlights...? An animatronic schlong operated by joystick. What the onscreen poop is made of and just how much of it never made it on-screen. Why Hostess was the only company willing to lend their brand to the piles of garbage in the flick. Cows dragging away an entire set. A state park catching fire in between shooting days. Taming a bear with marshmallows and ice cream sandwiches. Nixing the stop motion animated creation of the world from shit. Pointing out Shane Carruth's cameo. Lobbing out a not-really sequel idea. Delving into how Swiss Army Man both honors and skewers rom-com conventions. Totally worth a listen.

  • Music-Less Track: Daniels also chime in with a brief introduction to this alternate soundtrack. When Hank and Manny sing, you still hear them, but every other trace of music throughout the film has been stripped away. Without that grounding element, an already strange movie all of a sudden seems that much more surreal. Without music competing in the mix, this Dolby Digital 5.1 track (640kbps) also shows off just how spectacular every other aspect of the sound design is.
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  • Behind the Scenes (17 min.; HD): This making-of piece focuses heavily on the craftsmanship behind Swiss Army Man, particularly its extensive practical effects. Also thrill to orchestral fart conducting, pulling back the curtain on Tag the Three-Year Old Bear's stint in front of the camera, and what a celebration Swiss Army Man is of Daniels' friendships with their many longtime collaborators. Awwww...!

  • Making Manny (3 min.; HD): While "Making Manny" does follow every aspect of crafting one of Daniel Radcliffe's dummies, this plays more like an artful short film rather than a standard issue making-of featurette. I'd love to see more behind the scenes extras take this approach.

  • Deleted Scenes (9 min.; HD): More raccoon hunting. An earlier, tearful indication that Manny isn't exactly dead. A nod to necrophilia and other assorted fetishes, expanding on what already made it into the final cut. There are also two snippets that don't really fit into the Deleted Scene mold. The river rocket sequence unfolds with a different set of music. Daniels mention in the audio commentary how Mary Elizabeth Winstead pulled triple duty working with a grouchy, pint-sized actress, and we get a full look at that here. Winstead has to deliver her own dialogue, feed a child her lines, and charmingly coach the reluctant actress to giving her best performance, all at the same time. The movie's cut together so well that I never would've known if they hadn't told me.

  • Q&A (66 min.; HD): We're not talking about the usual post-screening Q&A at some film festival. This nearly feature-length conversation was conducted at the Dolby Institute, and the focus is very heavily on sound design. Since I'm enough of a geek to devote many, many hours towards writing mildly technical Blu-ray reviews, this is wildly fascinating to me, explored at a level that I hardly ever come across in DVD/Blu-ray extras. Your mileage may vary, but if you made it this far in the review, it probably doesn't. Anyway, Daniels are joined by sound mixer Brent Kiser and, eventually, Skyped-in composers Robert McDowell and Andy Hull. We learn how immensely Swiss Army Man's audio benefitted from a grant by the Dolby Sound Fellowship. There's a terrific primer to what Atmos is, for the uninitiated, based on individual objects in the soundscape rather than limiting things to channels. They talk about the genesis of the project, a six hour fart recording session, and how Dolby Atmos serves a narrative purpose rather than strictly sounding cool. They run through different versions of a couple of scenes, playing raw production audio before unveiling the polished, finished product. Much of the Q&A understandably revolves around the score: the mindset and deliberate limitations behind it, the challenge in a rock-'n-roll band trying to translate their ideas to a choral score, and how sometimes the end result was too good and had to be redone more sloppily. Most of the questions come from a moderator, but the audience does contribute a couple, such as the interplay between Foley artists and a film's composers. Apparently Mongolian hot pot makes for some terrific farts too, and maybe I'll be able to put that knowledge to good use one day. Anyway, if you're at all intrigued by this very integral component of filmmaking, you're sure to find this Q&A to make for deeply rewarding viewing.

Swiss Army Man comes packaged with an UltraViolet digital copy code and a snazzy slipcover.

The Final Word
Sure, sure, the cynical among us may drone on and on about how we're being held hostage in The Darkest Timeline. Just remember that we live in a world in which millions of dollars were spent so that the guy from Harry Potter could play a corpse that farts his way off a desert island. Swiss Army Man is a uniquely extraordinary masterpiece, and I'm thrilled to see that it's been lavished with a Blu-ray release to match. Highly Recommended.
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