Warner Bros. // PG-13 // $35.99 // July 15, 2011
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted July 20, 2011
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In 10 Words or Less
An unnecessary remake falls quite short of the mark

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: the original Arthur
Likes: Russell Brand, Greta Gerwig
Dislikes: remakes
Hates: unoriginal Hollywood

The Movie
In preparing to approach this film, I went back and watched the original Arthur once more, and was reminded of its brilliance, as well as its intimacy. The first film was an incredibly small film, about people, rather than a concept or situation. And despite the indelible mark left by Dudley Moore's iconic, over-the-top drunk, it was a rather subtle film, focused on the characters' emotions and relationships. It was not a film made for $40 million dollars by a major studio, starring an up-and-coming comic best known for his controversies. Yet, someone though that's exactly what it could be, and the result is Russell Brand taking the sauced lead in a film that's distinctly less successful than the original.

The story has, for the most part, been left intact, as Arthur Bach (Brand) drinks his way through an extended adolescence, aided by his valet Hobson (Dame Helen Mirren taking over for Sir John Gielgud) and his driver Bitterman (Luis Guzman stepping in for Ted Ross.) Busy with a parade of women and a bar full of booze, his only concern is dealing with his mother (not father like in the original) who threatens to cut off his money if he doesn't marry the high-society Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner filling a quite different role than Jill Eikenberry.) The problem is, he's suddenly met a fellow free spirit (who for some reason is now called Naomi, and is played by Greta Gerwig rather than Liza Minelli) whom he actually falls in love with, and now he must choose between his heart and his bank account. From here, the new film takes some liberties, especially with Susan, but you won't be shocked with how it all turns out if you remember the original one.

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

Whereas the first film had a story about growing up and finding what's important in life underneath a wealth of non-stop laughs, this movie swaps these elements, giving us a mainly emotional storyline peppered with some laughs here and there. The romance between Arthur and Naomi feels overtly sincere (and rather unmotivated,) while the relationship between Arthur and Hobson is far less subtle than it was in the original (though a Darth Vader mask will do that to you.) In fact, one scene between Brand and Gerwig, set in a gorgeous, deserted Grand Central Station is so disconnected from the known-quantity that is Arthur Bach (in this film or the world at large) that it feels like it crash landed from another film. Trying to sell the romance and have Brand be underpants-in-church wacky strikes a hard tone to maintain, especially when most people watching are expecting a film more in line with Brand's manic persona. It's also surprising considering first-time director Jason Winer has directed several episodes of Modern Family, which boasts a near-perfect balance of emotion and comedy, a quality sorely missing here. If this was intended to be a standard romantic comedy, Winer looks to have been a good pick at the helm, but no one expects that of Arthur or Brand. In fact, it's hard to imagine a studio today even wanting to make a movie as small and intimate as the original Arthur, which is why this film is not.

Considering the movie is named for his character and the original lived and died on that character, it would be extremely easy to lay this film's shortcomings at Brand's feet, but aside from the consistently enjoyable Mirren, who more than holds her own in Gielgud's shoes, he's probably the only thing that will keep you watching to the end, as the peeks at his man-child personality offer a worthy spiritual descendant of Moore's drunken playboy, while delivering a touch of the likable innocence that made Moore's Arthur such an icon. There's an unfortunate trail of good actors otherwise left in the film's wake, including Garner, who's done no favors by an over-the-top role that's changed too dramatically from the original to serve the story well, Luis Guzman and Nick Nolte, who are basically walking sight gags, and Scott Adsit and Jon Hodgman, who may as well have not shown up. Adsit has one moment in the extras on this Blu-Ray that's of infinitely more value than the combined whole of his on-screen time.

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

The Discs
A standard dual-hub Blu-Ray case (inside a pointless cover-repeating slipcover) holds a Blu-Ray and a DVD/Digital Copy of the film. The static pop-up menu offers options to watch the film, adjust languages, select scenes and check out extras. The audio is available in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese, while subtitles are available in English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Quality
Arthur offers up a 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that features some rather nice fine detail, but there looks to be some excessive noise in spots and the colors, particularly the reds, are a tad oversaturated, noticeable most obviously when Arthur dons his red gummy-bear suit. The film errs to the side of dark, with frequently dim indoor shots, and there's some crushing on display, but it's not brutal. There's no obvious issues with digital artifacts though, as the image remains consistently clean.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track won't excite anyone, but it's a dialogue-driven comedy, so you wouldn't expect much outside of the sparse foreground sound effects, particularly the zooming Batmobile, and a healthy dose of atmospherics when Arthur is out on the town, or backed by a soundtrack, the only time the sides and rear get any real involvement in the mix. Other than that, the vast majority of the sound is coming at you from dead center and it sounds clean and clear.

The Extras
Up first is "Arthur Unscripted!" an 11-minute feaurette of outtakes, hosted by Brand and Winer. The focus is on the improv that went into the film, mostly from Brand, but it doesn't feel like the energy he attempted to imbue the film with made it onto the screen. Perhaps if they just had let Brand be Brand it would have been a better film. It's followed by over 10 minutes of additional footage, mostly from dialogue scenes, though the cuts from Arthur's trip to the unemployment office are pretty funny.

The on-disc extras wrap up with a very polished 74-second "gag reel" that feels more like a promo for the film. There are some amusing moments, but I can't believe there isn't 10-times as much footage, not that this is the best of the screw-ups.

As noted before, there's a second disc included with the Blu-Ray, which holds the film (but no extras) and a Digital Copy as well.

This image is for illustrative purposes only, and does not represent the disc's quality

The Bottom Line
There are parts of Arthur that are photocopied directly from the original, others merely inspired by it and others that try something different. It's not hard to guess which parts work best. In fact, if they did a Van Sant-Psycho shot-for-shot (but perhaps modernized) remake, it might have been rather entertaining. As it is, we've got a bunch of talented people awkwardly inhabiting established roles, leading to disappointment rather than enjoyment. The disc looks and sounds good (but not great) and brings next to nothing to the table in terms of extras, so Brand fans should approach with caution, and others should probably just watch the original.

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