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Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean - Remastered 25th Anniversary Collection
Developed for television with writing partners Richard Curtis (later of Love Actually and About Time fame) and Robin Driscoll, the appeal of "Mr. Bean" harkens back to the days of silent comedy. The character rarely speaks, with Atkinson painting all the necessary emotional exposition on his rubbery, exaggerated facial expressions. When Bean does have something to say, his voice has an almost Yoda-like pitch that manages to combine a throaty bass and a nasal pinch. In each segment (three or four to an episode), Bean generally finds himself sucked into some sort of conflict and struggles to escape, which sets the stage for some of Atkinson's incredible physical comedy, twisting his tall, skinny body into increasingly exaggerated shapes. Of course, Bean is also petty and selfish, and he only ends up in many of these situations thanks to his own vanity and arrogance.
Since the comedic style of "Mr. Bean" is so simple, there's not much in the way of themes to explore or subtext to examine. Part of the reason the character is globally popular is because the comedy automatically translates itself into any language. Instead, there's not much to do but point out some of the series' highlights, including Mr. Bean completing his entire morning routine in the car in order to get to a dentist's appointment on time, hopping after a car trying to reclaim a runaway shoe, and of course, the turkey-on-head incident on Christmas. That bit, along with a handful of others (vomit bag, roller coaster, and the same "sleeping" gag from the church routine), was recreated beat-for-beat in the first movie, Bean -- yet another example of Atkinson sticking to the tried and true.
Early episodes of the show rely almost entirely on Atkinson's physical skills, but later episodes become more ambitious, if only slightly. "Do It Yourself, Mr. Bean" includes a number of spectacular stunts, including a sequence where he drives his lime green mini from the store back to his house from a recliner strapped to the roof. Later in the same episode, he uses some ingenuity to move the window in his kitchen wall, and then finds an unusual way to repaint the interior of the living room. Entire episodes, including one where he goes to a hotel and ends up wandering the halls buck naked (with unusually fitting signs as his only cover) and another where he ends up supervising a baby at a carnival are shot on location, taking Bean out of familiar environments. The final episode, "Hair by Mr. Bean of London", may be the height of Bean doing damage to people directly, rather than surreptitiously.
The two questions that come to mind, revisiting "Mr. Bean" on the show's 25th anniversary, are whether the family-friendly sensibilities of the show will connect with today's audiences, and how much replay value the show has. I watched these episodes ad nauseum as a kid, and I'd be lying if I said coming back to them was much more than a bit of pleasing nostalgia. It feels like so much has changed between 1990-1995 and 2015, and sometimes the show's UK TV sparseness can come off antiquated, especially knowing there are slightly more energetic and stylish movies with the same character. At the same time, perhaps predictability is more like reliability: these are Atkinson's classics, the routines that he honed to perfection, and each one has been preserved, down to the last twitch.
"Mr. Bean": The Whole Bean arrives in a single-width, low-budget 4-disc DVD case with discs housed on both the front and back inside covers, and the other two on a hinged flap tray. The artwork itself lacks even the limited style of the original A&E box set, which at least made an effort by showing Bean on a food can -- sort of a sensible joke. This new artwork just depicts Bean standing in a landscape photo of brilliant green grass and vibrant blue sky that are straight out of a Windows 95 backdrop. Inside the case, there is a booklet summarizing each episode (at least one of the photo / summary combinations is wrong).
The Video and Audio
Although the last time I saw any "Mr. Bean" was watching a homemade VHS tape of the episodes recorded off of public access, I'm confident in saying the 1.33:1 full frame, Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo presentation of the episodes in this set is very good, considering the limitations of the source. As with many British TV shows, the majority of the program was shot on video (the exception being exterior footage), meaning "Mr. Bean" could never shine in high definition. Colors are still a touch on the drab side, and the occasional bit of interlacing or comet trails are noticeable, but in general, the image is crisper, more vibrant, and more pleasing than I've seen it, and free of any compression problems. Again, I never owned A&E's version of the series, and for all I know their transfer and this transfer could be close to identical. That said, the show looks as good to me here as I've ever seen it. The sound is pretty bare-bones, with a bit of ambient music and the laugh track being most of what's going on here -- Bean isn't much of a talker. That said, it's a bit of a disappointment that there are no subtitles or captions for what little dialogue there is.
Shout! Factory ports over most of the same content from A&E's series set, with one swap. "The Story of Bean" documentary is more of a profile on Atkinson than a documentary specifically about the Bean character, but a very good one. Note: this contains some non-family friendly footage from early in his career, including brief nudity. Sadly, this is still the cut version of the documentary, missing a segment covering The Tall Man, likely due to rights issues. This is followed by the complete clip show special "The Best Bits of Mr. Bean". Although the viewer will have just seen most of the content in this program if they've watched the episodes, the clips are housed within an entirely new "episode", in which Mr. Bean is cleaning out his attic and stumbles upon items that lead into the clips. It was not included on A&E's set, but released individually by Universal alongside the first film. This takes the place of UK TV show appearances by Bean that are not included here. Three "missing" sequences will be familiar to fans (like myself) who saw them as part of the show during PBS broadcasts, including Bean winning the turkey that ends up on his head, and buying the armchair that ends up on his car. There are also the unaired sketches "Bus Stop" and "Library", which were included on official VHS releases in the US. The package is completed by a trailer for the "Mr. Bean" animated series.
A later box set from A&E included their DVDs of the animated series and the two feature films, but none of that content is included here. (It's no longer complete: The Animated Series is actually returning, with new episodes airing in 2015.) Here's hoping Shout! can eventually land the rights for the cartoon and a remastered Blu-ray double feature, with the deleted scenes featurette on the first film included (you can see the filming of one of these deleted scenes in the documentary).
There is a sense that "Mr. Bean" doesn't have the kind of replay value that the more caustic, adult "Blackadder" does, or that the style of comedy on display here is out of vogue. That said, it's also timeless enough that it will endure -- Atkinson's style isn't one to change with the times. Instead, he waits for the times to change in his favor. This DVD set features PQ as good as the show's ever going to look, and the same supplements from previous editions. For fans, recommended.
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