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Simpsons Movie, The Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 March 2008
ImageThe concept of “jumping the shark,” as famously coined by Howard Stern “Wrap-up Show” host John Hine, speaks to the time at which a television show loses its edge and goes downhill creatively and/or in terms of popularity. The actual etymology of the term “jump the shark” comes from the 1977 episode of Happy Days when Arthur Fonzerelli (Henry Winkler) actually jumped over a shark on water skis (wearing a leather jacket, I might add) and, alas, the show was never the same. On, the mighty Simpsons franchise enjoys healthy enthusiasm for being one of the shows the site’s readers say potentially never jumped the shark, but oh, are they wrong. Some suggest it was the episode when Maude Flanders died (kind of dark, but made the Flanders family even more interesting). Others suggest it was the 1999 season, while even more say it was when now late-night talk host (and rumored to be the next host of the Tonight Show) Conan O’Brien left the show as a writer. No matter how you look at the legacy and ultimate high point of the show – it’s fair to say both that The Simpsons helped form the Fox television empire and has by now clearly jumped the shark. The Simpsons Movie is painful proof of just that fact.

Unlike the amazingly hilarious and edgy South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999), The Simpsons movie fails to bring the early edginess of the series to the big screen. In fact the entire Simpson movie starts out (no matter how big your screen is at home – mine is nine feet diagonal and powered by a new 1080p, three-chip JVC HD-ILA video projector) with a montage that looks to be a 4:3 “television-like” aspect ratio. While I absolutely love anything to do with the character Ralph Wiggum (the ignorant son of the even more ignorant Springfield police chief), I will say nothing pisses me off more than a movie that doesn’t take advantage of my wide screen for some sort of dramatic effect. Yes, I can live with different aspect ratios, and no, I don’t have an auto-masking Stewart Filmscreen (though I want one badly), but the idea of starting with the Simpsons on the small screen, when the entire idea of the Simpsons Movie is to see Homer, his family and the cast of goofball characters in beaming HD on the big wide screen, is nothing short of an insult to the Blu-ray buying, Simpsons-loving viewer. To understate the matter, it put me in the wrong mood from frame one and unfortunately things didn’t get much better from there on.
Part of the beauty of The Simpsons is the fact that the creators are politically opinionated and, in many cases, very Hollywood liberal in terms of topics. The irony of this is that The Simpsons franchise has made a very conservative Rupert Murdoch quite wealthy as owner of “the fourth network” over the last 18 years. The Simpsons Movie keeps with the liberal tradition in basing the plot of the film around the environment and how a hapless Homer Simpson could ruin it. Ask the now-mighty Al Gore (and if I never get a chance to tell you in person, Al, thanks for inventing the Internet. I love it. Made my career there, “Ozone Boy”) how important a mainstream topic the environment is and you will even get a positive response from a “soccer mom” in a deeply “red state” in these politically charged times. The problem with The Simpsons Movie is that, unlike early episodes of the show and as you saw in the South Park movie, the film as well as the television series has lost its satirical sharpness and has become preachy. The pressure to get most, if not all, of the characters into the movie for at least a cameo seems to drive the plot in more important ways than the battle to save Springfield from impending doom. Look at the South Park feature’s absurd idea of going to war with Canada over the imprisonment of two fart-joke-making comedians and side stories about Satan and Saddam Hussein in a gay sexual relationship and you have edgy. The Simpsons Movie falls way short in comparison. Perhaps, with its PG rating, it wasn’t going for the (shut your fucking face) “Uncle Fucker” crowd, but the screenplay comes across sometimes sanctimonious and Hollywood-pompous more than politically important or just shamefully funny. Hell, in some ways I found An Inconvenient Truth more engaging, and that is based in fact (unless you believe some of the pundits over at Fox News).

This is not to say there aren’t some funny jokes and moments in the film. The Spider-Pig scene that you may have seen in the commercials and/or the trailer is pretty damn funny and served to warm me back up after the non-widescreen intro. Even some of the political humor is on topic, such as the lampooning of the lost-looking and even more lost-sounding Schwarzenegger-like presidential character, who can so easily be influenced to choose the wrong by his aide (voiced brilliantly by Albert Brooks). The solution to Homer Simpson’s dumping of a silo of pig feces into Lake Springfield (about as smart as taking over Iraq and blowing $4,000,000,000 by our real president) ends up being to put a glass bubble over the entire town. As you might expect, hi-jinks ensue (including escaping to the nation of Alaska).

From an audio perspective, the Blu-ray title is worth its weight in gold, even though it’s not that heavy. It has a DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack for those of you rocking the Blu-ray player and receiver with HDMI 1.3. At this point, if you have this set-up, expect to enjoy some cool and very resolute-sounding effects. The dialogue is beaming and the overall sound of the movie is excellent.

Being an animated film in 1080p video on Blu-ray, The Simpsons Movie is eye candy. I loved watching the characters come to life on my own big screen at home. The yellow hues of Homer’s skull were perfectly believable. Marge’s blue hair had a vibrancy that you might expect from a woman who sleeps with somebody that works at a nuclear power plant. If you have a 1080p system and want to see what it can do, this Blu-ray is at least worth a rental (with an option to buy).

While redeeming at points and with its heart in the right place, The Simpsons Movie might have been better served as a last dance with fans, as opposed to an idea 18 years in the making. Much like Sopranos fans hope for the day when David Chase puts the cast back together for a story on the big screen, I think The Simpsons would have been afforded more creative latitude if the movie was their last salvo. With that said, the television series keeps on keeping on right after football on Sundays and for those loyal fans, the movie is a must-see. Does it up the game creatively from the level you expect from the show circa 200? Absolutely not. The Simpsons Movie is basically an 87-minute episode of the show, and at that level, a good one. Nothing more, nothing less. Solely judged as a Blu-ray disc, there are both audio and video reasons to own the title for both your surround sound and 1080p video rigs.

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