Step Brothers Blu-ray ReviewDecember 07, 2008
It is difficult for me to rate producer Judd Apatow's Step Brothers (2008), the latest collaboration between Will Ferrell and writer/director Adam McKay. I am biased towards liking it (as low brow humor is a guilty pleasure for me) but have a hard time trying to defend it against its many detractors. It is the third time Ferrell and McKay have worked together following Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004) and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby (2006). While I love Anchorman's absurd humor, I feel that Talladega Nights has too many script issues and comedic dead spots to work as a cohesive product (though the funny moments, when they existed, are hilarious).
Step Brothers works to avoid similar problems by giving up the pretense of having much of a story to tell and just concentrating on producing the funny moments (from information in the special features and the extensive amount of outtakes, it appears separate scenes were largely done as improvisation where they edited it together afterwards). The premise is Brennan (Will Ferrell) and Dale (John Reilly) are under-achieving, spoiled 40 year-old adolescents who still live at home with single parents. When their respective parents Nancy (Mary Steenburgen) and Robert (Richard Jenkins) marry, the "brothers" are forced to live together and hilarity ensues with Ferrell and Reilly playing off each other in inane situations.
Critics who were at least accepting of the preposterous and often guttural humor elements (you have to accept it to that degree to be able to even watch it) ravaged the movie due to its paper-thin plot and often incoherent narrative structure. However, I think this is what allows it to work as well as it does. Step Brothers goes to little effort to enforce a storyline and basically provides a canvas for the actors to play out increasingly ridiculous skits against. In fact, the weakest moments of the film are when it feels the need to move the story along (such as having the brothers attempt to grow up and be responsible) and tries to tie plot elements together. Thankfully these moments are exceptions.
The humor is stupid and often appeals to a lowest common denominator mentality (I do not know how else to explain a scene where a drum set gets "tea-bagged"). If you are looking for a clever comedy, go watch a Mel Brooks film. What you get here is juvenile, crude yet gut-busting hilarious if your tastes run towards this type of humor (though I will argue that the A cappella rendition of Guns 'N Roses' Sweet Child Of Mine is a cut above the rest). I found myself "laughing my ass off" so often that I had to "pause" the disc as I was missing whatever nonsensical contrivance was happening on screen next.
The film exists mostly as an excuse to allow Reilly and Ferrell (with good support from the rest of the cast) to do ridiculously stupid and not infrequently gross things. That honestly sums it up. If the idea of two grown men acting like spoiled kids sounds appealing to you (and I really enjoyed it), give Step Brothers a shot. Otherwise, stay far, far away as the movie will only leave you stranded somewhere between boredom and irritation.
Sony brings Step Brothers to Blu-ray on a two-disc set containing the theatrical and extended versions plus an extensive amount of extras. The extended version runs about eight minutes longer than the theatrical. This is mainly due to the inclusion of a very crude but humorous sex scene set during a family dinner (you can already imagine how that is going to play out).
For its high-def debut, the studio provides the film their standard 1080p AVC encode framed at 2.40:1. There is nothing wrong with the technical quality of the transfer, and it exhibits many of the benefits we expect with very good detail and clarity. On the positive side, no DNR or edge enhancement appears to have been applied. Grain is intact yet modest. Colors are stable, and there are no artifacting or pixelation present.
However, there is only so much that can be done with the less than impressive visual style. Obviously you are not watching Step Brothers for eye-popping high-def as this a very bland visual composition. While detail is solid, there is not much that you care to spend time exploring on screen, and luckily the humor takes up your attention.
The biggest problem is with skin tones. They range from a strange orange that makes you think the actors used too much tanning spray to a sickly pale hue. I can only assume that if this was not intentional, it was not something of consequence to the filmmaker. Unfortunately the enhanced resolution of Blu-ray makes it more noticeable.
For audio we get English, French and Portuguese lossless Dolby True HD 5.1 tracks along with Spanish and Thai Dolby Digital 5.1. Subtitles are provided in English, English(SDH), French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Korean, and Chinese. Much like the visuals, the audio is competent but not overly impressive. Dialog is crisp and clearly emanates from the front speakers. There is not much sense of directionality or prominent surround use, but I do not find this surprising for this type of film.
On my initial viewing, I did not really notice Jon Brion's charming score. It blends in well and does what it intends by subtly supporting the onscreen antics. After watching the included featurette on the composer, I was able to pick up on the musical arrangement for my second viewing and found myself appreciating it.
As far as the audio presentation goes, Step Brothers delivers when it needs to. This is obviously not an action film with a dynamic range that will consistently impress. It is mostly dialog driven but for the moments of slapstick or fighting between the brothers, it holds up with well rounded bass and distinct separation between particular sound elements.
Putting any complaints about the audio/video aside, Sony goes all out on the extras. If you enjoyed the movie, you are in for a real treat with around two hours worth of outtakes, alternate scenes and montages that showcase the stupid humor plus another hours' worth of featurettes, videos, skits, the red band trailer and a truly hilarious commentary. Once you see the extent of the extras, you will understand why a second disc was required for this release.
I found myself enjoying the two hours worth of outtakes as much as the movie (they are actually longer than the movie in total). If you are familiar with the red band trailer and were disappointed that some footage did not make it into the movie, you will find much of it here. There is some repetition, but I did not mind at all.
The cuts are consistently funny, and it is very interesting to see the different versions. Watching this makes you realize how much footage must have been shot and how much improvisation they did. Many times, these extras work better than the movie, as they do not have the burden of trying to hold the plot together.
Disc 1 contains the commentary, deleted and extended scenes and the video editing feature. The rest of the extensive extras are on disc 2. All the supplemental materials are in HD with an Mpeg-2 encode and Dolby Digital stereo sound (with the exception of the trailer which has Dolby Digital 5.1 audio).
Audio Commentary – Director Adam McKay, John Reilly, Will Farrell and NBA star Baron Davis (considering the film is so absurd, I did not even bother wondering why he is included) provide a full-length audio commentary. In what is a first for me (and very possibly for commentaries in general), the track includes musical accompaniment from the score composer Jon Brion. Not only does Brion play along with the participants, about 2/3rds of the commentary is done as a musical (yes, you read that correctly).
It is as inane as much of the movie and surprisingly entertaining with the players taking turns singing and harmonizing. You do not get overly detailed information on the film, but I am not sure what you would expect. This is worth listening to just for the comedic interplay between the participants.
Deleted Scenes (8:55, HD) - Eight deleted scenes with an option to play all. The audio is very poor in a few scenes.
Alternate/Extended Scenes (37:20, HD) - 15 alternate versions of the scenes from the movie with an option to play all.
Line O' Rama (5:55, HD) – A montage of memorable lines from the film and the outtakes.
Gag Reel (4:15, HD) – A humorous collection of scenes where the actors crack up trying to say their lines. I am guessing this was probably not an uncommon occurrence during the making of the movie.
Job Interviews (28:59, HD) – Ten scenes filmed for when the brothers are forced to get jobs with an option to play all. Some hilarious cameos from Ed Helms and Craig Robinson of NBC's The Office are included.
Therapy (13:30, HD) – Eight scenes filmed for when the boys go into therapy with an option to play all.
Prestige Worldwide Full Presentation (4:51, HD) – The full scene where the Dale and Brennan pitch the idea for their new multi-national entertainment company.
Dale vs Brennan (6:52, HD) – A collection of scenes where the brothers face off against each other. Most of these are alternate takes not included in the movie.
Music of Step Brothers (18:16, HD) – A featurette on Jon Brion's work composing the score. This is very well produced and has segments with him playing in a band and conducting.
Making of Step Brothers (22:03, HD) – A featurette of behind the scenes information with input from the director and all main stars. It is not overly detailed but gives just the right amount of attention to what you care to know for this type of film.
Charlyne Moves In (7:19, HD) – Probably the weakest extra. It is a skit revolving around "Charlyne," a friend of producer Judd Apatow who lives on the movie set acting like it is her home. She interacts with the actors during shooting not realizing they are making a movie.
L'Amour En Caravane (12:02, HD) – A skit where Richard Jenkins gets a crush on Mary Steenburgen during filming. This is very funny and actually cleverer than anything done in the film. Ted Danson (Mary's real life husband) and Larry David make appearances.
Boats 'N Hoes Video (1:52, HD) – The crude but embarrassingly enjoyable video that the brothers created as the first project for their multi-national entertainment corporation. It is shown in the same home video quality (though encoded in HD) as during the film.
Boats 'N Hoes Music Video Editor – A tool which allows you to "edit" the Boats 'N Hoes video from the movie. You basically have the option to rearrange parts of the video and save to your player's drive. There is an option to upload your new creation to Sony's BD-Live portal (requires profile 2.0/BD-Live compliant player). At the time of this writing, there were not any videos uploaded. I am not sure how much sustained entertainment value there is from this feature, but it is fun to play with for a bit.
Red Band Trailer (2:26, HD) – The hilarious red band trailer for the movie.
BD-Live – Aside from being able to upload the edited video, I did not notice any other BD-Live support for this disc at the time of writing.
Step Brothers is basically a bunch of hilariously stupid moments strung together with no pretense of being artistic much less coherent. I could argue it is an acquired taste but that would be giving it too much credit. If you are a fan of Will Farrell's brand of coarse humor and liked his collaboration with John Reilly in Talladega Nights, you get a full serving of that and probably will enjoy the movie.
Sony gives Step Brothers a solid Blu-ray package which has technically competent audio and video but nothing impressive to showcase the high-def format. Where the release really shines is with the extras. With over three hours of extras, the stupidity from the movie gets to continue on and on.
- Robert Searle
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