August 14, 2005

Mystery Men on DVD

One of the scenes that now reminds me of the live-action "Tick"
Mystery Men sported some of the biggest up-and-comers of 1999. Of them, only Ben Stiller and Greg Kinnear have gained success — and only Stiller has achieved true stardom. Kel Mitchell, of Good Burger fame has since faded into oblivion. Hank Azaria is still looking for his big break, and the rest are floating some where around the C-list. Still, the energy and possibility of that time right before the bubble burst still carries through in this enterprise, which mixes the younger comedy club with veterans like William H. Macy (who hilariously spoofs his own nice guy persona) and Geoffrey Rush (whose Casanova Frankenstein anticipates Barbossa in 2003's surprise hit Pirates of the Caribbean).
The film tries to replicate Men in Black's success with an indie comic source to varying degrees of success. The low-tech nature of the underdog protagonists is countered by a city with architecture of such sheer excessive and over-the-top grandiosity that the Batman movies are put to shame. Looking back six years later, it's pretty much the live-action Tick series with an actual budget behind it. There are definitely some lazy patches in the middle, but it features a shocking plot twist that is more hilarious than perhaps any I've ever seen. That, matched with it's likable characters, is enough of a reason to seek it out.
The full team assembled and ready to roll.

The cityscapes in this film are astounding
An excellent transfer for its time, Mystery Men never-the-less shows its age a little bit. On the plus side, the anamorphic widescreen picture is generally clear with strong detail, vibrant colours, and very little edge enhancement. Blacks are actually black, and flesh tones are right on target. The downside comes from outmoded compression; shimmering, mosquito noise, and occasional pixelization rear their ugly head from time to time. Grain can also become intrusive on occasion.

An example of how vibrant and colorful this film can be at times.
The Dolby Digital track is surprisingly interesting, with more use of the surrounds than you'd expect from a comedy. Bass is also surprisingly strong. Both dialog and music are crystal clear.

Bonus Features Menu: More than you'd expect from a DVD of this era
This single-disc release puts many two-disc sets to shame. It is one of the most extensive releases I've seen that doesn't claim to be a special edition.
"Spotlight On Location" is your typical EPK-style fluff piece. The people involved are still so funny as to make it a bit more interesting that most of this ilk. One weird quirk is that Paul Reubens never goes out of character for his interviews.
The director's commentary with Kinka Usher is better than average. Usher is very comfortable with the format, never sounding rushed nor awkwardly pausing for long periods of time. At times, he suffers from just describing what's on screen. But from what I listened to, he did a good job of really covering all aspects from the technical to the story, to the actors, mixing in broader ideas with specific anecdotes. Really easy to listen to without being sleep inducing.
The "Deleted Scenes" start without preamble in non-anamorphic widescreen. Tom Waits's character gets an extended introduction; the Shoveller doesn't get any respect from his kids; the Blue Raja hides his identity; Mr. Furious pays the Shoveller a visit at work; Mr. Furious and the Shovellor pay the Blue Raja a visit at work; Mr Furious, the Shoveller, and the Blue Raja discuss recruitment; the search for the Sphinx brings about a cameo by Luis Guzmán; more post-battle interaction at the bar; bird calls before attack; the Blue Raja versus the suit-wearing henchmen; more hesitation at the climax.
"Universal Soundtrack Presentation" features a music video with a cheesy rap song by Kel Mitchell. That's it; pretty much a waste of disc space.
"Music Highlights" is far more useful. Presenting the user with a chapter menu, each option takes you to a clip of the movie in which that song is featured. The only thing that would have been cooler is if they'd made the audio for the clips music-only. In some clips you can barely hear the song over the dialog and sound effects.
"The Origin of the 'Mystery Men' comic book characters" is an in-depth, text-only retelling of how the characters came about first in the comic and then how they evolved to reach the big screen. A bit dry, but very informative.
"Production Notes" operates via the same text-only method as the previous feature, this time containing in-depth information specifically about the movie. Pretty dry stuff, overall, that's mostly covered in the other features.
"Cast & Filmmakers" offers profiles about the principal characters in front of and behind the camera.
"Theatrical Trailer" is just that, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
"Universal Showcase" features the theatrical trailers of Man on the Moon and Snow Falling on Cedars, both in non-anamorphic widescreen.
"Recommendations" features a non-anamorphic widescreen trailer for American Pie and fullscreen trailers for Army of Darkness and Darkman.
DVD-Rom features consist of web links to the various Universal departments and Panasonic; a Mystery Men jigsaw puzzle; some HTML text-only content, Mystery Men internet postcards; production sketches; and real media versions of the soundtrack.

Mystery Men has become a key timemarker of that optimistic moment right at the peak of the internet bubble. The possibilities were seemingly limitless. It was in some ways a happier era, and in many ways a shallower one. For better or worse, the film captures both qualities. It doesn't hold up with the best of what's coming out today (neither in terms of comedies nor in terms of DVDs) but it's an above average effort on both counts for the time. A quirky little film in a rather thorough quirky little package.a movie that shouldn't have been good, but is. Recommended for its fans.

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