The ‘Burbs Goes Blu

by Ben Martin

Movie Retrospective Review:

The 1980s was a very special time for movies in my opinion. Much like today, a glut of that decade’s films were genre pieces. However, the genre fare of the 80s consisted of movies based on original ideas as opposed to everything being based on a pre-existing property. Also, 80s movies possess a particular charm which seemed to disappear after the decade concluded. One of my favorite flicks from that time is The ‘Burbs, a satirical comedy unlike any other.

The ‘Burbs would go on to become a cult-comedy classic, but it was initially conceived as a TV pilot by screenwriter Dana Olsen (Inspector Gadget, Henry Danger). Taking inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock films, particularly Rear Window (1954), and his childhood in suburbia, Olsen crafted the pilot script. Alas, it didn’t get picked up. That was probably unfortunate for the television landscape of the time, but very fortunate for we the audience. After not getting picked up as a pilot, Olsen reworked his script into a feature-length comedy.

Universal bought the screenplay, originally intending to make it as a low-budget picture. One of the hot genre directors of the era, Joe Dante (of the upcoming Nightmare Cinema) quickly became attached to direct. Having helmed the massive horror-comedy hit, Gremlins (1984) a few years earlier; Dante was the perfect choice for the film in review as it also mixes genres. Soon, the picture was up and running and became a much more significant release for the studio when Tom Hanks (The Post) signed on to star. At that time, Hanks was primarily a comedic actor, whose star was rising high and fast. Once the rest of the neighborhood was cast, a cult- classic went into production.

Set in the peaceful, fictional suburb of Hinkley Hills; the movie follows a few residents of the neighborhood as they attempt to uncover what their new neighbors are up to. Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks), is a man who is burnt-out on his job. Hoping that a little rest will cure his working man blues, Ray takes a week off from work. Despite his wife, Carol’s (Carrie Fisher) urging to come with her and their son on a lake vacation, he politely refuses. Instead, he wants to stay home and do a whole lot of nothing; ostensibly creating the “staycation.” A few days into his said staycation, boredom is getting the best of Ray. However, he’s keeping himself entertained by watching going on’s of the neighborhood. The hottest happening of which is the moving-in of the mysterious and reclusive,= Klopeks. Soon enough, rumors start to swirl in the suburb. Following that, Walter Seznick (Gale Gordon), one of the more annoying suburbanites, disappears. Suspecting that The Klopeks are responsible for the disappearance; Ray and his closest neighbors, Mark Rumsfield (Bruce Dern), a former military man, and Art Weingartner (Rick Ducommun), the textbook definition of an instigator; take it upon themselves to find out if their new neighbors are also cold-blooded killers.

Despite being released in February 1989, The ‘Burbs feels like a movie from the middle of that particular decade. A large part of this is because Joe Dante brought his signature visual and tonal style to the picture. The director wasn’t exactly on the same level as some of his contemporaries of the era, such as Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One), John Carpenter (The Thing, The Ward) or  John Landis (The Blues Brothers, An American Werewolf in London), among others. However Dante’s most certainly a director who had his place during that time of cinema. Moreover, the man can mix film genres just as well as an old-school bartender can mix a complex cocktail. He doesn’t spice it up too much nor does he make his directorial chops the star. Instead, Dante just makes well-done movies. Thus, the director mixed comedy, mystery and just a smidge of horror to make The ‘Burbs and the results are fantastic.

Aside from Olsen’s script and Dante’s direction, this movie indeed works because of its cast. Early in his career, Tom Hanks was almost exclusively a comedic actor. Hanks was and is an excellent comedic actor. Shortly after the movie in review, however, Hanks made his transition into drama and with a couple of exceptions, has stayed away from comedy ever since. I find this to be a shame because Hanks’ charm and comedic timing are a delight to watch and I would be thrilled if he did some more light-hearted movies again. And I say that despite hating the actor’s last comedy, 2011’s Larry Crowne. On the other hand, I loved his SNL turn as David S. Pumpkins. The rest of the cast is great as well with all of them bringing the fictional ‘burb to life.

Upon its release, The ‘Burbs was a financial success; but critics hated it. I can only think that was because this film is a genre mash-up with an intentionally bizarre tone. Thus maybe it was ahead of its time. As with all films that became cult classics, The ‘Burbs found the majority of its audience elsewhere. That initial critical reception was long forgotten as the movie became a cult hit, thanks to home video and endless airings on cable; the latter of which is where I discovered it. After seeing The ‘Burbs on TV once and loving it, the movie became a recurring watch and video rental (featuring some classic box art.) I immediately connected with the humor and tone of the film. In fact, I what say it served as a soft introduction to Hitchcockian cinema before I saw a Hitchcock film. Over the years, I’ve continued to revisit The ‘Burbs from time-to-time, and it’s only gotten better. As someone who spent a large chunk of his life thus far living in the suburbs, more of the movie’s humor has only rung truer to me as I’ve aged. This movie is ultimately a satire; therefore it’s comedy is rooted in reality that can then be played up for comedic effect. That is why The ‘Burbs is a cult classic. Furthermore, I think this movie is perfect for what it is. Trust me, dear reader, that’s a something you’ll rarely hear me say.

Blu-Ray Review

Even though I love The ‘Burbs, I never did add it to my home video collection in any format. Once Blu-Ray came around, I patiently waited, and no Blu-Ray came. Well, not in the states anyway. In the U.K. however, collector and cinema enthusiast-oriented home video company Arrow Video gave the film a thorough deluxe edition treatment several years ago. Finally, after a long wait, the American equivalent of Arrow Video, Shout! Factory has given us a proper Collector’s Edition of The ‘Burbs. As expected, the Collector’s Edition case features reversible cover art. On one side, there is newly commissioned cover art; which is very fitting for this title. Flip that over though, and you’ll find, that original, classic box art I referred to earlier. The company has done a nice 2K scan from the film’s original negative; resulting in a nice, crisp picture. The audio tracks have also been given a punch-up as well. Best of all though are the special features that are included on this disc:

Audio Commentary with Writer Dana Olsen, Moderated by Author Calum Waddell: When it comes to audio commentaries, they can be a mixed bag. Sometimes you’ll get huge gaps of silence or worse yet,  a play-by-play. However, some commentaries can be very entertaining and informative. Thankfully, this particular commentary falls into the latter category. Being well-moderated by Waddell makes the commentary feel more like a conversation between him and writer Dana Olsen. I believe this approach makes it much easier for Olsen to speak about his work. Thus, many interesting stories are evoked from the screenwriter. While I would’ve enjoyed a commentary track with Joe Dante as well, this is an entertaining and informative track.

There Goes The Neighbourhood: The Making of The ‘Burbs: This hour-plus documentary is worth the purchase price of this Blu-Ray alone. As with any good “Making of” this doc takes you from pre-production all the way up to the lasting legacy. The doc features interviews with Dante and various other crew.  Cast members Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, and Courtney Gaines are also interviewed. While it would’ve been nice to get Tom Hanks and/or Bruce Dern to participate in the documentary as well; I realize that’s not realistic. I’m a bit of a mark for documentaries of this nature. However, that doesn’t mean they’re all terribly rewatchable. Thankfully though, I could watch this one many times over. It should be noted that There Goes The Neighbourhood was initially featured on the Arrow Video release and has been ported over for the release in review. (Hence, the British spelling in its title.)

New Interview with Director Joe Dante: This exclusive, new interview with Dante is very entertaining and informative over the course of its 18-minute runtime. More importantly, though, he shares some stories here that I haven’t heard elsewhere.

New Interviews with Director of Photography John Hora & Editor Marshall Harvey: Each of these gentlemen gets a separate ten-minute interview. I found both these interviews to be watchable; but only because I’m interested in the technical side of filmmaking. If you aren’t interested in such subject matter, these interviews can probably be skipped as they’re a bit dry.

Alternate Ending: I liked this alternate ending, and it worked just as well as the one that was in the final cut. This alternate ending is not quite as exciting as the one we ultimately got, but it is as funny. However, I do think it was superfluous to include it as a separate bonus feature as this ending is included in Joe Dante’s Original Workprint. It should be noted that the alternate ending is a 480i because it was sourced from said original workprint.

Original Workprint from Joe Dante’s Archive: This workprint is another one of those special features that make this disc worth the price. Running a little longer than the final cut, Dante’s workprint has been screened at various film festivals over the years. After all those screenings, I’m delighted to see that this workprint has been provided on this release. For those of you who might not know, a workprint or “rough cut” is the first cut that is turned in to the studio. The majority of the time specific transitions and effects, both visual and audible are missing or unfinished. That’s the case here as well, though this workprint is mostly complete. Having not yet been scored by Jerry Goldsmith, this cut is scored to various tracks from legendary composer Ennio Morricone as well as a few cues from Bernard Herrmann.

Such scoring manages to help change the tone of the film a bit. Making a dark comedy all the more black; this workprint provides a different experience. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still ultimately a comedy. However, this cut makes you notice things as they are implied or outright stated: Ray and Art don’t get along all that well. Plus, The Petersons have their troubles as we find out Ray was fired as opposed to just taking a staycation. As I said, these elements make the film darker; but just as funny. In fact, I found the workprint to be just as good as the final cut. It was also nice to watch something that looked like an old-school, 35mm print. As well it should since this workprint was also sourced from an original print.

Still, Behind-the-Scenes and Poster Galleries: These several galleries are a few minutes apiece and are presented in high-definition. Each gallery is a slide-show with Goldsmith’s music from the film underscoring them. Still, galleries are what you’d expect. But, they were fun to look at considering we no longer live in a world of making of books and lobby cards.

Theatrical Trailer: A vintage trailer of yesteryear; mainly because it features a voiceover. A beautiful trailer trope to which we’re no longer treated. As someone who thinks trailers and marketing materials should be included on all Blu-Ray releases, I enjoyed this.

If you’re a fan of The ‘Burbs, this Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray is worth picking up. If you like this picture, you know it’s incredibly rewatchable. On the other hand, if you haven’t seen, why not have your first viewing be in the highest definition possible. High recommendation aside, I should note one thing. As stated earlier, much of this content was ported over from the Blu-Ray released in the U.K. If you already own that one, buying this edition from Shout! Factory would prove redundant. However, if you only have a dusty, old DVD copy sitting on your shelf, this release is a necessary double dip!

 

THE ‘BURBS COLLECTOR’S EDITION BLU-RAY IS AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE IN STORES AND ONLINE!

Ben Martin

Ben Martin is a life-long movie & TV lover. In his teens, he decided he wanted to do more than just watch the things he enjoyed. So Ben decided to start writing his opinions on TV & movies a well. Mr. Martin also writes screenplays, short stories and opinion columns.