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John Landis
Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis, Isla Fisher, Tom Wilkinson , Tim Curry
Writing Credits:
Piers Ashworth, Nick Moorcroft

No Job Too Small. No Body Too Big. No Questions Asked.

A black comedy about two 19th century grave robbers who find a lucrative business providing cadavers for an Edinburgh medical school.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 92 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 12/20/2011

• 10 Deleted Scenes
• Interviews
• Outtakes
• Behind the Scenes Featurette
• Previews and Theatrical Trailer


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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Burke & Hare (2010)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 99, 2011)

If you can’t remember when John Landis merited consideration as an “A”-list director, I don’t blame you – it’s been a while. To my surprise, a look at his filmography revealed that until 2010, Landis hadn’t directed a feature film since 1998’s Blues Brothers 2000. While he did make a 2007 Don Rickles documentary as well as some shorts and TV episodes, Landis stayed away from features for 12 years.

2010’s Burke & Hare marked Landis’ return to the big screen, but he didn’t do so with a commercial bang. The film literally received the most token US theatrical release possible: it ran on one screen where it earned a total of $947. No, that’s not a typo; Burke apparently sold about 100 tickets in the United States. It did better in the UK, but still wasn’t a hit; it earned the equivalent of about $1.4 million there.

Commercial success doesn’t indicate quality, of course, so I was curious to give Landis’ first feature film in 12 years a look. Based loosely on a true story and set in Scotland circa 1828, we learn that Edinburgh boasts an active medical community that requires multiple cadavers to thrive. Laws have tightened the grave-robbing business, so a shortage of available bodies means that the price of corpses skyrockets.

Stuck in tough economic straits, pals William Burke (Simon Pegg) and William Hare (Andy Serkis) try a number of scams to raise money, but these flop. When an acquaintance dies, Hare thinks that they sell his remains to make a profit. They do so and enjoy the brief thrill of their easy money.

A thrill that they hope to replicate, but because they can’t count on the demise of additional housemates, they need to get creative. They risk an attempt at grave robbing, but it flops, so they change tactics and decide to create their own “product”. When a boarder nears death, they accelerate that path and sell his corpse. This sets them on a “career” as murderers who earn their keep when they sell the bodies to the local medical schools.

If nothing else, Burke shows that Landis can still attract decent talent to his flicks. While the movie lacks true star power, it still comes with a nice roster of actors, even if the movie throws away some of them; for instance, Christopher Lee appears so briefly that I wonder why he bothered to take the part.

As seen with the director’s best movies like Animal House and Trading Places, Landis tends to prosper when he boasts actors who can take control of the films and elevate them to a higher level. While Serkis and Pegg certainly have talent, they lack the charisma and radiance of folks like John Belushi and Eddie Murphy at their peak, so they don’t manage to do much with the material. Heck, even Murphy and Belushi couldn’t do much when they worked in some of the weaker Landis efforts like Blues Brothers and Beverly Hills Cop III, so it becomes nigh unto impossible to believe that Serkis and Pegg could add much zing to Burke.

And they don’t, as they and the other actors can’t overcome the weak script and indifferent direction. Landis has never been one to deliver a tight, concise narrative, and he falls back on old crutches here. Rather than attempt a clear story, Landis prefers unnecessary side tales and cheap gags. These take the flick off course and make it meander.

The script doesn’t do the film any favors, so I can’t blame Landis for all of its issues. It’s usually a bad sign when a movie starts with extended narration, and in this case, it’s a crummy opening. We hear clumsy exposition from an executioner character who plays little other real role in the proceedings, and the scene feels clunky. Other elements of the screenplay fail to come together and make this a compelling narrative. Burke does tighten up during its third act, but by then, it’s too late; we’ve already lost interest in the lackluster proceedings and characters.

The decision to play the story for laughs also seems misguided. Sure, dark comedies can work really well, but a tale like this finds it tough to succeed without a stronger script and a better director behind it. Though Burke never becomes a bad movie, it fails to deliver anything especially entertaining as it plods through its 92 minutes.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Burke & Hare appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This was a perfectly decent SD-DVD presentation.

For the most part, sharpness seemed fine. Some light edge enhancement didn’t help, and artifacts made the image a bit messy at times, so wide shots tended to be a little off. Nonetheless, the movie usually offered pretty good definition. Shimmering and jaggies didn’t become an issue, and source flaws remained absent.

Colors weren’t much of a concern in this fairly monochromatic affair. Given the nature of the story, I didn’t expect dynamic hues, and the film tended toward a subdued gray look much of the time. What colors we found seemed decent but unexceptional. Blacks tended to appear reasonably deep, and shadows looked acceptable; some low-light shots were a little dense, but this didn’t become an issue. All in all, this was a reasonably good image.

Though not especially ambitious, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Burke seemed satisfactory. A few action/scare sequences brought the track to life in a more active manner, but these were infrequent. Instead, the mix usually focused on general environment, and that side of things worked well. The audio used the speakers in a natural manner that created a good soundscape.

Music also featured nice stereo imaging, and the surrounds contributed to the ambience. The back channels didn’t have a lot to do, but they added to the film’s aura. The whole package connected together in a reasonably involving manner.

Audio quality was positive. Music showed nice range and clarity, while effects offered good accuracy and punch. The smattering of loud scenes showed solid definition, and they lacked distortion. Speech was also concise and natural. Nothing here dazzled, but it achieved its modest goals.

We find a mix of extras here. These include Interviews with cast and crew that occupy a total of 57 minutes, 17 seconds. This section breaks into 11 clips that feature director John Landis (12:20), producer Barnaby Thompson (4:13), writer Nick Moorcroft (1:52) and actors Simon Pegg (9:06), Andy Serkis (6:56), Isla Fisher (3:50), Jessica Hynes (6:22), Tom Wilkinson (3:32), Tim Curry (4:21), Ronnie Corbett (1:53) and Christopher Lee (2:52). Across the various pieces, we learn about the original story and its development into this tale, cast, characters and performances, sets and locations, costumes and period details, working with Landis, and other film details.

With so much footage on display, one might expect a lot of information about the film’s creation. Expect disappointment, as the interview clips lack a lot of depth. The segments from Landis, Thompson and Moorcroft work the best, as they give us the strongest concrete data. The actors’ notes tend to be fluffy EPK material.

Behind the Scenes runs 23 minutes, 47 seconds and shows raw footage from the set. We view a mix of sequences and watch different aspects of the shoot. I enjoy this sort of material and appreciate this glimpse of the production.

A collection of Outtakes goes for two minutes, 42 seconds. It provides a quick collection of mistakes and laughs during the shoot. Expect a pretty forgettable blooper reel.

10 Deleted Scenes fill a total of 11 minutes, 13 seconds. We find “Extended Opening” (2:00), “Not Your Usual Executioner” (0:17), “Ungrateful Swine” (0:36), “Body in the Barrel Extended” (0:38), “Burke’s in a China Shop” (1:20), “Money Back Guarantee” (1:07), “An Opportunity” (2:41), “Knox’s End of Term Speech” (1:10), “1828’s Answer to the Paparazzi” (0:38) and “Nicephore Complains” (0:46). Most of these offer basic exposition or added gags and are superfluous. “Opportunity” would’ve been useful, as it helps explain the presence and narrative for a character, but otherwise, these scenes didn’t need to be in the final flick.

The disc opens with ads for Flypaper, Vampires, Saint and Dead Hooker in a Trunk. We also find a trailer for Burke.

Burke & Hare takes a famous historical tale and turns it into a pretty mushy comedy. The combination of a good cast and an interesting story allow it to remain reasonably watchable, but it’s too scattered and limp to be better than mediocre. The DVD offers acceptable to good picture and audio along with a few decent supplements. Maybe someday John Landis will direct another satisfying movie, but this doesn’t mark a return to form.

Viewer Film Ratings: 5 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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