Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: The Flintstone: Collector's Edition (1994)
Studio Line: Universal Studios - Yabba-Dabba-Doo!

After an aptitude test mix-up, Fred Flintstone trades his job as Slate & Company Bronto-crane operator for a vice presidency. But there's trouble brewing in Bedrock: An evil executive and his sinister secretary are now plotting to use Fred as the fall guy in an embezzlement scheme!

Director: Brian Levant
Cast: John Goodman, Elizabeth Perkins, Rick Moranis, Rosie O'Donnell, Kyle MacLachlan, Halle Berry, Elizabeth Taylor
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1, French DD 5.1; subtitles Spanish; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 47 chapters; rated PG; 91 min.; $29.98; street date 2/23/99.
Supplements: Audio Commentary by director Brian Levant. "Discovering Bedrock" 42-minute Documentary; Teaser Trailer; Theatrical Trailer; MCA Soundtrack Presentation; Art Department Concept Sketches; Production Notes; Cast & Crew Bios; Production Photographs.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: A-/B+/B+

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could they didn't stop to think if they should." -Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), Jurassic Park.

Though the statement above relates to the cloning of dinosaurs, it also applies tremendously aptly to the 1994 film adaptation of The Flintstones. Movie technology made it feasible for movie-makers to create a live-action edition of the famed stone-age family; Fred, Barney and the rest of the humanoid characters could happily co-exist with a wide variety of other fantastical creatures in one vivid community.

Or maybe not. (Batten down the hatches- this might get nasty.)

First of all, I won't deny that The Flintstones creates a pretty strong impression with all of its technical tricks. No, the prehistoric critters don't blend seamlessly with the environment, as they all appear fake and unrealistic. However, since the movie tries to provide a fairly cartoony look, the lack of convincing animals doesn't seem very distracting; it fits the overall atmosphere of the film.

Unfortunately, this strength actually is a weakness. As I alluded in my opening quote, the movie concerns itself much too strongly with all of the visual possibilities of a live-action rendition of Bedrock. Unlike the TV show, the film version of The Flintstones is completely obsessed with artifice. Everything revolves around how the movie looks and how many "wacky" ideas can be packed into the space available. Everywhere you look there are "clever" details, most of which involve punnish names of products and locations; from the opening credits' listing of "Steven Spielrock" to the presence of brand names like "Roc Donalds" and "Halstone", the movie's chock full of these touches.

Some might regard these ideas as charming and funny and would also claim that they're in the spirit of the original program. Indeed, the TV did feature a lot of stone-aged versions of modern day conveniences like cars, showers and razors, plus many alternate names like "Ann-Margrock" and "Stony Curtis".

However, these weren't the exclusive emphasis of the program; they were an added touch but the show had other components on which to build. The movie does not. Apparently the script went through many different hands, but none of them seemed to add anything to it other than additional puns. These quickly get tiresome, especially as the underlying lack of substance becomes clearer.

Oh, the film attempts a plot. Here we find Cliff Vandercave (Kyle MacLachlan), a wicked executive at Slate Company who has a plan to embezzle some serious bucks. He needs a dupe to make his concept work, so he offers a new executive position within the company to the highest scorer on an aptitude test. In truth, the winner was Barney (Rick Moranis) and Fred (John Goodman) bombed it, but for a variety of reasons, Barney switches their tests and Fred gets the job.

After that, Fred becomes enamored of the high life and tensions build between the families, especially after Barney loses his job. Aided by his lover - and Fred's secretary - Sharon Stone (Halle Berry), Vandercave almost succeeds in ruining Fred and escaping with his illegal take. Ultimately things work out in the end, of course, after Fred is able to set things right.

Let's ignore the fact that much of the plot makes little sense, such as the reasoning behind Vandercave's hiring of the highest scorer on the aptitude test; I mean, if Vandercave wanted a dupe who'd do his bidding without knowledge, why would he pick the sharpest pencil in the pack? But that's irrelevant, really. Even if The Flintstones offered an airtight plot, it'd still stink for a variety of reasons.

Most of these revolve around the ways in which the film doesn't remain true to the spirit of the TV show. I could go on about these problems for quite some time, but I'll restrict my concerns to a few areas. First, the movie makes Fred too stupid and Barney too smart. It treats Barney as though he were a closet brainiac, and that couldn't be farther from the truth. While Fred's no genius himself, he should definitely outdo Barney in that department. Neither man should be particularly intelligent, but nor should they seem completely brainless. Unfortunately, Fred's portrayed in the latter manner, and it makes no sense.

I also strongly disliked the crudeness of parts of the movie. No, The Flintstones doesn't contain anything that even remotely violates its "PG" rating; it's remains family entertainment and parents shouldn't be concerned about this element. However, as a fan of the TV show, I thought the more vulgar aspects of the movie went against the tone of the original program.

A slew of examples of this appear. In one scene, Fred refers to the possibility that Dino might get "fixed". We also hear Fred state that "this job sucks", the word "pregnant" is used, a character says "damn" and one gag revolves around a massive amount of bird droppings that fall onto a by-stander.

As I mentioned, none of this material is even remotely outrageous or provocative in this day and age. However, to maintain the spirit of the show, the filmmakers needed to play by the rules of the early 1960s. Those declared all of the components I mentioned to be off-limits. Since we see them in this new rendition of The Flintstones, they make the tale feel oddly crude and inappropriate; the film doesn't present the true world of Fred and Barney because it violates too many of that universe's rules. I was even bothered to see a toilet in one shot, because such images didn't exist in the TV show. The result is a movie that simply feels wrong most of the time.

Of the entire film, the actors provided the sole redeeming moments, and even those were isolated. As Fred, Goodman seemed intent on channeling Jackie Gleason instead of Alan Reed. I saw a lot more Ralph Kramden in his performance than Fred, and while this isn't a tremendous stretch since the whole show was based on The Honeymooners, it made his performance less than scintillating. I didn't truly dislike his work, but I found it bland at best.

Moranis creates the proper general attitude of Barney, and he neatly emulates Mel Blanc's voice, but his performance also left me cold. I like Moranis - I'm a sucker for any SCTV alumni - but his Barney seemed genial but emotionally unengaging. I never really cared about the character, though Barney was always my favorite from the TV show.

The same criticism applies to Rosie O'Donnell's work as Betty Rubble. In fact, my qualms are more intense just because she offers the most superficial performance of the bunch. O'Donnell can accurately replicate Betty's giggle, but that's about it; nothing else about the character comes through in her performance. O'Donnell proves to be the most cartoony of the actors; she maintains a decently-accurate artifice of Betty but can't tap into the heart of the role.

However, her counterpart does so beautifully. Elizabeth Perkins provides a wonderfully charming and convincing performance as Wilma Flintstone. I can' t explain exactly why she works so well in the role, but whenever I saw her, I thought, "That's Wilma!" Perkins inhabits the part perfectly and she nails the nuance and soul of the character. During her too-infrequent appearances, I couldn't help but smile just because she so vividly captured the role - she's ideal.

Surprisingly strong is Elizabeth Taylor's semi-cameo as Wilma's mother Pearl Slaghoople. Folks of my generation know Taylor as a sometimes-tubby glamour-gal who's become gossip-mag fodder; we have exceedingly little experience with whatever acting skills she may possess and see her as nothing more than a gauzy image in a perfume commercial.

However, Taylor shows some real brass and solid comedic talents in her brief appearances here. She makes Pearl appropriately nasty and self-serving as she goes through her run-ins with Fred. It's a simply terrific performance, one that's aided by the fact all of her screen-time also features Perkins; when those two are on-screen, The Flintstones becomes a fantastic representation of the original show.

Unfortunately, those moments account for only a few isolated minutes of the movie, and the rest is simply abysmal. If The Flintstones could have maintained the tone of the Perkins/Taylor scenes through most of the remainder of the film, it could have been a real winner. As it stands, however, the movie presents an artificial, hollow, soulless recreation of a brilliant TV show. It's a nearly-total disaster that should be avoided.

The DVD:

The Flintstones appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though not flawless, the picture usually looked absolutely stellar and it provided an extremely satisfying visual experience.

Sharpness seemed crystal clear from start to finish. If any signs of softness or haziness exist, I sure couldn't find them; this image was very detailed and precise. Moiré effects and jagged edges provided no concerns, though I saw moderate artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws were the main problem with this picture. I witnessed occasional black grit and white speckles plus a small scratch or two. Though I noticed no significant defects like large scars, hairs, tears or blotches, and I didn't see any signs of grain, the small flaws added up to a minor but noticeable problem.

Colors looked absolutely gorgeous throughout the film. The Flintstones used a wonderfully bright and varied palette, and the DVD reproduced this vividly. From the orange of Fred's normal suit to Wilma's red hair to Betty's blue dress and Dino's purple hide, all hues seemed bold and clean, with no signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels also appeared perfectly solid; they looked deep and dark and shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy but not excessively opaque. Omit the various print flaws and I'd give the picture an "A" without question; as it stands, Fred and company will have to settle for an "A-".

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of The Flintstones didn't quite match up to the excellent picture, but it seemed strong nonetheless. The soundfield stuck fairly closely to the front channels, where it displayed a nicely broad spectrum of audio; across the forward speakers, sound blended well and created a pleasantly realistic atmosphere. The rears seemed more limited and they usually simply provided general ambiance; some split-surround usage occurred, but for the most part, the back speakers did little more than bolster the audio from the front.

Audio quality appeared positive as a whole. For the most part, dialogue seemed natural and crisp. Though sometimes the speech came across as slightly edgy, it always remained intelligible and was usually fine. Effects sounded clean and almost hyper-realistic. They lacked noticeable distortion but could have offered tighter bass; the low end seemed good but didn't appear particularly deep or taut. Music was also generally clear and distinct, though I felt the dynamic range appeared somewhat constrained. The songs and score appeared a little flat at the high end, and as with the effects, bass was decent but unspectacular. It's a strong enough soundtrack to merit a "B+" but a few small improvements would have escalated my rating into "A" territory.

Universal have produced quite a few solid "Collector's Editions", and The Flintstones is no exception. We find a running audio commentary from director Brian Levant that covers a wide range of topics related to the film, although he mainly discusses technical aspects of the production. Levant seems very hyper throughout the track as he breathlessly attempts to cram in every subject that crosses his mind. Ironically, he occasionally apologizes for not saying enough; indeed, he does pause a couple of times, but if this is the way he behaves when he's not talkative, I'd hate to see Levant when he's in a chatty mood.

The vast majority of Levant's remarks discuss either how the effects were done or what little "clever" details can be found in each scene. He also touches upon some anecdotes related to the production, such as the gag Elizabeth Taylor played on him, but effects and set details are the main focus.

Overall, it's not a bad commentary, and Levant presents a nerdy but enthusiastic participant. However, I must admit that I couldn't take him seriously because he doesn't recognize the flaws in the film; he seems to think he's created something that fits in nicely within the Flintstones universe.

Actually, I totally discredited Levant as any form of Flintstones "expert" a few minutes into the track. An early scene shows Fred and Barney as they sing along with "The Bedrock Twitch", the great Rock Roll song from the episode called "The Twitch". Levant relates that this tune appeared in the film via a suggestion from Rosie O'Donnell, and that he had never heard of it prior his meeting with her. Call me harsh or irrational, but anyone who claims to be a serious Flintstones fan - as Levant does repeatedly during both the commentary and the DVD's documentary- who hasn't heard of "The Twitch" has absolutely no credibility in my book. Before I listened to the commentary, I couldn't understand how someone who claimed to love The Flintstones so much could produce such an abomination; now I know, since Levant is clearly a fraud.

(Yes, I do take The Flintstones seriously.)

Next up is the aforementioned documentary. Called "Discovering Bedrock", this 42-minute and 55-second piece provides a good general overview of the creation of the film. Through interviews with Levant plus a mix of cast and crew, we hear a lot about the various elements of the movie, and we see lots of intriguing shots of sets and other production elements. Actually, the program starts with possibly its best moment: the semi-humiliating sight of Goodman, Moranis and others as they rehearse their Water Buffaloes greeting.

"Discovering Bedrock" seems pretty complete, as it begins with a discussion of the project's evolution and moves through casting, production design, effects and other elements. Again I was nauseated to hear everyone tell us what a Flintstones authority Levant is, but other than those aspects, I found the documentary to provide a generally entertaining look at the creation of the film.

"MCA Soundtrack Presentation" consists entirely of a music video for the B-52's version of "Meet the Flintstones". I never could stand the band, and their involvement in this misbegotten project doesn't endear them to me. The video features some clips from the movie, but for the most part it's a stylized performance piece. In addition to shots of the band themselves, many cast members get involved; Moranis and Goodman pretend to play drums and bass, respectively, while MacLachlan chimes in on horns and Perkins, O' Donnell and Berry sing and dance. Laraine Newman also introduces the short in her role as TV reporter "Susan Rock". Ugh. It's a very cute video that will entertain fans of the film, but I certainly didn't like it.

"Art Department Concept Sketches" provides 36 drawings of various ideas for animatronic animals, buildings, and some costumes. It's a nice collection of work that showed some of the thoughts that went into the project.

We find the only examples of actual cartoon Flintstones footage in "Opening Sequence Comparisons". This 53-second segment uses split-screen to feature the original clip in the top half of the screen and the movie's version in the bottom. Both are fairly similar, though the film used many more close-ups of various elements. Frankly, I think that's due to a "show-off" mentality; they wanted to prominently feature the various animatronics and other effects more closely.

"Production Photographs" includes 162 frames of material. We get a nice mix of images here. There are a slew of candid shots from the set, plus detail snaps of the animatronic animals, sets and props and some publicity pictures as well. It's a solid little collection of photos.

In the "Production Notes" section, we discover some brief but fairly detailed information about the film's creation. The text covers the basics of how the movie came to be, and while we've already heard much of it in other supplements, the notes provide a good overview. (The DVD's booklet presents a moderately truncated version of the same "Production Notes"; as such, you'll find some information on the DVD that doesn't appear in the printed piece, but not vice versa.)

"Cast and Crew" includes brief and perfunctory biographies of the main cast (Goodman, Moranis, Perkins, O'Donnell, MacLachlan, Berry, and Taylor) plus director Levant. Don't expect much depth here; we find quick career and life overviews plus decent filmographies.

Lastly, some trailers round out this collection. For The Flintstones itself, we find both the teaser and theatrical trailers. In addition, a bunch of "hidden" trailers exist. If you into the "Cast and Crew" area and look in the filmographies, you'll find clips for Sea of Love (Goodman), Parenthood (Moranis), Dune (MacLachlan), and Jungle Fever (Berry).

Ultimately, The Flintstones is a quality DVD production. I thought that the supplements provided a solid look at the film's creation, and both picture and sound quality for the feature itself were very strong. Unfortunately, the movie stinks. Actually, it's worse than that - it stanks. Admittedly, I take The Flintstones more seriously than the average person, so perhaps my attitudes are overly biased. Nonetheless, I honestly wanted to feel positively about this film. I like many of the participants and hoped that the cartoon would be treated well. It wasn't; the movie takes all of the show's superficial qualities and showcases them without any consideration for its heart, quirkiness or creativity. Maybe I wouldn't care for any big-screen version of The Flintstones, but without question, the 1994 rendition was a largely miserable experience.

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