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Carl Reiner
John Denver, George Burns, Teri Garr, Donald Pleasance Screenplay:
Larry Gelbart, based on the novel by Avery Corman

It's an almighty laugh!
Rated PG.

Academy Awards:
Nominated for Best Screenplay.

Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
English Digital Mono
English, French, Spanish, Portuguese

Runtime: 98 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 7/9/2002

• Audio commentary With Director Carl Reiner, Writer Larry Gelbart, and Actor Teri Garr
• Awards
• Theatrical Trailers
• Cast and Crew


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Oh, God! (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Any movie that concerns religion runs the risk of organized opposition, and the dangers increase when the film in question takes a comedic point of view. Just ask Kevin Smith, whose Dogma received plenty of negative attention for its irreverent look at Catholicism.

Perhaps I was too young to notice - the film hit when I was 10 - but I donít recall much controversy about 1977ís Oh, God! If the movie didnít engender any conflict, that would probably result from its general niceness. Unlike Smith, director Carl Reiner didnít attempt anything particularly outrageous or challenging. That factor stands as both a positive and a negative in regard to Oh, God!; while it meant that the movie reached a wide audience, it also left the final product as somewhat bland and inert.

At the start of Oh, God!, we meet Jerry Landers (John Denver), a hard-working assistant manager of a southern California grocery store. One day he finds a typed invitation from God to go to an interview. Jerry dismisses this as a practical joke and he trashes the paper. Magically, it comes back to him; even after he rips it apart, it returns in complete form.

Spooked by this, Jerry decides to check out this alleged God, and he heads to the office building listed on the invite. There he encounters a voice on a speaker box. Jerry remains suspicious, but ďGodĒ provides some evidence that a serious power is at work. Eventually, he physically meets with Jerry in his bathroom and reveals himself to be a little old man (George Burns), at least in this incarnation; God made himself look the way that Jerry would most accept.

God feels dissatisfied with all the negativity done in his name and generally dislikes the current state of affairs in the world. He charges Jerry to be his messenger and let folks know his thoughts. Jerry does this with extreme reluctance, but he gradually embraces the task. Unfortunately, he meets with resistance from others, most of whom think heís a nut.

Eventually Jerry meets with a conference of religious leaders, a group that includes Bible-thumping Southerner Reverend Willie Williams (Paul Sorvino). After he answers the questions they composed for God - written in Aramaic to ensure that Jerry couldnít cheat - Williams sues Jerry; God doesnít care for the Reverendís money-grubbing style, and Williams takes Jerry to court after our guy criticizes him on TV. This proceeding offers the filmís climax, as we see God on trial!

That event doesnít come across as provocatively as it might sound. In fact, little about Oh, God! seems particularly pointed or compelling. Despite the potentially controversial subject matter, God retains a decidedly low-key tone that lacks much of an edge. Not that I think the movie needed to be crude and confrontational, but it simply comes across as too innocuous and bland most of the time.

It doesnít help that the 98-minute movie seems very slow-paced. No, I donít expect it to be hyperactively edited; thatís not my concern. It simply feels as though many scenes go on for much too long. The movieís premise appears excellent, but the execution relies on too many flimsily constructed scenes. Some of these last forever and quickly wear out their welcome, especially when God and Jerry interact. Admittedly, these are the movieís bread and butter, but they could have used judicious cutting.

This means that the movie frequently becomes self-indulgent. For example, a segment that takes place on The Dinah Shore Show goes almost nowhere. Yes, it conveys the public interest in Jerryís claims and also their skepticism toward him, but we get that information over and over elsewhere. This scene plods along and adds almost nothing to the film, and itís not alone.

On the positive side, I like Burnsí winningly subdued performance as God. He keeps a straight face the whole time and never adopts a winking tone, which is key to his success. He pulls off the role nicely and offers most of the filmís best moments.

Actually, God provides an excellent cast as a whole. In his first film, Denver remains the weakest link. He does a decent job as Jerry, but his lack of experience comes across during his scenes with others. He simply fails to deliver the same level of complexity seen in his co-stars. Denver doesnít harm the film, but he doesnít elevate it either.

One of the filmís more pleasant surprises comes from Sorvinoís turn as Williams. Heavily based on goofball minister Ernest Angley, Williams is the movieís cartooniest part, but Sorvino provides a solid take on the character nonetheless. Iím so used to Sorvino in gangster roles that itís weird to watch him do something so different, but itís fun nonetheless.

Despite my criticisms, I donít think Oh, God! is a bad film. It posits some compelling questions about religion in modern life, and it features some good performances. However, I think the movie feels like a TV show extended to feature length. It meanders too frequently and often goes nowhere. It can seem pleasant at times, but it ultimately appears fairly bland.

Dťjŗ vu: in 1977ís Oh, God!, Teri Garr plays a housewife whose husband engages on a mystifying and - to her, at least - disturbing quest that relates to seemingly supernatural sources. In 1977ís Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Teri Garr plays a housewife whose husband engages on a mystifying and - to her, at least - disturbing quest that relates to seemingly supernatural sources. Coincidence? Yeah, probably - the films came out too close together for one role to have resulted from the other. Still, I found it interesting that she took on such similar parts; even the charactersí names - Bobbie in God and Ronnie in Encounters - seemed very similar. Bobbieís more open-minded, though, and she never leaves her husband, unlike the colder and more dismissive Ronnie.

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

Oh, God! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. An erratic picture, God often looked quite good, but a number of issues kept it from becoming great.

Sharpness seemed solid. The image consistently appeared crisp and detailed. I saw few examples of softness, as the movie remained nicely distinct. Jagged edges caused no concerns, but a little shimmer showed up at times; for example, Ralph Bellamyís tie demonstrated some moirť effects. Edge enhancement seemed absent, but I did see a fair number of print flaws. A little grain appeared, and I also saw occasional examples of grit, spots, specks, streaks and nicks. Unusually, the latter issues provided the biggest distractions, but the image improved somewhat as it progressed.

For the most part, the colors looked reasonably bright and vibrant. Skin tones seemed somewhat pinkish at times, but otherwise, I thought the hues appeared pretty distinct and lively. Black levels also came across as fairly deep and rich, while shadows were appropriately heavy but not overly thick. Without the print flaws, Oh, God! would have presented a very good image, but even with those, it seemed somewhat above average.

Also relatively positive was the monaural soundtrack of Oh, God! Speech appeared somewhat thin and flat at times, but it usually came across as reasonably distinct and accurate. I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Effects played a somewhat minor role in the film, but they came across as acceptably accurate, even though they lacked much punch. The movieís music showed fairly good range, as the highs appeared clean and bright, and the score also demonstrated pretty decent bass response. The single-channel mix did nothing spectacularly well, but it seemed like a good representation of the original material.

Oh, God! doesnít offer many extras, but we do get a decent audio commentary with director Carl Reiner, writer Larry Gelbart, and actor Teri Garr. All three were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. (The DVD states that producer Jerry Weintraub also participates, but this is incorrect.) I found this to be a good but flawed piece. Not too many empty spaces appeared, but the commentary suffered from the nostalgia factor. Too often, the participants focused on their praise and enjoyment of the movie and they didnít bother to tell us much about the film.

However, the three maintained a nice rapport, and they seemed to enjoy their little reunion. A fair number of facts popped up along the way. We got a good idea how the film differed from the novel, and we learned some interesting bits about Burns, Denver, and other cast members. The commentary lacked a great deal of depth, but it seemed reasonably entertaining, and fans of the film should enjoy it.

A few other minor extras round out the package. In Cast and Crew, we get a filmography for actor George Burns; as usual with Warner Bros. DVDs, additional participantsí names appear but we find no information about them. Awards simply lists a prize from the 1978 WGA Screen awards, while the Trailers area includes ads for Oh, God! and its two sequels, Oh, God! Book II and Oh, God! You Devil.

A sizable box office hit in 1977, Oh, God! offers a moderately entertaining experience highlighted by a good cast. However, the movie seems slow-paced and plodding much of the time. The DVD provides flawed but decent picture along with relatively solid monaural audio and a smattering of supplements. With a low list price, fans of Oh, God! should enjoy the DVD. I donít care much for the film, but I like the fact it attempts to discuss some provocative issues and it manages these in a low-key manner that lacks excessive drama.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.303 Stars Number of Votes: 33
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