Pee-wee’s Big Adventure appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. This was an acceptable SD-DVD presentation but not a good one.
Sharpness seemed erratic. Some shots demonstrated pretty good definition, but plenty of others looked somewhat soft and fuzzy. Wide shots tended to suffer from blockiness. Digital artifacts and haloes created minor distractions, and I saw some instances of shimmering and jaggies. Source flaws weren’t heavy, but they showed up with moderate frequency, as I noticed a fair number of specks and marks.
Adventure featured a lot of bold primary colors, and the DVD did a decent but unspectacular job of rendering these. Hues seemed somewhat messy; they lack the immediacy I would expect and could appear a bit flat and runny. Black levels appeared acceptably dark and deep, though shadow detail looked inconsistent; at times, it seemed fine but on other occasions they appeared a bit too heavy. This remained a watchable presentation but not one that excelled.
I liked the film's remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The movie originally featured a Dolby Surround track, and while I can't say this one opened things up much, it still sounded nice for a 26-year-old low-budget film.
The forward soundstage tended to stick pretty close to the center, with only mild activity coming from the sides. Effects from the right and left seemed pretty localized, and they didn't pan terribly smoothly; the sounds go slightly abruptly from one channel to the next. The surrounds featured a few effects; I might have noticed one or two from back there, but that's about it. Danny Elfman's terrific score came nicely from the various channels, however; it's unquestionably the best part of the soundstage.
That also went for the quality of the audio. Elfman's score sounded bright and dynamic; it really came across with surprisingly clarity and boldness. Effects tend to be a little thin, though they were decently realistic, and dialogue sounded clear and intelligible. This was a solid “B” mix for an older movie.
We get a moderate array of extras here. The big attraction – in theory, at least – comes from an audio commentary with director Tim Burton and actor/co-writer Paul Reubens. Both sit together for a running, screen-specific look at the origins and development of Pee-wee and the movie, character/story topics, cast and performances, locations, set and visual design, music and effects, and a few other production topics.
Objectively, I can’t call this a great commentary. It sags a bit too much and lacks much energy. However, as a major fan of the film, I think it’s a treat. Reubens and Burton don’t exactly sizzle with chatty chemistry, but they give us plenty of good notes about the movie and do so with reasonable humor. I find a lot to enjoy in this informative piece.
More commentary can be found from composer Danny Elfman during a track that combines his remarks with the movie's score. The music is presented in full 5.1 glory, and Elfman's statements appear during the parts that offer no score.
Since Adventure is a very music-heavy movie, this means that we don't get to hear a whole lot from Elfman, but what he says is pretty interesting. He discusses Adventure itself to a degree but spends more time musing about his career and relating the various processes through which he goes to write his scores.
Actually, it's probably a good thing that Elfman's time is limited since even with that restriction he pretty much runs out of material before the end; the guy even admits he has nothing to say at one point! In any case, it's a nice little extra.
Four Deleted Scenes run a total of 11 minutes, seven seconds. These include “Amazing Larry” (1:50), “Boone the Bear” (1:48), “Hospital Visitors” (2:20) and “Extended Studio Chase” (5:09). Three of the scenes have no relation to anything in the movie, whereas the final one shows parts of the climactic studio chase that were excised.
Although I was insanely happy to see these, I have to agree that they deserved to get the boot. Of the four, the first - which introduces us to Amazing Larry, who we briefly see during Pee-wee's meeting in his basement – is probably the only one that really could have stayed in the film, but it lacks much purpose and takes the focus off Pee-wee for too long. It's a neat little gag but not strong enough on its own to warrant inclusion.
As I already mentioned, I found the movie's two dream sequences to be the worst parts of Adventure, so I'm awfully happy that a third didn't make the cut. “Boone” is no better or worse than the other two, but if I didn't like those, there's no reason for me to enjoy this one.
“Visitors” shows Pee-wee in the hospital after he crashes his borrowed motorcycle. There we briefly meet his doctor - who makes a mutated appearance in Pee-wee's second dream sequence - and he receives a visit from the biker gang. The scene isn't terrible but it seems pointless and not too funny; as with the Amazing Larry bit, it focuses too much on the gang and not enough on Pee-wee. Some scenes get away with this - such as the great Alamo tour piece - but at least those gave us some good Pee-wee as well; his exasperated reactions to Jan Hooks' inane tour guide comments make the scene hilarious. Nothing like that happens in the hospital scene, so it was a logical omission.
“Chase” borders on being too long in the film’s final cut, and while some of these parts are fun - we finally get to see the payoff for the "boomerang bowtie" gag set up early in the film - they add little and they really would have slowed down the pace. Granted, I'd guess that they could have been tightened up with some minor editing - what we see doesn't match the manic pace of the finished product - but it still would have been overkill to include all this stuff. Nonetheless, I'm overjoyed that we get to see it plus the other three scenes.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find Production Sketches and Storyboards with commentary from production designer David Snyder. Mostly this section offers storyboards; we also see some production plans and drawings, but the majority of the material comes from the boards. The piece runs as a continuous video program that goes for 11 minutes, 26 seconds.
I'm not a huge fan of storyboards, but this segment works pretty well if just because it offers a look at some of the ways the finished product differed from the plans, something that's especially true during the opening scene's boards. Snyder's comments mainly offer a general look at his work without too much specific about Adventure itself, but they make for a nice addition to this program. Overall, it's a worthwhile segment for fans.
After all that, the DVD finishes with some of the old stand-bys. The film's theatrical trailer appears, and we also get a couple of text sections. The Writers provides brief but acceptable biographies of the three screenwriters: Reubens, Phil Hartman and Michael Varhol. Why in the world these didn't just appear in the Cast and Crew area I don't know, but in any case, we find entries for four of the actors, Elfman and Burton there. These are pretty standard and range from relatively informative (Burton) to almost nothing (Diane Salinger) with one terrific exception: we actually get a funny biography for Pee-wee Herman! I thought that was a nice touch to round out the package.
Pee-wee's Big Adventure is unquestionably one of my top ten films of all-time, and it's arguably the funniest movie ever made. The picture is just as entertaining now as it was 26 years ago, and I don't think that will ever change. The DVD provides mediocre visuals but includes good audio and supplements. The problems with picture quality make this a less than stellar release, but it’s still a decent representation of a delightful film.
To rate this film visit the Blu-Ray review of PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE