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Richard Curtis
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Tom Sturridge, Nick Frost, Tom Brooke, Kenneth Branagh
Writing Credits:
Richard Curtis

1 Boat. 8 DJs. No Morals.

From the creator of Love Actually and Notting Hill comes a trip back to the freewheeling, free-loving ’60s when the very rock music that inspired a generation was censored by the government. When a group of rebellious deejays decides to defy the ban, they take to the seas to broadcast music and mayhem to millions of adoring fans. Featuring a soundtrack that includes The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, The Rolling Stones and many more, it’s a feel-great film based on a true story that critics cheer is “exuberant!” (John Powers, Vogue)

Box Office:
Opening Weekend
$2.904 million on 882 screens.
Domestic Gross
$7.913 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS 5.1
French DTS 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 117 min.
Price: $39.98
Release Date: 4/13/2010

• Audio Commentary with Director Richard Curtis, Producer Hilary Bevan Jones and Actors Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd
• 16 Deleted Scenes
• Six Featurettes


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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Pirate Radio [Blu-Ray] (2009)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 6, 2010)

Given the nearly infinite sources of entertainment available today, it becomes increasingly difficult to recall an era in which options were much more limited. While Americans didn’t have a ton of choices, our situation beat that of the Brits. For music, BBC Radio was the only authorized game in town, and they didn’t give much airtime to that newfangled rock ‘n’ roll music.

As a reaction to this, independent parties set up quasi-legal offshore stations to give the people what they wanted. 2009’s Pirate Radio uses that situation as the basis for its period character-based comedy.

Set in the summer of 1966, teenaged Carl (Tom Sturridge) gets booted from school due to smoking. To straighten him out, his mother sends Carl to live with his godfather Quentin (Bill Nighy). It happens that Quentin works as the manager of a pirate radio station based on a boat floating off the shore of England.

As Carl settles into this unusual setting, he meets the inhabitants of the boat. This motley crew includes deejays such as “The Count” (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the lone American, and chubby lothario “Doctor Dave” (Nick Frost) as well as Carl’s dense roommate Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke). Carl gets to know this group as he also strives to mature and become a man.

Alas, dark clouds gather on the horizon. Stuffy bureaucrat Sir Alastair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) despises the pirates and works hard to stop them. His assistant Twatt (Jack Davenport) collaborates with Dormandy to figure out a legal method to eliminate the pirates.

At its heart, Radio serves as a gushy love letter to a bygone era in which Music Really Mattered. I suspect it’ll appeal most to the Baby Boomers, as they’ll enjoy the glorification of arguably rock’s most vital era. One doesn’t have to be 50-something or up to get into the film’s investment for rock, though, as its spirit comes through and reminds us why the era’s music was so exhilarating.

And for roughly its first act, Radio is a pretty delightful flick. Sure, it really has no plot, a fact that doesn’t improve as it progresses. Radio is so loose it can’t even be called episodic. It flits from one minor character event to another with little coherence or smoothness, but that’s not really a problem – at least not for a while. The goofy characters, the fun situations and the raw energy are enough to sustain us in the short term.

Eventually, however, they’re just not enough to create a satisfying movie. As I mentioned, plotting remains negligible. Carl ostensibly acts as the lead; we follow his path to romantic maturity as well as his attempts to track down his long-lost father. We also see quite a lot of Dormandy and Twatt in their quest to kill pirate radio.

However, none of those threads really occupies a whole lot of screen time. We find far too many extraneous character episodes to consider the various “main plots” to be… well, to be main plots. They’re more dominant than anything else, but they don’t play a central part in the movie.

Which means that most of the time, Radio plays like a rambling, ramshackle mess. As I mentioned, the film remains engaging for a while due to its sheer anarchic energy. On first glance, we’re amused and diverted by the wacky characters and their shenanigans.

But then Radio takes a fatal turn, as it tries to get serious – sort of. Though the movie already starts to veer off-course prior to this moment, one scene marks the official point at which Radio lost me. Simon the deejay (Chris O’Dowd) marries a girl (January Jones) who quickly throws a major complication into their relationship. The filmmakers can’t quite decide whether to play this really gut-wrenching moment for drama or for laughs.

As a result, it achieves neither and accomplishes nothing other than to fully disengage the viewer. The scene makes one of the flick’s “main” characters wholly unlikable, and the story never manages to erase our memory of this incident. Oh, the movie itself moves on like it never happened; the others briefly ostracize the sleazy character in question, but he quickly returns to the fold and all scars become healed.

For the movie characters, at least – the viewer may find it more difficult to forgive and forget. Not that the offense remains an open wound, but I simply think the film never gets back on track after this awful misstep. The scene in question turns dark enough that we can’t quite invest in the old comedic chaos again.

On the other hand, even if Radio lost the appalling scene and those that feature its aftermath – which it could easily do and we’d never know – too many other problems mar the film’s second and third acts. The simple lack of story or well-drawn characters turns into a real flaw. In small doses, we have fun, but the more time we spend with the various participants, the more we realize how thin they are.

That’s a problem for all of the roles, but especially for Carl. If this is a “coming of age” tale, shouldn’t the youngster in question show actual growth? I don’t see that in Carl. Oh, he busts his cherry, but I don’t see any greater depth to the character. He’s a shy, awkward kid when he arrives on the boat, and he’s a slightly less shy, awkward kid when he departs.

At 117 minutes, Radio isn’t a particularly long movie, and the version viewed by Americans is substantially shorter than the cut that played in Britain; entitled The Boat That Rocked in that territory, it ran 135 minutes. The 117-minute edition of Radio sure feels really long, however. When I saw it theatrically, I was sure a good two hours, 10 minutes or more had passed since the film started. I was shocked to see that only 117 minutes had gone by; the movie felt much longer.

And that isn’t a good thing – not ever, but especially not when you enter a flick that should offer a breezy, light affair. On one hand, I’m reluctant to say that Radio should be shorter; its characters and story elements are already thin, so a briefer screentime would make them even less well-developed. However, the existing flick feels so long that I believe an abbreviated version could be more satisfying.

In truth, Radio probably should’ve left out a lot of the on-boat antics and boiled things down to the fight between the pirates and Dormandy. That would give the flick a more concise plot, and it would accentuate the film’s biggest strength: the hilariously uptight performance by Branagh. At least until the movie makes him genuinely heartless during its wholly unnecessary – but loooooong - “climax”, Branagh provides consistent laughs. He’s a joy to watch.

As is much of the cast, honestly. Whatever flaws I find here, I can’t blame the actors. With talents like Hoffman, Nighy, Branagh, Rhys Ifans, Ralph Brown and many others, Radio overflows with excellent performers. I believe that the actors and the actors alone make it entertaining; the rest of the flick is a mess, but they create some enjoyable moments.

Unfortunately, even the greatest cast in the world can’t redeem a movie with so many overt flaws. Pirate Radio takes on an intriguing topic and has its heart in the right place. It just doesn’t create something remotely coherent enough to succeed.

One final nerdy complaint: Radio abounds with anachronistic musical choices. The movie covers roughly six months from the summer of 1966 through the winter of 1967. We find more than a few songs that didn’t yet exist in that time frame. Most of these stay reasonably close to 1966/1967, though “Won’t Get Fooled Again” takes us all the way to 1971!

I think a film devoted to an appreciation of the era’s music should work harder to ensure accuracy. When I hear 1968 songs in a 1966 movie, it takes me out of the tale’s reality. It’s not that hard to check release dates, so there’s no excuse for the anachronistic choices.

On the other hand, I do forgive Radio its absence of Beatles tunes. While the flick should include many of these - Revolver was brand-new during the movie’s period – we don’t hear a single note of music from the Fabs. I believe this occurs due to rights issues – or more accurately, due to the cost of licensing Beatles songs.

Radio isn’t exactly a mega-bucks production, and I’m sure that if the producers snagged some Beatles tracks, they’d have had to lose many other numbers. It made more sense for them to buy five non-Fabs tunes if they cost the same as one Beatles song. In this instance, quantity is more important than quality; yes, it’d be great – and logical – if Radio featured a Beatles track or two, but the soundtrack boasts more than enough other big names to almost allow us to forget the absence of the Liverpudlians. Almost.

Really final footnote: stay tuned through the end credits for a little extra footage.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

Pirate Radio appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-Ray Disc. Virtually no issues cropped up in this stellar transfer.

Sharpness was very good. A smidgen of softness crept into a couple of wide shots, but that was all; otherwise, the movie was accurate and precise. No edge haloes, shimmering or jaggies popped up, and source flaws remained absent.

Radio opted for a palette that was slightly stylized for a period feel. The flick tended to take on a bit of a golden hue, though shots with the Evil Bureaucrats went with a cold blue. These tones were consistently full and well-depicted. Blacks appeared dark and dense, while shadows showed good clarity and smoothness. I felt quite impressed with this consistently attractive presentation.

While not as impressive, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Pirate Radio suited the film and was actually more engaging than expected. As anticipated, music played a very important role. The score and many songs all offered good stereo spread. Though the nature of some of the source tunes meant the imaging varied, I still thought the tracks fleshed out the front speakers well.

Though much of the rest of the movie remained chatty, the water-based setting allowed for more auditory action than usual for a character-based comedy. Indeed, the climax nearly reached Titanic levels of sonic mayhem. The five channels kicked into gear well during these more action-oriented scenes, and the exterior sea shots always offered a nice sense of place. The climax remained the most impressive sequence, though, and was the main reason I bumped my grade up to a “B+”.

Audio quality always satisfied. Speech was natural and concise; accents could affect intelligiblity to my American ears, but the recordings themselves were fine. Music showed nice range and vivacity, while effects were consistently accurate and full. The louder scenes – especially during the climax – were quite dynamic and impactful. I was very happy with this better than expected mix.

Among the extras, we find an audio commentary with director Richard Curtis, producer Hilary Bevan Jones and actors Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd. All four sit together for this running, screen-specific look at cast, characters and performances, music, sets and locations, editing/deleted scenes and a few other production areas.

The commentary tends to be fairly unfocused and joke-oriented. The participants have a laugh and occasionally throw out decent info about the movie, but I don’t feel like we learn a whole lot about the film’s creation. It sounds like all involved enjoyed the experience of recording the commentary, but they fail to relate much useful material. Though the track is lively enough to keep us engaged, it doesn’t deliver the expected goods.

16 Deleted Scenes fill one hour, eight minutes, 34 seconds. Yes, that’s a lot of footage, and most of it’s pretty entertaining. Actually, the material tends to work better in bits and pieces. The released film plays like a collection of loosely connected sequences anyway, and the stuff found here is usually as good as the shots in the end product. I’m glad the movie didn’t include all these clips, as it’s already too long and unfocused, but they’re enjoyable to see.

Note that the 68:34 running time includes optional intros from Curtis; without those, the scenes occupy 50:24. Curtis provides quite a lot of insights in his remarks. He lets us know a little about the shooting of the scenes and lets us know why they got the boot.

Deleted scene related disappointment: it’s too bad the suits at Universal didn’t make the original UK cut of the film available on this Blu-ray. It’d be nice for fans to have the choice of the two versions.

Under Featurettes, we find six clips with a total running time of 19 minutes, 36 seconds. These include “Tuning In” (3:38), “7” of Heaven” (3:03), “All at Sea” (2:57), “Getting Ship Shape” (3:07), “Hitting the Decks” (3:51) and “Mark’s Love Den” (3:00). Across these, we hear from Curtis, O’Dowd, Frost, associate producer Emma Freud, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rhys Darby, Bill Nighy, Kenneth Branagh, Rhys Ifans, Ike Hamilton, Tom Brooke, Ralph Brown, and Tom Wisdom. The programs cover the background of the UK pirate radio stations and the music of the era, shooting on a boat/at sea, teaching the actors how to DJ, and shooting one specific (deleted) scene. These were created for promotional reason, and they remain fairly light. However, they have some nice shots from the set and add enough decent details to merit a look.

While it certainly provides some entertainment value, Pirate Radio is just too much of a rambling mess to truly succeed. It fares reasonably well for its first act or so but then falls underneath the weight of its own incoherence. The Blu-ray provides excellent visuals surprisingly good audio, and a decent collection of extras that boasts a huge collection of deleted scenes. If the subject matter intrigues you, Pirate Radio might merit a rental, but don’t expect a consistently satisfying movie.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.25 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main