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PARAMOUNT

MOVIE INFO

Director:
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Cast:
Val Kilmer, Lucy Gutteridge, Peter Cushing, Jeremy Kemp, Christopher Villiers, Warren Clarke, Harry Ditson, Jim Carter
Writing Credits:
Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker, Martyn Burke

Tagline:
Don't tell anyone.

Synopsis:
Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker - of Airplane! and Naked Gun fame - wrote and directed this genre-hopping slapstick juggernaut which lampoons World War II spy films and Elvis movies, making many other satirical stops along the way. East Germany is planning a cultural festival, and invites rock-and-roll singer Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer) ... but only after Leonard Bernstein can't make it. The festival however is a mere distraction so that the Germans can launch a secret attack on a submarine fleet without being detected. Nick soon finds himself involved with the French resistance, encountering slapstick gags and film parodies every time he turns around.

Box Office:
Domestic Gross
$20.500 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Stereo
French Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
English
French

Runtime: 90 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 2/3/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Directors/Writers David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, Producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry and Moderator Fred Rubin
• Four Alternate Scenes
• Storyboards
• Theatrical Trailer
• Bonus CD


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EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Top Secret!: I Love The 80's Edition (1984)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 6, 2009)

After the success of 1980’s hit comedy Airplane!, its creators wouldn’t return to the movie screen until 1984’s Top Secret!. The team of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker (ZAZ) attempted a TV series called Police Squad, but it bombed.

And Secret didn’t do much better, though it’s earned something of a cult following over the last 25 years. A spoof of spy movies, Secret introduces us to American pop star Nick Rivers (Val Kilmer). When Leonard Bernstein cancels, he travels to East Germany to play a cultural festival. The Krauts intend it as a diversion so they can execute a nefarious plan to unite Germany – and perhaps rule the world!

As the film evolves, Nick becomes an unwitting participant in various nefarious scenarios. We learn of a resistance that intends to thwart the actions of the East German authorities, and Nick gets to know a lovely local named Hillary (Lucy Gutteridge). We learn that the East Germans abducted Hillary’s scientist father (Michael Gough) so he can develop a super weapon. Nick must make the leap from pop star to top spy so he can help save the day.

Funny – I believe I saw Top Secret! before I ever watched Airplane! in its entirety. I know I saw bits and pieces of the former prior to 1984, but I don’t think I took in the whole thing until a later period.

On the other hand, I know I watched Secret around the time of its release; I’m pretty sure I rented it on VHS back in the day. I do know that it made little impact on me. I don’t think I actively disliked it, but I didn’t find it to be terribly entertaining.

25 years later, and I can’t say my opinion has changed. I never much cared for Airplane!, and since Secret follows that film’s template to a strong degree, it should come as no surprise that I think it also offers only minor pleasures.

Actually, I probably prefer it to Airplane!, if just because it seems a bit less scattershot. Both come from the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” school of comedy, but Secret nonetheless feels somewhat better focused. It seems more like an actual story and less like a collection of gags.

Not that this means one should expect a tight narrative here, as it remains clear that the filmmakers care much more about laughs than plot or logic. Of course, much of the illogic is intentional and played for yuks; one shouldn’t criticize the flick due to its leaps of sanity. For the most part, these don’t cause problems, but sometimes the pacing suffers. For instance, at one point Nick goes straight from a predicament to a stage performance. The latter runs far too long just to milk some laughs. Sometimes less is more, though the ZAZ boys don’t seem to understand that concept.

Like Airplane!, Secret occasionally connects with funny material, but the hit to miss ratio seems too low for me. To some degree, Secret feels like a ZAZ take on Hitchcock, though they factor in other genres as well; World War II flicks like The Dirty Dozen and The Great Escape become more dominant as the movie progresses. For better or for worse, Secret doesn’t limit itself to one domain.

Whether or not that’s good depends on your point of view. Some may feel this diversity allows for a more dynamic comedy, while others could see the product as being random and loose. I tend toward the latter category, as I think Secret works best when it feels more focused. It never becomes nearly as deft as High Anxiety, partially due to its lack of focus. Anxiety wasn’t a tight classic, but it seemed better thought-out than this flick.

Clearly I can find some humor in the work of the ZAZ guys, as Ruthless People remains one of my all-time favorite flicks. Perhaps that’s because it’s more of a character comedy and less of a broad spoof. Top Secret! tries enough gags that some of them amuse, but it can’t keep the laughs coming for all 90 of its minutes.

End credits footnote: near the very finish, we get an additional musical performance from Kilmer. It’s not funny – or meant to be amusing – but it’s there. Fans may want to closely watch the text credits as well, as they include plenty of wacky citations.


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

Top Secret! 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. I don’t know what went wrong with this transfer, but it provided a consistently weak presentation.

Many of the concerns related to sharpness. Some shots displayed acceptable delineation, but the majority of the flick looked soft and fuzzy. Some edge enhancement came along for the ride, but that wasn’t the main issue; the movie just lacked clarity for no obvious reason.

Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t an issue, but source laws created a lot of distractions. Grain could be fairly heavy, and I noticed plenty of specks, marks and other debris. Though these didn’t become a constant concern, they showed up through much of the movie and made it awfully dirty.

Don’t expect anything better when it came to the movie’s colors. The flick went with a natural palette but the transfer made the hues look flat and bland. They consistently lacked life or vivacity. Blacks were dull and inky, while shadows seemed flat and somewhat dense. All in all, this was an ugly transfer with few redeeming qualities.

While superior to the visuals, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Top Secret! came with its own ups and downs. On the positive side of things, music worked well. The songs and score showed fine stereo imaging, and they also sounded quite good. Those elements demonstrated nice vivacity and range; they were easily the best part of the track.

Effects came across as more problematic. From the opening use of a train, many of these elements came across as rather rough and distorted. Some effects proved more concise, but many sounded less than satisfactory.

Their use of the various channels also seemed erratic. Some good movement and integration occurred, but other aspects of the track showed less convincing placement. For instance, a restaurant scene created distractions with its unnatural display of background chatter. Rather than involve us in the setting, these elements distracted us.

Speech was generally fine but not consistently so. The lines remained intelligible and lacked edginess, but they occasionally sounded dull and muddy. They also bled to the sides at times, though they usually appeared appropriately placed. Overall, I liked the positive presence of the music, but the other issues meant the audio deserved no better than a “C+”.

In terms of the disc’s extras, we start with an audio commentary here. It includes directors/writers David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, producers Jon Davison and Hunt Lowry and moderator Fred Rubin. All of them sit together for this running, screen-specific chat that looks at cast and performances, locations and sets, influences, references and aspects of various gags, music, technical elements, and various stories from the shoot.

With so many participants, you’d expect a wild, rollicking commentary. Alas, that doesn’t prove to be the case. Oh, the guys do give us some funny remarks and interesting tales, but the track sags on too many occasions. There’s a fair amount of dead air, and the piece rarely threatens to develop any momentum. If you dig the film, you’ll probably find enough here to make the commentary worth a listen, but it’s a lackluster chat.

Four Alternate Scenes fill a total of two minutes, 53 seconds. We find “One Little Apple” (0:33), “Fetch” (0:44), “Thirsty” (0:49) and “Burning Passion” (0:47). Given the shortness of the clips, you shouldn’t expect anything substantial from them. They just offer some basic – and not particularly good - gags and nothing more.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get some storyboards. These accompany three scenes: “Skeet Surfing” (31 images), “The Nightclub” (32) and “Nick in Prison” (20). Though not particularly well-drawn, the boards are fun to see. They offer a neat glimpse of the planning for these scenes.

This “80s Edition” of Secret actually is a reissue of the movie’s release from 2002. It throws in a Bonus CD with four hits from the era. We find INXS’s “Need You Tonight”, a-ha’s “Take On Me”, Echo and the Bunnymen’s “Lips Like Sugar” and Erasure’s “Chains of Love”. I have no clue how they chose these songs and why we get a mere four. I suppose the disc is a decent extra if you want the DVD anyway, but I can’t imagine it’ll be a decision-maker for any fans on the fence about this disc.

If you liked Airplane!, will you like Top Secret!? Probably. If you didn’t care for Airplane!, will you enjoy Top Secret!? Probably not. While the two films take on different genres, they offer similar comedic styles and construction. I think Secret boasts a smattering of laughs, but the overall package doesn’t do a lot for me.

The quality of this DVD doesn’t help the film’s case. The disc provides erratic audio and suffers from a consistently weak transfer. A few decent extras appear, though the commentary is too up and down to be a real winner. I may not be a fan of the film, but I think it deserves better treatment than it receives here.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 5
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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