The Simpsons Movie Review
Springfield lake is in a shocking state. Empty beer bottles, household trash and even waste from the nuclear power plant are all dumped in the lake. When Green Day play a gig on a jetty in the lake, it and their equipment dissolve in the noxious water, shortly before the band itself does. At the funeral service, Grandpa Simpson wakes to warn the congregation of an impending disaster, "Horrible things are going to happen...a twisted tail...a thousand eyes...trapped forever!" but Homer and Marge wrap him up in rug and quietly escort him home. Only Lisa Simpson, the town's environmental conscience, realises that something must be done and petitions for an idiot-proof fence to be erected around the lake, thus giving the waters time to recover.
Unfortunately, what stopped Cletus (The Slack-Jawed Yokel) doesn't stop Homer Simpson who crashes through the barrier and dumps a giant metal casket full of pig shit into the lake. A skull-and-crossbones rises from to the surface hissing, "Evil!" Afraid that the toxicity will spread to the rest of the country, the Environmental Protection Agency, under the guidance of Russ Cargill (Albert Brooks), place a giant glass dome over Springfield, effectively removing it from the map. As an angry mob gathers to put the blame on someone, the TV news screams "GET HIM!" under a picture of Homer Simpson. Homer aids his family's escape from the dome and fulfills a lifelong dream of moving to Alaska. But Marge isn't happy and nor are the kids. Is there any chance of a return to Springfield? And doing so heroically?
"What's the difference between the TV show and the movie? Well, the screen is wider..." I was expecting a laugh to follow this line but it doesn't come. It's one of the first things to be said on the cast and crew commentary and while one would expect this to be the first of many a self-deprecating comment on the track, a tone that will be familiar to those who have ploughed through the commentaries on the season boxsets. But it's said very matter-of-fact as though, finally, here was a moment to come clean and to sheepishly admit there was no grand vision behind the making of this film, only that the wider screen offered the producers, writers and director the opportunity to fill in the picture left and right of the action with little background gags. A rescue is attempted, with someone adding, "...and the jokes are wider too!" but the situation isn't saved by that late intervention, more that the sorry state of this film has been accepted and admitted to. The Simpsons Movie doesn't really recover after that.
Actually, the best thing that can be said about The Simpsons Movie is that it's no worse than an episode from the last few seasons, albeit that it runs to 84 minutes. Clearly, a lot more money has been handed to Groening and company, which they've used wisely, but what those briefcases full of cash couldn't buy is any sense of innovation. Clearly considering how best to approach The Simpsons Movie, Groening and company have chosen not to upset long-term viewers by taking the film back-to-basics, as though we had no prior knowledge of the characters, but by their relegating supporting characters to mere cameos - everyone in Springfield has a moment on the screen but only a dozen or so have anything to say - there are precious few in-jokes for fans, thereby making it less of a treat than it might otherwise have been. Even then, characters simmer in the background, only to be reduced to their essence. Mr Burns is evil, Millhouse loves Lisa and Nelson arrives on the screen to laugh, "Ha-hah!" at a naked Bart chained to a lamp post.
The spin-off movie isn't entirely new to Americans but they have, to date, done it differently to how British sitcoms did things in the seventies. The big-screen versions of Scooby-Doo, The Powerpuff Girls Movie, The Addams Family, Lost in Space and even The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle either told the origins of their gangs or planted them in a strange new era. Or, in the case of The Brady Bunch, left its family in the 1970s while the world around them changed completely. The Simpsons Movie though, is more like the Star Trek films, feeling like an expanded episode, even it it's more like one of those bad Star Trek movies like The Final Frontier or Generations that the series producers would have thought long and hard about.
Except that The Simpsons Movie, if I had to compare it to anything, would be more akin to the spin-offs from British sitcoms under which the screens of the screens of the dear old independent movie houses in the 1970s groaned. It's hard to believe that such people exist but those who hadn't seen quite enough of Blakey, Alf Garnett, Eddie Booth, Mrs Slocombe and George and Mildred would step over the corpses littering the streets and hand over some of their meagre, three-day-week earnings to the likes of the Odeon and Love Thy Neighbour, Mutiny On The Buses and Up the Chastity Belt. They might well have had more laughs on a flying picket but that didn't prevent the On The Buses trilogy being Hammer's biggest earner, even waving down to Diamonds Are Forever from its lofty position in the box office chart.
Oh that there was only one problem with these films but chief amongst them was a feeling that the audience were being sold a television script on the big screen, one that was stretched wide to light up the gap between the red velvet curtains and made longer to prevent the ice-cream sellers being lynched in the aisles, strung from the balcony by the tied-together sleeves of donkey jackets. I've not seen much of The Simpsons recently but I don't feel as though there's much that's new in The Simpsons Movie. Perhaps that's a symptom of it being such a long-running show but there's always the feeling of having seen much of this before. Plopper/Harry Plopper/Spider-Pig (or just the pig) has a role not dissimilar to those of Pinchy the lobster (Lisa Gets an "A") or Mojo the monkey (Girly Edition) from the series while the squirrel who gets mutated in the waste that has accumulated in the Springfield lake is this film's take on Blinky the three-eyed fish (Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish). Green Day are this Simpsons celebrity guests, Homer has a mind-altering trip as he did in El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (as did Beavis and Butthead in ...Do America after eating a peyote cactus) and just as he did in Bart The Daredevil, Homer tries to jump the Springfield gorge. Except that it's not as funny this time around.
And that's the main concern that this viewer had with The Simpsons Movie. It's no great shakes as a comedy. Good gags give way to bad, never more obvious than when Homer's aiming of a wrecking ball doesn't quite reach its target, swinging back to destroy our man's hiding place in the crane - both funny! - only to have him stuck to the side of the three-ton ball being swung between and striking a giant rock and a building named A HARD PLACE. Such a lame sight gag might have made it into the series - "It's alright...there'll be a good joke along in the next minute/episode/season!" - but doubts over the claims about how many drafts the script went through begin to arise when the film presents a gag like that. Bart takes up drinking whiskey for a gag that's never actually delivered, Homer falling onto his head not once but twice doesn't work as it might have done in Season 2, while Lisa, forced to deliver the film's message of environmental doom, hasn't a single good line in the whole film. Even their writing in of a President Schwarzenegger seems uninspired when they had their very own Arnold-a-like, Rainier Wolfcastle, to plunder for gags. Probably the most surreal moment in the film is the Bart/Flanders bonding, something that will have fans scratching their heads as to how that happened after eighteen years of, "Get lost, Flanders!" while newcomers won't understand how it could matter. Ralph Wiggum, however, continues to be the funniest thing in the show, his da-da-da-daa! in the opening titles being the film's most inspired moment. After eighteen years of The Simpsons, is this really the best they could do? Perhaps that's the very reason for its lack of laughs, eighteen years have left the gag writers punchdrunk and wheezing.
In spite of the fairly grim list of spin-off movies, there are some good ones. The Brady Bunch Movie and its sequel are a pair of gems, with an acid trip, paranoid schizophrenia and teen seduction amongst its moments of freewheeling comedy. The Likely Lads is probably the most notable success due, no doubt, to Bob and Terry being such a fully-formed pair and with some memorable writings. "I'd offer you a beer, but I've only got six cans!" No matter where one sees them, Bob and Terry are just the onscreen counterparts to thousands of men not just in the north-east but all over the country. In the case of one, a sufficient amount of time had passed to look at the characters in a different setting, in the other, there was enough life left in the pair of them. The story had never really ended. After eighteen years, it does look as though the writers of The Simpsons Movie, if not having run out of ideas, are left cooking up some old ones along with the new. After waiting so long, that just doesn't seem like quite enough. Not good and not bad, more disappointing.
At first glance, it doesn't look as though there's very much on the disc, only a couple of commentaries and ten minutes or thereabouts of features and trailers so one tends to think, at first, that there is sufficient space on the DVD for a short little film like this one. However, with the film also supporting a series of alternate angles to aid the first of the two commentary tracks, the space on the disc is gradually eaten away, although not, it's worth saying, by a sufficient amount to impact the film.
At first, once one becomes used to seeing The Simpsons in widescreen, the image is stable, bright and colourful with the print being entirely free of any faults but something niggled at me during my viewing of the film, a noticeable amount of edge enhancement on certain parts of the picture, notably Homer's hair. On a smaller screen perhaps this wouldn't pose much of a problem but watching it on a 43", it began by just being noticeable before becoming annoying, with my eyes being drawn to it. The more chunky, for want of a better word, the animation the less bothersome this was but on such a spidery, barely-there part of the picture, like background objects and Homer's zig-zag of hair, it was distracting. There's also a small amount of colour bleed on the presentation, moreso on the characters than on the backgrounds. Black bleeding into yellow is much more noticeable than into greys and blacks.
There is a choice of three audio tracks, DD5.1, DTS5.1 and DD5.1 Descriptive Audio, all of which are very good but out of which the DTS is clearly the best. There isn't, though, a great deal happening in the rear channels on any of the three tracks bar the whirring of helicopters and the background chatter in Springfield. That said, it's still a very decent listen with the dialogue sounding clear against the ambient noise in the film and with some obvious separation between speakers, most notably between left, front and right. Finally, the film and commentaries are subtitled in English throughout.
The main extras are a pair of Commentaries, the first with James L Brooks, Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Scully, David Silverman and Dan Castellaneta, who are later joined by Yeardley Smith and another with director David Silverman and sequence directors Mike B Anderson, Steven Dean Moore and Rich Moore. The first of these is the reason why this disc appears to be so bare. It isn't a visual commentary but there are times when the contributors demand more of a say on a particular scene, leaving the film paused and in black-and-white while they chatter over it. As such, this isn't just a commentary track, more a different version of the film on the same disc - 97m56s to the theatrical cut of 83m13s - and is, more often than not, a funny, chatty affair that's certainly near to being on a par with the best of the series commentaries. The second commentary isn't as good, covering some of the same ground as the first in contributions by David Silverman but doing so without producers Groening, Jean, Scully and Brooks.
These commentaries aside, this DVD is rather lacking in features. One suspects that Fox, who are usually rather better at DVD releases than this, will come up with a 2-disc at some point but, for now, there is only a set of Deleted Scenes (5m13s), what the DVD describes as Special Stuff (3m26s) and a lot of Trailers (5m06s). The deleted scenes feature a very different Russ Cargill, a raid on a federal building, a history of life inside the dome by Emperor Moe and a slightly different ending. The special stuff features cameos by The Simpsons on several other shows, including The Tonight Show and American Idol (twice), as well as, what must be an American tradition, Let's All Go To The Lobby. Finally, the trailers include teaser and theatrical trailers. All of these features, including the two commentaries, are subtitled in English.
For all that, it does feature Homer saying 'Jebus' once again, my favourite moment from the series - "Help me Jebus!" - and the same again in the movie. How it is that Homer, who attends church every Sunday, doesn't actually know that it's Jesus he's meant to be worshipping is the perfect summation of the character and the funniest line in the film. That, though, doesn't quite save The Simpsons Movie. Not quite enough praying to Jebus maybe.