Harvie Krumpet Review

Two years after its Best Animated Short Oscar win, Harvie Krumpet finally makes his UK DVD debut. Anthony Nield has reviewed Metrodome’s Region 2 release.

Two years after its Oscar success Adam Elliot’s “Best Animated Short” Harvie Krumpet finally sees the light of day on DVD in the UK. This 22 minute glimpse into the life of the eponymous Polish émigré was Elliot’s fourth venture into claymation following a trilogy of shorter, loosely autobiographical works – Uncle, Cousin and Brother – which embellished his recollections of various relatives into a number of comic and dramatic episodes. Each of these films finds a place on the disc and deservedly so, not only because of their individual qualities (it could be argued that both Cousin and Brother are superior efforts to Harvie Krumpet) and the manner in which they allow us to see how Elliot’s technique has progressed over the past decade (much like the Wallace and Gromit shorts, the first is rather crude and laden with fingerprints), but also for what they tell us about the filmmaker himself. Both black and white and deeply personal, the trilogy recalls Tim Burton’s pre-live action short Vincent. But whereas the future Batman and Beetlejuice director told his story through various cinematic allusions and Edgar Allan Poe references, Elliot’s approach is more enclosed and personal; he never shies away from death or disability giving the impression that both have at some point played a huge part in his life.

In his commentary Elliot describes these earlier works as a warm-up for Harvie Krumpet and whilst they have ostensible similarities to this newer piece, we do now see him moving away from his own experiences and into wholly fictional territory (though tiny biographical details do sneak under the radar as is often the case). What this means is that the personal dimension no longer exists with quite the same force, but then Harvie Krumpet is easily his richest work to date and as such rewards it audience by other means. At twice the length of the longest of the trilogy’s entries it is also his most epic (if 22 minutes can be described as such) taking in as it does Harvie’s life from 1922 to the present day, from his birth in Poland to his final years in an old folks’ home via an emigration to Australia courtesy of World War II.

Indeed this newfound expansive quality manifests itself in a number of ways beyond the storyline. Harvie Krumpet finally sees Elliot moving into full colour (albeit ones of muted tones), for example, and at one point even employing a full blown musical number which pays homage to Busby Berkeley. Yet the overall tone of the piece is still at one with the previous works inasmuch as this is still essentially a tragi-comic tale with moments of great poignancy. Elliot’s commentary describes his lead character as having “perpetual bad luck”, referring to the fact that he is born with Tourette’s Syndrome, goes bald, gets asthma, has a metal plate inserted in his head, is struck by lightning, gets testicular cancer and outlives his wife. All within the space of less than half an hour. But as with Uncle, et al there’s a genuine warmth towards Harvie and his plight. And whilst undoubtedly humorous, both his disabilities and disappointments are never treated with a sneer or laughed at in a disdainful manner, but rather mined for their inadvertent comic qualities. The key to this is the voice-over narration, another holdover from the trilogy. Yet whereas these prior works were narrated from a personal standpoint, here the treatment is understandably less subjective. However, Geoffrey Rush’s tones have been employed for this effort and in doing so the viewer is conveyed a great enthusiasm for Harvie’s life, no matter how harsh it may, at times, be. Given this lack of a personal edge Harvie Krumpet may not be able to elicit as profound a response as either Cousin or Brother, but its a highly impressive and hugely entertaining, not to mention quite touching, piece nonetheless. And, of course, as the disc contains these early works alongside it, then a purchase remains worthwhile.

The Disc

Despite the claims on the sleeve, Harvie Krumpet disappointingly has not been issued in anamorphic form (though the menus and featurette are). However, the print is otherwise in fine condition, being both crisp and damage free. Moreover, the distinctive colour palette comes across especially well. As for the soundtrack, both DD2.0 and DD5.1 options are provided. Admittedly there’s little to separate the two with neither demonstrating any noticeable problems and both remaining a clear as could be expected throughout.

With regards to the extras, the major pieces here are the various short films. As well as the aforementioned trilogy and an earlier 2D short entitled Human Behavioural Studies : Series One is included. At barely two minutes in length it’s obviously the lightest of the shorts, but its inclusion alongside the other Elliot efforts means that this disc contains his complete cinematic output to date.

Of the various shorts, Human Behavioural Studies is the only one not to contain a commentary from Elliot. As his Harvie Krumpet talk track is largely technical and reveals the various materials employed in its production, the commentaries for the trilogy are especially welcome as they reveal the personal side to his filmmaking. Aiding the listening pleasures is the fact that Elliot is also hugely personable – indeed, his softly spoken manner is not dissimilar to send-up of a claymation animator that appeared in The Fast Show a few years ago.

Elliot also commentates over the brief featurette that compares his initial storyboards for Harvie Krumpet to the final product, plus there’s a gallery of the various models employed in its production.

Anthony Nield

Updated: Apr 10, 2005

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