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Arthur (2011) Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Arthur (2011) movie poster Arthur

Theatrical Release: April 8, 2011 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jason Winer / Writers: Steve Gordon (story), Peter Baynham (screenplay)/ Songs List

Cast: Russell Brand (Arthur Bach), Helen Mirren (Lillian Hobson), Greta Gerwig (Naomi Quinn), Jennifer Garner (Susan Johnson), Geraldine James (Vivienne Bach), Luis Guzmán (Bitterman), Nick Nolte (Burt Johnson), Christina Calph (Tiffany), Murphy Guyer (Officer Kaplan), José Ramón Rosario (Employment Clerk), John Hodgman (Candy Store Manager), Scott Adsit (Gummy Bear Man), Evander Holyfield (Himself - Boxing Trainer), Peter Van Wagner (Naomis' Dad), Robert Clohessy (Veteran Cop), Ed Herbstman (Rookie Cop), Jared Parker (Wedding Kid), Tom Toner (Wedding Priest), Richard Bekins (Chancellor), Matt Malloy (Spoon Guy)

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Thirty years ago today, the original Arthur opened in theaters. Box office records are scarce, but we know that the film debuted no higher than second place, trailing Endless Love despite claiming more screens. Arthur, however, would go on to have a long and successful run, drawing crowds well into the following spring, which is when it won two Oscars from four nominations.
Finishing with $95.5 million, the comedy became the biggest hit in Dudley Moore's movie career, handily besting 10, from two years earlier. It earned him an Oscar nomination, won him a Golden Globe, and confirmed the diminutive British comic as a viable leading man for American romantic comedies. Now, since remakes abound and the generation-minded industry has its eyes on the 1980s, we have gotten a new Arthur, this one starring Russell Brand in the title role.

As in the original, Arthur Bach is a rich, playful, irresponsible British man living in Manhattan. You could say he has a drinking problem, but problems don't seem to exist in Arthur's life of luxury. He is a fun drunk, whose lack of inhibitions endears him to us as he does as he pleases. Few people in his life are as amused by his antics as he is and we are meant to be. His lifelong nanny Hobson (Helen Mirren) can only roll her eyes and crack wise as she tries in vain to get him to exhibit the slightest bit of prudence.

Arthur's carefree existence of cocktails, cartoons, loose women, and impulsive expenses is threatened when his all-business mother (Geraldine James) vows to cut him off from the family fortune if he doesn't marry high-performance executive Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner). The company needs a successor and Susan is the logical choice. All that's missing is the family name. Arthur tried dating her in the past and dumped her, finding her too uptight and calculating for his tastes. He is opposed to marrying her, but even more opposed to losing the wealth he's found so very comfortable.

Meanwhile, there is another woman in the girlish Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig), a guileless Queens resident barely making ends meet giving unauthorized tours of Grand Central. Arthur is quickly taken by her, and she by him, which makes it unfortunate that he's engaged to marry someone he doesn't love. How ever could he get out of that without subjecting himself to abject poverty and virtually no career prospects?

Russell Brand plays rich drunk Arthur Bach and Helen Mirren is his nanny Hobson in the 2011 remake of "Arthur."

This Arthur was unable to recreate the financial success of Moore's original. It grossed a modest $33 million domestically and another $12.7 M overseas, meaning it still has a ways to go before generating profit after its $40 M production budget and considerable marketing costs are factored. That isn't too surprising. Moore's version may have been the fourth highest-grossing film of 1981, but assuming it's one of the most popular movies of its time would be like believing that "Crocodile" Dundee and Three Men and a Baby are two of the most beloved films of the '80s. They sold a lot of tickets, yes, but nowadays hardly anyone considers those sacred, quotes them by heart, and recommends them with heightened expectations. The same is true of Arthur, a movie that was popular upon release but three decades later, looks unlikely to ever be promoted to bona fide classic.

It makes sense that some movies age better than others. Some get better than they originally were, if they were made with sensibilities that come to be appreciated. Others fall out of fashion quickly, often comedies that are very anchored to their present-day. The audience also makes a difference. Movies that were readily enjoyed by children and teenagers are more likely to endure, buoyed by vivid nostalgia and irreplaceable sentiment. Arthur played mostly to adults back in 1981 and those who were adults then tend not to be regular moviegoers now, let alone people who are writing about movies and recalling their favorites. It wasn't simply the premise of Arthur that appealed to viewers. It wasn't even just Moore's characterization, as demonstrated by the flopping of the tardy 1988 sequel Arthur 2: On the Rocks.

While it's easy to come up with reasons for the remake's failure to perform in theaters, the remake itself must be blamed as well. At its best, the movie is just okay. It doesn't get much worse than "just okay", but a movie that remains "just okay" for its entirety cannot in good faith be considered okay. The biggest problem is that this isn't very funny. It's not unfunny, it's not painful. It's not gross or stupid as many subpar comedies are. It just kind of hangs there, at most generating a smile or a light chuckle.

Without winning humor, some comedies fall flat. This Arthur doesn't, at least it didn't for me. I stayed interested, largely to see how it differed from the original (which I watched for the first time about a week earlier). It didn't stray much from that, the biggest difference being the change of Hobson from a butler to a nanny. As Moore's Arthur wasn't much more than a good time, there was a decent chance for Brand's version to best it, as remakes of unsacred properties can (e.g. Ocean's Eleven). That doesn't happen here. The remake isn't far off the mark, but it's slightly lesser in basically every regard, its comedic shortcomings impossible to write off as the product of a different era.

Arthur (Russell Brand) forces a smile for his engagement photo with Susan Johnson (Jennifer Garner). Naomi Quinn (Greta Gerwig) is amazed by the sight of the empty Grand Central Terminal that Arthur (Russell Brand) has arranged for them.

Brand does an okay job in the lead role. Physically, he is far from Moore, whose nicknames included "The Sex Thimble", but his voice and verbality bear some resemblance. Americans have heard for years now just how hilarious a comedian Brand is. His movie exposure, however, has been limited to a supporting role in Bedtime Stories
and, more significantly, playing the rock star Aldous Snow in Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Get Him to the Greek. His Arthur does feel somewhat like a PG-13 version of that drugged-out airhead. Softening edges is uncharacteristic of Brand, since he doesn't seem all that far from Snow personally, his own drug struggles and outrageous antics well-documented in the UK. This film's flopping does not bode well for the actor hanging onto the leading man status that Moore enjoyed for about a decade. At least his other April release, Hop, in which he voiced the computer-animated Easter Bunny, was a financial hit.

Brand's supporting cast does little to elevate the proceedings. Mirren is one of the most respected actors working today and the only female sexagenarian who would be entrusted with second billing on this wide a release. She and the script seem a little too certain that such an accomplished talent would knock her part out of the park; after all, it's the role that won Sir John Gielgud an Oscar and the one which supplies Arthur with its heart. And yet, an acidic personality isn't inherently funny on a woman; she doesn't earn many laughs.

For someone whose breakthrough role was a butt-kicking spy, it's strange that Garner's feature film type has come to be neurotic, fun-sucking shrews. She is convincingly annoying in the part, which would seem to have no business claiming the love interest position on the cover. The actress who deserves that but isn't yet a big enough star is Gerwig, who continues her fast ascent from mumblecore obscurity to the mainstream without selling out.

Arthur marks the feature film debut for Jason Winer, who directed much of the first season of "Modern Family." He plays things safely here, moving the camera plenty and getting some nice looks at New York City, but not uncovering any humor that isn't on the page. That page, adapted from the final screenplay of the original's director Steve Gordon, is credited solely to Peter Baynham, who has some of my favorite British comedies on his résumé ("I'm Alan Partridge", "Big Train") but has left me wanting much more from his feature films, among which Arthur follows Borat and Brüno. One of the script's few creative touches is to arm Arthur with a taste for movie car replicas, a believable contemporary extension to the character's man-child complex which also allows for a couple of Batmobile gags.

For some reason, Warner released Arthur last Friday (perhaps looking for a boost of Harry Potter theater traffic or Rango's retail debut?) in the studio's now-standard three editions: DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy. We look at the lattermost here.

Arthur Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (French, Spanish, Portuguese)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish; BD-Only: Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: July 15, 2011
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $35.99
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available in standalone DVD ($28.98 SRP), standalone Blu-ray ($29.98 SRP),
and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Perhaps appropriately, Arthur looks just okay by Blu-ray standards. The 1.78:1 picture is clean and sharp, but the film is fairly flat visually and the lightly grainy transfer doesn't uncover any of the fireworks that are missing onscreen. Likewise, there isn't much to be said about the 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. While everything is clear and has adequate depth, there isn't much of note, until the perhaps inevitable cover of Oscar-winning "Arthur's Theme", which is saved for the end credits scroll.

The combo pack's DVD presentation is rather lacking in quality, looking splotchy and compressed and not only when compared directly to the Blu-ray. Part of it is probably the result of the disc devoting nearly half of its data to the digital copies, but it also seems like Warner isn't even trying to keep the DVD crowd happy anymore, as evidenced by video that pales next to 10-year-old discs and the lack of a scene selections menu.

Russell Brand explains the different sensations associated with Nick Nolte's crotch grabs in "Arthur Unsupervised!" Among the deleted scenes is this extension, in which Arthur's manservant Bitterman (Luis Guzmán) offers his guidance within a replica of the "Back to the Future" DeLorean. Russell Brand shows his teeth in the gag reel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Arthur is joined by three bonus features, only one of which can be found
on the standalone DVD (apparently none can be found on the standalone Blu-ray which Amazon labels "Movie-Only Edition").

"Arthur Unsupervised!" (11:17) is sort of a gag reel of unused improvisations, with director Jason Winer intellectualizing his kind of comedy, and Brand and co-stars discussing the atmosphere between sets of alternate lines and gags. There are some amusing outtakes and behind-the-scenes bits that didn't need the talking heads.

"Additional Footage" (10:21) is a reel of seven deleted and extended scenes. We get more of Luis Guzmán playing Arthur's servant/confidante Bitterman, who advises him in an extended DeLorean chat and also lends a hand (and some fruit) to an extended version of Arthur's (otherwise fruitless) employment search.

Finally, we get a short, promotional gag reel (1:22) of outtakes and giggles set to a cover of David Bowie's "Rebel Rebel."

Per tradition, the combo's DVD drops all extras (simply the "additional footage") and previews from the DVD sold separately, accompanying its movie-only presentation with digital copies in iTunes and Windows Media formats.

The Blu-ray opens with promos for Blu-ray (why they're selling the format to those already watching it, I don't know) and WB Insider Rewards. On such a lightweight disc, you'd think the studio would want to at least give the illusion of more bonus features by including readily-available items like the movie's teaser and trailer, or trailers for the two Dudley Moore movies (which would have been no-brainer inclusions back in the early days of DVD).

On both formats, the simple main menu recycles the poster/cover image, while softly looping a short piece of score. The Blu-ray resumed playback on one of my two players, remembering where you left off on the movie, assuming you didn't watch it in one full sitting.

The two predominantly black discs claim opposite sides of an eco-friendly Blu-ray case, which also holds digital copy instructions and is topped by a fingerprint-attracting slipcover.

An intoxicated Arthur (Russell Brand) amuses himself (but not Helen Mirren) with an auction bidding war with himself. Nick Nolte plays construction magnate Bruce Johnson, Arthur's frightening would-be father-in-law.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Arthur is a boring, mediocre remake of a movie that shouldn't have been that hard to equal or better. It's a halfway decent romantic comedy, but as just a comedy, it's seriously short on laughs. It feels quite a bit like a watered-down version of Adam Sandler's Mr. Deeds, aping several of the same beats (celebrity athlete cameo, emptied Manhattan landmark date, indie veteran in eccentric butler role, etc.).

Having recently seen the original Arthur, I'd recommend seeing that over this (although it could use a new widescreen DVD to go with its recent double feature Blu-ray). Neither is essential viewing, but as is typically the case, the ones who did it first did it best. The few bonus features on Warner's lightweight Blu-ray doesn't add much value to the remake.

Buy Arthur from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / DVD / Blu-ray / Instant Video

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Buy the original Arthur: Fullscreen DVD / 2-Movie Collection Blu-ray / Instant Video

Related Reviews:
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Russell Brand: Bedtime StoriesDespicable Me | Jennifer Garner: JunoGhosts of Girlfriends Past
Helen Mirren: The QueenThe Last StationInkheartNational Treasure: Book of Secrets
Greta Gerwig: GreenbergNo Strings Attached | Nick Nolte: Tropic Thunder | Geraldine James: Made in Dagenham
Directed by Jason Winer: Modern Family: The Complete First Season | Written by Peter Baynham: Brüno
2011 Comedies: Just Go With ItHall PassCedar RapidsThe Green Hornet

Arthur Songs List: "A Harmless Game of Dress-Up", Eternal Summers - "Pogo", Jessica Fichot - "1,2,3", The Dixie Cups - "Chapel of Love", Tinie Tempah - "Pass Out", Cues from Two Scents Worth and Who Scent You?, B.A.S.K.O. - "We Go Hard", The Newton Brothers - "Start at the Bottom", Ben Gibbard - "Where Our Destination Lies", Russell Brand and Michael Rafted - "I've Been Horribly Emasculated", Ben Gibbard - "When the Sun Goes Down", Mark McAdam featuring Dermot Mulroney - "Hello I Must Be", Mark McAdam - "While You Wait", Daniel Merriweather - "Can't Buy You", Daniel Merriweather - "Dazed", Daniel Merriweather - "A Little Bit Better", Fitz and the Tantrums - "Arthur's Theme (Best That You Can Do)"

Arthur: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:
Download from iTunesDownload Amazon MP3sBuy CD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed July 17, 2011.



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