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Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side Blu-ray Review

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Episode & Blu-ray Details

Director: Dominic Polcino / Producers: Kirker Butler, Shannon Smith / Writer: Kirker Butler

Voice Cast: Seth MacFarlane (Peter Griffin/Han Solo/Stewie Griffin/Darth Vader/Brian Griffin/Chewbacca/Glenn Quagmire/C-3PO/Carter Pewterschmidt/Emperor Palpatine/Dr. Hartman/General Rieekan), Alex Borstein (Lois Griffin/Princess Leia), Seth Green (Chris Griffin/Luke Skywalker), Mila Kunis (Meg Griffin), Mike Henry (Cleveland Brown/R2-D2/Herbert/Obi-Wan Kenobi)

Notable Guest Voices: Jon Benjamin (Carl/Yoda), Johnny Brennan (Mort Goldman/Lando Calrissian), James Caan (Himself), Danny Smith (Ernie the Giant Chicken/Boba Fett), Patrick Warburton (Joe Swanson), James Woods (Himself/General Veers)

Running Time: 55 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated (Contains language not broadcast on Fox)

1.33:1 Fullscreen (Original Aspect Ratio), DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian; Closed Captioned
Blu-ray Release Date: December 22, 2009 / Expected Episode Airdate: May 16, 2010
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99 / Two Single-sided discs (1 BD-50, 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Standard Blue Keepcase with Embossed, Holographic Cardboard Slipcover
Also available on DVD and in DVD 2-Pack with "Blue Harvest"

Buy Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side from Amazon.com:
Blu-ray / DVD / DVD Two-Pack with Blue Harvest


By Aaron Wallace

Thank God "Family Guy" airs on Fox. That was my first thought after the conclusion of "Blue Harvest", the hour-long Star Wars parody starring the cast of "Family Guy".
The episode aired in 2007 as the animated series' sixth season premiere. Loyal "Family Guy" fan that I am, I expected predictably big laughs from the show's signature blend of random and offensive, but I had no way of knowing when I sat down just how epic that hour would be.

My second thought after "Blue Harvest" was, "please let them do this again for The Empire Strikes Back." More than two years later, they have. "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" will air this May at the end of Season Eight. There's no need for bated breath, though; the episode has already gotten the direct-to-video treatment with DVD and Blu-ray releases available now.

You don't strictly have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy the movie-- err, episode (it feels much more like a movie), but it undoubtedly helps. "Dark Side" follows the Empire Strikes Back plot with all the religious conviction of a Jedi knight.

Chewbacca (Brian), C-3PO (Quagmire), Princess Leia (Lois), and Han Solo (Peter) are aboard "Family Guy"'s Millennium Falcon. Luke learns the Force from Yoda, whose schooling is more like a boot camp in "Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side."

Another power outage in the Griffin home prompts Peter (voiced by series creator Seth MacFarlane) to tell his family a second Star Wars story. The trumpets blast and the yellow text begins to scroll, sounding familiar at first but soon taking an unexpected anti-Fox turn. We then find Luke Skywalker (Chris Griffin, voiced by Seth Green) in a familiarly icy locale, where he must battle with -- who else? -- Cookie Monster. While there, Obi-Wan Kenobi (Herbert, voiced by Mike Henry) appears in a vision and tells him to seek out Yoda (Carl, voiced by Jon Benjamin) for training in the Force. Accompanying him on that voyage is his pet robot of sorts, R2-D2 (Cleveland Brown, voiced by Mike Henry, making a return visit to "Family Guy" after leaving for his own spin-off series this year).

Meanwhile, Han Solo (Peter) plans to leave the Rebel Alliance until an Imperial attack prompts him to escape in the Millennium Falcon with Princess Leia (Lois Griffin, voiced by Alex Borstein), C-3PO (Quagmire, voiced by MacFarlane), and Chewbacca (Brian Griffin, also MacFarlane) onboard. Both the Falcon and Luke's X-wing put their passengers on a long journey to Cloud City, where Luke will learn a startling secret from Darth Vader (Stewie Griffin, voiced by MacFarlane). Something tells me he's the last among us to find out about that one.

The show's faithful adherence to George Lucas' film is rewarding for the space sagas' countless fans. The fact that 20th Century Fox distributes both properties -- and the fact that, to their credit, Fox and Lucas seem to be pretty cool with self-disparagement -- allows "Family Guy" to put original characters, score, and other trademarks to very extensive and effective use.

Like its predecessor "Blue Harvest", "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" replicates the sets and story of George Lucas' film with impressive accuracy. Luke Skywalker (Chris Griffin) and Darth Vader (Stewie Griffin) engage in a lightsaber duel across a busy space highway, where traffic and rules of sportsmanlike conduct interrupt their tension.

Fortunately, the attention to accuracy doesn't preclude "Family Guy"'s typical irreverence. The original film's more vulnerable story elements are sent up for laughs. Once-wholesome exchanges are twisted and wind up in the gutter. An unending parade of unrelated pop culture references is targeted along the way too. Such is the "Family Guy" approach to comedy. The idea that jarring discontinuity could be a bad thing is never even considered.
In fact, the show revels in that, and though the Star Wars storyline provides a little more focus here, random sequences still find their way in.

Whether it's because "Dark Side" comes after two years of anticipation, unlike the pleasant surprise that was "Blue Harvest", or because the jokes just aren't quite as clever, I find this follow-up less side-stitchingly hilarious than the first. Don't be dissuaded, though. The parody is still strong and very funny. I still thank God that Fox has "Family Guy". And I still can't wait to watch Return of the Jedi through Seth MacFarlane's impertinent eyes.

VIDEO and AUDIO

On Blu-ray, this double-length episode is appropriately presented in 1.33:1 fullscreen with a 1080p, AVC-encoded hi-definition transfer. The picture is excellent, with vibrant colors and a generally crisp appearance. The only way you'd be disappointed with the transfer is if you wish you'd paid less in order to get the DVD instead. That's quite possible. The Blu-ray does offer some improvement over the DVD (upscaled when played in a Blu-ray player), but it's not much. "Family Guy" employs some pretty simple, pretty flat animation. That works for the show but it doesn't invite a lot of spiffing up. If you own a Blu-ray player and prefer to buy Blu whenever possible (like myself), then by all means, opt for the Blu-ray release. If you're one of those consumers who like to buy Blu when it makes a big difference but save money by purchasing lower-priced DVDs when it doesn't, I suspect you'll be perfectly happy with the DVD. If you don't own a Blu-ray player at all... well, you should still buy one, but not so that you can watch this in HD.

Audio comes by way of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround soundtrack. The audio sounds great and makes a better case for the Blu-ray purchase, though still not enough to be decisive. Dialogue is clear and satisfactory, while the Star Wars score that figures so prominently in this episode really shines in surround sound. The music is undoubtedly the single most outstanding aspect of the disc's audio presentation. Plenty of subtitles are offered. Strangely, though, only an English soundtrack is provided.

"Family Guy" Fact-Ups are often very funny, like the caption seen here, but there are too many that aren't -- and too many in general -- to justify the hour of rapt attention that this text track requires. "The Dark Side of Poster Art" featurette lets you spend a lot of time with this guy, artist Joe Vaux. If you watch "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side and wonder how the random Juicy Fruit commercial went from sketch to final color, you're in luck thanks to the animatic comparison reel.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Aside from a Digital Copy disc that isn't included in the DVD package, there are no Blu-ray exclusives (though the packaging does errantly claim that the episode itself is "ONLY ON BLU-RAY!"). The first of the common bonuses is a full-length audio commentary track with a whole host of participants: Seth MacFarlane, Seth Green, producers Mark Hentemann and David A. Goodman, writer Kirker Butler, and director Dominic Polcino.
The group seems to be in a room together and as they have a lot of fun talking about the episode, the listener has fun too. Inevitably, MacFarlane and Green stand out the most, their voices instantly recognizable. The others tend to run together but still have something of value to say.

"'Family Guy' Fact-Ups" is an on-screen text commentary that runs while the episode plays in full. Basically, this is the "Family Guy" edition of "Pop-Up Video". I maintain that outside of the three minute music video, this kind of thing just doesn't work. The sound effects are annoying and it's too much to read. The fast-paced track requires an hour of unblinking attention and while some of the "facts" are actually very funny jokes, others are painfully obvious and pointless.

"The Dark Side of Poster Art" (HD, 9:18) is a featurette documenting the creation of "Dark Side"'s official poster. This is a sort of "Real World" confessional scenario, in which we spend a lot of time with artist Joe Vaux. Too much time. "Blue Harvest" and "Dark Side" have some seriously awesome posters to their credit (each carefully modeled after the theatrical posters and VHS cover art of the respective originals) but this simply goes on way too long to remain interesting.

Next is an animatic scene-to-scene comparison featuring audio commentary by Dominic Polcino (6:36, HD). Some early animation is seen in rough form, along with the final version of those same segments. These comparisons are always neat to see in small doses, and that's exactly what this provides.

The table read for "Something, Something Something, Dark Side" is a joy to listen to, but listen is pretty much all that you'll do -- the camera angle doesn't change from what you see here. Can you find Seth MacFarlane? Me neither. Seth MacFarlane is much more visible in the sneak peek at the table read for "We Have a Bad Feeling About This", included on the "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" Blu-ray and DVD. The DVD menu for "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side" takes its cue from Fox's Star Wars DVDs, a design that is implemented on the Blu-ray release too.

"'Family Guy' - 'Something, Something, Something, Dark Side' Table Read" (49:27, HD) is probably the best supplement on the disc. The "Family Guy" cast sits around a giant table and reads through an early version of the script. We only see the first two acts, but it still runs just under an hour. Table reads offer some of the best glimpses into television's creative process and they are always appreciated on home video. My only criticism here is that the stagnant camera angle is terrible -- it's virtually impossible to see the principal actors at all. That makes this a primarily aural experience, but still a worthwhile one.

"Sneak Peak of 'Family Guy' - 'We Have a Bad Feeling About This' Table Read" (HD, 2:26) is just what it sounds like, a tease from the next installment in the 'Family Wars' saga, this one taking on Return of the Jedi.
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From what we see here, it's likely to be a good one. The camera here happily focuses front and center on MacFarlane, who does most of the talking. Let the anxious awaiting begin.

Disc Two is merely the aforementioned digital copy disc, exclusive to the Blu-ray version.

Several previews play automatically when the Blu-ray is inserted: "Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy" on DVD and Blu-ray, "Family Guy": Volume Seven - Uncensored, The Marine 2, Jennifer's Body, and Gentlemen Broncos. None of these are accessible from the menus.

In a very nice touch, the animated 16x9 main menu screens imitate those used for the Star Wars DVDs. The saga's iconic theme plays in the background while the animated cast stands at attention beneath the Millennium Falcon in Cloud City.

Both discs sport attractive label art featuring some lightsaber action. They're housed in a standard Blu-ray case, which comes inside an embossed, holographic cardboard slipcover. Both employ the parody of the theatrical Empire Strikes Back poster. The slip-cover's annoying, inaccurate "ONLY ON BLU-RAY" notice is actually a sticker that can be peeled off. Inside the case are some "Family Guy" ads and digital copy transfer instructions.

The Griffin family's favorite reject, daughter Meg doesn't get much screentime in the "Family Guy" Star Wars saga, but she's cast here as the giant space slug. Lando Calrissian's betrayal lands Han Solo in hot water... or frozen carbonite, as the facts have it.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A Blu-ray release of a single hour-long episode wouldn't typically lend itself to a recommendation,
but that's what I'm giving "Something, Something, Something, Dark Side". So epic and special is this season finale-to-be that it feels much more like a movie than merely a single installment of a cartoon show. The parody is clever, the comedy is robust and holds up on repeat viewings, and the liberal use of authentic Star Wars elements gives the production remarkable credibility. The Blu-ray disc also offers excellent video, even better audio, and a few stellar bonus features. Any fan of either "Family Guy" or Star Wars, especially the latter, is bound to love "Dark Side". Add this to your collection, you should.

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Reviewed January 11, 2010.



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