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Heavyweights Blu-ray Review

Heavyweights (1995) movie poster Heavyweights

Theatrical Release: February 17, 1995 / Running Time: 97 Minutes / Rating: PG / Songs List

Director: Steven Brill / Writers: Judd Apatow, Steven Brill

Cast: Tom McGowan (Pat Finley), Aaron Schwartz (Gerald "Gerry" Garner), Shaun Weiss (Josh Birnbaum), Tom Hodges (Lars), Leah Lail (Julie), Paul Feig (Tim), Kenan Thompson (Roy), David Bowe (Chris Donelly), Max Goldblatt (Phillip Grubenov), Robert Zalkind (Simms), Patrick La Brecque (Dawson), Jeffrey Tambor (Maury Garner), Jerry Stiller (Harvey Bushkin), Anne Meara (Alice Bushkin), Ben Stiller (Tony Perkis, Tony Perkis Sr.), David Goldman (Nicholas), Joseph Wayne Miller (Sam), Cody Burger (Cody), Allen Covert (Kenny the Cameraman), Tim Blake Nelson (Camp Hope Salesman Roger Johnson), Nancy Ringham (Mrs. Garner), Seth St. Laurent (Camp MVP Racer), Bobby Fain (Camp MVP Pitcher), Lauren Hill (Angelic Girl), Peter Berg (Cook - uncredited)

Buy Heavyweights from Amazon.com: Blu-ray DVD VHS Instant Video

1995 saw the Walt Disney Company's feature film output at an all-time high. Excluding the dozens of titles released by the Miramax Films division they then owned, Disney sent a staggering 32 films to theaters from their namesake, Touchstone, and Hollywood Pictures divisions.
Inevitably, there were a number of significant things about their 1995 films. For instance, Toy Story became the first Pixar feature and the first ever fully computer animated film. That was the #1 movie of the year at the box office. Ranking fourth, Pocahontas began Disney Animation Studios on a decline from their streak of smash hits that peaked with The Lion King.

It isn't just big animated movies carrying claims to fame. A Kid in King Arthur's Court featured one of the first performances of Kate Winslet, who would pick up her first Oscar nomination for Sense and Sensibility later that year. More meaningful then and less so now, the well-attended Man of the House marked the live-action feature film debut of "Home Improvement" star Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Two weeks before that, 27-year-old Judd Apatow made his feature film debut as a writer and executive producer of the Disney comedy Heavyweights.

Apatow had written for and produced multiple Tom Arnold HBO stand-up comedy specials. He had been one of three creators of Fox's short-lived, Emmy-winning "The Ben Stiller Show." He had also written and produced episodes of "The Critic" and "The Larry Sanders Show." Today, Apatow is one of the most influential and revered names in big screen comedy. The raunchy yet sweet movies he has written and directed, like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, have won rave reviews and done huge business. He's also produced a number of hits with overlapping personnel and comparable sensibilities, among them Superbad, Pineapple Express, Anchorman, and Bridesmaids. Before rising to prominence in the cinema world, Apatow etched a place in television history as a producer and frequent writer of the esteemed "Freaks and Geeks", which like "Stiller Show" was cancelled before completing a single season.

The fat boys of Camp Hope do not find any perks of being wallflowers at a dance with a girls' camp.

Heavyweights gives very little indication of the success that awaited Apatow, but it does find him working with past and future collaborators, including Ben Stiller and "Freaks and Geeks" creator and Bridesmaids director Paul Feig. Apatow's clout seems to be the only reason that Heavyweights comes to Blu-ray today, ahead of almost every other one of Disney's 1995 releases, and with a most unusual full slate of bonus features.

Like at least two other 1995 movies I can think of, Heavyweights opens on the last day of school. Gerry Garner (Aaron Schwartz) arrives home to find his parents (Jeffrey Tambor and Nancy Ringham) concerned for him and clearly interested in a summer camp that a salesman (Tim Blake Nelson) has been pitching to them. The promotional video played looks promising enough to Gerry, until he realizes that it is a fat camp. He wants nothing to do with it, but being around 13 years old, he has little say in the matter.

Camp Hope is full of boys around Gerry's age who, like him, would be considered obese (played by the likes of The Mighty Ducks' Shaun Weiss, "All That" and "Saturday Night Live"'s Kenan Thompson, and Christmas Vacation's Cody Burger). In their shared cabin, they collect and hide the assortment of junk food items they have smuggled in. The place has a fun atmosphere and the counselors (Tom McGowan, Feig, Leah Lail) are good-natured.

Alas, the camp's owners since it opened in 1962 (Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, in little more than a joint cameo) have gone bankrupt. Buying them out and ringing in immediate change is one Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller). The muscle-bound maniac Tony is planning to see huge weight losses in his campers, which he hopes to turn into an infomercial. A cameraman (Allen Covert) shoots Tony at work, as his misguided motivation falls on deaf ears and his European enforcer Lars (Tom Hodges) sucks out all the fun with his candy confiscations.

The fat boys and few sympathetic staff members work together to save their camp from Tony's iron fist.

Maniacal muscle-bound motivator Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) sees a business opportunity in taking over Camp Hope. Staffers Pat (Tom McGowan), Julie (Leah Lail), and Tim (Paul Feig) do not like the new directions their fat camp is taking.

One sees less of Apatow and more of his director and co-writer Steven Brill in this PG-rated comedy. Brill had written The Mighty Ducks and written and co-produced its sequel. Heavyweights feels like an extension of that hockey film series, which Brill would conclude the following year with Weiss and Thompson still onboard.
Actually, Heavyweights probably feels more like the sequels and less like the original Mighty Ducks. Instead of a ragtag ice hockey team, we have a ragtag group of portly middle school boys.

The movie is good for occasional laughs throughout, most of them from unexpected deliveries and punchlines. On a kids' comedy as routine as this one, it takes some outside-the-box thinking to get your attention. This film doesn't have nearly enough of that. Stiller occasionally amuses with his way over-the-top villainy, but he is less funny here than in anything else I've seen him in (which is most of his movies). Our heroes are not given the most distinctive personalities and their camaraderie is relatively unremarkable. They aren't the butt of jokes, as fat people historically have been in comedies. And I guess their comfort in their body images is to be admired. Their unhealthy lifestyles, on the other hand, are not and it's tough to imagine this movie getting made today, not only because Disney has gotten away from non-franchisable standalone films and films in general, but also because of the childhood obesity epidemic and concerns of Type 2 Diabetes. Family film sensitivity has risen in the past seventeen years, probably for the worse, though nothing in this movie warrants lamenting.

Heavyweights simply takes the summer camp comedy and adds the word "fat" to it. That renders the cast all-male (because fat girls aren't funny or introduce too many self-esteem issues?) and young. Thus, their trials generally do not involve hormones and the opposite sex, but in feeding their sweet teeth under the watchful eye of overzealous staffers.

I've seen chunks of this movie on television over the years and it has held my attention without ever impressing me. I had hoped that Apatow's involvement, the cult following it has developed (which results in a very respectable 6.4 average user rating on IMDb), and my increased Stiller appreciation would mean that a proper, complete viewing would elevate my opinion of the film. But no, this remains a mediocre effort, a good deal less entertaining than the live-action 1995 Disney movies with which I am more familiar. As I have written before, I consider 1995 to be a peak year for cinema, likely the result of me being at one of the most impressionable and pop-culturally aware ages back then. I also have more of a taste for live-action family films than most critics. Those two facts should make me especially well-suited to loving Heavyweights. That I cannot find it more than intermittently diverting means that you are unlikely to as well.

A week before This Is 40, Apatow's latest work as writer, director, and producer, opens in theaters, Heavyweights hits Blu-ray, the perfect stocking stuffer for '90s fat kids who have grown up (if not out).

Heavyweights Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled
Release Date: December 11, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $20.00
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on DVD ($9.99 SRP; March 4, 2003) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released on VHS (February 20, 1996)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Heavyweights is one of countless live-action '90s Disney films that DVD presented in 1.33:1 "full screen", even though there was ample evidence to suggest that people preferred getting widescreen movies in widescreen and that widescreen televisions would soon be the norm (as they now are). While Disney continues to ignore the live-action Disney side of its vast catalog, those few titles that do hit the format are certain to be presented in their widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. Heavyweights joins them, appearing in 1.85:1. The picture is good, but not great. Given the film's relative youth, I expected it to look pretty terrific. Though the element remains clean, the colors seem pale and the video isn't particularly sharp. Admittedly, Steven Brill is not a director that gives the people a visually stimulating experience and I have no doubt this handily bests the compromised DVD I've never seen. But compared to the slightly older films Disney has put on Blu-ray, this 1080p is a tad underwhelming.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is a little better. Dialogue and music remain crisp and clear throughout. It is worth noting that the mix is almost entirely limited to the front speakers. I didn't notice any sound emanating from the rear channels, even when scenes would seem to warrant that.

Ben Stiller and his young co-stars take a fun walk together for the camera in "The Making of 'Heavyweights.'" A campers play (featuring Kenan Thompson) is one of a whopping 35 deleted/extended scenes included on Blu-ray.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

You can probably count on one hand the number of live-action catalog Blu-rays for which Disney has produced new bonus features. Heavyweights is not a title you would expect to make the studio break with tradition. Clearly, Apatow's appreciation for bonus features and his fans as well as his loyalty to his actors accounts for the loaded supply of extras here.

First up is an audio commentary by Apatow, director Steven Brill, and actors Allen Covert, Aaron Schwartz, Shaun Weiss, Tom Hodges and, briefly by telephone, "special guest" Paul Feig. Theirs is a lively and fun discussion that covers most any topic you could think of: casting, the cast, testing poster designs, real fat camps, their own weight fluctuations, the movie's initial reception, its subsequent cult status, the day that Kurt Cobain died, their unfamiliarity with Disney standards (hence, the allusions to movies like Apocalypse Now, Platoon and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest),
alterations that had to be made in postproduction, and Paul Thomas Anderson's appreciation for the film. That this isn't your typical movie treated to a new audio commentary and these aren't your typical family filmmakers makes this a very enjoyable listen.

"The Making of Heavyweights" (24:36) is a substantial featurette from 1995. Entertaining behind-the-scenes footage and film clips complement comments from the set by Apatow, Brill, Ben Stiller, Hodges, Anne Meara, Jerry Stiller, Tom McGowan, Leah Lail, and the young actors. It's a great companion to the film that every fan is sure to appreciate and I wouldn't have thought to exist.

Next comes an astonishing collection of 35 deleted and extended scenes running a staggering 1 hour, 34 minutes, and 32 seconds. That's no joke. This section runs about as long as the film itself and longer than any other deleted scenes section I've ever seen. Highlights include the entire Camp Hope promotional video, a very Apatow-ish scene full of pop culture references in which Gerry worries he'll get a "boner" while in line for the boys' physical examinations (one of several scenes too racy for the PG rating), more Camp MVP antagony, rehearsals of a camp play, more to the hiking trip, and more events in the climactic Apache Relay. Fitted with haphazard score, the content is presented in windowboxed standard def video, with either text and counters onscreen or just a counter over unsightly but watchable clips.

A grown-up, slimmed-down Shaun Weiss (Josh in the movie) is one of seven former child actors reflecting on "Heavyweights" in "Where Are They Now?" Judd Apatow conducts a video chat with the film's most famous young actor: longtime SNL player Kenan Thompson.

"Where Are They Now?" (14:41, HD) features new thoughts and reflections as well as old set photos from seven of the Heavyweights kids all grown-up.

Catching up with the former piece's most notable omission, "Video Chat: Judd & Kenan" (8:21) captures a recent conversation between Judd Apatow and Kenan Thompson. Thompson shares his memories of filming Heavyweights as a child. The final minute of it has Max Goldblatt clearing his name of farting accusations.

A recently hydrated Leah Lail (nurse Judy in the film) poses for the Super 8 camera. Judd Apatow gets angry in a Polaroid with an Andy Warholic Lars (Tom Hodges). The Heavyweights Blu-ray menu places cast photographs on a camp-like bulletin board.

"Super 8" (8:59) gives us more up close and candid behind-the-scenes footage from the set shot by cast and crew. It is silent (save for music) and rough-looking, which gives it the feel of vintage Hollywood despite the very mid-'90s styles.

"Judd's Art Project" (1:53) presents Polaroids from the set
of a mulleted Apatow looking angry alongside his cast and crew members.

The extras conclude with Heavyweights' original theatrical trailer (2:03), presented in 1.33:1.

The disc opens with trailers for Oz: The Great and Powerful and The Odd Life of Timothy Green, followed by an anti-smoking PSA. The Sneak Peeks listing repeats those trailers, followed by promos for Disney Movie Rewards, Broadway's Newsies musical, Frankenweenie, The Muppet Movie: The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, and Planes.

Even the menu shows some creativity for a Disney catalog BD, with a bulletin board holding cast photos while score plays. The disc sadly does not resume playback or support bookmarks.

The side-snapped Blu-ray case's one insert provides your unique code for landing some Disney Movie Rewards points.

Tony Perkis (Ben Stiller) chews out young protagonist Gerry Garner (Aaron Schwartz) for not losing weight.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

A 1990s live-action Disney movie released in a barebones fullscreen DVD coming to Blu-ray in widescreen and with over four hours of bonus features should be music to my ears. But the fact that it is Heavyweights and not a different film sucks a good deal of the excitement from that news. Not that I hate Heavyweights. I just find it an awful lot less entertaining than it should be, considering my appreciation for its era, studio, and writer. Still, the movie has some laughs and fans are sure to relish the deluxe treatment it receives.

While I wish that this could set a precedent for the likes of Cool Runnings, Man of the House, Tom and Huck, White Fang, Jungle 2 Jungle, Angels in the Outfield, The Mighty Ducks, The Big Green, and so on to follow, I know that it will not, because those films were not the work of Apatow or anyone else with the apparent power or interest to yield a similarly and satisfyingly loaded Blu-ray. Thus, if you buy Heavyweights, it can't help but show Disney there is a market for them to right the wrongs of their live-action catalog DVDs. Just don't expect more than movie-only releases for others and not anytime soon.

Buy Heavyweights from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / DVD / VHS / Instant Video

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Heavyweights Songs List: BoDeans - "Closer to Free", Chic - "Le Freak", The Bay City Rollers - "Saturday Night", Hot Chocolate - "You Sexy Thing", The Miracles - "Love Machine", Crescent City Gold - "Hang Tough", Bow Wow Wow - "I Want Candy", The Coyotes - "Set the Wheels in Motion", "Blue Danube", Paul Feig and the Camp Hope Kids - "Camp Hope Concerto", "Thieving Magpies"

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Reviewed December 11, 2012.



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