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Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils of Babylon DVD Review

Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils of Babylon DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Eric Jonrosh's The Spoils of Babylon (2014)
Miniseries & DVD Details

Creators/Writers: Matt Piedmont, Andrew Steele / Director: Matt Piedmont

Executive Producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Derek Waters, Jeremy Konner, Owen Burke

Cast: Tobey Maguire (Devon Morehouse/Dirk Snowfield), Kristen Wiig (Cynthia Morehouse/Lauoreighiya Samcake), Tim Robbins (Jonas Morehouse/Sir Richard Driftwood), Will Ferrell (Eric Jonrosh), Carey Mulligan (voice of Lady Anne York), Jessica Alba (Dixie Melonworth), Haley Joel Osment (Winston Morehouse/Marty Comanche), Molly Shannon (Meredith Sennheiser/Odessa Dobson), Michael Sheen (Chet Halner/Christopher Smith), David Spade (Talc Munson/Joseph Soil), Val Kilmer (General Cauliffe/Bobcat Maccaullie), Steve Tom (General Maddoxton/Rex Muftee), Toby Huss (Seymour Lunts), Cal Bartlett (Cyrus Mego), Jellybean Howie (Marianne Morehouse/Gumdrop Howard), Isabella Acres (Young Cynthia Morehouse), Phillip Wampler (Young Devon Morehouse), Tony Mirrcandani (Amed)

Running Time: 136 Minutes (6 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated
2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
DVD Release Date: March 8, 2016 / Episodes Originally Aired January 9, 2014 - February 6, 2014
Black Eco-Friendly Keepcase / Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Also available on Amazon Instant Video

Buy The Spoils of Babylon from Amazon.com: DVD Instant Video

Will Ferrell's sustained success in big screen comedy has given him and creative partner Adam McKay, whose housing market bust film The Big Short certainly finished among the top 3 in voting for the Best Picture Oscar, the opportunities and resources to think outside the box.
The two have lent their names and backing to a variety of smaller television and theatrical projects that excite more for their freedoms than for their potential to rake in big bucks. The class includes everything from HBO's "Eastbound & Down" and "Funny or Die Presents..." to the straight-faced Lifetime original movie/send-up A Deadly Adoption.

One of the more unusual side projects of Ferrell and McKay's Gary Sanchez Productions is The Spoils of Babylon, a star-studded satire of pompous authors, overdramatic television romance, and the 1970s that aired on IFC in early 2014 and came to DVD this month. The targets might not be familiar to those who regularly quote Ferrell/McKay comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers. But it is obvious from the series' opening in which bloated, bearded blowhard "author"-writer-director-producer-financer Eric Jonrosh (Ferrell, suspiciously absent from the DVD cover entirely) introduces you to his saga slowly from a lonely restaurant table with three wine glasses of different sizes that Spoils will have its moments.

That it does, even though the story being told becomes a tad tedious. Ferrell's bookending intros and outros are a highlight. In between them, forbidden romance, family drama, and secret canoodling entertains intermittently.

A heavily made-up and bearded Will Ferrell plays Eric Jonrosh, the pompous author-director-financier who appears at the beginning and end of each episode.

Spoils tells the story of Devon Morehouse, who as a child is adopted on the side of the road in West Texas 1931 and given that name by Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins), an unsuccessful oil man. Devon grows up (Tobey Maguire, henceforth) and grows fond of his sister Cynthia (Kristen Wiig), though their father forbids the technically not incestuous romance.

This epic story spans several decades, with Devon joining the Army for World War II, battling addiction,
marrying a mannequin named Lady Anne (voiced by Carey Mulligan), and getting involved in science. Jonas builds an empire upon striking oil. And Cynthia struggles with her feelings for her adopted brother.

The conceit is that Jonrosh began producing this miniseries in 1976. His 22-hour cut was deemed too long for television, so it has sat for nearly 40 years. Spoils doesn't just ape and parody melodramatic '70s television, but all sorts of gimmickry (one scene is in 3D and the first episode is preceded by a half dozen of made-up technical format acknowledgements) and egomaniacal storytellers (Jonrosh kind of resembles Francis Ford Coppola at the height of his vision and power). Moments of hilarity are scattered throughout, often in the form of random detours (like an impossibly long inscription on Jonas' watch for Devon or a series of father-daughter slaps).

Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) grows into a man, without hardly even noticing in Eric Jonrosh's "The Spoils of Babylon."

No matter their past experiences with Ferrell and McKay (or lack thereof), the cast all proves to be comfortable with the humorously dramatic tone. Maguire, who hasn't done a whole lot of comedy,
is especially at ease in the lead role (he's also credited as producer), while Robbins (whose Anchorman cameo remains a career outlier) is also quite on point. The comedy angle runs a little thin if you're not invested in the story, which is a little tough to take seriously. But the whole thing proves to be fairly entertaining and certainly different.

Despite plunging ratings that saw its audience shrink to six figures, The Spoils of Babylon was followed by the even more sparsely-watched The Spoils Before Dying, a 1950s-set mystery that IFC aired summer 2015. Both series were written by Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele, longtime "Saturday Night Live" writers from Ferrell's fruitful time on that sketch institution, with Piedmont also directing.

Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) is not too concerned that his adoptive father Jonas (Tim Robbins) tells him he's dying.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Spoils of Babylon employs a varied array of high and low aesthetics, from cinematic frames to clearly miniature vehicles and sets. The whole thing unfolds in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio that I can't think of a single television series using before in full. The anamorphic widescreen transfer of Anchor Bay's DVD is fine, though the program does kind of call for the higher resolution and increased definition of Blu-ray. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack suits the material well and distributes music and effects without drowning out the crisp dialogue.

There is a distinct and disturbing lack of bonus features on The Spoils of Babylon's DVD.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

No bonus features of any kind are included, which is unusual for a Gary Sanchez Production and for this DVD arriving two full years after the series first aired.

The few menus are all static and silent.

No slipcover tops the eco-friendly keepcase and no insert joins the full-color disc inside.

Devon Morehouse (Tobey Maguire) clutches the severed head of his mannequin wife as his mansion goes up in flames to the evident pleasure of his sister Cynthia (Kristen Wiig).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Spoils of Babylon is a comic curiosity. This pastiche of '70s miniseries has its share of funny moments. The laughs are essential to enduring the epic melodrama that on the surface becomes tedious. Anchor Bay's DVD does an extremely basic job of putting this series on disc in a not very timely fashion. The ordinary list price, complete lack of extras and absence of a Blu-ray edition are enough to make even those who enjoyed this effort stick to streaming it and its sequel series in HD on Netflix for the time being.

Buy The Spoils of Babylon from Amazon.com: DVD / Instant Video

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Reviewed March 13, 2016.



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