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Unidentified Flying Oddball - Disney DVD Review

Unidentified Flying Oddball

Theatrical Release: June, 1979 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Russ Mayberry

Cast: Dennis Dugan (Tom Trimble), Jim Dale (Sir Mordred), Ron Moody (Merlin), Kenneth More (King Arthur), John Le Mesurier (Sir Gawain), Rodney Bewes (Clarence), Sheila White (Alisande), Robert Beatty (Senator Milburn), Cyril Shaps (Dr. Zimmerman), Kevin Brennan (Winston), Ewen Solon (Watkins), Pat Roach (Oaf), Reg Lye (Prisoner)


In Unidentified Flying Oddball, NASA's Dr. Zimmerman (Cyril Shaps) has developed the Stardust, a revolutionary space shuttle which will travel faster than the speed of light, using magnetic fields that summon atomic power. But the NASA board won't agree to have humans go up in it, so Dr. Zimmerman contacts Tom Trimble (Dennis Dugan), a quirky scientist who quickly makes a convincing humanoid robot (named Hermes) in his own likeness to try the shuttle.

The trip will last thirty light years from Earth's perspective, and will put to test Einstein's Theory of Relativity and challenge previous notions of space and time. When Hermes is reluctant about going up, his creator Trimble goes to try and comfort him. While this is going on, lightning strikes and the ship goes up, with the same nonchalance of the abrupt set-up. In the process, Hermes is injured, Trimble is terrified, and Dr. Zimmerman doesn't seem too concerned. Yes, this hokey premise requires disbelief, as does the entirety of the film. But being a light Disney comedy, that's easy to concede.

These outer-space sequences are done in a span of less than 15 minutes, and when Trimble and his humanoid double land, they are somehow in Devonshire, England in the year 508 A.D. Here, the "fish out-of-water" Camelot comedy begins.

Tom Trimble steps out into the sixth century. Look, it's Camelot!

One assumes the sight of a spaceman in the sixth century would be shocking, and the first person Trimble encounters, a young woman named Sandy (Sheila White) who thinks her father has turned into a gander, is pleasant but predictably frightened. Tom's next encounter has him abruptly taken prisoner by Lord Mordred (Jim Dale), who brings the accidental astronaut to Camelot for punishment.

There, Trimble comes across King Arthur and his royal staff and tries to explain how he got there, covering all the bases all the way back to Christopher Columbus. Naturally, his entire audience thinks he's lying or insane, although they seem to invest interest in all he says. For a while, the film expects the humor will flow from the 6th century English folks mixing up all the information Trimble has told them.

Tom is due to be burned at the stake, a punishment rendered ineffective by his heat-resistant spacesuit. Still, Mordred, who happens to be unjustly persecuting Sandy and her father for land, is skeptical of this visitor and seeks to have him destroyed. Equally dubious is the legendary magician Merlin, played by a well made-up Ron Moody (most recognizable as Fagan from Oliver!), who revisited the role sixteen years later in Disney's A Kid in King Arthur's Court.

Trimble stands before King Arthur and his staff. As the corrupt Sir Mordred, Jim Dale again shows his mastery of playing Disney villains.

With some help from Sandy and Clarence (Rodney Bewes), a cautious page who offers his services in exchange for a dirty magazine, Tom tries to stay alive and set things right. To his advantage, Tom has knowledge nearly fifteen hundred years ahead of the rest of the crowd. In an extended sword fight, Tom leaves Mordred helpless with a sword that's been magnetized. Tom also has at his disposal his humanoid creation and some truly state-of-the-art technology that for some reason is aboard.

While it's adapted from Mark Twain's analytical A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (the film's alternate title is A Spaceman in King Arthur's Court), make no mistake, this is not a movie that wants you to think. It's silly and many would label it "stupid", but it's hard to dislike the film. It doesn't take itself seriously, and neither should we, as long as it maintains its entertaining fantasy.

The cast is uniformly capable. Dennis Dugan shows charisma in the lead role, but has since become a successful comedy director (Happy Gilmore, Big Daddy). Jim Dale, who gets to play a Disney villain for the third time in three years, has his role down pat. Kenneth More makes for a dull King Arthur, but as he has little to do, you won't much notice or mind. Ron Moody brings flair to his visually interesting sorcerer.

Tom shakes off a routine stake-burning. NASA technology helps Tom against sixth century baddies like Oaf.

The film has its way with scientific rules, but surely Unidentified Flying Oddball isn't for someone seeking scientific lessons. It's also not for someone expecting an earnest science fiction story. One look at the film's poor visual effects confirms this. The outer space sequences rely heavily on miniatures (the opening gag somewhat addresses that), and there are those unsightly strings above Dennis Dugan are quite apparent when he is supposedly hovering above Camelot.

No, the film is certainly an old-fashioned comedy with merely a fantasy setup. As this, it succeeds with the same tone of the better Disney comedies of the early '70s, though perhaps its humor (with jokes about "Playtime" magazine) is a bit more lowbrow. There aren't non-stop laughs, but the comical premise does make for some genuinely funny situations.

It may seem like the type of film Disney could churn out without much effort, but with its winning, light-hearted spirit, Unidentified Flying Oddball amuses and endears enough that you don't mind.

Buy Unidentified Flying Oddball from Amazon.com DVD Details

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital Mono (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French
Closed Captioned
Release Date: August 3, 2004
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $19.99
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

The opening logo and sequences are very grainy, which isn't too unusual for old matte shots. Fortunately, the rest of Unidentified Flying Oddball doesn't look so bad. The film is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, slightly wider than the 1.66:1 non-anamorphic presentation the film received from Anchor Bay. At times, the film is still grainy and a bit beat-up; visual effects sequences naturally look the worst. At its best, the film displays a good range of detail and a picture that is clean, if a little soft. Colors are fairly accurate, though they bleed a tiny bit. Dark scenes bring out more softness and grain and scratches and other imperfections do show up from time to time. Still, while there were some problems, this isn't a bad transfer. Simply in comparison to the other titles from the late '70s and early '80s in this August 2004 catalogue batch, this transfer isn't quite as sharp.

The film is presented in Dolby Digital Mono and the audio is consistent and adequate. While the elements feel a bit dated, dialogue is always discernible. Audio does feel a bit flat at times and there's minor distortion on the music. Volume level is mostly even and good, and the Mono track does a sufficient job of presenting the film's modest sound design.

Ron Moody plays Merlin with flair. Oh, Clarence, not again with the magazine!

EXTRAS

Unfortunately, there's nothing in the way of bonus features, not even a trailer like most of Disney's recent catalogue releases have included.

The menus are basic 16x9 still frames that show off some primitive computer photo-editing techniques and are accompanied by score selections at a low volume. The disc opens with the standard 1 minute preview for recent live action Disney films on DVD and video.

The spaceman and his new friends smile for the camera. The sign speaks for itself.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Unidentified Flying Oddball may not be a great film, but it is surprisingly endearing and highly watchable in the tradition of Disney's better live action comedies of the '70s. Though it is without bonus features, Disney's DVD gives adequate treatment to the film itself, offering 16x9 enhancement over the discontinued Anchor Bay release.

For many, a rental will serve the purpose, but those who know and love Disney comedies (especially those from this era) may wish to add to their DVD collections this light, charming twist on Mark Twain's novel.

More on the DVD

The Book: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Related Reviews
New to Disney DVD
The Black Hole (1979) | Watcher in the Woods (1981) | Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983)

Also Starring Jim Dale:
Pete's Dragon (1977) | Hot Lead and Cold Feet (1978)

Disney in the Late '70s:
The Cat From Outer Space (1978) | Freaky Friday (1977) | Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977)
Candleshoe (1978) | The North Avenue Irregulars (1979) | Return from Witch Mountain (1978)

Reviewed August 1, 2004.

UltimateDisney.com | Review Index | Classic Live Action (Pre-1980) Films Page | August 2004 Catalogue Releases

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