Old TV shows have not often fared well on the big screen. Even "Star Trek" had trouble in its first outing. Some adaptations were amiable enough, if forgettable: "Maverick," "The Mod Squad," "My Favorite Martian"; some were inept: "McHale's Navy," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Car 54, Where Are You?"; a few were bloated: "Wild, Wild West"; while still others were downright infuriating: "Mission Impossible," "The Avengers."
Fortunately, the eccentric creations of cartoonist Charles Addams made a seamless translation to movie theaters, first with "The Addams Family" in 1991 and then with an even funnier sequel, "Addams Family Values," in 1993. Performed by a cast that matched or bettered the TV crew, bizarrely humorous scripts, and strong production values, the films make welcome additions to the burgeoning world of comedy on DVD.
When I first heard that the late Raul Julia would be playing the head of the family, Gomez Adams, the old John Aston part, I was apprehensive. Raul Julia? Wasn't he too suave, too sophisticated, too debonair, and too handsome for the role? Turns out, he was ideal. In addition to his serious dramatic side, he was a terrific comic actor whose unbridled energy in the Gomez role never falters, no matter how wacky the situation.
Playing his wife, Morticia, Anjelica Huston is Julia's perfect foil, maintaining an unruffled composure at all times. Together, they are the perfect embodiments of both the cartoon series and the old television show characters. What's more, the supporting cast is equally good: Christina Ricci practically steals both movies as Wednesday Addams, the sweet but not-so-innocent daughter whose deadpan delivery is a joy. Christopher Lloyd plays Uncle Fester, the subject of most of the mischief in both films; and Pugsley, Lurch, Cousin It, Thing, Grand Mamma and the rest are all on hand as well.
Assuredly, the morbid Addams humor is an acquired taste. Who else but an Addams would play "Wake the Dead" in a graveyard or use "Grey's Anatomy" as a cookbook? Like the cartoons, it isn't so much what the Addams folks actually do that's funny as what we see them ABOUT to do. In the introductory scene of the first movie, for instance, a group of carolers are merrily singing their hearts out in front of the Addams residence while the camera pans slowly upward to a shot of the family above, gleefully standing on the roof, ready to pour boiling oil on the revelers below. They're not demented, just different. It's their wild sense of nonconformity that makes the Addams family perennial favorites of just about everybody who has ever wanted to tweak the nose of conventionality or authority. They are macabre, modern-day equivalents of the Marx Brothers.
In the earlier film, an unscrupulous lawyer and his wife try to cash in on the Addams fortune by passing off what they think is a phony Uncle Fester as the real McCoy after an absence of twenty-some years. In the second, funnier, film, a serial killer, delightfully played by Joan Cusack, lures Uncle Fester into marriage, intending to kill him and steal his part of the Addams estate. The kids' summer camp experience is the highlight of the story.
Perhaps, though, some people will find that a little of this grim humor goes a long way, and it's true that both films find it hard to sustain for ninety-odd minutes what worked so well in a single cartoon or a thirty-minute TV slot. For this reason, I recommend the second film as the best buy because it tends to get the Addamses out of their house and into the real world more. It becomes less of a one-note affair when the family interacts with more outside sources.
Good picture quality and an approximately 1.74:1 ratio screen size enhance the viewing experience. As most of the scenes are understandably dark, the video is hard to evaluate accurately, but for the most part everything looks quite proper. Color bleed-through is discernible in brightly colored spots, like lipstick, but it's not excessive, and grain is almost too subtle to be noticed. Occasional rough edges can be observed on vertical lines, but it's nothing to worry about.
The DD 5.1 sound, however, is easier to appraise, it's so wonderfully vivid. While deepest bass may not be the audio track's forte, everything else is neatly in place, from wide dynamics to superior surround sound.
Now, if only these discs offered something in the way of extras, I would have been totally content; but they do not. English is the only spoken language and the only subtitle option. Scene selections and a trailer are the sole added features. Most other studios are offering scads of bonus materials on their DVDs, but Paramount seems to be the last to get the idea.
Anyway, if you liked the old "Addams Family" on television, you're sure to love them at least as much on film. If you've never seen them before, you'll just have to trust me: they're funny. Weird, but funny.