The good news: This is one of the best transfers yet in Warner Bros.' series of HD-DVDs; and they have chosen to provide the Unrated Edition for high definition treatment, with its several minutes of additional naughty parts, plus a bundle of extras, and a brand-new "In-Movie Experience" to boot.
The bad news: It's "The Dukes of Hazzard."
I spent the years 1979-1985 studiously and fairly successfully avoiding "The Dukes of Hazzard" television series, but it finally caught up to me. In fairness to the movie, though, it was one of WB's bigger hits of 2005, grossing over $80,000,000 at the box office, so it's got a legion of devoted fans behind it.
The unrated version of the movie is three minutes longer than the theatrical version. I don't know if that's good or bad, having never seen the original theatrical version, but I'm glad the studio decided to offer the unrated version on HD-DVD. Certainly, it is harmless enough if you don't mind a touch of the risqué.
All I remember about the old television show after twenty years is a couple of hillbillies hot-rodding around the back country in a souped-up '69 Dodge Charger. And a pretty girl. All I remember about the new movie after watching it twice (SD and HD) is a couple of hillbillies hot-rodding around the back country in a souped-up '69 Dodge Charger.
And a pretty girl.
The movie was directed by Jay Chandrasekhar of the comedy troupe Broken Lizard. You may remember their "Super Troopers," a perennial favorite, and "Club Dread." I didn't care overmuch for either of those films, but the director infused them with an amiable, if dim-witted charm. Despite "The Dukes of Hazzard" possessing the same kind of friendly, spoofy tone, the new movie substitutes silly action sequences for the silly gags of "Troopers" and "Dread." I'm not sure either approach works successfully for a good comedy.
The old Tom Wopat and John Schneider roles as cousins Luke and Bo Duke are now played by Johnny Knoxville and Seann William Scott. They haven't improved with age. Luke is still romancing every girl he sees, and Bo is still more in love with his car than with anything else. They're good ol' boys who make a living delivering moonshine whiskey around Hazzard County, Georgia, for their Uncle Jesse in the aforementioned automobile, the General Lee. Neither of them has a lick of sense, so Knoxville, who created the "Jackass" series, and Scott, who's accustomed to these kind of roles, fit right in. To give you an idea of the film's level of humor, one of the highlights is when the boys make any sort of bet, the winner gets to knock the loser silly with a telephone book. Shakespeare it ain't.
Singer/celebrity Jessica Simpson in her big-screen debut plays the sexy Daisy Duke of short shorts fame. She is nice to look at and not called upon to do much more than be looked at. Willie Nelson plays the Dukes' Uncle Jesse in a throwaway role, while Burt Reynolds plays the crooked Boss Hogg with relish. Lynda Carter shows up for a few minutes as friend Pauline, another wasted role; Michael Weston is Deputy Strate; Joe Don Baker is Governor Applewhite; David Koechner is garage mechanic Cooter; Kevin Heffernan is bait-shop owner and explosives expert extraordinaire Sheev; and M.C. Gaines is the muscle-headed Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane.
But don't let any of them fool you; the real star of the show is the Dodge Charger, which is featured in almost every other scene. And well it should be since the movie is primarily about car chases, car races, and car crashes. Bo is the driver; cousin Luke is the lover; and the car is the real beauty of the show.
Some small semblance of a plot kicks in after a few minutes, although it's hard to tell amid all the automobiles, girls, fistfights, and loud, screeching music. The plot concerns two interwoven conflicts: The first is the 70th Annual Hazzard Road Rally, which Bo has won the last few years straight, but in which he is now getting competition from a big-time pro racing driving, Billy Prickett (James Roday). Think of Ben Stiller in "Dodgeball" and you've got Roday's Prickett down pat. The second plot thread involves Boss Hogg's attempt to take over most of the farms in Hazzard County for his own nefarious schemes.
Since the theatrical version of the movie was rated PG-13, I can only assume that a few added scenes of toplessness and profanity got this HD-DVD version its unrated designation. Whether it was worth the bother is up to the viewer. There is nothing particularly crude or offensive about the added material, but it does not appear to offer anything of value, either.
You've got to like fast cars, pretty girls, country boys, country towns, and country music to appreciate "The Dukes of Hazzard." It's innocuous enough entertainment, but for a film done up in such high good humor, there's surprisingly little actual humor in it. In other words, expect to meet a bevy of sweet knuckleheads and put up with 107 minutes of brainless action without many laughs. Indeed, the only time I did laugh was at one of Uncle Jesse's admittedly corny jokes. That's not saying much.
The picture quality on the standard-edition disc was pretty good, typical of what Warner Bros. have been providing lately, with wide, anamorphic dimensions (measuring about 2.18:1 across my television) and a high bit rate. But the transfer did not always display the very best detailing and there were minor moiré effects from time to time. Needless to say, the HD-DVD transfer at 1080 lines of pixels improves upon the situation. Indeed, I could hardly fault the video, being for all practical purposes as good as anything I've seen. OK, maybe it's a touch darker than it should be, and the object delineation still isn't perfect, but these are very minor shortcomings. Colors are mostly gorgeous, exceptionally deep, rich, and solid; and there are zero shimmering lines anywhere.
What we've got, then, is a standard-definition transfer that looks excellent, and an HD-DVD transfer that looks even better.
I found the standard-definition disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 a little disappointing. It seemed overly bright and limited in its frequency extremes, bass and treble, its dynamics, and its surround effects. However, I was much more impressed by this new HD-DVD's Dolby Digital Plus audio, played through my Toshiba player's 5.1 analogue outputs. It is still bright, but in DD+ it sounds more dynamic to me, with a reasonably deep bass when required and more tightly controlled. Rear-channel noises are still somewhat limited, but since the overall clarity is improved, at least it made me more aware of the surround activity.
The extras begin with a new "In-Movie Experience," which is sort of like the familiar audio commentary except it uses lots of picture inserts of the commentators, in this case the stars and director. The filmmakers throw verbal jabs at one another quite a bit, especially in the beginning, which is kind of funny, but their commentary begins to wear thin by halfway through the movie. There is also an assortment of trivia facts that pop up on the screen, some of them funny, too, plus a "Daisy Meter" that counts down to Ms. Simpson's each and every appearance in the story. I read a critique a while back of one of these "In-Movie Experiences" in the which the writer said it distracted from the movie. Well, yeah. And in this case, the more distraction the better. Heck, you may even find the "In-Movie Experience" more entertaining than the movie itself.
Almost all the rest of the special features are carried over from the standard edition. These include a four-minute bit, "Daisy Dukes: The Short Short Shorts," that explains how the costume department created Ms. Simpson's denim shorts. Fascinating. Next, there's a five-minute featurette, "The General Lee Lives," that tells us more about how the filmmakers recreated the Dukes' famous Dodge Charger. Following that is yet another brief, four-minute featurette, this one called "How To Launch A Muscle Car 175 Feet in 4 Seconds," which ought to be self explanatory. Then there's the main featurette, a fourteen-minute behind-the-scenes look at "The Hazards of Dukes," with the usual interviews. The virtue of these latter two items is that director Jay Chandrasekhar keeps his tongue firmly planted in his cheek throughout most of his comments. Completing this section are a four-minute music video with Jessica Simpson singing "These Boots Are Made For Walking"; a thirty-second bit about a guy who tattooed his foot with the General Lee; and a two-minute segment called "Stunt Dummies Go Out for a Night on the Town."
Probably of more interest to viewers, or at least to me, were the additional scenes and bloopers. There are two sets of each, rated and unrated. The regular additional scenes last about twenty-five minutes and the unrated scenes only a few minutes, these unrated ones containing mainly topless shots. That should sell the disc. The two blooper reels last about five minutes each, the unrated one containing mainly profanity.
Finally, there are thirty scene selections but no chapter insert, and a widescreen theatrical trailer. English and Spanish are the spoken-language choices, and there are English, French, and Spanish subtitles. The HD-DVD also includes WB's usual pop-up menu system and a zoom-and-pan feature, the disc itself housed in a small Elite Red HD case.
Incidentally, the movie and all the extras played flawlessly from beginning to end, confirming my impression that HD-DVD technology is working exactly as advertised.
"Dumb" hardly defines "The Dukes of Hazard," but you can't say the movie isn't lively, like a big old-fashioned Warner Bros. cartoon where everybody gets kicked and punched and pounded and rocked and dumped and smashed without so much as a sprained pinkie finger. After a while, though, the continuous noise and aimless action become tiresome, the climactic road rally going on for what seems like forever, accompanied by enough cacophonous clamor to keep you from hearing anything for a week. If you're prepared for it, "The Dukes" won't let you down.