As was the case with "Shaun of the Dead," electronics giant and survivor of the recent recession Best Buy is looking to further the Blu-ray format and have chosen the two films featuring the trio of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost as two timed exclusives that are available only at Best Buy for a month before their full release on September 22nd. I'm not sure of how much I like the practice of this timed-exclusiveness for these two titles, but for the sake of good media coverage I picked up a copy of each to review and get the word out as to how these versions have been improved upon since their initial release onto HD-DVD. Universal is taking advantage of the additional room provided by BD-50 and neither "Hot Fuzz" nor "Shaun of the Dead" is a quick port and while one release is better than the other, they are both stellar Blu-ray titles that should be part of everybody's collection.
The filmmaking trio of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost are quickly becoming favorites of mine after their absolutely incredible "Shaun of the Dead" and equally entertaining "Hot Fuzz." With Pegg and Wright sharing writing credits, Wright directing and Frost and Pegg sharing screen time, the trio has produced two of the better comedies in the past few years and have paid homage and parodied the genres in which their films are based. "Shaun of the Dead" was heavily influenced by George A. Romero's landmark "Night of the Living Dead." Romero was so impressed with the film that the actors were awarded a cameo in the director's fourth film in the zombie trilogy "Land of the Dead." In their follow-up, Pegg and Wright tackle the police/buddy action films such as "Bad Boys" and "Point Break."
The laughs and intelligent spoofs are non-stop as Simon Pegg portrays Sergeant Nicholas Angel. Angel is the perfect cop, but he is too successful and is reassigned to the quiet little town of Sandford, where the crime record is the lowest on the British Isles. Of course, Angel is none-too-happy with the assignment, but accepts the supposed promotion and travels to the quaint little town. Upon arriving, he travels to the local pub and boots a number of under-aged drinkers from the bar and arrests a drunkard who nearly runs over him and nearly demolitions the town fountain. The man turns out to be his eventual partner Sergeant Danny Butterman (Nick Frost). Danny is a good-hearted and well-intended officer who is as green as the town's grass and eager to learn about Angel's big city exploits and learn if he has ever dove through the air shooting two guns a la "The Killer."
Although Sandford boasts an incredibly low crime rate, the town has an underlying epidemic of accidents. People are beheaded by a street sign. A man blows up while cooking bacon in his kitchen and a gardener dies when she falls upon her own pruning shears. Danny and the rest of the police force believe these are all accidents, but Angel clearly sees that foul play is afoot and when local reporter Tim Messenger (Adam Buxton) is killed just before conveying information relating to an earlier accident, Angel quickly finds that the problem in the town is far worse and more widespread than previously believed. The key suspect is grocery store owner Simon Skinner (Timothy Dalton), who has an erratic behavior and is prone to making odd comments that relate to the numerous accidents happening around Sandford. The perfect town is far from perfect and Angel's unsurpassed investigative skills only grate on the patience of the townsfolk and his fellow police officers.
Pegg and Frost are a more-than-capable comedy duo and in the years that come, they have the potential in becoming one of the silver screen's truly great partners. The two actors' long friendship is apparent and they feed off of each other through each scene and their chemistry shows the strong bond of friendship they share. They are two everymen that audiences can relate to, and they are two genuinely funny individuals that have a talent for generating laughter. Pegg is a capable leading man and he has been noticed by Hollywood, but his talents are best utilized with his partners Wright and Frost. I hope to see many more adventures featuring the talents of Simon Pegg, but I hope his friend Nick Frost is with him every step of the way.
"Hot Fuzz" is intelligent, witty and captivating. Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright have a gift in their writing and their love of cinema is apparent as they are able to masterfully craft a comedy of this caliber that has been almost universally well received by critics. Comedies are typically the odd stepchild when it comes to critical reception, but both "Hot Fuzz" and the earlier "Shaun of the Dead" have been darlings and for good reason. This is top-notch storytelling and filmmaking. Pegg and Wright have become the masters of comedy and provide a recipe that is better written and far more intelligent than the majority of comedies released. Perhaps only the Coen Brothers surpass Pegg and Wright with their dark and eccentric comedies. The fruits of labor from Pegg and Wright are more easily digested by the mass audience and although their works have a commercial appeal, they have sacrificed none of their artistic abilities.
I laughed heartedly throughout "Hot Fuzz" and although I would place "Shaun of the Dead" a few ounces taller in my proverbial favorite drinking glass, it is a wonderful and effective follow-up to the zombie flick. "Hot Fuzz" captures every cliché of the action/cop buddy film and perfects jabs and homages to those films. The over-the-top scenes are initially eschewed for swan chases and the arrests of drunkards. However, when the townsfolk bear arms against the forces that threaten to change their town; the action joins and surpasses much of what is seen in the blockbuster films it parodies. A small nod to "Shaun of the Dead" is also contained within the film and tastefully awards the filmmaker's fans with a clever shortcut. Perhaps the most telling tale of "Hot Fuzz" is that this little comedy easily surpasses most of its targets in being the superior film. Nobody will place "Bad Boys II" among their all-time favorites list, but I bet "Hot Fuzz" will be remembered by many.
The pristine VC-1 transfer has been ported over for the Blu-ray release and is identical to the previous HD-DVD release. This is not a bad thing at all. "Hot Fuzz" is a highly detailed 2.35:1 transfer that is mastered in typical fashion by Universal with the VC-1 codec. The level of detail is rich and deep. The filmmakers do utilize a number of shots where part of the frame is intentionally out of focus, and this is the only time when the picture quality gets soft. The colors are rich and glorious. The greens, reds, blues and oranges seen throughout the film are rich and nicely reproduced. Flesh tones border on the paler side, but they are natural and warm. Blacks are quite impressive as well. The police uniforms of Sandford are an even mix of black and white and the contrast between the two opposite ends of the color spectrum show how strong the transfer's colors are. The film's darker sequences show a strong shadow detail and the film's visuals are never lost under dark lighting. The source materials are clean and pristine.
The new English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack sounds essentially identical to the former HD-DVD release, but I think there is a slight improvement aside from a noticeable bump in a couple of decibels in volume. This is an impressive sounding mix that is both lively and loud. A number of scenes throughout "Hot Fuzz" are quite bombastic and mix deep and potent bass with an enveloping array of sounds providing ambient noise, sound effects and solid and clear dialogue. The earlier moments when Angel is speeding around in his police car provide the first moments of effective surround usage. The murder scenes captured on screen are sonic highlights as well. The film kicks into high gear during the final third of the film when Angel and Danny have to face off against numerous townsfolk and their massive array of weapons. Gunshots echo from every direction and show off how cleanly sound pans from one channel to another. When the big explosions take place in the film, the .1 LFE channel rumbles deeply and powerfully. "Hot Fuzz" isn't reference material, but it is a very solid mix.
The former high definition release onto Blu-ray was a combination release that had a DVD platter glued to the backside. The DVD playback capability is no longer an option and no digital copy is provided, but Universal has streamlined the release and used their familiar U-Control technology to make some of the features more accessible. The Fuzz-O-Meter was previously handled as a subtitle track, but is now a U-Control features and again contains a wealth of information about the film and the subject matter covered and contained by the picture. Also added to the U-Control is the impressive collection of the impressive collection of Storyboards. In high definition, these are detailed and worth checking out. This was perhaps the nicest set of storyboards yet provided for a home video release. Access to the BD Live Center is provided under the "What's New" menu item.
Although the number of supplements are impressive, the film's greatest treasure trove are in its for commentary tracks. Each track is full of content and good humor. Everybody that takes part in the commentary tracks appear to get along fabulously and are full of anecdotes, recollections and praise for everybody involved. The fact that nearly everybody in the film decided to take part in a commentary track of some sort shows the dedication they have to the film and the enjoyment they had making the picture. Other filmmakers and crews should take note of this devotion. The first commentary features the film's writers Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright. These two are great friends and it shows. This commentary gives a lot of background information on the film's creation and its story and is the most focused on the film itself. This is a great and entertaining commentary track.
The second Feature Commentary with the Sandford Police Service: Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jim Broadbent, Rafe Spall, Kevin Eldon and Olivia Colman is another great track. These are the actors who portrayed the police in the film and this is another energetic track. This is a little more humorous than the first track, but it is nice to have Pegg and Frost work together on a commentary as their friendship shines through. A third commentary was culled from the previous release and the Feature Commentary with the Sandford Village People: Kenneth Cranham, Timothy Dalton, Paul Freeman and Edward Woodward is a good track and Timothy Dalton stands above the others in entertainment value. This is a nice mirror to the second track.
The HD-DVD contained a fourth commentary track that has been brought over to the Blu-ray release. The Feature Commentary with the Real Fuzz: Andy Leafe and Nick Eckland features real life officers Andy Leafe and Nick Eckland and they discuss the film. I didn't find this commentary overly enjoyable and felt it was the lesser of the four from the HD-DVD release. The new commentary track is one of the best and that is the Feature Commentary with Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino. This is an excellent commentary and Tarantino is easily the biggest film nerd in the business and one of my favorite filmmakers. Listening to these two discuss other films that "Hot Fuzz" is based upon was a great listen and I would like to know if Tarantino ever takes a break or settles down. The man absolutely loves film and is always energetic when discussing movies.
The standalone features are also worth checking out. They begin with the excellent Inadmissible: Deleted Scenes (20:36) and this is a set of twenty two deleted scenes from the film. Commentary by Pegg and Wright is provided and these are generally very funny. Some of the scenes feel like outtakes, while others are simple scene extensions, but they were a hoot, none-the-less. The collection of Outtakes (10:21) is also good. Echoing the sentiment that everybody involved had a blast making "Hot Fuzz," these are funny outtakes with a lot of great moments and laughs that was not part of the picture. Easily one of the better collections of outtakes I've seen in a while.
The deleted scenes were originally contained under the sub-section The Evidence Room, but even without them this is a good collection of bonus materials. The Conclusive: We Made Hot Fuzz (29:32) is a half-hour long documentary featuring Simon Pegg and friends as they discuss the motivations and factors in making the film. The feature details the history of the film, but also touches on the impact the three have had on British cinema and their own brand of comedy. This is certainly a promotional feeling documentary, but it is entertaining because of the personable and humorous nature of the filmmakers. The large Speculative: Video Blogs (29:54) features thirteen video blogs from the production that were used for the Internet and Simon Pegg again comes through as a star in these video blogs. These are very nicely done and another great half hour of entertainment. Forensic Featurettes (48:01) is a set of eight featurettes that looks at all different aspects for filmmaking from set design to art decoration to the cast and crew.
There are three more items under "The Evidence Room." A set of Photographic Galleries featuring the films posters and some scenes from the production of the film in two separate galleries is included. Presented in high definition, these looked great. I hope that one day the ability exists to create a wallpaper background from this type of supplement. Next up is Hearsay: Plot Holes and Comparisons, which is split into two parts. Plot Holes (3:22) contains three scenes and explains supposed plot holes. This is a fun supplement played out in storyboards and very similar to the same type of supplement found on "Shaun of the Dead." Special Effects: Before and After (6:20) is a series of eight scenes where scenes in the film are displayed in their various stages of development and the multiple plates are put together to show the final effect.
Falsified: Dead Right (40:09) is an entire short film from Edgar Wright and the content provided around this short film has been pulled in full from the previous release and is again an excellent addition to the disc. A making of supplement, Am Blam: Making Dead Right (10:28) is included, as well as two commentary tracks; an Edgar Wright Commentary and a Simon Pegg and Nick Frost Commentary. The making of commentary features Edgar Wright and details his background in making amateur films. Wright was eighteen at the time of development of this film and this was his last amateur film and his attempt at making a "Dirty Harry" film. The film contains an introduction by Edgar Wright and features the familiar actors and a number of other school-age friends of Edgar Wright.
A new feature added to the release is The Fuzzball Rally – Uncut with Commentary by Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Joe Cornish (1:11:19). The commentary track is optional. I laughed at the disclaimer apologizing for the foul language beforehand and they don't disappoint. The commentary track is hilarious. This is a documentary about the press tour for "Hot Fuzz" and this is not something you typically see on a release. There are literally hours upon hours of bonus materials and I was very surprised to see this seventy minute inclusion on the Blu-ray. It is quite informative if you watch it without the optional commentary and has its humorous moments, but I am dead honest in saying it is worth watching twice because the optional commentary is that good.
A few other items are included directly under the "Extras" menu. The Man Who Would be Fuzz (:34) is a quick scene where the two are hamming it up as Sean Connery and Michael Caine. This one was a bit too short to really be worthwhile. Hot Funk: The TV Version (3:43) features a number of scenes from the film cleaned up for television. TV re-cuts are always funny, but the ones on the "Basic Instinct" release still reign supreme. Danny's Notebook: The Other Side (:21) is a quite little feature that shows what exactly is on the other side of Danny's notebook. The front side is shown during the film, but Frost's character mentions that Pegg's character really needs to see the others side. Here, you get to see the other side. The same four Trailers have been carried over and these consist of the Theatrical Trailer, UK TV Spot 1, UK TV Spot 2 and the Director's Cut Trailer.
Some Additional Video Blogs have been added to the Blu-ray release. The VW Blogs (21:29) include "4 Cars," "Meet the Makers," "Join the Fuzz," "In for Questioning," and "On Duty." These were video blogs that promoted Volkswagen and the film and while they fill only a small square on the screen, they are fun to watch. The iTunes Blogs (16:30) were available through Apples iTunes site and were again promotional, but informative. These four podcasts are of better quality and finds Frost, Pegg and Wright laughing and talking about the project. They are far more advertising than informative, but these three guys are too much fun to not be interesting.
I had almost given "Hot Fuzz" four tens for a perfect rating on HD-DVD and had the Blu-ray release been noticeably better in its audio mix, then it would have earned a perfect score for its second outing on a high definition format. I did give the film a score of ten for supplements and somehow Universal managed to add a few more hours of bonus features that added a fifth commentary track and another hour long supplement as well as over an hour and a half of other new materials. It literally takes days to get through everything on this disc. Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Nick Frost are funny men and have created a new brand of comedy that is both intelligent and humorous. "Hot Fuzz" is the second film from the filmmakers and although I find "Shaun of the Dead" to be a slightly better film, this is a worthwhile sophomore outing. With the continued attention Universal gives this film, it shows they understand the trio are special filmmakers and this is a special film. Simply put, "Hot Fuzz" on Blu-ray is awesome. There aren't many better releases on the format.