MEET THE FOCKERS - HD DVD review

...not a great sequel, but it's entertaining enough to be worth sitting through and enjoying the characters again.

DeanWink

Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro are among the greatest character actors we've ever seen. They have an amazing ability to morph into the skin of their roles and have entertained us for decades. Whether it be Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo in "Midnight Cowboy" or Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta in "Raging Bull," these two actors have shown they among the best at what they do. Singer and actress Barbara Streisand has had a long and incredibly successful career as well. She has entertained for decades on both screen and stage and shown the world what a little Jewish girl with a big nose can do.

Ben Stiller is a comedic actor. From his body of work thus far, he cannot be placed into the same class as De Niro, Hoffman or Streisand. However, he is a funny man and a notable entertainer in his own right. While he has not shown the dramatic capabilities and endearing performances that the three elders have exhibited for countless years, Stiller is among the most successful and bankable funnymen currently employed by the big studios of Hollywood. He has upstaged Jim Carrey and other former heavyweights in recent years and is currently one of the brightest and entertaining stars in Tinseltown.

In "Meet the Fockers," Old School meets New School once again and the former pairing of Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro finds Barbara Streisand and Dustin Hoffman joining the fold and demanding more of Stiller's comedic capabilities to keep the legends from stealing all of his screen time. It must be an absolute dream for Ben Stiller to work with actors of the caliber of De Niro and Hoffman. Being only seven years my elder, Stiller has grown up watching many of the same films and I'm sure he has enjoyed and been amazed by these two men at some point of his life. Ever since 1998's "There's Something About Mary," Stiller has catapulted himself to the top of the box office charts, but anybody who loves film has their heroes and I wouldn't be surprised to see if De Niro and/or Hoffman are on his list of heroes.

This sequel to the 2000 comedy finds Gaylord "Greg" Focker (Stiller) and his fiancée Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) finally agreeing to allowing their parents meet. The first film found Greg meeting Pam's overbearing father Jack Byrnes (De Niro) and her caring mother Dina (Blythe Danner). Greg entered Jack's circle of trust, but it is clear that he is far from the man that Jack would prefer his daughter to marry. Greg and Pam fly to meet her parents and they plan to travel together to meet the Focker clan. Greg is fearful that the intertwining of the two sets of parents will be like mixing oil and water, but he understands that the only way he can marry Pam is for this meeting to occur.

When Greg and Pam arrive at the Byrnes household, Jack introduces them to his grandson Little Jack and surprises them with the knowledge that he is raising the tot. This isn't the only surprise as Jack also shows off his rather large and nearly indestructible motor home and announces that they will not be flying to Florida, but driving down the East Coast in the mobile home to have a longer weekend with Greg's parents. This is much to Greg's chagrin and he knows how difficult the trip in a motor home will be as Jack's co-captain and target of insults. Jack, the former CIA agent, tells Greg that he and his family will be under the microscope so that Jack can be comfortable with the gene pool and the future of his daughter.

Arriving in Florida, the Fockers are clearly a different breed of people than the tightly wrapped Jack and the former hippy Fockers and their lovey dovey approach to life is not the type of people that Jack is clearly comfortable around. From the first moment when Bernie Focker (Hoffman) hugs and kisses Jack on the cheeks, there is a level of discomfort between the two fathers. Jack has believed that Bernie is a lawyer and that Greg's mother Rozalin (Streisand) is a doctor. The truth is that Bernie gave up his practice when his son Gay was born and has been a stay at home mom for the past thirty four years. Rozalin is a doctor, but not the sort of doctor that Jack is comfortable around. She is a sex therapist for retired folks.

From the time the motor home pulls into port at Focker Isle, Jack and Bernie try to meld, but they cannot find anything close to common ground. Bernie hates hunting and believes that Little Jack should be raised with attention and love. Jack hates Bernies hippy background and thinks Little Jack should be left alone and learn to self comfort himself. Roz wants to treat Jack and the sexual tension she believes is causing him stress and anguish, but Greg does not want her to reveal her true practice. Matters are complicated further when Pam announces she is expecting a child and does not want her father to know. They are complicated even further when Jack, Dina and Pam learn that young Gay Focker lost his virginity at the age of nineteen to the spicy salsa maid Isabel Villalobos (Alanna Ubach) and that Isabel's fifteen year old son Jorge (Ray Santiago) has an uncanny family similarity to Greg.

"Meet the Fockers" is an entertaining film and while the starpower added is certainly greater, I'm not so sure this is a superior offering to the original that featured only Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. The laughs are quite good and the different chemistries shared by the families create a full outrageous moments that are just as funny as the original "Meet the Parents," but much of this sequel feels rehashed and De Niro's character is no longer near as menacing and brilliant as he was in the first film. A short cameo at the end does return Owen Wilson to the fold, but his role is short and doesn't add much to the film. With more ‘Frat Pack' in the first film than this one, the slapstick and more outlandish humor of a Ben Stiller film was more apparent. "Meet the Fockers" tries a little too hard to meld the old and the new and at many times plays to an older crowd than the original did.

This is not to say that "Meet the Fockers" is ever dull or uninteresting. It is quite the opposite. I laughed heartedly throughout the entire film and felt it was enjoyable from beginning to end. Robert De Niro is one of my heroes in film. If I sat down for a while and thought long and hard about it, De Niro may be my favorite all time actor. He is up against some competition, but he is certainly in the running. His performance as the untrusting Jack Byrnes is still stellar and easily the best role in the two film series. Hoffman, Stiller and Streisand are all funny actors and their roles are certainly not overshadowed by De Niro, but the true weight of these two films is in De Niro's job at bringing everybody's nightmare of a father-in-law to life. I enjoyed "Meet the Fockers," but ultimately felt the sequel wasn't as fresh as the original and the added big names didn't really add much to the formula that made the first film so successful.

Video:
I unfortunately never received a screener of the original "Meet the Parents" on HD-DVD. I didn't think much of it at the time and never managed a trip to the local Best Buy to purchase a copy. I need to acquire a copy of that film. However, without having seen the first film on HD-DVD, I'm not sure of how this new transfer of the four year newer sequel stacks up. I feel that "Meet the Fockers" is a solid transfer with often amazing coloring and solid detailing, but won't call this one of Universal's cream of the crop offerings. Robert De Niro is not an actor who cares about any defects in his face and there is certainly no soft focus or Vaseline spread on the lens to hide any scars or marks. Any time De Niro is on screen, detail is superb. Everybody else has pretty good detail to their faces, but you cannot see every pore as you can with De Niro. Just one of those little things I noticed while watching the film.

The rest of the 1.85:1 widescreen film is generally pretty good. The VC-1 mastered film is a good transfer that is not perfect, but is better than average. The sticking points I had with the transfer were two-fold. Oftentimes, the transfer for "Meet the Fockers" exhibited strong edge enhancement that was a result of either too much ‘detail' or the brightly colored hues created too much of a divide with their background and betrayed the overall quality of the transfer. The second problem I had with the transfer was some digital noise in some of the clothing patterns in the film and some posterization of certain gradients. At least twice, De Niro wore a contrasted pattern and it became quite alive with movement. Other than these complaints, the colors are deeply saturated and extremely vibrant. Detail is well above average. Black levels are deep and true and the source materials were in very good shape. I saw one or two bits of dirt on the print, but that is a horribly minor complaint. All-in-all, I was pleased with this transfer.

Sound:
Universal has been a little spotty with its recent HD-DVD titles in the sound department. Older catalog titles such as "Darkman" have earned a Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, while some of the bigger and more recent pictures have been overlooked with the blessing of next generation sound. "Meet the Fockers" is among those newer titles that have received the proverbial shaft from the studio and the title is provided with only a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track that is available in English, French or Isabel Villalobos' preferred Spanish. I've come to love what uncompressed and next generation audio can provide and continue to be slightly puzzled at the choices that have received TrueHD support.

Putting aside my desires to have a bigger bandwidth to my audio, the soundtrack for "Meet the Fockers" isn't bad at all. It is pretty much in line with what a modern comedy sounds like. There are a few ambient sounds to populate the rears and the .1 LFE channel bumps a few times in happy excitement. These instances are not prevalent throughout the entire film and much of the action is contained in the front three channels, but it is hard to grade most comedies because of their confined sound design. The familiar music of Randy Newman accompanies the film and the singer/songwriter sounds very good on HD-DVD. On this particular night, I screened "Meet the Fockers," "In Good Company" and "Mercury Rising." Two of the three films exhibited vocals that were a little too quiet and required a few more decibels to be easily heard throughout the film. I would have thought it to be my system, but "In Good Company" sounded just fine.

Extras:
"Meet the Fockers" doesn't come equipped with a fake breast, but it does come with everything from the original DVD release. The first and longest feature is the Feature Commentary with Director Jay Roach and Editor/Co-Producer Jon Poll. Running the full length of the film, Roach and Poll are entertaining and informative. I must admit that I preferred the Roach commentaries with Mike Myers for the "Austin Powers" DVD, but this one was pretty good. It did get dry a little bit of the time, but the two did share some laughs between their anecdotes. Roach and Poll carried over their enjoyment of the "Gay Focker" name in the commentary and added a few juicy bits here and there.

After the commentary, there are seven additional supplements; two of which are displayed in a rather large font on the packaging. The Deleted Scenes (15:37) are crammed together in one collection. There is more Robert De Niro contained here and that is always a good thing! I enjoyed the deleted scenes, but didn't see anything that demanded reinsertion into the film. The packaging lists that there are over 20 deleted scenes. I didn't count them, but they move by quickly and the number seems about right. The Bloopers (11:03) are another large typed item on the rear packaging. They mention that there are sixty five bloopers. I didn't count them. It seemed pointless, but I did laugh. A lot.

The smaller typefaced features include Inside the Litter Box: Behind-the-Scenes with Jinx the Cat (4:03). Jinx looks a lot like my Heidi. I'm a sucker for Himalayans and now wish that my own could be a little smarter and more talented. Can we stop with the fake breast already? Well, The Manary Gland (3:05) dives deeper about the fake boob. Odd. The Adventures of the Baby Wrangler (5:34) is another one of these short and small typefaced features. It discusses working with the two toddlers on the set, Spencer and Bradley. Using twins is brilliant. Matt Lauer Meets the Fockers (7:57) is a very short feature with Matt Lauer and entertaining, but short. Too short. My final torture to the horrid menu theme music delivered Fockers' Family Portrait. This interactive feature allowed pictures of Bernie, Roz and Greg to be displayed. Don't the Fockers call him by his first name, Gay?

Closing Comments:
"Meet the Fockers" is a good sequel. It is not a great sequel, but it's entertaining enough to be worth sitting through and enjoying the characters again. The true reason to watch these two films is Robert De Niro. There is just something special about watching him play his familiar ‘heavy' role, but in the setting of being a caring father-in-law. A bit overprotective, but caring father-in-law. With the addition of another icon, Dustin Hoffman and everybody's favorite Jewish girl, Barbara Streisand, the starpower factor is decidedly better. Owen Wilson is missing, but he isn't the same without Jackie Chan. Ben Stiller is his usual self, but he doesn't carry this film. De Niro does. I should probably mention director Jay Roach in this review in a capacity other than the extras. He does just fine with this film and continues to show that he is one of the better directors for comedies. He was perhaps a little on ‘autopilot' for this film, but "Meet the Fockers" is funny and that was the desired result.

The HD-DVD features a good, but slightly flawed picture and a typical comedy soundtrack. Oddly, this is another somewhat important release from Universal to not receive a TrueHD track. The extras are ported from the standard definition release, but add value to the film. It would be nice to see these extras upped in resolution for high definition, but the format is still young and we are still in the forgiving stages of the releases. That won't last for much longer. High definition please! If you don't have this one on DVD, it is almost a no-brainer as it is one of the better comedies available on HD-DVD. It may be a questionable upgrade, but it wouldn't be the worst upgrade out there on the format.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
7
Extras
7
Film Value
7