I'm sure most people recognize there's a built-in audience hierarchy that artists, writers, and filmmakers keep in mind when they produce their entertainments. At the top of the pile is usually the poem, potentially the most complex structure of all. Next comes the novel, which calls upon a reader's ability to observe and reason. Then the stage play, followed by the movie. At the bottom of the ladder is the TV show, for which producers think viewers so witless they have to use laugh tracks to let them know where the jokes are. I mention all this because "The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad!" began on television, where it cultivated a small but loyal following during its brief run. However, satire, and its sub category of parody, demands a degree of sophistication from its viewers, or at least a degree of awareness, and television obviously didn't provide it.
So the first of the "Naked Gun" movies appeared in 1988 (which we get here, spruced up in high-definition Blu-ray) and, whammo, instant success with a slightly more-hip audience. "The Naked Gun" was so successful, in fact, that it spawned two sequels, "The Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear" in 1991 and "The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult" in 1994. The sequels didn't match the original in terms of laughs-per-minute, but they maintained the same level of zaniness, wringing the last ounce of humor from the format. No complaints about the original, though, and it could hardly lose with Jerry and David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Pat Proft as the filmmakers. They're the team that brought us "Airplane!" and "Top Secret!" a few years earlier, and they are masters of the exclamation mark.
In "The Naked Gun" Leslie Nielsen stars as Lt. Frank Drebin of the Los Angeles Police Squad. He is, without a doubt, the world's dumbest policeman, on a par for klutziness with the immortal Inspector Clouseau. It wasn't always thus for Nielsen, though. He is one of the few actors in Hollywood to have metamorphosed into comedic preeminence. His career began long before his doing comedy, as a leading man in films like "Forbidden Planet" (1956), "Tammy and the Bachelor" (1957), "Dark Intruder" (1965), and "Beau Geste" (1966). Then there was a long period of supporting roles, followed by his breakthrough into funny business with "Airplane!" in 1980. But it wouldn't be until the "Naked Gun" series that he came into his own as one of America's best-known comic actors. Who would have guessed until he tried.
Maybe it was Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers who first saw Nielsen's possibilities; after all, it was they who put a whole slew of former movie tough guys into their wacky pictures and made them play the comedy straight. Remember Peter Graves, Robert Stack, Lloyd Bridges, and the rest from "Airplane!"? They were all great, but it was Nielsen who went on to comedic glory. Abrahams and the Zuckers have accomplished something of that sort with "The Naked Gun," too, in that big George Kennedy, O.J. Simpson, and Ricardo Montalban also come off as pretty funny guys. I suppose it's a gift.
Getting back to the story, the movie starts with Drebin in Beirut, where he thwarts an international terrorist plot against the U.S., breaking up a meeting of Khadafi, Khomeini, Gorbachev, Idi Amin, and Yasir Arafat (or Ringo Starr, it's hard to tell). Returning to the States a hero, he's greeted by his long-suffering partner and straight man, Capt. Ed Hocken, played with wonderfully deliberate, deadpan drollness by Kennedy. There, Drebin immediately gets involved investigating a drug-smuggling ring led by millionaire shipping-tycoon Vincent Ludwig (Montalban).
Meanwhile, another of Drebin's colleagues in crime-fighting, the equally inept Nordberg (Simpson), gets himself subjected to endless physical abuse at the hands of the bad guys (you may be cheering for this today), winding up in the hospital where he remains for the rest of the picture continuing to endure Drebin's mistreatment (Drebin manages successfully to rebreak both of Nordberg's arms).
Then Drebin meets the love of his life, or at least the love of his next few movies, Jane Spencer, played by Priscilla Presley with an appropriately empty-headed serenity and a clumsiness to match Drebin's own. They're a perfect pair. Together, they are also too much for the villains, who turn out to be more than just drug smugglers but killers planning to assassinate Queen Elizabeth II. The story winds up at a professional baseball game where the Queen is to make an appearance. The villains intend to shoot her during the seventh-inning stretch by using a person under sensory-induced hypnosis. Nielsen's sidesplitting singing of the national anthem at home plate is worth the price of the whole picture.
In the sequels to "The Naked Gun" the filmmakers never quite captured the spirit of the original, perhaps because they recycled so many of the gags, so it's nice to have the original on hand in high def, even if the studio hasn't added anything new to the package. The opening gambit during the credits, for instance, involving a police car seen from the driver's perspective motoring through highways, byways, buildings, living rooms, bath stalls, etc., is mildly amusing, and the rest of the film often gets laugh-out-loud funny, tears-to-the-eyes comical, sometimes fall-down-on-the-floor hysterical. We see echoes of "Airplane!" in it, of course, and more often than not reflections of "MAD" magazine. Indeed, the whole movie plays out like one of those old Jack Davis cartoons so crammed full of business you have to look closely at everything in the background to get all the jokes.
Timeworn police stories, and many new ones, may not be the same to you after watching "The Naked Gun." Also sprucing up things, you'll see cameos by "Weird Al" Yankovic, John Houseman, Reggie Jackson, and others, who add to the fun. There's even a goofy lineup of sports announcers: Dick Vitale, Dick Enberg, Jim Palmer, Mel Allen, Curt Gowdy, Tim McCarver, and Dr. Joyce Brothers (?). Wonderful stuff.
Paramount use a dual-layer BD50 (as they usually always do) and an MPEG-4/AVC codec to reproduce the movie on high-definition Blu-ray. The image quality is good in this 1.85:1 ratio transfer, although not quite as good as in the studio's simultaneously released Blu-ray edition of "Airplane!" The colors in "Naked Gun" are bright enough, to be sure, fairly natural, with realistic skin tones. When the hues are on, they're as rich and deep as any you'll find in any HD transfer. Definition varies from very sharp to slightly soft, more than acceptable most of the time. There is a degree of natural film grain in larger patches of color, especially evident in nighttime shots, but that's something we should expect.
The English soundtrack comes in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, and like the picture, it's fine. However, you have to understand that the film predates the widespread use of surround sound in movie theaters, and compared to most of today's soundtracks the remix doesn't have much in the way of rear or side-channel activity. The remixed sound features a broad front-channel stereo spread, while the surrounds fill in mainly a light, pleasant musical bloom. Overall, while the audio is fine, the dynamics are not too robust, and the frequency extremes still appear limited.
We get the same primary bonus item on the Blu-ray disc that we got on the previous DVD edition. It's a group commentary with director David Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and host Peter Tilden. They laugh and joke and have a high old time telling us about the making of the film. In addition, there are twenty-seven scene selections; bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer in high def; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese spoken languages and subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. The disc comes in a flimsy Eco-case, further enclosed in a cardboard slipcover with a holographic picture on the cover.
"The Naked Gun" may not be the greatest screen comedy of all time nor as innovative as its progenitor, "Airplane!"; nevertheless, it is still a hilarious movie, and anyone with a funny bone in his body will probably find it amusing.
As of this writing, you'll only find "The Naked Gun" Blu-ray edition as a Best Buy exclusive. Look not for it elsewhere.