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Featured Blu-ray Review: Meatballs

June 18th, 2012

Meatballs - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Meatballs is a low-budget Canadian film that first came out more than 30 years ago. It is Bill Murray's first film credit and only the third film for director Ivan Reitman. While it cost less than $2 million to make, it earned more than $40 million at the box office. On the other hand, I don't think it was able to stay in the public's memory as long as others from the same period. Is it worth rediscovering? Or is it too dated?

The Movie

The film begins at Camp North Star, a cheap summer camp run by Tripper Harrison. While he's in charge of the counselors and counselors in training, he's not the most mature person to be put in charge. The most mature person would be Morty Melnick, who spends most of the movie as the victim of one prank or another. These pranks include Hardware stealing his air conditioner, although his attempts to install it cause the entire camp to black out. Roxanne (Kate Lynch) is the potential love interested for Tripper. They had a thing in the past, and he wants to start again, but his immaturity is a stumbling block. There's Wendy (former Miss Canada contestant Cindy Girling), who is the object of affection for most of the male campers. A.L. (former Playboy cover model Kristine DeBell) and "Wheels" (Todd Hoffman) were the hot couple last year, but are not together this year. We also meet Spaz (Jack Blum), who is the nerd, Larry "Fink" Finkelstein (Keith Knight), as the fat one, Candace (Sarah Torgov) and Crockett (Russ Banham), and others.

We also meet many of the campers; however, the movie only really spends a lot of time on Rudy Gerner, a painfully shy boy who was sent to camp by his father to make friends, but would rather run away. Tripper realizes right away that Rudy isn't fitting in and decides to take the boy under his wing. He even takes Rudy jugging each morning and they talk and bond.

The other main plot to the film is Camp North Star's rivalry with Camp Mohawk, the camp for rich kids that's nearby. Every year the two camps have an athletic competition, and every year for the past 12 years, Mohawk has won. Will this year be different?

As Ivan Reitman and Dan Goldberg admit in the audio commentary track, there's not much of a plot to the movie and it is more of a mishmash of vignettes about life at a discount summer camp. What plot we do see is rather predictable and relies on clichés. Or to be fair, it relies on what are now obvious clichés in the summer camp / slobs vs. snobs genres. Back in 1979, this might have been fresh. As for these vignettes, some of them are merely jokes that are only about 10 seconds long, while others are more substantial and actually involve character development. These include the practical jokes pulled on Morty, the jokes told through the P.A. system, Spaz's and Fink's various antics, etc. Does this unfocused mess work as a movie? Yes it does, for the most part. Bill Murray is obviously the center of the film and without his manic approach, it wouldn't work. His delivery elevates jokes that are, lets face it, a little weak at times. He also takes the good material, and there's plenty of that, and really shines. His "inspirational" speech is a classic. The hit to miss ratio is strong, but that still means there are a few misses.

However, while Bill Murray is the star, the movie is also a true ensemble piece and there are many supporting characters. Kate Lynch was able to go toe-to-toe with Bill Murray and she gave Roxanne enough strength to avoid being overshadowed by Tripper's personality. Harvey Atkins is best known to Americans as Desk Sergeant Ronald Coleman from Cagney & Lacey. He's great as Morty, the good-natured butt of practical jokes. Chris Makepeace is better than a lot of child actors. It was great to see Matt Craven in his first movie role. I've only seen Kristine DeBell in one other movie, I'm not saying which one, but she displays a lot of charm here. Unfortunately, some of the other cast tend to blend together.

The Extras

The only extra on the Blu-ray is the aforementioned audio commentary track with Ivan Reitman and Dan Goldberg, which is new for the Blu-ray. The film is more than 30 years old, but they are able to give plenty of stories about the making of the movie for the entire track, even if only one of them remembers them. The video and audio quality are... did I mention the film cost $1.6 million to make and was made more than 30 years ago? Good. Keeping that in mind, the video and audio are good. I noticed a few problems with print damage, including a couple of serious ones. By serious, I mean even if you are not paying attention, you will really notice them, but they are not serious enough to hurt your viewing experience. They are usually very, very short. There are a few scenes where there is too much grain and / or the grain dances, which is distracting, but again, it is a low budget movie and it was made more than 30 years ago. The detail is usually okay with a few scenes that are soft to the point of being out of focus. On the other hand, the colors are excellent, better than expected, and the blacks are deep. I didn't see any signs of digital manipulation, nor are there compression issues. The audio track is a rather simplistic 2.0 track, but the clarity is strong and that's the most important part, while there's no issues at the high or low pitch ranges.

The Verdict

Meatballs is considered by some to be a minor cult classic. It is arguably the best movie about summer camp, and there have been a surprising number of those. It is absolutely worth watching, while the Blu-ray costs just just $10, which is a bargain.

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