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New Line Home Cinema presents
Austin: Mr. Roboto is lying to us.
DVD ReviewThe law of diminishing returns for sequels functions in a bizarre way when it comes to the Austin Powers series. The first film was a small-scale treat, a spy spoof that offered up two memorable characters, the swinging spy Austin Powers and his arch nemesis Dr. Evil (both played to perfection by Mike Meyers, who co-wrote) and improvisational humor. When it became a mega-hit on video, New Line decided to produce a sequel that was bigger and better in every way—bigger budget, bigger set pieces, more gross out gags. The result, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, was an incoherent mess. The new characters (including the tasteless Fat Bastard and Heather Graham's wooden Felicity Shagwell) were dull and the balance of humor shifted from clever to crass. Yet the movie was a huge hit, and many seemed to prefer it to the original (though I can't imagine why). I was expecting Austin Powers in Goldmember to continue the series' slide down the slippery slope of poop jokes and infantile humor, but happily, number three is a good sight better than number two. It still doesn't approach the same charm of the original (which almost seems quaint when compared to the sequels), but it has its moments, despite the continuing overabundance of one-note characters.
This time around, the focus is on the family, be it Dr. Evil's dysfunctional family of evil henchmen, including his son, Scott (Seth Green), his micro-clone Mini-Me (Verne Troyer), and his lady friend Frau (Mindy Sterling); or Austin's distant relationship with his swinging spy father Nigel (Michael Caine). Austin manages to thwart Dr. Evil's scheme early on, and the domed one is sent to prison. Austin is troubled when his dad doesn't show up at his knighting ceremony, but must get over his feelings of inadequacy when he learns that the sinister Goldmember (also Meyers), so named because he loves gold and because he lost his genitalia in an unfortunate smelting accident, has kidnapped the old chap. Austin pulls a Silence of the Lambs, that to catch a criminal, he has to think like a criminal and teams up with Dr. Evil to solve the case.
Like the last film, a large chunk of Goldmember is devoted to an incomprehensible time travel subplot (if Austin was frozen for 30 years, why is his dad still so young?). This time, Austin visits the 1970s, and the change from the tired swinger humor to funkalicious disco flair brings new life to the series, particularly with the introduction of Foxxy Cleopatra (pop singer Beyoncé Knowles), an afroed soul sista' FBI agent working undercover to capture Goldmember. In her first major role, Knowles proves herself a charismatic screen presence to be reckoned with—what she lacks in dramatic polish she makes up for in enthusiasm (and besides, how much dramatic polish does a blacksplotation character parody really need?) Heather Graham dragged the second film into the mud, despite her sex appeal; Knowles has a lot more to offer.
Not all of the new characters are welcome additions. Meyers' Goldmember feels like a one-off Saturday Night Live bit. The only discernable joke is the fact that he talks funny ("I'm from Holland, isn't that veird?" he asks) and that he likes to eat his own peeling skin. Upon first exposure, Goldmember sucks the energy from every scene he's in. He grows more tolerable with repeat viewing, but I still can't believe that this thin excuse for a comedic foil is taking up screen time that rightly belongs to more beloved characters, like Number Two (Robert Wagner), Frau, or even the sorely missed Mustafa (Will Ferrell) and Mr. Bigglesworth (the bald feline Ted Nudegent).
Jay Roach and Mike Meyers are a talented team. Meyers is a comedic wunderkind, for one. Even if I don't find all of his work entertaining (I particularly loathe Fat Bastard), I must admire his efforts to add more to his cache of characters with each film (I suspect by the time the next movie rolls around, he'll be playing every single role). Roach, meanwhile, manages to organize all the wackiness and improv humor into something that at least remotely resembles a coherent film—he's famous for letting his camera run while the actors make up dialogue on the spot, and his generosity likely results in some of the most memorable moments.
Goldmember doesn't work as a film, but it does have some great gags. There's a tricky bit with the characters reading the on-screen subtitles that's good for a laugh, and an artfully constructed bit of potty humor involving Austin and a fountain. Fred Savage is but one of a number of inspired cameos (most of which are contained in the witty opening teaser), and his role in Dr. Evil's organization proves a trouble spot for Austin. Mini-Me is put to good use this time around, even if Michael Caine is wasted, and overall, more of the jokes work than don't. The second Powers' film simply rehashed the first. The third offers some original material, or pokes fun at itself when replaying old gags. But when a parody series begins to parody itself, when it was already itself a parody of a series that has, since the 1960s, been a parody of... oh no, I've gone cross-eyed. The bottom line? Goldmember should please Mike Meyers' legion of fans, all one... hundred... billion kajillion million of them.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Despite the loads of supplements included on the same disc as the feature, New Line has managed to give Goldmember one of the best live-action transfers I've ever seen. The use of color is quite remarkable in all of the Austin Powers films, and this one is certainly the most psychedelic. Colors are eye-popping and saturated, but without and bleeding or breakup in the reds and blues. Blacks are rich and deep, with excellent detail—the entire image is crisp and detailed, in fact, with no obvious edge enhancement or artifacting. A P&S transfer is offered on a seperate release, so check the packaging before you buy.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: New Line provides three audio options for your listening pleasure: DD 2.0, DD 5.1, or DTS 6.1 ES. I watched the feature in DTS (though I don't have a system that supports ES) and was quite impressed. This is certainly the most active track I've ever heard for a comedy (the mixes for which are usually quite front heavy), and it stands shoulder to shoulder with most "action" mixes as well. Sound is constantly, creatively mixed to all channels, creating an immersive environment that I'm sure would only better had I a rear center speaker (the sixth in the 6.1 setup). Dialogue is anchored in the center channel and crisp and clean at all times. Sound effects are presented with excellent directionality across all channels, and impressive, natural front to rear imaging. The musical numbers make great use of all the channels as well, particularly the big Hey, Goldmember number from Foxxy Cleopatra. Watch out for your subwoofer during the opening sequences, because the bass is pretty powerful (indeed, throughout, LFE is quite impressive).
I compared the DD 5.1 and DTS tracks for a few sequences and found them to be fairly similar, though the DTS track does feature more forceful use of the rear channels (probably because the sound from the rear center has been mixed to my rear left and right speakers). But both tracks are smashing, baby.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
5 Original Trailer(s)
15 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by actor Mike Meyers and director Jay Roach
Layers Switch: 01h:27m:57s
As with all the Infinifilm discs, extras are separated into Beyond the Movie and All-Access Pass. The former covers material only indirectly related to the film, four featurettes that have a total running time of about 12 minutes. MI-6: International Men of Mystery (04:23) covers the "real life" gentlemen spies that inspired Ian Fleming to create James Bond. English, English (02:25) explains the origin of Cockney "rhyming slang" used by Austin and his father. Disco Fever (04:21) is all about the influence of disco of the film, and the 1970s in general. Finally, Fashion vs. Fiction (01:57) compares real world styles to the vintage looks in Goldmember. All four of these clips are too brief to offer more insight, and I can't imagine watching them more than once. In fact, the only truly worthwhile extra in this section is the subtitle trivia track that accompanies the film, offering bits of info about both the Powers films and the world in general.
The extras specific to the film, housed under All-Access Pass, are more entertaining. First up is an audio commentary with Mike Meyers and director Jay Roach. The two offer a low key discussion full of information about how scenes were filmed, how editing shaped the final product, and how much fun all the actors are. Not really all that informative, but fans of the series will find it more interesting than the track on The Spy Who Shagged Me.
Fifteen deleted scenes are offered with a total running time of around 25 minutes. With most films, the deleted footage was clearly deleted for a reason; with this series, frequently some of the cut scenes are as good as anything in the feature. I particularly liked a deleted musical number reminiscent of Magnolia. Note that the much discussed scene with Elizabeth Hurley and Heather Graham (former Austin girls) has not been included (with over an hour of deleted material, I guess they had to pick and choose). I would have much rather had more deleted footage over the dull Beyond featurettes.
Most of the extras in this section are housed in the sub-category The World of Austin Powers. Here you'll find 10 featurettes with a total running time of about 30 minutes. Jay Roach and Mike Meyers: Creating Convergence runs six minutes and focuses on the creative team behind the films. Confluence of Characters offers separate four minute clips for the new characters in Goldmember—the title character, Foxxy Cleopatra, Nigel Powers, and (my favorite of the bunch) the young Masters Evil and Powers from the flashback scenes. Each segment covers casting and makeup (we even get to see the "young" Austin and Evil being offered their parts on tape). Opening Stunts runs two minutes and highlights the extravagant stunts in the teaser sequences, while similarly brief The Cars of Austin Powers focuses on the film's fleet of customized cars. Finally, Anatomy of Three Scenes offers behind-the-scenes footage of filming of three complicated set pieces: "Dancing at the Gates" (04:54), "Roller Disco" (02:15), and "Sumo Battle" (04:02).
Yet more extras are offered under the subhead Visual Effects. A featurette explaining how blue screen and composite effects were used to create Dr. Evil's submarine lair runs for about five minutes and is supplemented by a repeating eight second clip that takes you through each stage of creating the final shot.
And still there are the promotional extras, including four clever teasers and the full theatrical trailer. Also included are four music videos: Boys from Britney Spears, Work It Out from Beyoncé, the full length version of Daddy Wasn't There (as sung by Mike Meyers' band Ming Tea), and Hard Knock Life from Dr. Evil and Mini-Me.
DVD-ROM extras include a web portal promising exclusive content (to go on-line Dec. 3rd), downloadable screensavers and desktops, and the ReVoice Studio feature that lets you record your own dialogue for key scenes.
It looks like a lot, but the total running time for all of the extras (sans commentary) is about 90 minutes. Breaking it all down just means a lot of unnecessary button clicking. It's the still a good disc, and the best in the Austin Powers series, but the Infinifilm system makes it all seem a bit unwieldy.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsIf you consider box-office tallies an indicator of quality and vitality, the Austin Powers series still has quite a bit of life left in it. Never mind that the films themselves are bloated and labored, stuffed with rehashed humor and too many characters. Goldmember is an uninspired but occasionally worthwhile comedy, and quite a bit more consistent with its gags than its predecessor, but if Roach and Meyers are going to go for You Only Shag Twice, let's pray they spend a bit more time on the script. Otherwise, I'll be hoping they "Never Say Austin Again."
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