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Fox Home Entertainment presents
The King of Comedy (1983)

"Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime."
- Rupert Pupkin (Robert De Niro)

Review By: Brian Calhoun   
Published: December 30, 2002

Stars: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard
Other Stars: Tony Randall, Diahnne Abbott
Director: Martin Scorsese

MPAA Rating: PG for language and adult situations
Run Time: 01h:48m:42s
Release Date: December 17, 2002
UPC: 024543038948
Genre: black comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B C+B+C C-

DVD Review

The King of Comedy is one of the great misleading titles of all time. I have to chuckle when I think of this DVD sitting in the "Comedy" section of a video store, and unknowing customers grabbing it in hopes of discovering light entertainment. While the film offers several good laughs, what is really in store for viewers is a dark and depressing look at rejection and despair. Director Martin Scorsese is no stranger to dark comedy, but unlike his hilarious yet haunting After Hours, this is a mournfully entertaining experience.

The King of Comedy stars Scorsese favorite Robert De Niro as Rupert Pupkin, a 34-year-old loser who lives with his mother and aspires to be a stand-up comedian. Pupkin is particularly obsessed with the comedic styling of Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), a famous late night talk show host. One night, Pupkin has a chance encounter with his idol and thinks this is his shot at the big time. When Pupkin is eventually thrown out of Langford's office after several frightening displays of persistence, he then decides that the only way he will earn a shot on Langford's show is if he kidnaps him and demands ransom.

Together, Scorsese and De Niro have been responsible for creating several of the greatest films of all time (Raging Bull, GoodFellas, Taxi Driver). Unfortunately, The King of Comedy finds them on uneven ground. The plot has all the elements of a great film, yet there are missed opportunities along the way. The De Niro performance is undoubtedly fantastic, even showing many parallels to his tour-de-force performance as Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Yet, the fascination in watching Bickle's slow burn was in seeing a man who was all too aware of his hopelessness, a man who knew himself to be on the edge and that any moment, could easily be pushed beyond the limits of sanity. In contrast, Pupkin is blissfully ignorant, a clueless buffoon who never awakens to his mental shortcomings. Because Pupkin does not realize his weaknesses, the audience is not given a chance to understand the motivation behind his erratic behavior.

The King of Comedy is unmistakably a Martin Scorsese picture, and it is his fresh approach that makes the film truly rewarding. While his camera does not move with the sense of impatient urgency as it does in Taxi Driver or After Hours, Scorsese's unique style always makes the film appear more interesting than it would have if a more traditional style were utilized. The haunting moments where we see Rupert alone in his basement, hosting a fictional talk show are pure Scorsese flair. Like every Scorsese movie, there is more to The King of Comedy than initially meets the eye. Those who are able to shed conventional logic might find more depth to the story than one who simply relies on a more straightforward approach to storytelling.

Like all of Scorsese's masterpieces, The King of Comedy has great potential, but unfortunately falls short of achieving it. The narrative flow often feels incomplete, as if pivotal plot pieces have been omitted; the characters are thin and underdeveloped. This may sound like a scathing review, but I still enjoyed the film in light of my disappointment. Perhaps Scorsese has raised the benchmark too high and spoiled me with his remarkable achievements. The King of Comedy is a decent picture, but an undeniable letdown coming from the dynamic duo of Scorsese and De Niro.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic image transfer looks excellent considering the age of the source material. While the picture often appears dated, the overall aesthetic is smooth and free from glaring distractions. Black level and color saturation are superb, appearing as bold and vibrant as many transfers of more modern films. Occasionally, darker scenes have a tendency to look a bit noisy, but never so much so that I found it bothersome. While far from perfect, this is certainly the best home video presentation of The King of Comedy to date.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Both the original mono soundtrack and a new two-channel stereo mix are offered, which sound virtually identical. Fidelity is clean on both tracks, with no signs of distortion. The action is firmly locked front and center throughout; the few instances when I noticed any channel separation on the stereo track, I found it to sound processed and awkward. As a dialogue-driven film, the mono soundtrack is perfectly suitable.

Audio Transfer Grade: C

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
2 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:01m:16s

Extra Extras:
  1. Still Gallery
Extras Review: If The King of Comedy fell slightly short of my expectations, the special features fell dreadfully short. A Martin Scorsese picture, whether one of his best or not, deserves better treatment than that which has been given to this dismal set of extras.

We begin with the "making of" documentary, A Shot at the Top. This is a typical promotional piece featuring interviews with Martin Scorsese and Sandra Bernhard. Their comments lean predominately towards the characters, the performances and how each actor contributed to the film through their improvisation. While it is interesting to hear Scorsese offer his thoughts, there is little of value in this documentary.

Next, is a section of two deleted scenes. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, Jerry Meets His Fans is a brief but humorous scene where Langford encounters two eccentric fans on a street corner, while Langford's Monologue is a five-and-a-half-minute clip of Langford's Carson-esque opening monologue for his show. While each scene is fun to watch, both are welcome exclusions from the film.

The theatrical trailer is more of a teaser than a full-blown trailer. While short, the trailer does a good job in conveying the dark and gritty subject matter of this "comedic" film.

In the "Why did they bother?" section is a Canadian TV spot. This baffling inclusion is merely 10 seconds of clips from the film followed by an announcer's warning—"The King of Comedy—It's no laughing matter."

Rounding out the special features is a still gallery. Like every other still gallery I have seen, this is a drab and pointless collection of behind-the-scenes photos.

Extras Grade: C-

 

Final Comments

Despite the impressive names Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, The King of Comedy never quite achieves its full potential. Nevertheless, this has been a long awaited title to receive the DVD treatment, and fans of the film should be quite pleased with the impressive image transfer.

 


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