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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
"I am the wild blue yonder. The front line in a never-ending battle between good... and not-so good. Together with my stalwart sidekick Arthur and the magnanimous help of some other folks I know, we form the yin to villainy's malevolent yang. Destiny has chosen us. Wicked men, you face The Tick!"
DVD ReviewIt's generally accepted that Hollywood doesn't have a great record adapting comic books to the screen. Sure, there are the occasional successes like X2 and the all-but-based-on-a-comic Matrix trilogy. But more often than not comic book movies wind up like the ponderous misfire The Hulk or the downright laughable degradation of the Batman character with Batman and Robin and Birds of Prey. Genre fans are constantly praying the next translation will be more satisfying, more accurate, and they're disappointed again and again (anyone seen the trailer for The Punisher?). Odd, then, the one time Hollywood got it exactly right and managed a perfect comic-to-screen adaptation not once, but twice, the efforts go largely unnoticed. I speak of the Tick, a mightily strong, mightily stupid superhero in a blue suit created by the demented mind of Ben Edlund.
Edlund first published the adventures of the Tick in a black-and-white comic book that gathered a cult following. Somehow, he got the attention of Fox's animation studios, and his rather mature story—about an insanely strong, decidedly off-balanced escapee from a mental institution living in a world packed with obscure superheroes and bizarre villains (Chairface Chippendale, the Chainsaw Vigilante, the terrifying District Manager)—into a slightly less offensive, even funnier Saturday morning cartoon. The animated Tick lasted three seasons, and the adventures of Tick and his sidekick Arthur (a moth, not a bunny... an easy mistake to make) and their battles against villains like the Eastern Bloc Robot Cowboy, the Guy with Ears Like Little Raisins, and... Joseph Stalin, were all that got me up on weekend mornings. Well, they got me to set my VCR, anyway. Any hero who turns "Spoon!" into a battle cry, right?
But Fox ruined things by trying to turn the show from a cult hit into a mainstream entertainment (thanks for the Tick toys, though), and they soon canceled it. Then, five years later, a brief bout of insanity overtook the Fox executives and they commissioned a live-action version of the large, blue, polysyllabic hero. Bringing Tick into the real world without screwing it up would require finesse, and luckily Fox allowed Edlund a ton of creative input. And despite some changes, including the substitution of the comic's sidekicks with new characters Captain Liberty (Liz Vassey) and Spanish lothario Batmanuel (Nestor Carbonell), the live-action version is surprisingly faithful to both the original incarnation and the cartoon series. A large measure of credit goes to star Patrick Warburton (Seinfeld's Puddy) and David Burke, a pitch-perfect pair of Tick and moth. Warburton in particular captures his character's blend of big-hearted hero and moron.
Of course, it isn't perfect. It's a low-budget series, and you can tell—the Tick's costume (complete with motorized antenna)—looks great, but the rest of the set dressing looks rather cheap. And these first nine episodes are somewhat hit or miss, only occasionally scoring as consistently as the animated series. On the plus side, the show's late-night time slot and intended adult audience meant the plots could be a bit more mature and subversive. Standouts include Arthur, Interrupted, in which Arthur comes out of the superhero closet to his family and is thrown into a "deprogramming facility" run by guest star Dave Foley; The Terror, in which the Tick faces the dastardly, 115-year-old villain, The Terror (Armin Shimerman); and the heroic duo's acceptance into a smarmy, elitist superhero team in The Big Leagues.
Unfortunately, after bankrolling the series, Fox apparently decided they had made a series no one would watch (not that I entirely disagree, as the popularity of the cartoon was something of a fluke), so they shelved it for a year. Then they slotted in on Thursdays against Survivor and Friends, preempted it so often it took three months to air eight episodes, showed everything out of order, and ended the show without airing the ninth and final episode (which was supposed to be episode three anyway). Even the clout of executive producer Barry Sonnenfeld couldn't keep it on the air.
If only more comic fans had committed to a show that actually did everything they'd asked... Fortunately, TV on DVD, the new savior of the unjustly canceled show (Edlund went off to Joss Whedon's Firefly, another victim of the Fox axe coming soon to DVD) and Columbia TriStar listened to a small but vocal fan base and brought The Tick out on shiny disc (right, like the Tick could figure out how to work a DVD player). Now, who has the rights to the animated series?
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: I'm pleasantly surprised to discover that the DVD presents the episodes in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen—I didn't even know the show was filmed for high-def, and I never expected to see it in a widescreen format on disc (or on disc at all, for that matter). The transfer is very nice, rich and colorful with a polished look despite the low budget. I spotted some mosquito noise here and there, but nothing too serious. Edge enhancement isn't and issue, nor are print artifacts.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The audio mix is nice, particularly for a TV series. The front soundstage is active and cartoony, with boisterous sound effects and lively music. The mains feature good stereo separation, and the surround channels light up during aggressive action moments. Dialogue is always clear as well, a relief considering there aren't any subtitles.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 27 cues
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Bad Boys II, Men in Black, Men in Black II, The King on Queens, TV Action Favorites, TV Comedy Favorites
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by producer/director Barry Sonnenfeld, creator Ben Edlund
Packaging: Amaray Double
Extras Review: The extras package for The Tick is pretty slim, but then, it's probably a fluke Columbia TriStar released it at all, so I'll take what I can get. Which are, aside from a trailer gallery, commentary tracks on four episodes. Director Barry Sonnenfeld (also an executive producer) speaks over the premiere, and calls it the best thing he's directed in years. I'm inclined to agree, but then, I sat through Big Trouble. Ben Edlund, creator of the Tick, first in comic form, then on TV in both animation and live action, provides tracks for Arthur, Interrupted, Couples, and The Tick vs. Justice. He's entertaining to listen to, if a bit soft-spoken, and he gives a good sense of what it took to translate such an exaggerated superhero into the live-action realm.
On the plus side, the presentation is nice (love the bright blue keepcase) and, well, the DVDs exist. I hope I can say the same for some of the other shows Fox axed unceremoniously. Like, oh, say everything good on their schedule for the past three years minus 24.
Extras Grade: C-
Final CommentsI don't know why Fox even bothered going to series with The Tick. Any show this quirky and unusual seems destined for an early cancellation (Fox's track record in this area wasn't very encouraging, either). It's not the cartoon, but it's somehow even weirder, and it holds together thanks to strong writing and a pitch-perfect cast. At least the Tick lives on DVD. Spoon!
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