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Anchor Bay presents
The Specials (2001)

"Superheroes don't get Oscars. We get action figures."
- The Strobe (Thomas Haden Church)

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: March 24, 2005

Stars: Thomas Haden Church, Rob Lowe, Paget Brewster
Other Stars: Jamie Kennedy, Jordan Ladd, Kelly Coffield, Judy Greer, James Gunn, Sean Gunn, Mike Schwartz, Jim Zulevic, John Doe, Abdul Salaam El Razzac, Lauren Cohn, Tom Dorfmeister, Chuti Tiu, Johann Stauf, Brian Gunn, Samantha Cannon, Melissa Joan Hart
Director: Craig Mazin

MPAA Rating: R for (language)
Run Time: 01h:22m:08s
Release Date: February 22, 2005
UPC: 013131279399
Genre: comedy


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

DVD Review

In Craig Mazin's poke-fun-at-superheroes flick The Specials, the title gang are the sixth or seventh greatest superhero team in the world. They may have super powers, but they're a dysfunctional lot, struggling with maybe not being the best, as well as a general surge of bitterness and in-fighting.

Things reach a new low when Specials leader The Strobe (Thomas Haden Church) disbands the group after the launch of a line of action figures goes bad, and to make matters worse, he thinks his wife, Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), is sleeping with The Weevil (Rob Lowe). So with the group in disarray, all the members have to struggle with what the future holds and where they might end up.

It's a neat concept, full of great potential to razz a genre ripe for the mocking, and for a first time director Mazin succeeds at doing that most of the time. The universe of newly created superheroes (Night Bird, Power Chick, Deadly Girl, Minute Man, Mr. Smart, etc) all have their own baggage to contend with, and their insecurities about their less than A-list (and in some cases questionable) powers is second only to their floundering personal lives and cynical streaks a mile wide.

Written by James Gunn (Tromeo and Juliet, Scooby Doo, Dawn of the Dead), who also plays Minute Man, it seems he knows the genre pretty well. The clever depth of some of the character origins reveals that he really must be a fan, but when one of the characters states that even the though the world doesn't need The Specials, "The Specials need The Specials", it is pretty clear what direction the film is going to go.

Even as comic-book-type heroes, all of the characters play it straight, and the deadpan deliveries are very low key, even by Jamie Kennedy with blue skin as the foul-mouthed energy ball Amok. Thomas Haden Church, while maybe not in full Sideways mode, has the right degree of pompous dramatics to make The Strobe come across as the overly serious windbag he is; one of his standards is to repeatedly bore his fellow Specials with his origin story about how he received his super powers from a "vat of mysterious radioactive chemicals." It's a great monologue that descends into weirdness about beating a woman to death with a crowbar or urinating on a prostitute for pleasure.

Unlike Mystery Men, which had a comparatively vast budget, Mazin has to make do with less, so there aren't any big effects sequences here, or razzle-dazzle CG villains to battle. Instead, as a life's a bitch angst comedy about a group of self-admitted freaks who exist for "the oddball, the misfit, the geek", the chatter about character origins and competing bands of heroes should strike a familiar chord for comic fans. This is one of those films where in the end individual scenes and blocks of dialogue are far better than the entity as a whole.

When was the last time you saw a quartet of heroes perform a dance routine to the 1974 single Life Is a Rock by Reunion or have to deal with anal worms?

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B-

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.77:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Anchor Bay has reissued The Specials in 1.77:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the transfer is fair without being great. Color levels fluctuate, and while Jamie Kennedy's blue skin generally looks bright, some interior sequences look a slightly washed out at times. A few instances of blemishes and light grain are evident in spots.

Image Transfer Grade: B-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Audio options are 5.1 Dolby Digital surround and 2.0 surround, and considering this is a dialogue driven feature both are pretty comparable. The 5.1 track dresses up some of the music elements, but both tracks deliver clean, hiss-free voices, with most of it being locked in the center channel.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
8 Deleted Scenes
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by James Gunn, Paget Brewster, Craig Mazin, Mark Altman, Mojo
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Gallery
Extras Review: For this reissue of The Specials, Anchor Bay has included two commentary tracks, with writer James Gunn and actress Paget Brewster on one, and Gunn showing up on the other along with director Craig Mazin, producer Mark Altman, and visual effects supervisor Mojo. It is an interesting set of tracks, because the Gunn/Brewster track is very open and frank, while the second commentary (which also features Gunn) is somewhat less biting and more traditional. The Gunn/Brewster pairing addresses the many changes the project went through (from character names to casting), and the tone approaches an enjoyable level of cynicism and mocking that seems refreshingly honest.

There are eight deleted scenes (04m:32s) that are as strong as any of the material left in, and though there's no commentary as to why they were cut, it seems strange that a film running 82 minutes wouldn't want to add some of these extremely short drop-in bits of dialogue.

Also showing up are a theatrical, a photo gallery, the full Toy Commercial (01m:04s)—probably one of the film's funniest bits—as well as The Strobe/Ms. Indestructible Wedding Video (:58s), which is presented here without the music bed used when it is shown in The Specials.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

I really wanted to like this one more than I ultimately did, and while there were some strong sendups of the superhero genre sprinkled here and there, overall the story struggles to keep it all together after a terrific first half.

 


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