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Year One (2009)

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 10/6/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 10/4/2009

What constitutes a comeback? If someone has had a project in a while, is that a comeback? Or does an artist have to have had a failure in order for their new release to be called a comeback? Harold Ramis' place in the pantheon of comedy is secure thanks to his participation in Ghostbusters, National Lampoon's Vacation, and Groundhog Day. (I know that many would add Caddyshack to that list, but I'm not really a fan.) However, Ramis hasn't had a bonafide hit since 1999's Analyze This, despite the fact that he's been involved in some mainstream films. So, is the star-studded Year One a comeback? Having watched it, I would say no.

As Year One opens, we are introduced to two tribesmen, Zed (Jack Black) and Oh (Michael Cera), who live in prehistoric times. Zed isn't much of a hunter and Oh is a lowly gatherer, and they get no respect in their village. Oh is attracted to Eema (Juno Temple), who ignores him, and Zed likes Maya (June Diane Raphael) who wants him to fight the biggest man in the village for her. Zed becomes frustrated with their treatment and convinces Oh to leave the village. Despite the fact that Oh is convinced that the world is flat, they set off on their journey. They soon discover that there is a world beyond the mountains and continue on their way. They soon meet Cain (David Cross) and Abel (Paul Rudd), and Cain takes them back to his village where they meet Adam (Harold Ramis). From there, they cross the desert and meet Abraham (Hank Azaria). Finding him too rigid, they venture to Sodom, despite the warnings that they've heard about the city. There, they find the opportunity to be both heroes and rulers.

Going into Year One, I thought that it was going to be similar to 1981's Caveman, where it would focus on primitive man making discoveries about life and the world. But, it soon becomes evident that the movie is going to take on ideas and characters from the Bible. In this way, the movie is much more like Wholly Moses!, Monty Python's The Life of Brian, and History of the World, Part I. The film takes familiar Biblical tales, such as Cain and Abel, Abraham and Sodom, and spoofs them, taking a very modern, cynical approach to the stories. I would have to say that some working knowledge of these stories is required to get all of the jokes here. (For example, when Zed and Oh meet Cain and Abel and the two brothers begin to fight, those who know the story will have a pretty good idea of where things are going.)

Director Ramis, and his co-writers Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg (whom Ramis presumably met when he directed a few episodes of The Office), attempt to fill every scene with as many jokes as possible. The problem is that most of them are woefully unfunny. Year One is one of those films where if someone told you the humorous ideas for the film, you would probably find them amusing. However, as they play in the movie, there are very few laughs -- and I really can't say why. Again, the movie has some funny ideas, and the jokes run the gamut from physical to gross to snide to intellectual, but they simply hit the ground with a thud. I laughed a few times, but given the man behind the camera and the funny people in the film, I had expected much, much more. The only consistently funny thing in the film is the fact that Michael Cera talks like someone from the 21st century and makes dark comments in his trademarked flat tone.

Maybe it's the tired subject matter which cripples Year One. As noted above, this isn't the first Biblical spoof film and some of the jokes seem very tired. (For example, the stoning scene here isn't as good as the one in Life of Brian.) Maybe it's the film's non-chalant approach towards the subject matter, as it acts as if everyone knows these stories and thus they need no set up. Whatever the case, the end result is a film which offers few laughs and wastes the talents of many funny people.

Year One argues about what "the tip" means on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. I watched the movie on DVD first, and I instantly noticed the improvement on Blu-ray, but it really hit home in a scene where it is raining in some shots and I hadn't noted the rain on DVD! The colors look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The levels of detail and depth are both good. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track (when did Sony start using DTS?) which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track offers some nice stereo effects, which are detailed and show good separation. During some pivotal scenes, and most notably the finale, the surround sound effects are notably good and we also get some nice subwoofer action.

The Year One Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY with Director Harold Ramis, and stars Jack Black and Michael Cera. This is an OK chat, as the three talk at length throughout the film. They give us some information about shooting locations, the actors, and the script, but not nearly enough. For the most part, we are treated to them laughing at the movie and praising it. "The Year One Cutting Room" allows the viewer to create their own scenes (which may be better than those in the film!). With "Alternate Ending" (8 minutes), we are actually treated to an ending which is different from the finished film -- a rarity. (In all honestly, the results are the same, but the events are different.) The Disc contains two DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. Neither contain any new ideas or subplots, but one does expand on Zed's relationship with Maya. We also get ten EXTENDED & ALTERNATE SCENES. As one would imagine, these are merely longer versions of scenes from the movie...and who wants that. "Line-o-Rama" (5 minutes) shows how the actors improvised and gave several possible readings for a particular situation. The Disc offers a 8-minute GAG REEL. "Year One: The Journey Begins" (18 minutes) is a detailed making-of featurette which jumps around from topic to topic while covering the story, locations, costumes, and the actors. The piece contains a nice amount of on-set footage and comments from the cast and crew. "Sodom's Got 'Em!" (2 minutes) is a fake infomercial for working in Sodom. "Leroy Jenkins: The Gates of Sodom" (2 minutes) is sort of like a deleted scene, but not really. The final extra is the TRAILER for the film.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has also brought Year One to DVD. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a mild amount of grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, but the image is a tad dark. The DVD has a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are fine, and the final battle offers nice surround and sub effects.

The only extras on the DVD are the commentary, deleted scenes, extended & alternate scenes, line-o-rama, gag reel, The Journey Begins, and the trailer.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long