DVD Review HTF REVIEW: Unaccompanied Minors

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ken_McAlinden, Aug 13, 2007.

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Unaccompanied Minors

    Directed By: Paul Feig

    Starring: Lewis Black, Wilmer Valderrama, Tyler James Williams, Dyllan Christopher, Brett Kelly, Gina Mantegna, Quinn Shephard, Paget Brewster, Rob Corddry, Dominique Saldana, Rob Riggle


    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 2007

    Rated: PG

    Film Length: 90 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 and 4:3

    Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, English SDH

    Release Date: August 7, 2007


    The Film

    "Unaccompanied Minors" tells the story of six kids traveling alone who are stuck in a snowed-in Midwestern airport on Christmas Eve: Spencer (Christopher), Grace (Mantegna), Charlie (Williams), Donna (Shephard), "Beef" (Kelly), and Spencer's sister Katie (Saldana). When Spencer gets embarrassed one too many times by his little sister, he decides to go along with the other four kids in an escape from the airport's cavernous holding room for stranded juveniles which has devolved into something between a packed junior high cafeteria and "Lord of the Flies". This frustrates Zach Van Bourke (Valderrama), the airport employee assigned to watch them and absolutely infuriates Mr. Porter (Black), the cranky airport head of passenger relations. When the escaped kids are eventually rounded up by airport security, they are told that while all of the other kids, including Katie, have been transferred to a nearby hotel, they will be kept in the airport holding area until their flights are re-scheduled. Spencer convinces the other kids to join him in another escape in order to make sure his sister receives a proper Christmas Eve present, and the chase is on…

    I can see the pitch meeting in my head where the filmmakers sold executives on the idea of "Home Alone" meets "The Breakfast Club", and while the idea probably sounded like a good one at the time, the film is undermined by some serious miscalculations.

    "Unaccompanied Minors" seems to be targeting a very narrow audience of kids from around ten to fifteen years old. Viewers any older than that will find little to keep them engaged despite appearances from numerous actors with comedy credentials from "The Daily Show", "The Office", "Arrested Development", "Saturday Night Live", and 'Kids in the Hall". For younger viewers, while they may otherwise enjoy the incessant slapstick antics and PG-level potty humor, the film breaks the unspoken rule about frankly discussing the "Santa Claus" situation. These limitations makes it an unattractive choice for both parents and younger siblings, which pretty much sabotages its chances as a viable family movie.

    The teenage cast is actually pretty appealing, but the screenplay paints them as broad archetypes which viewers have no doubt seen done better in other films. Kelly's "Beef" character is particularly under-served as he is weird, unrelatable, and spends the majority of the film away from the main action trying to retrieve a Christmas tree in a subplot that does not really pay off sufficiently considering the screen-time that is devoted to it. Lewis Black plays frustrated and angry as well as anyone, and makes a pretty good "Mr. Wilson" to the kids' "Dennis the Menaces". Wilmer Valderrama, playing a more sympathetic airport employee, sounds like he is reading his lines off of cue cards at times. Of the various comedians peppering the rest of the cast, Rob Riggle makes a humorous impression as the none-to bright head security guard, and Tony Hale has a cameo at the end that made me laugh just by the way his emotions run across his face. 60% of "The Kids in the Hall" play a trio of security guards with some pretty funny exchanges late in the film. Rob Corddry is fairly amusing as the environmentalist father of Spencer and Katie who has what amounts to his own complete subplot involving his attempt to coax his biodiesel vehicle half way across the country to retrieve his kids.

    The Video

    The film is presented with a 2.35:1 16:9 enhanced transfer reflecting the original theatrical presentation on one single-layered side of a DVD-10, and a 4:3 reformatted transfer on the other. Only the widescreen presentation was viewed for the purposes of this review. I have honestly not seen a DVD from a major studio riddled with this level of compression artifacts in over five years. I actually had to increase my viewing distance from my projection screen just to make it tolerable. The screen is absolutely crawling with non-film-based pulsing digital grain. Normal video edge enhancement is minor to non-existent, but halos of mosquito-noise frequently surround high contrast edges and moving objects.

    The Audio

    Thankfully, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio presentation is much better than the video, with nice use of the surrounds for music, ambience, and occasional discrete directional effects during the film's slapstick action sequences. LFE is employed modestly but effectively throughout as appropriate. Alternate language dubs are available via French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.

    The Extras

    All extras are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound in 4:3 letterbox video (except for the commentary, of course). All extras are repeated on both sides of the DVD-10 disc.

    First up is a full-length commentary from director Paul Feig, writers Jacob Meszaros and Mya Stark, and actor Lewis Black. This is actually a fairly entertaining track not so much due to its worth as a "film school in a box" record of the movie's production as because all of the participants have a fairly dry sense of humor. It was recorded after the film was released, so there are even occasional references made to the drubbing it received from critics. Director Feig does do his best to interject actual production details in between the episodes of good-natured kidding, especially between Feig and Black. The commentary is also available via English SDH subtitles.

    "Charlie's Dance reel runs three minutes and fourteen seconds and features outtakes of Tyler James Williams' dance sequence from the film intercut with brief outtakes and bloopers from the rest of the cast.

    "Additional Scenes" runs five minutes and 52 seconds if the "Play All" option is chosen. It consists of seven short deleted segments:
    • Original Opening - By far the longest of the deleted segments, it consists of a fantasy sequence where Spencer chats up an attractive girl who is interested in him before returning to reality at the airport with his mom and sister.
    • Snotty Beef - Is a fairly useless snippet of Beef more or less just wiping his nose
    • I Was Stuck- is a short bit between Rob Riggle and Lewis Black in which Riggle works on getting unstuck from a small opening through which he was pursuing the kids.
    • Prius vs. Hummer - is a bit on the road where Rob Corddry's environmentalist father character, forced by circumstances to be driving a Hummer, tries to apologize to a passing Prius driver and is met with disgust.
    • Mistletoe - is a brief story beat where Spencer awkwardly avoids Grace who the realizes she was standing under mistletoe.
    • Dog Now - is a scene cut from near the end of the film in which Black's character promotes Valderrama's character and does not do the same for Riggle's. This closes a minor plot hole in the film since Valderrama's character indicated he was quitting after the kids were safely put on their planes.
    • Dr. Charlie and Donna Dance - is an extra little character beat between Charlie and Donna further illustrating their budding friendship.

    "Guards in the Hall" runs 20 minutes and 32 seconds and consists entirely of extended improvs from Mark McKinney, Bruce McCulloch, and Kevin McDonald riffing off of each other as three security guards in the hallway outside of where the kids from the movie are being held. Only a small fraction of it was used in the movie, but a lot of it is very funny.

    There is also an "Easter Egg" hidden feature accessible from the Special Features menu if you use your DVD remote to click to the left and select the light on the front of Charlie's moped.

    Packaging

    The film comes in a standard Amaray-style case with no insert. As mentioned above, the disc is a double-sided single-layered DVD-10 with a 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 presentation on one side and a 4:3 pan and scan presentation on the other side. All of the extras are repeated on both sides.

    Summary

    A sporadically amusing slapstick anarchic fantasy aimed at tweens and young teens with little appeal for anyone else, "Unaccompanied Minors" has the rare distinction of being a holiday movie that could actually ruin Christmas for younger kids. As a DVD purchase option, its appeal is not helped by sub-par video compression that would have looked bad by 1998 standards. A modest selection of mostly amusing extras helps a little, but not nearly enough.

    Regards,
     

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