Without a Paddle
Length: 98 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English Digital 5.1, English, French 2.0, two commentary tracks
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Special Features: Director Commentary, Video Commentary, 1 Featurette, Deleted Scenes, Interstitials, Trailer
The fact that the best thing I can say about Without a Paddle is that it isn’t as bad as I was bracing for is rather telling in and of itself.
The film stars Seth Green, Matthew Lillard and Dax Shepard as three friends who get together after the funeral of a friend and take on a childhood adventure - the search for D.B. Cooper’s stash - that the dead friend had seemed somewhat obsessed with in life. The three are equally inexperienced at the backwoods life, and take off unprepared for the realities they will face. If that weren’t bad enough, they face a hick sheriff, a bear with maternal instincts, and a couple of backwoods pot farmers - not to mention some hippy, tree-hugging girls.
Without a Paddle takes a comedic turn on the granddaddy of the camping - adventure film, Deliverance - taking with it considerable homophobic baggage and attempting to use it for humor. Adding in a judicious amount of bathroom humor, drug humor, and tons of references from the 80’s, you get a film that aims to be nostalgic for the thirty-something viewer, but has the underdeveloped humor one would associate with a teenager. The film is complete with an extended cameo by Burt Reynolds - a nod to the film’s more serious heritage.
The biggest problem with the film is that it doesn’t seem to choose an audience. Those who would most likely appreciate the juvenile humor won’t get the nostalgic references - and those who understand the references may be put off by the humor. It’s an odd coming-of-age film without the traditional payoff - the characters don’t gain wisdom from their experience. Perhaps that’s so there remains room for a sequel. That’s one creek I’d prefer not to revisit - paddle or not.
The film isn’t as bad as I expected - but it is ultimately forgettable.
The video is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1. The picture is sharp and detailed, with virtually no grain. Colors are lush and beautifully saturated. Contrast is excellent, with good detail in the shadows and perfect highlights. The print is free if any distracting dust or scratches. This is a very good transfer of very clean source elements.
The audio is brought to you in Dolby Digital 5.1. The front soundstage is expansive, featuring excellent frequency response and channel separation. Dialog sounds crisp, clean and natural. Music and effects are very effective across the three front channels. LFE is impressive, on occasion - especially in the raging rapids sequence. The surrounds, however, are a bit of a disappointment. They do provide a consistent, subtle ambience, but where you would expect them to stand out, they don’t. Not a bad mix, but a missed opportunity in some of the action sequences.
Director Steven Brill gives a good, informative and scene-specific commentary. Some of the more interesting points are delivered during the river rapids sequence. Brill also talks about some films that influenced this one. This is definitely worth a listen, if you’re a fan of the film.
Video Commentary by the cast and director
This “video commentary” is mostly an audio only commentary. A picture-in-picture appears occasionally, showing the participants together in the studio. While it is an interesting approach, there are extremely long stretches without any video - though the audio portion of the commentary is continuous. This commentary is most valuable for the interplay of the participants, who are all funny and seem to enjoy the process.
MTV’s Making the Movie: Without a Paddle (18:10)
A typical presentation from MTV. The stars talk about the film and their roles, and director Steven Brill talks about bringing the cast together. Other topics include working the rapids, working with the bear, etc... This is more a promotional piece than an in depth “making of” featurette.
13 Additional Scenes are available, totaling an impressive 24 minutes. They can be played with or without a director commentary. There is a “Play All” feature. In the commentary, director Brill describes the reasons why scenes were cut - usually to help move the story along and improve pacing.
6 interstitials with a “Play All” feature, totaling 2:43.
These are, unfortunately, forced trailers. You must skip each one using the chapter skip button (six times) before you can see the forced, unskippable disclaimer, followed by the menu. Why can’t we just get to the menu, please? The previews are also available via the Special Features menu,
Most of the actors in this film were working below their potential. This is a film that, with a little script doctoring, could have been an enjoyable farce. As it stands, you have to have an appreciation for lowbrow humor and 80’s nostalgia in order to have any appreciation for it - and even then, it’s a far cry from a great ride.
The transfer is commendable, and there are some special features that, assuming you can stomach the film in the first place, would be of interest to fans.