HD DVD Title: The Jerk
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1
First theatrical release: December 14, 1979
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple Widescreen & Full screen DVDs including a 26th anniversary edition
Director: Carl Reiner
Starring: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Catlin Adams, Jackie Mason
Sound Formats: English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1, French DD Plus 2.0
Length: 1 Hour, 34 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
Arguably Steve Martin's funniest film, The Jerk is a "rags to riches to rags" mock bio of Navin Johnson, a simple minded buffoon who is born a poor black child but grows into a world famous inventor who has it all, and then blows it just as fast. While this was Martin's film debut, there are few comedies that pack as many laughs into a rollercoaster 90 minutes, and fewer still that have such memorable and quotable lines and characters. Among these memorable oddballs are Marie (Peters) who steals Navin's heart, Patty (Adams) who teaches Navin the meaning of his "Special Purpose", Harry (Mason) the station owner who gives Navin his big break, a madman (M. Emmet Walsh) who picks Navin out as his next victim and Stan (Bill Macy) for whom Navin invents the Opti-Grab which makes them both rich beyond imagining.
But it is Martin's amazing wit, mannerisms and especially his simple believability as the hapless Navin that makes this film work so spectacularly. Even when Navin is on top of the world we expect him to blow it all because of his naivetee and Martin allows us into the head of Navin so completely that we sympathize with him because we know we've all been there before and done things that are just as stupid. Director Reiner is also at the top of his game too (and has a great "Cameo" part for himself and Rob Reiner has one as well!), and lets Martin just be himself at his wildest. For me personally The Jerk has become an icon of 70s comedies, and notably one that so very many comedians have tried to pattern their transitions to the silver screen after, and very very few have suceeded. Mixing in issues of race, greed, lust and plain stupidity, The Jerk is simply one of the greatest low-brow comedies ever made.
Sound Quality: 2.5/5
Nothing special here. While the box claims a 5.1 DD Plus soundtrack, there are rare instances of content in the rears and even less in the bass channel. While this is a dialogue driven film there are a few scenes with some interesting sonic elements, specifically at the carnival where Navin meets Patty, but don't expect much. The few musical numbers as well as all dialogue are crisp and clear and well balanced, but unless your idea of great demo material is a moonlit ukelele serenade there's not much too look out for.
Visual Quality: 3.5/5
This transfer captures the look of the original print elements very well, unfortunately that includes a bit of dust and pops. Grain is only particularly notable in night time scenes and never to distraction, and no artificial sharpening is ever noted. Sharpness seems fine, neither particularly great or ever too soft, but kind of mediocre. Color rendition is also kind of bland, but I suspect this is mostly due to the source more than anything as scenes like the disco in Navin's mansion are bright and cheery without being really exceptional. Overall this is about as good as this film is likely to look on a home screen, but it is source limited.
Extra Features: 2/5
The extras here are simply strange (and they are all found on the previous 26th anniversary edition). First up is "Tonight you belong to me" which is, as far as I'm aware the only bonus feature in the history of optical media to teach ukelele lessons. Next up are more scenes with "Father Carlos Las Vegas De Cordova" (The Nutjob who swindles Navin over the horrors of Cat Juggling). Imagine horribly filmed and really shlocky comedic riffs along the lines of the Cat Juggling scene except minus the humor and you get the idea. Finally the theatrical trailer is included, which is something I miss as most HD DVDs do not include them the way many DVDs do. So, we're stuck with shovelware, and its the worst kind of shovelware imaginable. Nothing new here for anyone who has the prior editions at all.
Overall: 3/5 (not an average)
As noted above, The Jerk is one of my favorite movies ever, and I hold it in very high regard as one of the comedies that considered nothing sacred, especially not the writer's own dignities. If only Martin had continued down this path I might have been an even bigger fan of his, sadly he had to go and 'grow up' on us and try to make real cinema. This HD DVD edition is simply the best I have ever seen the film, and while I did not see it theatrically it looks better than many I did see during that era. While the extras are terrible (and too few!), it seems unlikely that this film will ever get treated to a more satisfying collection so we can only be thankful that those few that have been created for past DVD releases are included here. The Jerk deserves more credit than it gets and I can only hope that by being an early release on the HD DVD format that many new collectors will pick it up and give it a chance.