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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: This is Spinal Tap

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#1 of 5 OFFLINE   Cameron Yee

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Posted July 30 2009 - 04:06 PM

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This is Spinal Tap

Release Date: July 28, 2009
Studio: MGM Home Entertainment
Packaging/Materials: Two-disc Viva Eco-box Blu-ray case
Year: 1984
Rating: R
Running Time: 1h13m
MSRP: $34.99

Video 1080p high definition 16x9 1.85:1 480i or 480p standard definition
Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1, Dolby Digital: English 2.1 Stereo
Subtitles English SDH, French, Spanish None

The Feature: 4.5/5

In 1982 TV commercial director Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) followed "one of England's loudest bands," on its first U.S. tour in six years. Over several weeks, he carefully captured the sights, sounds and smells of David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) as they rocked out Middle America, faced creative differences and, ultimately, struggled for relevance after nearly two decades together. It's the kind of story we've seen play out with bands both great and small, but rarely with one so punctual. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Spinal Tap!

Though the "mockumentary" is now a well-cemented niche within the comedy genre, apparent from the outset that a work of satire lies under a veneer of realism, I'm curious about the initial audience response to "This is Spinal Tap." Mainly because when I first saw the film, I was totally duped - that is, until I recognized McKean and had to ask, "Is that the guy from Laverne and Shirley?" Even then, it took me a few seconds to wrap my head around the concept; when I finally did, I of course recognized the film as comedy gold.

Though a little research shows the "Spinal Tap" faux documentary was nothing new, it did take a great idea and do it incredibly well. Much of the credit goes to the utterly convincing work of the three leads. Though imitating the documentary look and style was important, the entire endeavor would have been for naught without the actors' fully inhabited portrayals that make viewers question whether it's all a put-on (even when they're in on the joke). Of course there are moments when "Spinal Tap's" comedy is over-the-top, like when the band gets the botched Stonehenge set, but I think most of us have seen enough of the outright ridiculous in everyday life to recognize the underlying truth behind such outsized humor. Though now 25 year old, laughs like that and clever jabs at fame and celebrity continue to hold up; in fact, some would argue none of its progeny have surpassed it. On the Spinal Tap scale that easily puts the film at "11" though for the rest of us a "4.5" should do quite nicely.

Video Quality: 3.5/5

The film is correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. There are a handful of issues that will give a critical viewer pause, but given the documentary style of the production they seem both appropriate and inherent to the way the film was shot. Black levels are often limited, making overall contrast look a little flat. Color shows good range and depth, though flesh tones can be a bit pinkish. Grain structure looks preserved with no signs of noise reduction and general sharpness is decent, though there are a few moments of softness. There's also the occasional white "sparkle" but otherwise the picture is clean and free of blemishes and physical damage. On the whole, the transfer looks like it preserves both the intent of the filmmakers and the inherent nature of the material.

Audio Quality: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio track features light but effective surround activity that tends to perk up during the musical numbers. In those moments there's some nice directional cues and general stage ambience that creates a good, wraparound experience. LFE is non-existent, but the band's bass lines have good depth and fullness and there's some decent oomph in the finale's pyrotechnics. Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible with no noticeable instances of strain, hiss or distortion.

Special Features: 3.5/5

The special features package on the Blu-ray disc appears identical to the one on MGM's 2000 DVD special edition. A second disc (in DVD format) includes a couple more recent pieces. The items from the Criterion Collection release are not included, so those wanting the most complete set of extras will want to hold onto that edition.

Overall, the pieces tend toward the comedic and novel. It would have been interesting to get some more in-depth, true "making of" material, like the crew commentary on the Criterion edition.

Audio Commentary with Spinal Tap: Guest, McKean and Shearer provide commentary in character. It's a highlight if 83 minutes of the feature just isn't enough with these guys.

Catching Up with Marty DiBergi (5:01): Reiner as DiBergi reflects back on the making of the film and the consequences of some of his decisions.

Rare Outtakes (1:07:51): Over an hour of additional footage includes extensions of existing scenes and additional band misadventures.

Vintage "Tap" Materials: Includes "Flower People Press Conference" (1:49) and "Appearance on the 'Joe Franklin Show'" (2:01)

Music Videos: Includes full performances of "Gimme Some Money" (2:19), "(Listen to the) Flower People" (3:01), "Hell Hole" (3:13) and "Big Bottom" (3:48)

Promotional Materials: Includes "Heavy Metal Memories" (1:37), "Cheese Rolling Commercial" (1:43), "TV Spot 1: Offensive" (:31), "TV Spot 2: Reviews" (:32), and "TV Spot 3: Amplifier (:32)

Commercials: Three 16-second spots hawking the "Rock and Rolls" stuffed bread snacks. Real or fake? You decide.

"Stonehenge" Performance at the 2007 Live Earth Concert (6:55): The band reunites for the benefit show. Located on the DVD.

National Geographic Stonehenge Interview with Nigel Tufnel (8:15): Five promos for the stonehengedecoded.com website, featuring interviews with Tufnel as he talks about druids and Stonehenge. Located on the DVD.


The Feature: 4.5/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 3.5/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5

A classic "mockumentary" film gets all-around decent treatment, though more behind-the-scenes in the supplemental items would have been appreciated.

One thing leads to another at cameronyee.com

#2 of 5 OFFLINE   Richard Gallagher

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Posted July 30 2009 - 05:20 PM

I just ordered this, but I'm hanging on to my Criterion laserdisc.

Rich Gallagher

#3 of 5 OFFLINE   Marvin



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Posted July 31 2009 - 02:48 AM

Thanks for the review. I have the first DVD release (not the Criterion) and I still wonder if this edition is that much of an improvement to be worth the double-dip.

#4 of 5 OFFLINE   Michael Reuben

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Posted July 31 2009 - 04:11 AM

This review goes to 11.
COMPLETE list of my disc reviews.       HTF Rules / 200920102011 Film Lists

#5 of 5 OFFLINE   Ken_McAlinden



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Posted July 31 2009 - 04:14 AM

Originally Posted by Michael Reuben ">

This review goes to 11. </div></span></div>
It will make your brain explode and your ears cry for mercy...<br />
<br />
...and it makes a swell gift, too, don't it? <span rel='lightbox'><img class='bbc_img' alt=

Ken McAlinden
Livonia, MI USA