SPIES LIKE US
Studio: Warner Bros
Film Years: 1988, 1985
Film Length: 104mins, 102mins
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
BD Specifications: 1080/24p
- English DTS HD-Master Audio 2.0 Surround
- English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
- Espanol Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround
Warner Bros. “Double Feature” sets are back on Blu-ray! On February 23, 2010, the release of four Blu-ray comedy double features hit the funny bone – twice! Combos include first-ever Blu-ray releases of Analyze This/Analyze That, Miss Congeniality/Miss Congeniality 2, Grumpy Old Men/Grumpier Old Men, and reviewed here is Funny Farm/Spies Like Us.
This combo is unique because both Funny Farm and Spies Like Us have never been available in widescreen (Grumpy movies have not either). It’s nice to make the better leap directly to Blu-ray!
In Funny Farm (1988), Chevy Chase is Andy Farmer, a writer who moves to the country with his beautiful wife Elizabeth (Madolyn Smith) in search for some novel ideas. He’s a writer with a bit of writer’s block and some quiet time in the country is just what he needs to start fresh.
But the air isn’t entirely clean in the country as the local country folks make a big stink about their new neighbors. After many mishaps and secrets, it’s difficult for this couple to make friends in the country when even the animals want to run away!
Spies Like Us was a classic CITY-TV ‘late great movie’ during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s as I remember it. A friend of mine was obsessed with it, and while I was too busy googling my young eyeballs at Chase’s first two Vacation films, it was easy to dismiss such an inferior film like Spies Like Us. Now, twenty five years later, I know what my buddy was laughing at all of the time. Chevy Chase and Dan Aykroyd are Emmett Fitzhume and Austin Millbarg - two useless men chosen from CIA recruitment to be ‘promoted’ to a mission as decoys (although they think they are the real deal). They are trained and dropped into Pakistan where they soon find that allies aren’t really their allies. The pee from Russians as an escape, pretend they are doctors for cover, and eventually find their way into Afghanistan only to thin out Soviet defenses to allow the real spies get in. There are some really silly parts in this film that one just can’t help laughing at: the military training and the doctor scenes are worth the price of admission. Directed by John Landis (An American Werewolf In London), only Chase and Aykroyd could pull this movie off!
PICTURE QUALITY: FUNNY FARM 3/5
PICTURE QUALITY: SPIES LIKE US 2.5/5
This is the first time either of these titles have been available in a widescreen format. Previously released on DVD in 4:3 only, these titles look remarkably better filling up all two million+ pixels on a widescreen television. Depth perception is dramatically improved, fine details are seen, and the only artefacts noticed are source-related. Funny Farm has the most noticeable improvements as it transfers well to high definition. The image has good contrast, colour that’s a bit dated, but fine details that come through well in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There was some faint-brownish colour shifting happening towards the right of the screen, mostly noticed during the beginning of the film. It was mild and I soon forgot about it. I didn’t notice it throughout. It could’ve been there and I also could’ve forgotten about it.
Spies Like Us doesn’t get all of the same complements. While most of the film is fairly consistent with similar qualities as the above, still there are scenes/shots that just don’t look so good. Black levels can be completely crushed wiping out any shadow detail, but in the same shot it can also look washed out. This look plugs up fidelity and luminance of colour. Instead of clearly defined, it is drowned out in a thick, pasty smudge. A scene that comes to mind would be that of when Emmett and Austin have been caught after the hilarious test-cheating incident (Chase is priceless with his facial expressions). When the boys are told of their “promotion” you can notice the oddities in the source. This is not to say all scenes are like this - far from it, in fact. Image depth can be admired considering what we've seen in the past. For example, when the boys are dropped from the airplane into a group of samurais at night, shadow detail can be quite solid and the image appears three dimensional. Overall it’s a bit hit and miss with this title and deserves a half-point less than Funny Farm. It's not like the newest releases, but it's pretty darn good for an upgrade.
SOUND QUALITY: FUNNY FARM 3/5
SOUND QUALITY: SPIES LIKE US 2.5/5
It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed an older title. I’m so used to highlighting newer ones that the older ones get shelved for a while. But let me make myself clear: I am emphatic about Warner Bros. decision to FINALLY start offering LOSSLESS AUDIO on all titles, regardless of speaker set up. Dolby TrueHD is showing up with mono releases (The Green Berets) and 2.0 surround titles as in the case of these titles. Long have I thought that all sorts of soundtracks, regardless of number of channels, should have lossless audio. The audio production of these titles is fairly simple. They aren’t groundbreaking since it's mostly dialogue driven and subtle effects to help the story along. Spies Like Us has a bit better score which sounds much better with lossless. In comparison, lossy audio sounds thin and strident compared directly to lossless. It is especially noticed on my Dunlavy SC-IV/A full-range speaker system. So I’ll extend my thanks to Warner Bros. for delivering the best audio treatment for these films’ audio recording.
Using Pro-Logic IIx to surround decode, the soundstage is heavily up front and is monaural in the surrounds. Dynamic range is much more limited than our soundtracks today, but at least these soundtracks aren’t crazy-loud like so many new productions (I’m surprised if any of these sound designers still have their hearing…oh, wait…maybe that’s why those soundtracks are louder!) Spies Like Us also has more background noise. Hiss is prominent throughout and can be a bit distracting. At least it’s lossess hiss J
SPECIAL FEATURES 0/5
Not a single special feature on this disc, unless you consider the “double feature” status of this disc a special.
IN THE END…
I don't think anyone has seen these films look as good since they were released in theaters. No laserdisc or pan & scan DVD ever surpassed the look of these discs. It’s also quite possible that this newest release exceeds the way these titles looked in the theaters up to 25 years ago. Couple this thought with Warner Bros. support of lossless audio for 2.0 and I’d say there’s an upgrade very soon for every fan of these films. Recommended!