Release Date(s)1989 (November 11, 2014)
Studio(s)Orion Pictures/MGM/20th Century Fox (Shout! Factory)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
1989. Batman. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Ghostbusters II. Needless to say, it was one of the biggest blockbuster movie seasons of all time, and I’ve barely even scratched the surface. Any chance that a small-time B movie might have had any kind of a box office life during that timeframe just wasn’t very likely. Although it eventually made its budget back with a tiny bit to spare, Weird Al Yankovic’s zany spoof comedy UHF seemed destined to be a cult movie anyway, even if it hadn’t been released during that summer.
“George Newman: he starts where the others stop.” Newman (Yankovic) is a schlubby, directionless guy filled with dreams and aspirations but unable to turn them into realities. He’s also unable to hold down a steady job, to the disappointment of his loving girlfriend (Victoria Jackson). He and his friend Bob (David Bowe) are suddenly gifted a rundown UHF TV station, Channel 62, by Newman’s uncle, who won the deed to the station in a poker game. When they show up to the station, they find an eclectic mix of characters on staff including a wannabe journalist (Fran Drescher), a diminutive cameraman (Billy Barty), and a kooky engineer with a secret (Anthony Geary). When a fired janitor (Michael Richards) from the rival VHF network Channel 8 is hired by Newman and put on TV during a children’s show, the station becomes a ratings smash, much to the dismay of Channel 8’s owner R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy). Fletcher will stop at nothing to stay on top of the ratings, including trying to put Channel 62 out of business for good.
UHF (known as The Vidiot from UHF elsewhere in the world) certainly isn’t a movie to be taken seriously. The reviews for the movie at the time of its release weren’t all that favorable, particularly amidst the glut of material coming out around that time. I was about seven or eight years old when it was released on video, and I loved it. I firmly believe that seeing the movie as a kid or as a young adult tends to make it leave a longer lasting impression on you. It has all of the low budget charm of a Troma movie, but without all of the excessive violence and gore. It also spoofs a lot of things that were popular at the time, most prominently Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Dire Straits, Rambo: First Blood Part II, and Geraldo Rivera, amongst others. The jokes aren’t all home runs, but it doesn’t matter all that much because the characters are so likable. It’s not really meant to be much more than it is.
It’s also interesting that when you read about the making of the movie or take a gander at the deleted scenes, you realize that it was always a work in progress. Even the casting could have been much different. Crispin Glover, Ellen DeGeneres, and Joel Hodgson all auditioned or were offered roles in the movie but eventually declined. Amongst the many TV shows and movies parodied in the movie, there were also several others that didn’t make the cut including Druids on Parade, Fun with Dirt, The Lice is Right, and The Volcano Worshipper's Hour (the latter being a nod to a fake club Al started in high school). To be succinct, just one movie couldn’t hold all of Weird Al’s zaniness.
If you’re any kind of Weird Al fan in any capacity, UHF is really a no-brainer. It’s got all of the Weird Al touches you can expect, as well as a fun cast and an easygoing story with likable characters. If not for a couple of bloody and violent moments (Emo Phillips’ severed appendage comes to mind), it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to release it as a kid’s movie. It says a lot that a movie that spoke to me at eight years old still speaks to me as an adult many years later. It’s not a perfect movie in any sense of the term, but it’s a terrific Weird Al movie, and that’s enough for me.
Shout! Factory’s 25th Anniversary Special Edition release of the movie features a very pleasing transfer. Although a lot of the footage is quite low tech, especially with much of the TV footage, it’s still quite a strong picture. Grain is very organic and prominently on display, while textures and fine details are surprisingly impressive. There’s a lot of softness due to the different elements, but it’s inherent in the film itself, so I can’t fault it for that. The color palette also has a lot to offer, popping with some very strong primaries and excellent skin tones. Black levels, as well as brightness and contrast, are all quite satisfactory too. There are no signs of digital augmentation, but there are plenty of film elements left behind, mostly dirt and speckling. The only audio track available is an English 2.0 LPCM track, and it’s really all you’re ever going to need for this movie. Dialogue is clean and clear at all times, and all of the music cues and sound effects have plenty of life to them. Dynamic range across both channels is also quite impressive with some surprising immersion at times. It’s a top-notch presentation all around. There are also subtitles in English for those who might need them.
As for the extras, there’s some really good news and a little bit of bad news, but let’s take a look at the good first. Nearly all of the wonderful extras from the 2002 MGM DVD release have been carried over, including a vintage EPK behind the scenes featurette, the ported over deleted scenes segment with Al’s commentary, Al’s music video for “UHF”, an audio commentary with Al and director Jay Levey, a set of production stills, and a set of promotional materials, which includes a teaser trailer, a theatrical trailer, and a still gallery with various posters & movie materials. In addition, there’s a brand new video entitled The Wonderful World of Weird Al Yankovic Panel, which is hosted by Jonah Ray (the future host of the new MST3K series). The bad news is that all of the Easter eggs from the aforementioned DVD release have not been carried over, which included an introduction to the movie by Al, two additional deleted scenes, a snippet of Michael Richards from the UHF promo within the movie, Al walking along the bottom of the screen during the audio commentary MST3K-style, and Al informing viewers that certain extras are on the opposite side of the disc. Even though “Easter eggs” is listed on the Blu-ray’s artwork, Shout! Factory couldn’t include them at the last minute. However, the extra material that has been saved is great, but if you have that DVD release, you might want to consider hanging onto it.
This UHF: 25th Anniversary Special Edition Blu-ray release is a welcome treat. It may not warrant a top-of-the-line high definition presentation, but I’m happy that it exists. It’s one of my favorite movies and I have a feeling it’s going to have some staying power, especially considering that Al is more popular than ever nowadays. If you don’t already have it, seek it out. You might be able to win a copy on Wheel of Fish. If not, I’m sure Spatula City might have a copy or two.
- Tim Salmons