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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/8/00

Man on the Moon
1999 (2000) - Universal

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Man on the Moon Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/B

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/A-

Specs and Features

119 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 55:06 at the start of chapter 10), Amaray keep case packaging, Spotlight on Location featurette, 8 deleted scenes, 2 theatrical trailers (for Man on the Moon and The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps), soundtrack presentation featuring music videos for R.E.M.'s Man on the Moon and The Great Beyond, Andy Kaufman bio, cast and crew bios, production notes, DVD-ROM features (including sound clips, interviews and weblinks), animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (20 chapters), languages: English (DD & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English

"Do not twist my noodle toy poodle! This is Tony Clifton - a name to respect! A name to fear!!"

Let me just start this review by saying one thing - Jim Carrey got robbed. If ever there was anyone more deserving of at least a Best Actor nomination than Carrey for his performance in this film, I don't know who it was. Just as the Academy has always failed to recognize the value of the animated film, so too have they long slighted comedy. Academy voters seem to have forgotten something that the rest of us have always known - good comedy is every bit as hard to perform as good drama. And doing both at the same time - that deserves recognition. I wonder how many Academy members have EVER seen a Carrey film other than The Truman Show and Man on the Moon? What a shame.

Man on the Moon tells the story of the life of comedian Andy Kaufman. To say too much about the plot would be to do this film a disservice - it really needs to speak for itself. Suffice it to say that Jim Carry, for the 119 minutes of its running time, simply becomes Kaufman. We see Andy's effort to push his audiences, from his early appearances at the Improv and his classic "Mighty Mouse" routine (on the first episode of Saturday Night Live), to his "inter-gender" wrestling matches and his strange relationship with quasi-alter-ego, Tony Clifton. Andy wanted nothing more than to get people to react and keep 'em thinking. And even in death, Kaufman still has people scratching their heads.

Loved by some, hated by many and misunderstood by almost everyone, Kaufman has become a legend to those in the business of making others laugh. Many feel that Kaufman's biggest problem was that he never let the audience in on the joke. Others point to that very thing as his genius. In any case, Kaufman was a fearless performer, well ahead of his time. He lived his work to such an extent, that even his family and closest friends didn't know where the act ended and Andy began.

This film simply could not have been made without Jim Carrey. His work here is so amazing, it's almost as if he channels Kaufman's ghost. Even those who knew Kaufman best describe Carrey's portrayal as eerie. He reportedly stayed in character the entire time he was on the set. After a while, he'd start to act out Kaufman's own mannerisms - things he could never have known about - and he'd walk around all day, freaking people out. What else is there to say? Carey simply nails his role. He's backed by a solid script, along with terrific supporting performances by the likes of Danny DeVito (as Kaufman's manager, George Shapiro), Courtney Love (as his girlfriend, Lynn Margulies) and Paul Giamatti (as his comic co-conspirator, Bob Zmuda). And adding a measure of realism to the film, a number of Kaufman's real friends and associates appear in cameos as themselves, including the cast of Taxi, wrestler Jerry Lawler, David Letterman and SNL guru Lorne Michaels.

Certainly, this film does have its flaws. A few of the cameos are so distracting as to pull you out of the narrative, particularly Marilu Henner and Jeff Conaway, who seem to be wearing more make-up than Tony Clifton. And the film is, at times, uncomfortable to watch... not unlike some of Kaufman's performances. But there is one moment near the end, which I can't spoil, that made the film for me - a moment where Kaufman himself gets the joke. Amazing.

Man on the Moon on DVD is a bit perplexing - more on that in a minute. The anamorphic widescreen video is quite good generally, but it isn't perfect. The colors are accurate and the blacks are very solid, but shadow delineation isn't quite up to par and the picture looks a little on the soft side at times. There's also occasionally some ghosting on edges and other NTSC artifacts (like moiré on fine detail). You will notice some digital artifacting as well. As for the dual DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks, I very much preferred the DTS. This is an almost completely dialogue driven film, but there are scenes involving audiences (like the SNL bit in chapter 4 and the match with Lawler in chapter 12) where the rear channels must create a sense of space. While the dialogue in the Dolby Digital track is clear, the soundstage is rather flat. The DTS track, on other hand, is a much more spatial mix, with really terrific ambience. Don't expect much bass on either track, but it's there when absolutely needed.

Now back to the perplexing bit. This is as obvious a choice for Collector's Series treatment on DVD as any film Universal's done recently. Instead, Universal chose to include the DTS sound. Don't get me wrong - I loved the DTS track here. But I would much rather have had a full-on special edition. There is so much material missing here - where is the commentary track with director Milos Forman or Carrey? Where is the audition videotape that won Carrey the role? What about video footage of the now infamous press conference for this film, where Carrey was assaulted by none other than Tony Clifton? Heck - I saw that on Entertainment Tonight, but it ain't here. And couldn't Universal have licensed the rights to clips of the real Kaufman's more famous bits?

What you do get isn't bad though. I never figured I'd say this, but the Spotlight on Location featurette is really great. It runs about 19 minutes, and includes interviews with the cast & crew, as well as the real Bob Zmuda and Kaufman's girlfriend. You also get 8 deleted scenes, including some that I'm guessing were tough to cut (there's also a longer version of Tony Clifton's Vegas act). One of my favorites is the Universal soundtrack presentation, which features two terrific R.E.M. music videos: The Great Beyond and Man on the Moon. Watching them made me wonder why there isn't more R.E.M. on DVD... or more music programming for that matter. A bio of Andy is also included, as are other cast & crew bios and production notes. A pair of trailers (for this film and The Nutty Professor 2) and a few DVD-ROM features rounds out the disc.

I'm one of those people who happens to think that Kaufman was brilliant. It's hard not to admire someone with balls like that. And I can't think of a more fitting tribute to Kaufman than this film. But I wish this DVD delivered a more well-rounded batch of extras. I really dig the DTS audio, but I don't like to see it included on a DVD in lieu of bonus materials that would better serve to complement the film. Hopefully, Universal will revisit this title in the future. In the meantime, this disc will do. What other choice do we have? As Tony Clifton might say, "Sit up and take it like a man, crankshaft!"

Bill Hunt
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