Release Date(s)1989 (March 20, 2018)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Shout Factory!/Shout Select)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B+
In every neighborhood, there’s always one house that everybody talks about; nobody ever seems to be home, nobody ever sees who lives there coming or going, and everybody begins hearing rumors about what goes on behind the closed doors of that house. Welcome to suburban paranoia, realized wonderfully in Joe Dante’s The ’Burbs, a dark comedy classic that pokes holes in the national consciousness of what normalcy means to an average citizen. It could be nothing more than raising a flag and saluting it every morning, or wearing a toupee and owning a poodle, that makes you the odd duck on the block, or perhaps something more sinister.
The story of The ’Burbs takes place in a white picket-fenced, cul-de-sac of assorted characters whose lives are disrupted when a bizarre and reclusive family moves into town. Several of the neighbors begin to theorize that they might be serial killers or devil worshipers, due to the fact that they only seem to come out at night and dig in their backyard during rainstorms. Needing some kind of proof of what’s actually going on in the house after one of them mysteriously disappears, they take it upon themselves to infiltrate it by whatever means necessary.
When The ’Burbs came along during the late 1980s, Tom Hanks was at the height of his comedic powers. Prior to his serious acting career, he was a comedy star from the hit TV show Bosom Buddies and a string of popular movies including Splash and Big, amongst many others. Part of the film’s broad appeal is due to his presence in it, if nothing else. The film also contains a colorful supporting cast, including Rick Ducommun, Carrie Fisher, Bruce Dern, Wendy Schaal, Corey Feldman, Henry Gibson, and Gail Gordon (as well as Joe Dante cameo veterans Dick Miller and Robert Picardo). Today, The ’Burbs has a devoted fan base, but for a number of years, wasn’t as well-remembered as some of Joe Dante’s other films like Gremlins or The Howling. Truth be told, it’s a funny and well-executed film with memorable moments and has aged incredibly well.
Shout Select spiffs up Universal’s Region A barebones Blu-ray release of the film with a new Collector’s Edition of it, carrying a new 2K scan of the film’s interpositive element. Many fans of the film no doubt already own the Arrow Video Region B Blu-ray release of the film, which contained a 2K scan from a fine grain positive element, but from 2014. Arrow Video’s release was also graded to Joe Dante’s specifications, and looking at the two transfers side by side, it’s clear that these specifications weren’t fully adhered to for Shout Select’s transfer. However, the difference is sometimes quite nil. The lush greens of trees and bushes, specifically in the scene when Art is attempting to shoot a crow with a rifle, are virtually identical. The Arrow Video release also contains higher contrast and cooler skin tones (as well as white levels). It’s also brighter in certain areas. As far as grain levels are concerned, this one I chalk up to a matter of preference. Films from the late 1980s are often soaking in grain due to the film stocks used at the time, and The ’Burbs is no different. Arrow Video’s release has much more pronounced levels of grain, which may appear noisy to some viewers. On the other hand, the Shout Select release is softer, smoother, and less-refined, but may appear less noisy to certain folks. In some shots, shadow detail (and detail in general) is improved over the Arrow Video release, with black levels sometimes appearing much deeper with obvious crush, but not in every shot. The scenes in the basement of the Klopeks’ house aren’t perfect in either version due to the amount of low light and shadow in those scenes. After all, there’s only so much information you can pull from a negative. And just to say I’ve covered everything, Arrow Video’s release also features a higher encode.
So what does all this boil down to? Preference. Neither of these transfers offer a perfect presentation of the film. They both have their pros and cons but offer substantially excellent presentations and look great in motion, but neither of them are without flaws. For U.S. buyers without Region Free capabilities, this is a no-brainer. As for the audio, the Shout Select release features an English 2.0 DTS-HD track with optional subtitles in English SDH, whereas the Arrow Video release contains an LPCM track. I personally couldn’t find fault with either track. Dialogue is front and center, wholly audible, and with the sound effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s wonderful score backing up the proceedings beautifully. Both are excellent.
As far as the extras, there’s plenty of good, much of it sourced from Arrow Video’s release. There’s an audio commentary with the film’s writer Dana Olsen, moderated by author Calum Waddell; the terrific There Goes the Neighborhood: The Making of The ’Burbs hour-long documentary, featuring interviews with many of the main players including Joe Dante, director of photography Robert M. Stevens, production designer James H. Spencer, actors Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, and Courtney Gains; new separate interviews with director Joe Dante, director of photography John Hora (who shot additional scenes), and editor Marshall Harvey; the workprint version of the film, sourced from Joe Dante’s personal VHS copy which contains lots of deleted and alternate footage; an additional alternate ending in standard definition (slightly different than the one seen in the workprint); a behind-the scenes still gallery; a stills and poster gallery; and the film’s original theatrical trailer in HD.
Material not carried over from the Arrow Video Blu-ray release is the alternate isolated music and effects audio track; the A Tale of Two ’Burbs segment, which shows side-by-side comparisons of the workprint and the theatrical cut with optional audio commentary from Joe Dante; the alternate ending, but presented in HD; and an insert booklet with the essay “Not in My Backyard: Revisiting Joe Dante’s The ’Burbs” by author Kenneth J. Souza, the article “The Dante/Goldsmith project” by Michael Heintzelman, and a set of stills and posters. Also not included in any release are the film’s TV spots, many of which can be found on Youtube. The loss of the isolated track, the alternate ending in HD, and the A Tale of Two ’Burbs segment is a bit of a downer, the kind that a couple of still galleries just doesn’t make up for, unfortunately. So if you have that Arrow Video release, hanging onto it for those exclusive extras might not be a bad idea.
For U.S. Blu-ray consumers, a Collector’s Edition release of The ’Burbs has been long overdue. For folks who already owned the U.K. Blu-ray, this release probably won’t offer up enough to upgrade or even buy over again. That said, I still believe that Shout Select’s release is a fine addition to their library and most folks will be very happy with it, so count this as a recommendation from me regardless.
- Tim Salmons