Release Date(s)1994 (September 18, 2018)
Studio(s)Touchstone Pictures/Buena Vista Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: C
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: A
Cabin Boy, according to its director Adam Resnick, has practically no right to exist. It was conceived as Tim Burton’s next script to direct after Batman Returns. The chain of events leading up to and beyond its production is almost as fanciful as the movie itself. Resnick, who had no feature credits, was clearly out of his depth; Burton was still attached as a producer, and Disney allowed their enthusiasm for anything Burton to overcome their good judgment. Unfortunately, it was Resnick and his star, Chris Elliott, who saw their careers nearly completely destroyed by this modest comedy.
Cabin Boy tells the story of Nathanial Mayweather (Elliott), an arrogant, spoiled “fancy lad” who, upon graduating from a finishing school, has been summoned by his father to oversee their luxury hotel in Hawaii. But after insulting a sock monkey salesman (David Letterman), Mayweather is deliberately sent in the wrong direction. He instead boards a nasty, broken-down fishing boat called The Filthy Whore, mistaking it as a “theme ship,” and its crusty crew as “characters.” Realizing his error, he tries to manipulate the crew into abandoning their fishing business and taking him to Hawaii instead. Unfortunately, his petulance results in the death of the cabin boy (Andy Richter), and he is forced to take his place.
For those unfamiliar with Chris Elliott and his very specific type of humor, Cabin Boy plays out as a trial by fire. It’s highly mannered, almost arch, and yet openhearted at its core. It pretends to be ironic, but doesn’t have enough distance from the story and the characters to pull it off. For some, this makes the movie even more endearing. For others, the reaction borders on anaphylactic. The film definitely has casting on its side though, with Brian-Doyle Murray, Brion James, Melora Walters, James Gammon, and Russ Tamblyn – all of whom are clearly enthusiastic in their roles. While there are a lot of funny non-sequitur one-liners, many folks in 1994, unfortunately, were not laughing. Today, Cabin Boy survives as an oddly-realized but much-beloved cult film.
Cabin Boy was originally shot on 35mm film using Panaflex cameras and lenses with a 1.85:1 ratio and a Dolby audio mix. For Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray debut of the film, it’s clear that they simply used the same transfer from the 2002 Touchstone DVD. Colors vary pretty wildly, with uneven flesh tones, and the sound is competent without being overly busy. Where this release really shines, however, is in the extras. This is truly the last word on the movie, with a lengthy interview featuring Elliott and Resnick, as well as an audio commentary hosted by writer Mike Sacks who, unfortunately, allows for too much dead air. Sacks feels more like a fan, as he doesn’t seem to have any good, probing questions, which is a shame. Other extras include archival interviews with cast members, audition tapes of Melora Walters and Andy Richter, B-roll footage, edited outtakes, 5 TV spots, a theatrical trailer, and a booklet essay by film critic Nick Pinkerton. This disc also comes with English subtitles.
Burton backed out of directing Cabin Boy due to fears that the 150-page script would prove to be too expensive, electing instead to direct the 150-page script for Ed Wood. Both films lost money, but Ed Wood wound up winning two Oscars (Best Make-Up and Best Supporting Actor). Cabin Boy, as evidenced by this deluxe release, has a minor audience that enjoys its low-budget charm. It’s just too bad that the folks who made it don’t share their enthusiasm.
- Jason Crane