I am not a huge fan of the 1981 version of Arthur starring Dudley Moore. Don’t love it, don’t hate it—as a film, it just is, with Moore’s one-joke lush routine powering the whole endeavor. It never impressed me, and that’s precisely why I wasn’t against the new remake. You are supposed to remake the subpar movies; they leave plenty of room for improvement.
Just judging the new cast, it would seem that this new Arthur would outstrip its predecessor. Russell Brand has a wonderful flair for improv comedy, and his own drug-addled past marries the title character’s struggles with alcohol. Even if you find Brand overexposed, the supporting cast is just aces: Jennifer Garner replaces Jill Eikenberry, Greta Gerwig replaces Liza Minnelli, and the great Helen Mirren fills in for the great John Gielgud as Arthur’s acerbic valet Hobson. The elements exist for a superior reimagining…
…except they don’t quite jell. While the cast does its best, they’re stranded inside such a formulaic, routine romantic comedy. The occasional one-liner zings; the odd bit of banter between Brand and Mirren/Gerwig/Garner delights; but all in all, you have seen this movie before, and not just because it’s a remake. Chart its course with me:
- Introduce trite hook. Here, Arthur is a debauched millionaire forced to choose between the love of a good woman (Gerwig, as good here as she was in Greenberg) and the riches accompanying the cold businesswoman (Garner, deranged and funny) his mother wants him to marry.
- Develop conflict. Arthur loves Gerwig, but he also really loves money. He’s a sympathetic hero in this recession-devastated country.
- Contrive to separate hero from his beloved. My least favorite part in all of these movies. People in the real world break up for real reasons, not for the fantasy gobbledygook on display in Arthur.
- Emotionally develop the hero in his time of despair. In this step, Arthur stops being funny altogether so that Brand can learn a lesson (or something). Also, Mirren departs the film here, and it never recovers from her absence.
- Drop the Mega-Super Happy Ending. All wrongs are righted, etc.
It’s depressing to watch such talented folks serve material that is so clearly beneath them. Every now and again, Arthur will rouse itself into something semi-memorable—a wonderful “proposal” sequence between Garner and Brand, or Brand improvising a rant about a job posting for a Systems Integration Professional—before slinking back into mediocrity. This is a cast that can (and has, in some cases) do Shakespeare. They can do Ibsen and Mamet and Shaw—they deserve better.
Why settle for adhering to the contours of Moore’s Arthur when one could take the story in a drastically different direction—I’m thinking either Adam McKay (Anchorman) or Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums) would have concocted a wonderful film, while “Modern Family” director Jason Winer is content to play it safe and score the occasional sharp improvised bit.
C’est la vie. The cast will endure, long after civilization forgets both versions of Arthur.
For a movie released theatrically last April, it’s no surprise that Warner Home Entertainment’s Arthur Blu-ray looks fine. The film is a glorified sitcom, visually, so anyone expecting aesthetic miracles will walk away unhappy, but the high-def 1.85:1 transfer faithfully represents the texture of the film. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track follows suit—nothing warrants the extra sound juice, yet it’s nice to have all the same.
The Arthur Blu-ray is a combo pack, with Disc 1 the Blu-ray and Disc 2 the DVD and Digital Copy versions of the film. All of the special features are on the Blu-ray, though they don’t amount to much.
- Arthur Unsupervised featurette: Ten minutes of standard EPK stuff, made fairly entertaining by the inclusion of alternate takes and flubbed footage. Some of the deleted footage is funnier than anything in the final cut, and I would have appreciated much more of these B-sides.
- Additional footage: Twelve deleted scenes, some of which are quite good.
- Gag reel: Useless. It’s an edited version of the Arthur Unsupervised featurette, with severely truncated gags (the thing runs only a minute or so long).
And that’s all she wrote. Given how forgettable the film is, I understand the lack of solid bonus materials; nevertheless, the Blu-ray looks and sounds very good.
Arthur is now available on Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack. Click HERE to visit its Amazon.com pre-order listing.