THE SPECIALS Blu-ray Review: Still Ahead Of Its Time Twenty Years Later
Starring Rob Lowe, Thomas Hayden Church, Jamie Kennedy and Paget Brewster
Written by James Gunn
Directed by Craig Mazin
Whether you want to call The Specials a cross between Watchmen and The Office or New Mutants meets The Tick, there’s no question that James Gunn’s deconstructed day-in-the-life superhero movie was a little before its time. Imbued with the anything goes gorilla filmmaking spirit of Troma and a deep love for comic books, writer James Gunn garnered a fair amount of attention for this script in the late nineties and deservedly so. Similar to Marvel’s Damage Control where an insurance team misses every explosion and only arrives after a superhero battle to assess the devastation, Gunn’s actionless story focused on a team of down-and-out caped crusaders on their day off. Although Ben Stiller’s Mystery Men beat it to theaters by a little over a year, it’s probably safe to say that The Specials is the first truly independent superhero comedy. (The film was made for well under a million dollars, reportedly.)
The New Mutants angle comes into play when the Specials team welcomes a fresh face into their ranks named Nightbird (Jordan Ladd). Blessed with “bird-like powers,” Nightbird idolizes the beyond third rate caped crusaders and sadly starts realizing that they’re more of a bickering family that puts the “fun” in dysfunctional. Mainly focusing on the failing marriage of Strobe (Thomas Hayden Church) and Ms. Indestructible (Paget Brewster), a good amount of screen time also goes to the most popular figure of the bunch, the opportunistic Weevil (Rob Lowe) who’s dying to find a new social group. Their inner drama continues as they all get together to commemorate a new line of Specials action figures, but, thankfully, they patch things up before giant ants attack the White House.
The rest of the cast, including Jamie Kennedy (who helped the film get made), Judy Greer as Deadly Girl and Sean Gunn as Alien Orphan, round out a group of actors that certainly could go toe-to-toe with the Mystery Men acting troupe of Stiller, William H. Macy, Janeane Garofalo, Hank Azaria and Paul Rubens (fresh off his movie theater scandal). The stellar lineup of acting talent really is the main reason why The Specials is still entertaining despite its shortcomings – flaws that James Gunn himself is readily aware of. The Specials helped to carve out a clear path for Gunn to eventually helm Guardians of the Galaxy fourteen years later, and maybe the perfection of Gunn’s risky Marvel entry would not have found the same success without the creation of his first, arguably weirder superhero team.
The Blu-ray has a new 2K scan (4K would just be a marketing ploy) from the interpositive image that essentially allows for more color than any previous version. So, all that non-action looks even better and bright pastels of everyone’s uniforms look especially Tide bright. It’s almost an in-joke to even have a new 2K scan of The Specials and, personally, I had to adjust my picture settings to avoid any appearance of the dreaded motion flow effect. But that soap opera look does add to the team melodrama, I suppose. (The image could obviously be different depending on your setup). Especially with a new 5.1 sound mix, it’s no question, however, that this Blu-ray is the best version of The Specials you’re ever going to get.
If you think the 82 minute running time of domesticated superhero dark comedy isn’t enough to convince you, then the commentaries will. The 2000 audio commentary from the initial release with Director Craig Mazin, Writer/Actor James Gunn, Producer Mark A. Altman and Visual Effects Supervisor Mojo is surprisingly informative if you’re looking to direct an indie. But there are times when a little female energy is probably needed. That’s where actress Paget Brewster comes in! Brewster and Gunn got together in 2005 for a bizarrely personal, utterly hilarious commentary that should remind you why this once popular special feature is sometimes more entertaining than the feature itself. Brewster and Gunn speak about their almost romance and Brewster also decides to rail against a certain A-list actress (well, A-list at the time). It’s also interesting to hear about Rob Lowe and his increasing frustration with the movie, one that he imagined would reignite his career before he was cast in The West Wing during filming. There’s also a new special effects featurette which also seems like exactly the kind of special feature The Specials should have.
The Specials, you would think, had excellent timing being released soon after the success of X-Men but instead of flying high it landed kind of like a popped balloon rapidly losing air. Now, fans that have helped give it a certain cult status can finally get their hands on the definitive version. Really, we’re all just here for the hilarious ’80s toy commercial seen in the film and now, you can watch it over and over again along with every deleted scene. Gunn says in the commentary that the fake commercial is the funniest thing in The Specials – and he’s probably right.
The Blu-ray of The Specials is available now at www.lalalandrecords.com and other online retailers.
NEW! 2K SCAN OF THE INTERPOSITIVE
NEW! THEATRICAL TRAILER in 1080p
NEW! MOJO’s MAGIC: The “Specials” Effects FEATURETTE
2000 AUDIO COMMENTARY: Director Craig Mazin, Writer/Actor James Gunn, Producer Mark A.Altman and Visual Effects Supervisor Mojo
2005 AUDIO COMMENTARY: Writer/Actor James Gunn and Actress Paget Brewster
DELETED SCENES, WEDDING VIDEO, TOY COMMERCIAL, BEHIND-THE-SCENES PHOTOS
FEATURE: Video: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1:78:1) – Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, LPCM 2.0 – English Subtitles – 2000 – Running Time: 82 Minutes –Rated R
TRAILER: Video: 1080p High-Definition Widescreen (1:78:1) – Audio: LPCM Stereo 2.0
SPECIAL FEATURES are not rated. Color, Region Free
FEATURE RESTORATION & BLU-RAY PRODUCER: DAVID C. FEIN
COVER ILLUSTRATION: PAUL SHIPPER
Imbued with the anything goes gorilla filmmaking spirit of Troma and a deep love for comic books, writer James Gunn garnered a fair amount of attention for this script in the late nineties and deservedly so.