The Jerk (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

When I think of entertainers who make me laugh, Steve Martin is right near the top of the list. Bob Newhart is too. That may seem an odd choice of folks, but somehow I find that dry wit very similar to my own and, therefore, amusing. Martin made a name for himself back in the 70’s with stints on the fledgling Saturday Night Live and though never an official cast member, he’s hosted the show enough to probably have an honorary spot. Martin’s talents aren’t limited to acting as evidenced by “The Jerk” in which he wrote the screenplay and the story. It’s been so long since I’ve seen the movie that it was actually funnier this time around. The last time I viewed it was when it was on cable and if memory serves; my parents muted the TV or wouldn’t let me watch certain parts. Come to think of it, the “R” rating that the film has is actually pretty tame by today’s standards. I feel that if it were released ten years later, it’d have been a PG-13. Nevertheless it showcased Martin’s comedic timing and gave co-star Bernadette Peters a role to shine in as well.

Martin plays Navin R. Johnson a “poor black boy” as he tells it. Navin was raised by a black family and finds a calling to go out and explore the world. He works at a gas station managed by Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason) and then ends up working at the circus guessing people’s weight. It’s not long after that he finds a girlfriend (and what his “Special Purpose” is) only to meet a much nicer woman (Bernadette Peters). The two share some romantic times, but fearing she’ll get hurt Marie (Peters) skips town. Navin eventually ends up in Los Angeles where he discovers and invention that he helped make, the Opti-Grab, has made him an overnight millionaire. His life changes, he lives in the lap of luxury and has no common sense as to what to do with his money. He then manages to find Marie and marry her, only to find out that a class-action lawsuit threatens to ruin his now extravagant life.

It’s really hard to do justice to “The Jerk” in words. Martin is such a lark, that his inflections in voice and manner are what make the film. Phrases like “well, I’ve gotta go now…what do you think I do, sit around and write letters all day?” not only make the movie but provide the basis of humor that it’s known for. Much of the film’s humor might be lost on younger audiences and having been released in the late 70’s (before the age of political-correctness), some might find parts offensive. For me, though, I think this is one of the roles that really defined Steve Martin as a comedic actor (much like “The Spanish Prisoner” defined him as a dramatic actor). I’d avoided the original DVD as it was full-frame and had zero supplements but Universal released a special edition a few years back that must have escaped my attention. This HD DVD is certainly the way to go for video quality and what better way to see “The Jerk” than in HD?

Video: How does it look?

“The Jerk” is now 28 years old and it’s hard to tell by looking at the transfer. The 1.85:1 HD image certainly pales by today’s standards, but not by much. I found the image to look pretty good and when compared to the theatrical trailer (included on the disc) it’s clear, no pun intended, to see how much improvement has been done to the movie over the years. Some of the footage is a bit grainy, but on the whole I found colors to be warm and natural and I couldn’t find any evidence of edge enhancement to speak of. While “The Jerk” isn’t the best-looking HD DVD out there, it’s certainly a vast improvement over any previous release.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix is a bit misleading as it’s basically a supped-up mono track. Granted, the mix is stereo in nature but I don’t think I heard much, if any, use of the surrounds during the movie. Dialogue is very natural though, not like the trailer which has a hiss to it that immediately dates the film. Don’t expect to be blown away by anything here; all the action’s on the screen and the sound mix doesn’t do a lot to help matters. I will say that it’s the best the movie has ever sounded, so if for nothing else “The Jerk” looks and sounds much better than it ever has (and likely ever will).

Supplements: What are the extras?

Sadly, the only supplements on the disc are an eccentric woman guiding us through playing “Tonight You Belong to Me” on the ukulele and three more minutes of footage from “The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova”. Pet Dressing. Oh the humanity!

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