Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fishing in the Discount Bin: South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly look at one of the many things I own in a home video format.  Today, we get to a big screen version of a classic cartoon, South Park:  Bigger, Longer and Uncut.  This is dated in my notes at August 18, 2012.

Time for another installment of "Crap I Still Own on VHS." When I first upgraded to DVD, I swore I wouldn't upgrade any of my VHS tapes to DVD until a special edition came along that warranted double-dipping. As such, to this very day, I still own a few movies on VHS that I haven't upgraded to DVD or Blu-Ray yet. And this Saturday, I dug deep into the back of my closet to grab my VHS copy of South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut.

(I keep my VHS tapes in the back of my bedroom closet to keep them away from the super-powerful magnets in my surround sound system speakers so they don't get erased.)

I was feeling my age earlier this week because, i was researching historical bits to share on the air, I saw that South Park hit its 15th anniversary. South Park really is tied to my college experience. It debuted as I was about to start my third year of college. The douche-bag editors of the school paper had determined that crudity and vulgarity for the sake of vulgarity was "cutting edge." They sought to turn the school paper into a "cutting edge" publication.

(I should clarify that, of the co-editors of the paper at that time, only one was a douchbag, and the other was kind of cool. I feel I have to clarify because the kind of cool one follows me on Twitter and might even be reading this blog. Hi, Lucas!)

And in this tide of "cutting edge," along came South Park. South Park became the very definition of "cutting edge."

But what they failed to grasp was, in South Park, once you get past the crudity and the vulgarity, there's actually some very clever satire going on. I'm pretty I sure I never caught the satire when I first started watching it. All I knew was it was funny as hell and I became a fan.

In this day and age, I've become more a casual fan of South Park. I'll realize I haven't watched it in a while, so I'll seek out the two or three most recent seasons online, and binge-watch them over a couple of weeks. And I swear, South Park is an anomaly. Unlike other series that have been on for 15 years, I think South Park has actually gotten funnier. The satire is stronger, it's more topical, and it never fails to make me laugh.

But I'm not the rabid fan I was in the closing days of the 1990s. And in 1999, we were getting the movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, & Uncut. After Episode I, this was probably my most anticipated film of the summer of 1999.

I had just discovered the Internet and using it to find news on upcoming movies, but I wasn't seeing much info on South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. Which was good, because it meant when I saw it in the theatre, a lot of it was a surprise. Heck, every little bit in the build-up to the film was making me laugh.

As I reflect on those college years, I think the only people I knew in college who hated South Park were the people in the Anime Club. And it wasn't for the vulgarity. They hated it because they felt the crude animation was setting back the art form a century or two. Hence, they felt a real nasty bait and switch when we all saw the first teaser and it mentioned "the top animators in America teaming with the top four animators in Japan."

That was such a good gag that 8 years later they ripped it off for the first teaser for The Simpsons Movie.

The summer of 1999 was a fun summer.  As I blogged before, it was the first summer after college, wondering what was to come next, and it all kicked off with Episode I.  Going to see Episode I kind of set forth how that summer was going to be spent.  Every couple of weeks, I'd get together with my old college friends and we'd go see a movie.  It was like we were desperately trying to make college last just a little bit longer.

But it wasn't too long before we were all in the newly-opened Silver City in West Edmonton Mall to see South Park:  Bigger, Longer & Uncut.  The theatre darkened, the movie began, Stan started singing the opening number "Quiet Mountain Town" and one of my buddies turned to me and whispered, "Holy fuck, this is a musical?" 

Yes it is.  And the soundtrack, along with Weird Al's "Running With Scissors" and the soundtrack to Episode I, formed the score for the summer of 1999.  I still the end credits of "What Would Brain Boitano Do?" would make a great hockey song.

Reading up online, apparently it was a musical because South Park's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, felt that South Park was a fad that wouldn't last very long, so they felt that they should just go for broke.

I remember the various gags in the film, and various reactions to them.  There's this one scene where a general is briefing the troops.  His holographic projector starts flickering, and the general screams out, "Fucking Windows 98!  Bring me Bill Gates!"  So Bill Gates comes in, attempts to defend Windows 98, and the general grows frustrated and blows Bill Gates' head off.  Most of my friends were computer science majors...I'm pretty sure that's where they laughed the loudest.

And then there's the scene where Terrance and Phillip are arrested on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.  Conan, disgusted with himself for betraying Terrance and Phillip, promptly kills himself.  Well, as I am now, as I was then, I'm a huge fan of Conan O'Brien.  So when Matt Stone and Trey Parker were on Conan to plug the film, I was expecting hilarious awkwardness.  But no.  It turns out Conan loved the scene because it was the first time that he and his show were ever acknowledged in a movie, so Conan felt honored by it.  Conan's only complaint was that the guy who did his voice sounded nothing like him.  "Yeah, you were voiced by Brent Spiner, who plays Data on Star Trek," said Stone.  "I know who Brent Spiner is!" retorted Conan.

Am I the only one that noticed that Saddam Hussien's death at the end of the film was pretty much a re-creation of the death of the villainous Klingon Captain Kruge at the end of I?  God, I've always wondered, which one is the Trekkie, Stone or Parker?  Because there are so many Star Trek references sprinkled throughout I.

The plot, in case it's been that long....  Stan, Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny sneak into the new Terrance and Phillip movie.  Terrance and Phillip, though, cuss a blue streak in their film, and the kids soon start imitating all the vulgar language in the film.  Kyle's Mom is outraged by this, and, since Terrance and Phillip are Canadian, Kyle's Mom decides that the solution is to, according to the film's most famous musical number, blame Canada.  Kyle's Mom forms an activist group called Mothers Against Canada, and has Terrance and Phillip arrested live on TV.  This sparks an international incident, and soon the USA and Canada are about to go to war with each other.  Meanwhile, down in Hell, Satan watches this with glee, as the deaths of Terrance and Phillip would signal the beginning of the apocalypse, and Satan, along with his new gay lover Saddam Hussein, would be ready to rule the Earth!

And of course, throughout the film, each of our South Park kids gets their own character arc.  Stan is upset that his longtime crush/girlfriend has hooked up with a new guy named Gregory, so Stan's out to become an activist and impress Wendy once again.  And, in one of the film's running gags, Chef tells Stan that the way to impress a woman is to find the clitoris, so Stan is constantly asking people where the clitoris is.  In Kyle's arc, he has to find the courage to stand up to his mother, because it's the only way the insanity will end.  For Cartman, as he swears the most, he's implanted with a V-chip that gives him an electric shock every time he swears.  And, since Kenny dies early in the film, he spends his arc in Hell, where we see that Satan is in an abusive relationship with Saddam, and its up to Kenny to give Satan the courage to leave Saddam. 

So I guess "finding courage" would be the general theme of the film. 

It had been a while since I'd watched this film, and I was shocked at how much it still made me laugh.  But it's that music.  Hearing that gigantic orchestral score against the typical South Park animation is a shock that gets a laugh.  And the music just tried to make this film seem so gigantic and epic. 

Maybe it is time to upgrade this one.  It was released on Blu-Ray a few years back, in a fancy new "10th Anniversary Edition."  For it, they got Matt Stone and Trey Parker to sit down and do a running commentary.  From what I gather, they just sit and rip on how crude the animation is.  Well...yeah.  In these times, South Park is made using Maya, generally regarded as the most powerful computer animation software in the world.  In some interviews, Parker likens it to "using a bulldozer to build a sandcastle."  I don't know what Bigger, Longer, and Uncut was made on, but back in 1999, Adobe Flash was still considered pretty cutting edge.

There's that term again...cutting edge.  As I tried to warn the editors of the paper back in the day, the problem with a cutting edge is it soon gets worn dull.  And at that point, cutting edge becomes cliche.  So I was greatly surprised to see that South Park:  Bigger Longer & Uncut holds up after all these years.  As I said before, once you get passed the shock value, there's some very clever satire going on.  Come for the cutting edge, stay for the cleverness.  That's the genius of South Park.

And before I punch out for the night, good Lord, this came out mere months after I finished college, and this film was really the first place where I heard the term "handjob"?  God damn, I need to get laid.

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