The ’Burbs

The ’Burbs (1989)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Tom Hanks, Bruce Dern, Corey Haim, Carrie Fisher
Extras: Trailers, Biographies, Production Notes

Remember when Tom Hanks was actually a comedian, and one of the best at that? Well, sometimes it seems like such a long time ago, as the actor is focussing mostly on dramatic parts these days. As great as this career move has been, I honestly miss the charming funnyman he had been before. Fortunately Universal Home Video now released one of his best films on DVD. "The ‘Burbs" is the neurotic allegory of suburban bourgeois conformism and chequered neighborhoods. It is a film that seems tailor-made for Tom Hanks with his witty delivery and often boyish humor.

Ray Peterson (Tom Hanks) is looking forward to his vacation. After laboring for a year, it is the time of the year where he wants to relax, work around the house and have a few beers with his friends. Unfortunately there is a creepy new family in the neighborhood, quickly becoming a blemish in the clean and perfectly maintained block. Ray starts to watch every move of the nonconforming Klopek’s Argus-eyedly, trying to interpret the strange happenings next door. Over time Ray becomes increasingly aggravated that he is not really able to find out what his neighbors are up to, and he starts developing a neurosis that infects even his friends. Everything that goes wrong and everything he can’t explain, Ray starts blaming on his neighbors, conjuring up the worst nightmarish images.
Suddenly an elderly man in the neighborhood disappears without a trace and the event puts the tin lid on it. With their wild imaginations running rampant, the men immediately assume the dilapidated house of the Klopek’s has become the fortress of evil and hideous deeds. Determined to shed light on the matter, they arm themselves with rifles, high-powered binoculars and a shovel to start snooping around the dark, dilapidated house.

The film’s opening scene immediately sets the right tone of suspicion for the entire film, when we see Tom Hanks standing in front of his neighbors’ house in the middle of the night in pajamas, cocking his head, listening attentively. Then, when he takes one step over the border of the property, a strong, ominous gust blows in his face and he retreats, only to witness the winds to die down immediately. The tone is carried on in the following sequence playing in the bright and sunny daylight of the next morning. One after another we are carefully introduced to a menagerie of eccentric characters that do not seem to fit in this picturesque neighborhood at all – and yet, they all belong there. Then, in stages that gradually build, they start to agitate each other in such frenzy that they begin and eventually succeed – to undermine their own peculiar idyll.

Perfectly cast and acted, "The ‘Burbs" is a hilarious persiflage on today’s society, and no one could better spearhead this frantic film than Tom Hanks. With his wide-eyed boyish charm, and the ability to remain convincingly serious in even the most outrageous scenario, Hanks pulls all the stops in this film, and quickly becomes the warrant for this joyride up to the very last minute. He delivers his lines so poignantly at times, that it becomes hard for the rest of the cast to stand up to this level of talent. Nevertheless, supported by Bruce Dern, Corey Feldman, Carrie Fisher and others, "The ‘Burbs" will have you wanting more once the film is over. Especially the furious plot pulls the viewer in all directions completely unpredictably, until the end credits start to roll. It is this kind of energetic element and pace that makes the film so thoroughly enjoyable. Combined with the stylish direction and photography, "The ‘Burbs" establishes a true comedy flair, while also fleshing out a truly bizarre and ominous undertone for the premise, giving it a rather serious note alongside. Unlike many failing horror spoofs, this movie does not intent to be a horror film that makes fun of itself, it is a comedy in its own right, but with quite a horrific feel at times.

Presented in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer, Universal Home Video makes "The ‘Burbs" look better than ever on this DVD. The disc restores the film’s original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio, creating exceedingly vivid pictures. The transfer is clean and hardly shows signs of speckles or dust, however a bit of grain is evident throughout. The image is rich and contains plenty of detail due to the increased resolution of the <$16x9,anamorphic> encoding. Sharp, well defined edges determine the film’s overall look without ringing, dot crawl or other compression artifacts. Colors are vibrant and bold with powerful hues and good saturation throughout. Even in the numerous dim interior and nighttime scenes the picture maintains a very good level of detail.

"The ‘Burbs" contains a good <$DS,Dolby Surround> soundtrack in English and French that nicely reproduces Jerry Goldsmith’s elaborate music score. Just like the film itself, the score uses subtle cues and motives to move from playful atmospheres to more sinister, foreboding themes without immediately catching the viewer’s attention. The soundtrack has been well transferred to this DVD without flaws. It is well balanced and has a good, though rather unaggressive, spatial integration.

Interestingly Universal does not allow you to surf through the language tracks with your remote control on this release. You have to use the menu screens to switch to an alternate language. Since most people probably never change back and forth while watching the film, I guess this is an acceptable option, although not a desirable one.

Sadly Universal once again decided not to put any Spanish language support on this release, which is about the only disappointment of this release, even more so, as the disc even contains an alternate ending of the film as a hidden feature.

"The ‘Burbs" is a hoot and has to rank as one of Tom Hanks’ best films. Director Joe Dante pulls all the stops in this film, and masterfully combines slapstick comedy with chilling thrills. The mood of the film changes ever so slightly with the story and sometimes the shift is barely perceptible, until you suddenly find yourself all cramped up, only to be relieved by some of the outrageous humor in the film. It turns over the common misconception of slandering women, portraying the men as riotous gossipers, and presents us the women as their rational counterpieces. The witty dialogues and Hanks’ full bodied play help blast this film a good notch above the rest. There can be no doubt that you should give this release a try.