Man on the Moon

Man on the Moon (1999)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Jim Carrey, Danny Devito, Paul Giamatti
Extras: Documentary, Deleted Scenes, Music Videos, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes, Talent Files

As a rule, your average biography does a good job of telling the life story of the person on which it’s focusing. But, rarely does a biography take on the persona of that person. This is the case with "Man on the Moon", which tells the life story of comedian Andy Kaufman. Kaufman had a knack for getting under people’s skin and challenging his audience, and "Man on the Moon" ends up doing the same thing. During his career, people were very divided on Kaufman — they either loved him or hated him — and the film brings about these same emotions.

Jim Carrey portrays Kaufman in the film and does a wonderful job, showing that he truly deserved his Golden Globe award. The film opens with Kaufman as a child, and then moves through his career, first as a stand-up comic and then onto the TV show "Taxi." The film shows Kaufman just as he was, a confusing individual who wanted to entertain the world, while at the same time, was driving the world away from him. "Man on the Moon" offers a smorgasbord of Kaufman’s career, showing his stand-up act, his debut on "Saturday Night Live", a "Taxi" montage, his experiments with wrestling, and his concert at Carnegie Hall. Also, the film introduces us to those people who were close to Kaufman, including his manager George Shapire (Danny Devito), and his writing partner Bob Zmuda (Paul Giamatti). (Did you know that the real life Bob Zmuda is the founder of "Comic Relief"?) Besides Andy Kaufman, we also get to know Andy’s bizarre alter-ego, the lounge singer Tony Clifton. Unlike the soft-spoken and polite (at times) Kaufman, Clifton is a loud, oafish braggart who offends people everywhere that he goes.

While director Milos Forman tries to remain objective, it’s obvious at times that the movie wants us to side with Kaufman and feel sorry for him. Oddly, I did find myself caring for Jim Carrey as Kaufman in a way that I never felt for Kaufman when he was alive. Overall, the film does an excellent job of encapsulating Kaufman’s life and touching on the most important aspects of his personal life and career. However, as the film crams so much information into two hours, some of the subplots become a bit vague. This may have been intentional though. By whizzing through Kaufman’s life, Forman is able to keep the film fast-paced and exciting, without letting the audience peak behind the curtain at what truly made Andy Kaufman tick. Once again, the film is like Kaufman himself. There’s enough going on for it to be interesting, but at time, we just don’t know why he does the things that he does. Also, I must say that I enjoyed the wonderfully inventive opening to the film. SPOILER WARNING: I can’t help but wonder if anyone really left the theater.

Much was made about Carrey’s performance as Kaufman in "Man on the Moon" and it’s quite obvious why he was awarded the Golden Globe for this role. (It’s also obvious why he was snubbed by the Academy.) Carrey truly loses himself in the role and often, with no prosthetics, actually looks like Kaufman. (Well, that hair may have been a prosthesis.) Danny Devito is very good as George Shapiro, giving a moving performance as a man who likes Andy for his ability to stir up and audience and make money, but also grows to genuinely care for his client. Giamatti is great as Zmuda, giving a wonderfully understated performance. The less said about Courtney Love, the better.

As for the DVD itself, Universal brings us their typical superlative package. "Man on the Moon" is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and is <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. The image is very clear and crisp and shows little signs of graininess or artifacting. The framing of the film appears to be accurate and the colors are realistically presented. The audio on "Man on the Moon" features a choice of a <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 mix> or a <$DTS,DTS> soundtrack. Both tracks offers a nice dynamic range, with the dialogue and music being exclusive from one another. As this is a dialogue driven drama, don’t expect a great deal of surround sound action.

In the extra features department, "Man on the Moon" features biography notes on Andy Kaufman. Within these notes are hidden segments which show the real-life Kaufman doing some of the bits which are featured in the movie. The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in a 1.85:1 format. The Univeral "Spotlight on Location" features interviews with Carrey, Devito, and some of Kaufman’s real-lfie friends. There are two music videos from REM, one for "Man on the Moon" and the other for "The Great Beyond." There are the usual production notes and talent files. The Univeral Showcase trailer is the teaser for "The Klumps", which features no footage from that film. It’s surprising that Universal didn’t include an <$commentary,audio commentary> on the DVD of "Man on the Moon", as most of their recent releases have included commentaries. Milos Forman certainly seems anxious to talk about the film.

Like a lot of people, I didn’t really care of Andy Kaufman when he was alive, so this affected my thoughts on "Man on the Moon". Still, the film is very well made and Jim Carrey’s performance as Kaufman must be seen. The film has some funny moments and some moving moments, but most of all, it shows how powerful a biographical film can be.