When New Zealand director Peter Jackson achieved world-wide acclaim and an Oscar nod for ’The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring’, most of his fans probably expected his 1994 art-house hit ’Heavenly Creatures’ to finally get a Region 1 release. Instead, we’re now getting an official U.S. release of the 1989 puppet-fest ’Meet the Feebles’. (With ’From the Director of ’The Lord of the Rings’’ splashed across the box). As with Jackson’s other films, ’Meet the Feebles’ is all-at-once shocking, irreverent, funny, and unforgettable. The story focuses on what takes place behind the scenes at an all-puppet revue show, which is quite similar to a certain program created by Jim Henson. While the troupe known as The Feebles sing and dance in harmony on-stage, they have real world problems off-stage, such as paternity suits, drug addiction, infidelity, and veneral disease. Into this bizarre world comes Robert the Porcupine (or is he a hedgehog?), a youngster who wants to succeed in The Feebles chorus. He joins the group as they are about to broadcast live around the world, a move which could make or break group manger Mr. Bletch, a huge walrus. The star of the show, Heidi the Hippo, has just learned that Bletch may be planning to replace her. As showtime approaches, more things begin to go wrong, spelling certain disaster for the group.
’Meet the Feebles’ is the sort of film that must be watched twice. The first time through, the viewer will be shocked at the antics of these characters who aren’t like the TV puppets we are used to. Five minutes into the film, one realizes that Jackson is determined to take us to a place, which we have never been. There are no humans in the film, as it is populated solely by the puppets. On a second viewing, as the initial shock wears off, one will begin to notice the sly humor, which is interwoven into the story. Yes, the broad, disgusting jokes dominate the film, but Jackson and his team of writers manage to squeeze some heart into the film as well. In my opinion, this is Jackson’s weakest film, and doesn’t hold up to many repeat viewings, but one must admire the originality of the piece and the technical accomplishment, which was achieved on a low budget.
While Jackson’s fans will be glad to see an official release of ’Meet the Feebles’, they won’t be very happy with this DVD, as Dead Alive Productions and Spectrum Films have really dropped the ball on what could have been a hot property. The film is presented full-frame and looks terrible. This transfer was taken from a print (not a negative) which had clearly seen a great deal of use. (And was obviously used theatrically, as the ’cigarette burns’ are visible.) There are numerous scratches, lines, and blemishes on the image. Also, the image is quite dark and the colors are washed out. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is recorded far too loud, especially the rear channels and there is a hissing on this track, which is impossible to ignore. These recording flaws create a booming echo, making the dialogue hard to understand. Overall, this DVD barely surpasses VHS quality – if at all. A theatrical trailer for ’Meet the Feebles’ is included, but it’s just as beat up as the feature film.