Bubba Ho-Tep

Bubba Ho-Tep (2003)
MGM Home Entertainment
Cast: Bruce Campbell
Extras: Commentary Tracks, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Video, Gallery, Trailer, TV Spot

I had heard a great many things about Don Coscarelli’s latest film, "Bubba Ho-Tep." Interestingly the comments ran the full gamut from "the worst movie" all the way to "the best movie." Given this range of impressions I was extremely eager to take a look at the film myself and when I received MGM Home Entertainment’s DVD I quickly decided to check it out to form my own opinion.

Since the movie’s premise is completely far out, let me begin this synopsis by saying, "Imagine, if you may…" Imagine Elvis is still alive. Imagine, that at the height of his career he decided to switch places with one of the best Elvis impersonators out of the desire to leave the spotlight and just wind things down for himself a bit. Imagine the impersonator dies and Elvis has suddenly no way back to his old live. He grows old and eventually ends up in an East Texas retirement home where all he has left are his thoughts and memories.
Now, imagine this for a moment. As part of a traveling Egyptian museum exhibit, an ancient mummy is being carred around the country and one day disappears during an accident when the transport is running off a bridge. Imagine the mummy comes to life and in order to stay alive it needs to drink the souls of people. Incidentally, it ends up in the same East Texas retirement home, where the elderly people are easy prey and no one suspects any supernatural interference by their sudden demises.
Now, if you may, imagine, that Elvis and the Mummy collide and with the help of Elvis’ retirement-home friend John F. Kennedy – who is not surprisingly also very alive, and not quite what you may expect – a hunt ensues to put down the mummy and save everyone’s soul.

"Inventive" is too small a word for this movie’s plot and background. It is plain wacky, especially since there are a lot of odd twists and nuances throughout that will add to the oddity of the entire film. I mean, the main premise alone –Elvis meets the Mummy – would make for a great movie, and my expectations were accordingly high. Unfortunately one may argue that "Bubba Ho-Tep" is not quite the film it could have been. Or is it?

The reason I am being so cryptic is that "Bubba Ho-Tep" is a very unique movie experience and it depends on your own take entirely, whether you find the film gratifying or not. If you expect a dark comedy á la "Army Of Darkness" you’re in the wrong place. While the film certainly has its comic moments, it is not a comedy. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a cool horror film with maybe a bit of splatter and gore, you are equally in the wrong movie. While the themes of "Bubba Ho-Tep" are certainly horror-genre-related, the film is not a true horror flick either. At its core "Bubba Ho-Tep" is a drama with a few wonderfully refreshing twists and more social commentary than we’ve seen in all of Hollywood’s output combined for the past year or so. So, while the movie may disappoint as a comedy or horror film it is absolutely gratifying as a thoughtful drama.

It is hard to put the finger on exactly what it is that makes "Bubba Ho-Tep" so special. There is a wonderful melancholy to the film that is very touching and satisfying because it is so fitting. Every time there is a shot slowly zooming in on Elvis in his bed, drenched in his thoughts, as they are the only thing he has left, combined with the wonderful music, and the moment is just absolutely perfect. The film is full of these touching moments that make you ponder and although they slow down the film, its power lies in those brief interludes where the viewer is left to his own thoughts as well.

MGM Home Entertainment has prepared a glorious <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> transfer for the film on this DVD in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio. The image is free of any defects or speckles and the level of detail in the transfer is immaculate, reproducing every little texture in the production design as well as every single seam in the costumes. Colors are vibrant and solid with natural looking flesh tones. Black levels are solid and even though the image is a bit dark at times – I would suspect by design – the picture never loses detail or shadow definition.
The audio on the release is equally impressive with a wonderful <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> track. It is balanced and makes good use of the surround channels and holds dialogues very well without drowning them out with sound effects. One of the strongest aspects of "Bubba Ho-Tep" is undoubtedly the music. The haunting score that adds so much depth to the visuals and glues everything together is perfectly reproduced here.

The DVD features to great feature length commentaries. The first one with director Don Coscarelli and actor Bruce Campbell, as they discuss the origins of the project, the hurdles to get it done, as well as the actual production. I found this commentary very insightful and inspiring in many ways as it is extremely candid and shows a lot of the motivations that drove both of them to committing to this projects.
The second <$commentary,commentary track> is by the King. As you’d expect it is not an entirely serious track and a lot of fun to watch. I don’t want to give away too much about it and would like you to explore it for yourself. It is definitely worth the time and filled with gems, laughs and nonetheless subtle, thoughtful moments.

A number of features are included on his release, such as a selection of deleted scenes and three featurettes. Especially the featurettes are worth watching, as they cover various aspects of the production. The first one takes a look at the material per se and how Don Coscarelli turned a short story in to this movie on an indie budget, because no Hollywood studio would even remotely understand his ambition. It also features great interviews with cast members, as they share their thoughts on the project and its radical nature, its social commentary and the reasons why they thought it is such an intriguing projects despite the obstacles.
A separate featurette looks at the process of turning Bruce Campbell in to Elvis. While he doesn’t pass very well as the younger King, he sure makes a convincing Elvis in his latter days. Putting together the right costumes, make-up and the acting bring Elvis to life in this film and everyone shares their insight into the magic that happened.
The third featurette is a conversation between Don Coscarelli and composer Brian Tyler as they exchange thoughts about the story and the way the music helps establish mood in this movie in particular. It is an extremely insightful featurette that I enjoyed very much.

A gallery and trailers are also included, rounding out the DVD, as well as a music video.

For me, "Bubba Ho-Tep" was a wonderful experience, once I found the right mindset for it. Something within the film resonated deeply with me and despite Don Coscarelli’s wonderful direction, it has a lot to do with the music that ultimately put me in the right mood for this story. If you thought Don Coscarelli hit the pinnacle of his career with the "Phantasm" series, you better think again. "Bubba Ho-Tep" is a masterpiece in its own right – very different from "Phantasm," and yet somewhat similar in its use of sublime moments to create an intense atmosphere and leaving plenty of room for the viewer to think. The thing you have to be very clear about is that "Bubba Ho-Tep" is not a comedy and it is not a horror movie. It is a "unicum" – something that has to touch you for you to fully experience and understand it, I suppose. That makes the film stand out, because everyone will walk away with a very personal impression of the movie and subject matter. Some will love it, others won’t. I know I did. Big time!