The Jerk

The Jerk (1979)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Steve Martin, Bernadette Peters, Jackie Mason, Catlin Adams
Extras: Ukulele Tutorial, Additional Footage, Trailer

It is striking that Universal Home Entertainment is selecting pretty much the same titles for release on HD-DVD for early adopters as they did 10 years ago when DVD first launched. As such it is not very surprising that Carl Reiner's "The Jerk" is one of the titles selected for release.

Steve Martin plays Navin Johnson, a simple man who has been adopted by a poor black sharecropper family in the South. Growing up a black man he never realized there could be a world outside his home. Then, one day he decides to leave his home and see the world and sets in motion a series of events that will take him on the road to riches. But once a millionaire, fate – or more correctly, the American judicial system – catches up with him and he soon finds himself back on Skid Row.

"The Jerk" is filled with gags, observational humor and even some slapstick. The film is one of Steve Martin's greatest films and universally considered one of the best comedies of the 70s. Filled with colorful characters of all traits, a bumbling Steve Martin as Navin who means well but never realizes how people exploit him, and a rags to riches story that has heart make out this great comedy. No matter how many times you view this film, it always remains funny, entertaining and poignant.

For the HD-DVD release, Universal Home Entertainment has been porting over the 26th Anniversary Edition from DVD. Presented in 1080p the transfer is nice but unspectacular as a whole. Free of defects the transfer shows quite a bit of grain at times and more importantly, the image lacks the kind of sparkle we have come to expect form high definition presentations. Image definition and sharpness is never as striking as you would expect, creating an image that is solid but does not hold a very high level of detail. Colors also appear strangely muted. While there are occasions where the image bathes in rich hues, for the most part the palette lacks the vibrance that would have turned it into a top tier presentation. Black levels also appear a bit weak, creating more grays than blacks and rendering the image a bit flat as a result. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts are evident.

The disc contains a Dolby Digital Plus audio track. While it has an increased bitrate as opposed to the DVD's Dolby Digital track, improvements are not audible. The track itself is not making very frequent or aggressive use of the surround channels and as a result the higher bitrate doesn't really translate into an improved presentation.

While the title "26th Anniversary Edition" sounded great for the DVD, the fact of the matter is that it is very lackluster when it comes to extras. Although not designated as a special edition in any way, this is even more noticeable on HD-DVD because the bonus materials play a mere few minutes and are dubious in their value.

There are essentially two supplements – not counting the movie's theatrical trailer. The first one is "The Lost Filmstrips of Father Carlos Las Vegas de Cordova." This is some footage that is supposed to represent the footage that Navin never sees when Father Cordova asks him for pecuniary support for his mission. From the looks of it, this is footage that has been created long after the movie and seems to have been created simply as a supplement for the home video release. I'm not sure what to make of it because it's not really funny, because it doesn't mesh well with the movie's original footage style, and because I'm not sure what it's purpose is supposed to be as a supplement.

The second bonus feature is a video tutorial to play the song "Tonight You Belong To Me" on your Ukulele. It is a cool little feature that will clearly make you want up your Ukulele and play along if you own one. For the rest of us, it may be somewhat superfluous but fun to watch anyway.

And that's it. No other extras are included. No commentary track, no interviews, no behind-the-scenes footage. Nada.

Considering that the DVD version has a $14.98 suggested retail price and the HD-DVD version carries a $29.99 price tag, one clearly wonders what warrants the mark-up. With no restored transfer, no added features or new supplements and an overall presentation that is on the average side, I am having difficulty to recommend this title for a re-purchase. If you've never owned "The Jerk" on DVD, go give it a try, for everyone I recommend this as a rental because it is a great movie. But it would have deserved a more loving high definition treatment.