March 23, 2007

Borat (2006)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

84 mins. · R
16x9 · 1.85:1

Format
DVD

Audio
English – DD 5.1
Spanish – DS
French – DS
Russian – DS

Subtitles
English, Spanish

Extras
Deleted Scenes, Promotional Material, Music Infomercial

Starring
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ken Davitian

Review by
Felix Gonzalez, Jr.


Rating



(2006)

Wa wa we wa! I have great pleasure of viewing this moviefilm in DVD machine for make write very nice review for you! That's right, one of the most controversial films of the year is available on DVD, and viewers can now have all of the shocking moments they couldn't stop talking about at their easy reach. Building on a character first introduced on his TV series "Da Ali G Show," British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen caused a major stir in this country with his deceptively subversive and revealing mock-documentary that exposes many unattractive parts of America... and of Cohen and his rotund co-star! Simultaneously hilarious, outrageous, and troubling, "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" is one of the most biting comedies of 2006 and one of the most honest depictions of Americana, maybe ever.

In the economically struggling country of Kazakhstan, Borat Sagdiyev (Sacha Baron Cohen), a TV news anchor, is assigned the responsibility of traveling to America in order to learn the secrets of success to improve his native country's social conditions, all to be captured on film for a television documentary. Traveling with his producer, Azamat (Ken Davitian), Borat cheerfully makes his way to the great U.S. and A. Arriving in New York City, he quickly discovers that the locals are not familiar with the customary Kazakh greeting, and that American feminists have not caught on to the scientific evidence that women have much smaller brains than men. None of this interests Borat, however, quite as much as a certain American TV show called "Baywatch," starring one Pamela Anderson. Smitten with her rare beauty, Borat decides to change his arrangements and travel to Hollywood to meet the woman of his dreams.

With no money to buy a decent car, Borat and Azamat get a great deal on a used ice-cream truck and make their way cross country for that Golden Gate. Along their way, they are introduced to the unique treasures America has to offer. Borat takes lessons in good English from a group of urban street kids, receives companionship from members of a Gay Pride parade, and learns how to catch the ladies from a group of inebriated frat guys. Indeed, his travels through America seem pretty rewarding, so long as he stays away from dreaded Jews and is not ordered about by lowly women.

With a comedic dedication that is rare in the era of overpaid ex-SNL cast members and lame-brained teen sex movies, "Borat" consistently blurs the line between fiction and reality by never revealing the comedian behind the character. Sacha Baron Cohen reportedly stayed in character 24/7 for several months while the movie was filmed and promoted, a pretty difficult feat no doubt. The predominantly unscripted project involved Cohen (or Borat) meeting with real people and catching their reactions to his cultural naïveté and unabashed anti-Semitism, homophobia, and misogyny in "Candid Camera"-esque fashion. Unlike "Candid Camera," however, this film does not linger on the outrageous set-up, but rather on the offensive and sometimes downright frightening responses of the people being fooled. And they know they are on camera!

Perhaps the most memorable and troubling sequence in the film takes place at a Virginia rodeo, where Borat has been asked to sing the national anthem. His pre-performance conversation with elderly cowboy Bobby Rowe is uproarious at first, as Rowe spouts off the most ignorant observations of Muslims and homosexuals this side of Archie Bunker. Then it hits us. This guy is for real. That is what makes the scene, and the entire movie, so disturbing. As much as we laugh, we eventually have to sit back and realize that the people in this film really do exist. Hidden under the guise of flag-waving, God-fearing, patriotic Americans are a band of hateful and potentially dangerous individuals who do not even realize how disgusting they really are.

Interspersed between these "real" segments are various staged scenes between Borat and Azamat. This is where the film stumbles a little, as the scripted parts are never as engaging or shocking as Borat's interactions with the non-actors. Although both Cohen and Ken Davitian throw themselves into their roles with the utmost conviction, the shtick wears thin after a while. The one exception is the now-infamous naked fight in a hotel room. Watching the lanky Borat and the obese Azamat roll around on a bed, completely nude, and ending up in extremely obscene positions, is enough to take one's appetite away for the rest of the day (or forever). Aside from this jaw-dropping scene, though, the staged moments simply lack the shock value and effectiveness of the unscripted scenes.

Something else that bothered me is that, apart from the brief segments in New York, Cohen chose fairly easy targets for his satire. If the point of the film is to unearth the buried prejudices that pervade our society, then it might have been beneficial to show people whose intolerance is not so obvious. The politically conservative cowboys at the rodeo wear their racism on their star-spangled sleeves. Indeed, Bobby Rowe appears to rant on about his distrust of Muslims with little provocation from Borat. An early scene in the film presents Borat's encounter with a group of New York feminists who are immediately turned off by his misogyny, failing to understand that, while not excusable, his prejudices are informed by a very different way of thinking than what American men can be held to. Instead of attempting to teach him, they simply walk out, abandoning their proposed goal of spreading a message of tolerance. More subjects like these -- ones who profess to embrace everyone in spite of their differences -- would have made for a more compelling exposé.

On the other hand, the good points largely outweigh the bad, as "Borat" provides some of the most original and important comedy of any recent film. Cohen offers a sly social critique that, while focused on America, is a universally applicable message. The ridiculous number of law suits that Cohen has received in the wake of the film's release, charging him with defamation of image, should be proof that he did something right. Like great theatre, "Borat" holds up a mirror to its obliviously intolerant audience (and let's face it; we are all guilty) that serves as a shocking, but entertaining wake-up call.

Fox Home Entertainment brings "Borat" to DVD, and they have done a fine job making sure it looks good for its debut. The 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is excellent, boasting a crisp and sharp image, surprising since the movie was filmed with various cameras, both digital and film. The video segments look like just that, but the film sequences are impressive in their sharpness and depth. Skin tones are natural, and colors are often vivid. Some grain was added to give the film a documentary appearance, and the natural lighting results in some unremarkable shots, but the image quality is really outstanding and goes beyond expectations.

The audio is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track. The sound is pushed mainly to the front for most of the film, while the rear channels are utilized for music and songs. This makes for some nice moments, but the sound did not necessarily warrant the 5.1 treatment. Dialogue is clear and natural throughout. English and Spanish subtitles are provided. Also included are Dolby surround tracks in Spanish, French, Russian, and Hebrew...er, well you'll have to look for that one yourself.

Before I get into the special features, let me describe the packaging. When you remove the standard slipcase, you will hold in your hand what appears to be a foreign-distributed DVD. All of the words are written in Kazakh, even the DVD specifications. Open the keepcase, and you will find what appears to be a plain DVD-R labeled "Borat" with a black Sharpie, implying it is a bootleg disc. An insert advertises other Fox movie discs from the U.S. and A. available in Kazakhstan. I must offer high kudos to Fox for creating such a humorous DVD package to go along with this film.

Starting off the supplemental materials are eight deleted scenes. All of these are worth watching, particularly some actual local news coverage of the rodeo incident. Look out also for an homage to "Baywatch."

Next is a 17-minute compilation of promotional material, titled the "Global Propaganda Tour." This includes footage from various promotional events for the film, in all of which Cohen appeared in character as Borat. Appearances on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" and "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" (where Borat has a little sexy-time fun with Martha Stewart), a sketch on "Saturday Night Live," and a surprising malfunction at the Toronto Film Festival are a few of the highlights here.

Lastly, we get a music infomercial for the movie's soundtrack. The spot is designed to look like a Kazakh commercial, and matches the DVD packaging in its inventiveness.

While the features included on this DVD are fun, I can't help thinking there should be much more. Don't be surprised if there is a two-disc special edition somewhere down the line, complete with even more outrageous footage, and perhaps a hotel fight scene without the black bar!

It is impossible to walk away from "Borat" without being deeply affected in one way or another. Whether your response is to be offended, enthralled, angered, or completely dumbfounded, this is a film that will leave its mark on you. It isn't everyday that we see a comedy with so many serious implications and indictments of our culture. I don't know, but this one may go down in the history books as one of the most groundbreaking comedies of our time. This is satire at its most poignant and America at its most naked. And wouldn't you know it took a Brit to do it?

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