I am not married, I have never been married, and I don't plan on getting married. It's not that I'm against the institution -- I just never, ever want a new set of in-laws -- two parents is quite enough, thank you very much. So the embarrassing humiliations and indignities suffered by poor Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller) in 'Meet the Parents' is about as far removed from my own experience as can be. But oh, how the pain and misery of others can be so devilishly enjoyable when blown-up to big-screen proportions.
Gaylord "Greg" Focker is just your average, everyday guy, in love with the beautiful Pam Byrnes (Teri Polo) and on the verge of proposing marriage. But there's just one little hitch -- he hasn't yet met her parents. Though mom Dina (Blythe Danner) is all smiles and apple pie, to say that papa Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) is a tougher sell is an understatement. An ex-CIA agent, Jack might as well be sitting on the porch, shotgun in hand, waiting to shoot any of his daighter's potential suitors dead on sight. When Pam brings Greg back home to convince dad that he's finally "the one," things go from bad to worse. A series of comical mishaps follow, turning what should be the start of a bright new future for the would-be Fockers into Greg's worst nightmare.
'Meet the Parents' is a bit of a one-joke movie, but what a joke it is. This is De Niro's show all the way. Once upon a time (before 'Analyze This, which preceded 'Parents' by a year) the idea of the ultra-serious actor -- usually seen breaking legs in Martin Scorsese mob movies -- doing a light comedy like this seemed unfathomable. But the film's commercial masterstroke is that it plays off the De Niro tough-guy persona so relentlesslythat it's as if the filmmakers and cast spent the entire production just trying to get him to break. All De Niro has to do is raise an eyebrow, and he turns everyone around him into a quivering mass of neurotic Jello.
Stiller probably found his best role in Greg Focker. Admittedly, I find his somewhat manic, go-for-broke facial contortions in other films, like the far more outlandish 'Dodgeball' and 'Zoolander,' a bit off-putting. But here Stiller finds a nebbish charm in Greg that's endearing and relatable. He's like the timid rodent always trying to snatch the cheese, while De Niro's alley cat towers over the mousetrap, licking its lips. In that way, 'Meet the Parents' can actually be an uncomfortable film. It finds most of its humor in unpleasant feelings and mean-spiritedness, with De Niron's Jack Byrnes character bordering on the pathological. By the time he straps Stiller down to take a lie detector test, asking him all sorts of invasive personal questions, the Freudian implications are so queasy that it goes from black comedy to pure emotional sadism. But somehow, Stiller and De Niro find some modicum of humanity in their characters' inhumanity towards each other to make it not only palatable, but fun.
'Meet the Parents' was directed by Jay Roach, and along with his work on the 'Austin Powers' franchise, it proved that the he's somehow managed to remain Hollywood's best-kept comedic secret for years. The guy seems to have the midas touch for spinning memorable characters, universal situations and a bit of surrealism into box office gold. Though I actually preferred the 2004 sequel 'Meet the Fockers' to the original -- it's faster, funnier and sweeter -- Roach certainly crafted one of the most memorable familial comedies in years. It's one of those films you can watch and re-watch over and over, and still laugh at the same gags. Though I'd never want Jack Byrnes as my father-in-law, he sure is fun to visit.
'Meet the Parents' was released in 2000, and though it's only about seven years old, it almost seems like a relic of a bygone era. Produced on the cusp of when the telecine industry seemed to undergo some sort of revolution of mass-digitalization, 'Meet the Parents' still looks like it was actually shot on -- hold your breath! -- film. It's just people photographed to actually look like people, not videogame characters -- no crazy contrast, no colors whacked-out to oblivion, no CGI landscapes or talking digital creatures. What a breath of fresh air.
Universal presents the film in a 1080p/VC-1 transfer, and aside from a slightly dated look to the print, the source is in great shape. There are no major defects, with only some inconsistent grain at times that took me out of the experience. Colors are hardly intense by today's standards, but they are well saturated and very stable. The benefit is that the film looks textured, with fleshtones never artificial or waxy (though they can veer towards red at times, which is distracting). Unfortunately, there is a slight haze to the picture in many shots, especially exteriors. The image in these shots looks misty, as if it's slightly washed out, though this is also generally reflective of the film's style of photography. Detail holds up well, however, and the film retains a pleasing sense of depth and sharpness, even if it is never incredibly eye-popping. Compression artifacts are not an issue, as this is a nice, clean VC-1 encode.
Comedy soundtrack-itis strikes again. 'Meet the Parents' is typical of films of its type. There is little going on here sonically to get excited about, with a front-heavy mix that offers no bells and whistles.
The Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (encoded at 1.5mpbs) is certainly more than adequate. Dialogue is the star of the show, and it sounds clear and pronounced at all times. I never missed a single quip, although admittedly there is little else to get in the way. Dynamics are simply... there. Low bass has presence but is not particularly impactful, and there are no problems with the higher end of the range, such as distortion or tinniness. Surrounds are again bland. There is only the odd discrete effect -- usually when Ben Stiller endures some sort of pratfall or catastrophe. Imaging and fullness to the rears is merely average at best. Still, for what it is, 'Meet the Parents' sounds just fine.
'Meet the Parents' on HD DVD comes truly loaded with extras, to the extent that I wondered if it was all a bit of overkill. Granted, most of this stuff is either fluffy making-of material, and gags and outtakes. But there's enough of it that it will take you a considerable time to get through it all.
Starting things off are not one but two screen-specific audio commentaries. The first is with director Jay Roach and editor Jon Poll, the second with Roach, producer Jane Rosenthal and stars Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro. Of course, the latter is the one that grabbed all the attention when the original standard-def DVD came out, because De Niro hardly ever does interviews, let alone commentaries. Alas, he's largely silent, and Stiller is the only one with any energy or that has anything truly funny to say. Roach is an affable, likeable guy on both tracks, though without having to give time to the actors, his first effort is far more informative. Unfortunately, it's also kinda dull, because 'Meet the Parents' just isn't the kind of technical tour de force where we care about shot set-ups and the like. Sadly, neither of these tracks were really satisfying.
"Spotlight on Location: 'Meet the Parents'" is your typical Universal EPK. It runs 24 minutes and includes on-set interviews with Roach, Stiller and most of the main cast and crew. It's also quite dated, as it was shot way before the film came out and became such mega-hit.
Then there are the Deleted Scenes, which are billed as "Hilarious!" on the back cover. Of course, the minute anything is billed as "hilarious", you know it won't be. Truth be told, these two sniped sequences aren't that bad, and both include optional commentary by Roach and Poll. There is also an additional "De Niro Unplugged" scene listed separately, that features the stoic actor singing at the wedding reception. Finally, the 12 minutes of Outtakes run a bit too long, but at least they're funnier than any of the "Hilarious!" deleted scenes.
Next are three shorter featurettes totaling less than ten minutes, and they're pretty marginal. "The Truth About Lying" is an interview with a real-life lie detector administrator, who explains how the device actually works. "Silly Cat Tricks" is another interview, with the film's animal trainer who swears that "no animals were harmed during the making of 'Meet the Parents.'" Finally, "Jay Roach: A Director's Profile" is awful -- just a one-minute montage of clips of the Roach on-set, accompanied by some dreadful techno music.
Wrapping things up are two games. "Take the Lie Detector Test" is just as it sounds -- take a series of questions with no apparent rhyme or reason, and be told whether you passed or failed. "The Forecaster Game" is similar, if a bit more specific to the movie. You're presented with a series of situations about meeting your significant other's parents, and four absurd possible ways out of said situation. At the end, it tells you whether or not you passed the in-law test.
Last but not least we have the film's Theatrical Trailer, presented in 16:9 windowboxed 480i video. Though the quality is not terrific, the fact that Universal included a trailer for the film itself at all is reason enough to give thanks.
'Meet the Parents' is a funny, sometimes uncomfortable comedy that did gangbusters business at the box office. I actually don't like it nearly as much as its sequel, but it still has plenty of laughs and great replay value. Universal has served up a strong catalog release on HD DVD. The transfer is refreshing in its simplicity, and there are a ton of extras, most of them funny. Well recommended for fans of the film, and definitely worth a rent if you are one of the few who hasn't yet seen it.