Seeing 'Caddyshack' when I was nine years-old is still one of the most memorable moviegoing experiences of my life. I remember my grandmother took me to see the film, knowing little of its ribald content or low brow humor, other than that it was "the movie with the cute gopher" that her best friend Eleanor had heard was funny. (Of course, I knew it was a raunchy, R-rated movie, but you don't think I was gonna tell her that, did you?) So there I sat with my grandmother in the movie theater, and for the next 98 minutes, I'm treated to many cinematic firsts -- the first time I heard the word "fuck" in a movie, the first time I saw someone puke on camera, my first fart joke, and, of course, the first time I saw a woman's bare breasts. Dear old grandma, meanwhile, was trying to cover my eyes the entire time, so half of my experience seeing 'Caddyshack' was playing swat-the-fly with my granny's flailing hands. Needless to say, I loved every minute of it.
I think back to that story, because I wonder how a movie like 'Caddyshack,' which seems so much more innocent now, would be taken by today's more world-weary, seen-it-all teenagers. Indeed, compared to Cameron Diaz with spoog in her hair in 'There's Something About Mary' or Jason Biggs fucking a pastry in 'American Pie,' even 'Caddyshack's most outrageous moments couldn't be perceived as anything but quaint. Indeed, while a Baby Ruth bar being mistaken for poop in a pool was considered positively filthy and disgusting back in 1980, today it would scarcely earn a PG-13 rating -- another sign that society's sense of moral indignation has really been flushed down the proverbial toilet.
Revisiting 'Caddyshack' again for this HD DVD review, however, and having not seen it for many years, I am happily surprised by how well it holds up. It does play sweeter and more nostalgic, but unlike its gross-out contemporaries, its wit is actually sharper and more pointed. More than anything, 'Caddyshack' is subversive, slyly undercutting bourgeois values and the snooty status quo, and championing the glories of slobbery, mediocrity and comic excess. The film's storyline is simple -- lower class caddies infiltrate a posh country club to win the big annual golf competition -- and the tagline said it all: "It's the slobs against the snobs." And there must be some kind of hidden, socialist message in the fact that the smartest person in the movie is a two-foot tall gopher.
'Caddyshack' has also rightfully earned its place as a modern cult classic by virtue of its great sight gags, memorable characters and imminently quotable one-liners. Who can rival Chevy Chase, as golf pro Ty Webb, and his deadpan delivery of such incomprehensible dialogue as, "A flute without holes, is not a flute. A donut without a hole, is a Danish?" Or the comedic force that is Rodney Dangerfield, wearing the ugliest plaid pants in history, gleefully and constantly tormenting the late Ted Knight, perfectly cast as history's greatest tight-ass Judge Smails? And then there is Bill Murray, in what may be his most purest performance as slovenly assistant groundskeeper Carl Spackler, the kind of guy who both cuts the grass and smokes it. Who can forget his hilarious and ridiculous duel to the death with the devious gopher? Or, in perhaps comedic cinema's greatest entrance ever for a character, Murray drooling lustfully over a group of old lady golfers while washing his, um, balls?
Maybe there is just no real defense for 'Caddyshack.' You either you laugh at this kind of stuff, or you don't. I did, and I still do. But while its humor may be vulgar, it is gleefully so, poking fun at everyone equally with genuine heart and humanity -- something today's anything-for-a-laugh degrade-a-thons would be wise to remember. Even when I was a kid, peeking through my grandmother's fingers, I knew I was watching something special. And somewhere up there, I know she is still laughing along with me, too.
'Caddyshack' gets its first-ever high-def release on HD DVD, and it is a nice upgrade over all previous video versions I've seen. Granted, 'Caddyshack' is still a twenty-five year-old movie and suffers from all the age-related defects you'd expect. But as presented here in a matted 1.78:1 aspect ratio and 1080p video, it has moments that really pop, and undoubtedly 'Caddyshack' has never looked better.
Unfortunately, the film's source print is a bit spotty. The opening credit sequence in particular is marred by excessive grain and dirt. Things calm down later on, but speckles and dropouts continue sporadically throughout the film's runtime. Blacks are quite good for a film of this vintage, though some of the darker scenes seem slightly washed out at times. Colors, however, are noticeably improved over the standard DVD release, especially reds and greens, which are surprisingly lush and stable. Detail is also the best I've ever seen on any video version; I could make out more fine subtleties in the image, such as foliage in long shots and the fur on the gopher. Certainly, 'Caddyshack' never exhibits the eye-popping, three-dimensional quality of a modern transfer, but I was happy with the overall quality of this presentation.
Alas, 'Caddyshack' doesn't sound so hot. Certainly, it is not terrible, and as it was originally mixed in mono, there is only so much improvement one can expect. And Warner does kindly offer up a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround mix here, though it hardly helps much. (Note that the studio has elected not to also include the film's original English 1.0 mono soundtrack, which is likely to disappoint you purists.)
'Caddyshack's biggest problem is its weak dynamic range. Though there was more heft to the .1 LFE than I expected, the midrange sounds flat and high-end suffers from a harshness and even some occasional distortion. Also, during some of the crowd scenes and moments of overlapping dialogue, I hard trouble hearing what the actors were saying -- indeed, the art of ADR has come a long way since 1980! Surround use is also pretty lackluster, though I will say the overall soundfield was more expansive than I expected. Still, rear effects are pretty few and far between, though we do get a couple of immersive moments during the country club party and big boat crash sequences. Otherwise, the mix is largely front-heavy.
Extras on the 1999 special edition DVD for 'Caddyshack' were pretty slim, with the only real extra being a then-new 31-minute documentary called "'Caddyshack': The 19th Hole." Warner has ported it over for the HD DVD, and it still holds up as a fun little retrospective. Contributors include director Harold Ramis, producers Jon Peters and Mark Canton, and actors Chevy Chase, Cindy Morgan, Scott Colomby and a few other caddies (sadly absent are Bill Murray and, of course, the late Rodney Dangerfield). Mixed in with a bunch of funny outtakes and deleted scenes (neither of which are not presented separately as standalone supplements), it is a very enjoyable if far too quick look back at a true comedy classic. I kinda wish Warner had done more for this film, actually...
The only other extra is the film's theatrical trailer, which like the documentary is presented in 480i, full frame video.
Twenty-five years on, 'Caddyshack' is still a blast. As familiar as I am with this film, I laughed as hard as ever watching it for the umpteenth time on HD DVD. Warner also delivers a respectable first-ever high-def release, with a good transfer, decent audio and a nice little retrospective documentary. Though there is nothing spectacular here, overall this disc still offers enough of an image quality upgrade that it is worth considering for purchase if you're a fan of the film. And definitely, if you don't already own 'Caddyshack' on disc, this HD DVD is your best bet.