If the title of 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' sounds familiar, it may because it was inspired by the 1953 French classic "Mr. Hulot's Holiday." As played by Jacques Tati, one of the all-time great physical comedians, Mr. Hulot bumbled his way through a series of misadventures at a snotty beach resort, wreaking hilarious havoc along the way. Although the film was less a story than it was a series of madcap setpieces, it was done with such panache and impeccable craftsmanship that it elevated slapstick to an art form. It's a formula that Rowan Atkinson has been pilfering for years now -- first for the 1990-1995 UK series "Mr. Bean," then 1997's 'Bean: The Movie,' garnering huge popularity all over Europe and a smaller (if no less devoted) cult audience in the States.
It took a full decade, but Atkinson now returns with 'Mr. Bean's Holiday.' This time around, our unlikely hero can't believe his luck when he wins a camcorder and an all-expense-paid vacation to the French Riviera. During his train journey to the south of France, he trips his way through a seemingly unending series of mishaps and unfortunate physical coincidences, all caught on camera. So far-fetched are his adventures that through an incredible chain of events, Mr. Bean's tapes end up as a makeshift entry in the Cannes Film Festival. Guess who's about to become the world's newest cinematic superstar?
Of course, to talk about character development and narrative complexity with a film like 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' is beside the point. The film itself is built around a series of self-contained vignettes, which give us everything from Atkinson chasing after chickens, to strutting around in high heels and lipstick, to performing street opera. There is barely any relation between these episodes except as a wafer-thin roadmap to the film's conclusion, and whether you find the material hilarious or eye-roll worthy is a matter of personal taste.
Even more than Atkinson's first big-screen adventure, 'Mr. Bean: The Movie,' 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' is a litmus test for how much you can take of the gifted actor's bulging eyes, spastic mannerisms and bizarre vocal hiccups. Although I personally found much of his shtick funny, even at a slim 89-minute runtime, it can get a bit tiresome. Ironically, it's often the reactions of those around him that inspire more laughs than Bean's own one-dimensional stumblings. As such, the episodic nature of 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' serves as something of a liability -- with such colorful supporting characters, we want to see more of them, but the movie just won't let us. There's real heart to the budding relationship between Bean and the fetching Lily (Atkinson's real-life wife Lily Atkinson), as well as a lost little boy (Max Baldry) searching for his father in Cannes, while an unexpected appearance by Willem Dafoe as the villainous Carson Clay adds some spicy suspense to an otherwise flavorless narrative menu. Had 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' developed such plotlines a bit more, it might have been a more memorable human comedy.
Still, as is, 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' is certainly likable and well-intentioned. It's refreshing to see a film that's so old fashioned in its care for setting up punchlines and pay-offs, with none of the cynical vulgarity more common to most modern comedies. The movie also hits pay dirt with its climax in Cannes, which manages to insert some good-natured ribbing at Hollywood's expense. Best of all, Atkinson clearly idolizes such slapstick greats as Tati and Charlie Chaplin, and such reverence makes Mr. Bean impossible to hate. I still think Atkinson has yet to find the ideal vehicle for his character, but until he does, 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' certainly isn't a bad little diversion.
This UK import version of 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' was also released by Universal, though unlike the domestic edition, this is not an HD DVD/DVD combo. However, it does share an identical 1080p/VC-1 encode, and my impression of the transfer hasn't changed. This is just not the kind of film that really delivers truly reference-quality high-def.
Considering that this is recent theatrical release, I was surprised to find that the source is not spotless. There is a fair amount of grain throughout, and even some minor speckles and dirt. Colors are a bit odd as well, with a feel of oversaturation and a tint that leans towards blue and yellow. Fleshtones don't always look natural, despite so much of the film being filmed in bright and sunny exteriors. Contrast runs a bit hot, too, though blacks hold firm. Overall detail is good but not great. Finally, sharpness is strong, but it comes at a price -- edge enhancement is apparent but not excessive, so expect some noticeable halos on high-contrast areas.
All in all, 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' can look good, sometimes even pretty spiffy, but it's not up there with my favorite transfers from Universal.
If the video quality between this UK import and the domestic HD DVD version of 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' are a wash, alas the audio has been demoted. Universal has dropped the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 Surround track, and instead gives us a plethora of Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 Surround tracks. The original English is encoded at 1.5mbps, while there are also 640kbps options in French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, and Castilian.
On the plus side, the film's sound design is middling enough that the lack of a TrueHD track isn't totally fatal. Despite the fact that much of 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' takes place in lively situations, most of the mix is front-heavy. Surround use is meager, and I could count on one hand the number of truly discrete moments on the original master. Atmospheric and location sounds are a bit more sustained, but are so low in the mix that they fail to deliver much envelopment. Doing a few A/B scene compares, the TrueHD does offer a noticeable (but not considerable) improvement in heft to the rear channels, but there's hardly a "wall of sound" on either track.
The TrueHD track's fidelity was already a bit limited, but this Dolby downgrade is flatter. There is not as much low bass extension and little expanse to the rest of the frequency range (only the music score holds up well, with some bounce). At least dialogue is still clean, although seeing as the Bean character is a man of few words, this is something of a hollow compliment.
Universal has retained all the extras from the domestic HD DVD for this UK import. However, the studio didn't deliver much in the way of quality the first time out, offering up only a few surface-level promo items (presented here in standard-def only).
Rowan Atkinson's Mr. Bean has been a box office sensation in other parts of the world, but his charms have yet to win over mainstream audiences here in the US. 'Mr. Bean's Holiday' continues in that tradition, resulting in a cute but ultimately marginal cinematic truffle. As such, it's a bit disappointing that this UK import does not offer anything above and beyond the domestic version in terms of video and supplements. In fact, the audio has been downgraded, with the Dolby TrueHD track removed. Because of that, I can't recommend this version -- stick with the US disc.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.