The career travails of Jim Carrey may be the ultimate Hollywood lesson in why one should not take themselves too seriously. How did the once-obscure comedian (previously known only for his rubberband-man contortions on TV's 'In Living Color') transform himself into the $20 million star of such blockbusters as 'Ace Ventura,' 'Liar Liar' and 'How the Grinch Stole Christmas,' only to fall back again into career doldrums, with such recent tankeroos as 'The Majestic' and 'The Number 23?'
The answer, it seems, lies in the dreaded curse specific to comedic actors who rise to superstardom as goofballs, yet yearn be considered "legitimate" dramatic leading men. For Carrey, aside from 'The Truman Show,' his forays into "legit" moviemaking haven't curried much favor with critics, the Academy or audiences. From the Andy Kaufman biopic 'Man on the Moon,' to the Harry Potter-esque franchise non-starter 'Lemon Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events,' Carrey has always remained strong as a performer -- it's his material that's let him down.
But slotted somewhere in Carrey's more recent career slump was 'Bruce Almighty,' which if not a true return to comedic form was at least a very pleasant speed bump. The 2003 comedy grossed nearly $200 million at the domestic box office and was exactly the kind of high-concept, gloriously silly romp that propelled Carrey to stardom in the first place. It's a cinematic trifle to be sure, but with Carrey having fun again, that hardly seems to matter.
Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a likable schlub nearing his 40th birthday. Though he's married to the beautiful Grace Connelly (Jennifer Aniston), his career as a local TV newscaster is going nowhere. Worse, he's just been one-upped for the anchorman position of his dreams by the conniving Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, before '40-Year-Old Virgin' made him a star in his own right).
Then something magical happens -- Bruce is paid a visit by God himself (Morgan Freeman) and is given some incredible powers. Seems Bruce can now do just about anything thing he wants -- and get anything he wants -- even going so far as to stop time and redo the past. Of course, God has a secret plan, and a life lesson in order for Bruce. Can this life-long sad sack finally learn that happiness isn't getting what you want, but wanting what you've got?
On many levels, 'Bruce Almighty' can be seen as a retreat for Carrey. It's comedic familiar ground, giving the funnyman plenty of fertile ground for his very physical brand of slapstick. And the concept is so full-proof -- Jim Carrey as God! -- that its box office gold was practically a foregone conclusion. Of course, without Carrey, 'Bruce Almighty' would evaporate completely into thin air -- Aniston is completely wasted, and none of the supporting subplots or other shenanigans register at all.
Still, 'Bruce Almighty' remains more resonant than most of the star's other comedies (particularly 'Ace Ventura' and 'Me, Myself & Irene') because the parallels between Bruce and Carrey seem almost serendipitous. After all, the film's entire message hinges upon Bruce's realization that "there is nothing wrong with being funny," and to simply be who you are is the ultimate success. An idea, I'm sure, that Carrey has been fighting for a number of years in his quest to be taken "seriously" as an actor -- when in eality he shouldn't have had anything left to prove.
They say that comedy is ultimately about anger and Carrey seems to prove it here -- his rage as Bruce in the early dramatic scenes is palpable. 'Bruce Almighty' may seem like just another dumb, innocuous comedy, but it's final act turnabout works as well as it does because Carrey plays Bruce's career inertia so bitterly in the first two-thirds. Recalling vintage Frank Capra, 'Bruce Almighty' may ultimately be a poor man's 'It's a Wonderful Life' with its inspirational, feel-good message, but Carrey manages to make it something special.
'Bruce Almighty' originally hit standard-def DVD back in late 2003, and that release was just okay. Whipping it out today for a quick comparison, it's somewhat dated in appearance -- overly enhanced with obvious edginess and a lack of detail. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear that Universal has made a new master for 'Bruce Almighty' in the intervening years. Though this 1080p/VC-1 encode is better than the old DVD, it still has some obvious source-related problems.
Major defects are not an issue, with the print in very nice shape. Blacks hold up very well and grain is hardly distracting, although it is perhaps a bit more prominent that most newer releases. More of a problem is the fact that contrast looks a bit too hot, and whites bloom frequently. Colors also look plugged up, with fleshtones in particular appearing waxy. Shadow delineation is good but not exceptional, and overall while the image certainly has more depth than the standard-def version, I can't say I was blown away. Compression artifacts are generally not an issue, except for a bit of random but infrequent noise on skintones. To be sure, 'Bruce Almighty' doesn't look bad in its HD DVD debut -- it just doesn't look great.
'Bruce Almighty' is also a bit lacking in the audio department. To be fair, it's not really the fault of this 1.5mbps Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track. Instead, it's the typical comedy movie source that's to blame, with a front-heavy feel that's lacking in surround presence.
Discrete effects are sporadic, with the most prominent occuring during the second act, when Carrey discovers his newfound powers. The score by John Debney is quite buoyant, however, and nicely bled to the rears. Otherwise, most of the activity is spread across the front soundstage, with solid low bass and a pleasant, airy feel to the rest of the aural spectrum. Dialogue is well-recorded, and I didn't have much problem with volume balance between the effects and the score. All in all, a perfectly fine, perfectly ordinary presentation.
Like other elements of this HD DVD update of 'Bruce Almighty,' the original DVD supplements haven't aged all that well. It's also a surprisingly slim package, considering the film's strong box office.
The best extra by far is the screen-specific audio commentary with director Tom Shadyac, which isn't saying much about the rest of the set. Shadyac is very serious about the film's "technique" and "visual style," even though it seems to have a TV movie-of-the-week banality to it. Thankfully, Shadyac also seems to recognize that what most listeners really want to hear about is Jim Carrey, and so we do learn that the rubber-faced comedian improvised many of his scenes, and there was far more left on the cutting room floor. Otherwise, there isn't much insight here. At least Shadyac is a personable guy, so this isn't a total waste of 102 minutes.
Those expecting a genuine making-of featurette from "The Process of Jim" will be disappointed. It only runs six minutes, and features Shadyac introducing three different outtake sequences with Carrey performing his usual brand of slapstick mayhem. There are also about seven minutes worth of additional Outtakes, but they aren't as funny as you'd hope for a Carrey flick.
Finally, there are 14 Deleted Scenes, which are a much better example of Carrey's quick wit and incredibly dexterity -- how this guy doesn't hurt himself with all his physical contortions is beyond me. As for any actual "meat" to these scenes, forget about it.
Also included is a rarity for Universal's HD DVD titles, the film's Theatrical Trailer. All of the above video footage is also presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only.
'Bruce Almighty' may seem like just another inconsequential Jim Carrey blockbuster, but it's actually one of his better comedic efforts. This HD DVD release, on the other hand, feels a bit reheated. It looks like the same old master used for the previous standard-def DVD, which wasn't bad, but is far from exceptional. The extras are also rather dated. Certainly worth a rental for comedy fans, though diehard Carrey-philes are likely to be disappointed that this isn't one of Universal's best catalog efforts.