Every once in a while, a sequel comes along that is not only an equal to the original, but manages to improve upon it. For me, 'Meet the Fockers' is such a movie. Every bit as funny as 'Meet the Parents,' but fresher and more inspired, 'Fockers' manages to expand upon the original film's universe to create a more complex, resonant and perceptive work.
If you remembered only one thing about 'Meet the Parents,' it would undoubtedly be Robert De Niro. His ex-CIA agent Jack Byrnes was more than just the perfect comedic distillation of all those sadistic heavies he's played in Martin Scorsese flicks -- he was the ultimate domineering dad, sitting on the porch with shotgun in hand, waiting to shoot the balls off of any guy who would dare ask his daughter on a date. As the unfortunate target of Jack's wrath, Ben Stiller was perfect as the hapless male nurse Greg Focker -- the only man in the world foolish enough to ask for the hand of Jack's daughter (Teri Polo) in marriage. It was the byplay between these two characters -- and all the melodramatic male anxieties they skewered -- that turned 'Meet the Parents' into such a mass-appeal blockbuster.
Rather than just regurgitate the same plot, the inspired conceit of 'Meet the Fockers' is to take that still-simmering tension between De Niro and Stiller and turn the tables. Now it is Jack's turn to squirm when he's forced to meet Greg's parents -- the free-wheelin', ultra-liberal Bernie and Rozalin (Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand, in a brilliant casting coup). With poor Greg once again caught in the middle, the culture clash between these polar-opposite ideologies and sensibilities proves to be a veritable goldmine of situational comedy.
'Meet the Fockers' is one of the only Hollywood satires in memory that appeals equally to audiences in the Red States and the Blue States, without condescending to either. No matter what side of the sociopolitical fence you sit on, there's a character for everyone to identify with in 'Meet the Fockers.' Combined with its universal premise -- who doesn't dread visiting their in-laws -- and some truly flawless performances, 'Meet the Fockers' earns every one of its laughs with wit, insight and humanity.
Even better, 'Meet the Fockers' is gloriously subversive in that it masks an idealistic wish-fulfillment fantasy under the guise of what appears to be a generic sitcom situation. What we're really watching is not just a hilarious nightmare of mismatched in-laws trying to grapple with what seems to be impossible task of merging their incompatible personalities into a new family structure, but an incredibly sly allegory for our own current, fractured America, one still unable to reconcile its vast differences even at the risk of a damning future for its children. Few mainstream comedies are able to be so optimistic while still avoiding the mawkish, but as the film reaches its bittersweet, understated ending, it becomes clear that the film's optimism knows no bounds.
Of course, most mainstream audiences cared little about such lofty ambitions. They just came out in droves for 'Meet the Fockers' to laugh, and laugh they did. And you will, too. With pitch-perfect casting, game performances, lightning-fast pacing (even with a runtime of nearly two hours) and assured direction by the criminally underrated Jay Roach, 'Meet the Fockers' never steps wrong. The words "commercial," "clever" and "comedy" often seem like oxymorons in today's Hollywood, but in 'Meet the Fockers' they make perfect bedfellows.
'Meet the Fockers' hits HD DVD about nine months after the original film made its own next-gen debut, and -- like its predecessor -- the sequel is something of a mixed bag in terms of picture quality.
On the bright side, I certainly found 'Meet the Focker,' to be the better-shot of the two film, with a brighter, sunnier look and more vibrant colors. Hues are noticeably stronger than in 'Meet the Parents' -- especially the vivid reds. Fleshtones, too, have less of a pink cast. Sharpness is excellent, and the image almost always has a strong sense of depth even in darker interiors (of which there are few).
However, this 1080p/VC-1 transfer may be a bit too crisp. Contrast is strong but too bloomy, which combined with the noticeable edge enhancement lends a hard cast to the image. There is also obvious noise throughout -- for example, during the early scene with Robert De Niro showing flashcards, the solid white surfaces of the cards are alive with fuzziness. This issue reoccurs with any even moderately large solid patch of consistent color, from fabrics to walls to skylines. It's generally not excessive, but still usually distracting. Finally, the print is in strong shape but not absolutely pristine, with a bit of dirt and speckles on occasion.
All in all, I hoped for a bit more from 'Meet the Fockers.' To be sure, it looks good -- just not great.
When it comes to audio, both 'Meet the Fockers' and 'Meet the Parents' are typical Hollywood comedies, meaning that their sound design doesn't offer much beyond the serviceable.
Universal provides a Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 surround track (at 1.5mbps), and it's well recorded, with clean dynamics. Your subwoofer certainly won't get a work out, but bass response is tight, while the high-end is smooth and realistic. Surrounds are only rarely engaged, and then only for minor score bleed and meager atmospheric effects.
Given the nature of the material, my only real complaint is a slight compressed feeling to the low-end, as the quietest, deepest dialogue (particularly Robert De Niro's) sometimes hard to discern. You may have to bump up your volume on occasion, but otherwise 'Meet the Fockers' deliver perfectly acceptable audio.
In what's become standard for Universal, the studio has ported over all of the standard-def DVD extras for 'Meet the Fockers' to this HD DVD edition. Unfortunately, they haven't bothered to upgrade the video itself to full 1080p, so if that makes all of this stuff feel somewhat rehashed, well, it is.
First up are a quartet of featurettes, plus one "interactive" trio of vignettes. I thought the best of the bunch was "Matt Lauer 'Meets the Fockers.'" Sadly, this abridged version of a broadcast chat between Lauer and all of the main cast runs too short at only 6 minutes. Though clearly promotional, it's refreshing to see the usually reserved Robert De Niro and Barbra Streisand relax a bit and joke around about what attracted them to the project (or in De Niro's case, to return to one of his now most-famous roles). Too bad this just isn't longer.
The next three featurettes are sadly superfluous. "Inside the Litter Box: Behind-the-Scenes with Jinx the Cat" (6 minutes) is a mock-spoof on the film's "biggest star"; "The Manary Gland" (4 minutes), which describes how De Niro's, um, fake boob was created for the movie; and "The Adventures of a Baby Wrangler" (5 minutes), a look at the challenges in working with babies. All of this stuff is cute, but no replacement for a genuine documentary (which is sadly missing here).
Finally, "Fockers' Family Portrait" is a disappointment. Three interviews with the Focker clan are presented -- Dustin Hoffman, Ben Stiller and Streisand -- but why so short at less than 2 minutes each? It is clear all three sat down to give full interviews, so why more material isn't included is a mystery.
Much better is the montage of Deleted Scenes. 'Meet the Fockers' already runs nearly two hours, so it's something of a surprise that there was this much funny stuff still left on the cutting room floor. Granted, none of it is necessary to the story and was clearly cut for time, but I found just about every scene here amusing (especially Stiller "feeling up" De Niro's falsie). Note, however, that though the standard-def DVD version allowed you to watch the deleted scenes integrated back into the film via seamless branching, the HD DVD offers no such function -- so much for the "next-generation" in home theater interactivity! (Do I sound bitter?)
There is also a Blooper Reel that runs a lengthy 11 minutes, and it too is pretty darn funny. I guess when you have terrific actors like Stiller, De Niro, Hoffman and Streisand, on-set yuks are guaranteed. This is one of the rare blooper reels worth watching.
Finally, the most insightful extra is the screen-specific audio commentary with director Jay Roach and editor Jon Poll. They warn us right up front that they're going to be so bad that it would be a better idea if we just watched the flick again, but they shouldn't have worried. This may not be the greatest commentary ever, but it's fun and revealing. The best bits for me were about the cast, particularly luring Streisand out of semi-retirement as an actress (as opposed to director), and of course the awe of everyone on-set whenever De Niro was around. I did get a bit bored at the end of this track as Roach and Poll seemed to run out of things to say and just started watching the movie. But unlike most of the other extras on the disc, at least it isn't all fluff.
Alas, there are no theatrical trailers of any kind included on the disc.
'Meet the Fockers' is a perceptive, often hilarious family farce. It's the rare sequel that, for me, improves upon the original, with the addition of new cast members Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand raising the comedy to a whole level of inspiration.
Universal has produced a pretty good catalog effort for this one on HD DVD. The transfer has some problems (namely excessive noise and edge enhancement) but is generally bright and attractive. The audio is more standard, and the extras a bit too frivolous for their own good. But with so few outright comedies hitting high-def these days, 'Meet the Fockers' would still make a fine addition to anyone's HD DVD library.