Hollywood cinema has seen more than its fair share of pathetic losers who, through the charity and guidance of beautiful, worldly women, learn to mature and accept life's responsibilities. It's a shopworn theme, but it can be spun into comedic gold in the right hands. Whether it's sad sack Benjamin being seduced by Mrs. Robinson in 'The Graduate' (1967), Dudley Moore finding the perfect '10' (1979) in Bo Derek, or Tom Cruise seducing prostitute Rebecca De Mornay with a flick of his Ray-Bans in 'Risky Business' (1983), when all of the right elements are in place, audiences can't help but be charmed by the disreputable louse redeemed by the love of a good broad.
Now, the 21st century gets its own blockbuster take on the same formula with Judd Apatow's winning sleeper 'Knocked Up.' Katherine Heigl (TV's 'Gray's Anatomy') stars as early-thirtysomething Alison. She seems to have everything -- looks, brains, a great up-and-coming gig at E!, and the support of her loving sister Debbie (Leslie Mann, also Apatow's real-life spouse) and brother-in-law Pete (Paul Rudd). But Alison is single (which, in a romantic comedy, is the equivalent of having cancer), so when a drunk night out leads her into the arms of chubby, sad-sack loser Ben Stone (Seth Rogen), she goes for the quickie and wakes up... pregnant.
In a turn of events that seem to happen only in Hollywood movies, Alison decides to keep her baby and to give Ben a chance to become the ideal daddy to their child. Of course, Ben's "day job" of spearheading an Internet porn site with his beer-guzzling cronies doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Likewise, the disapproving glances of Alison's friends offer little solace, while Debbie's deteriorating relationship with Pete is hardly a model for wedded bliss. Ultimately, Alison delivers an ultimatum to Ben -- shape up or ship out. Will he rise to the challenge and do her proud?
'Knocked Up' is a perceptive comedy that far exceeds its sitcom premise. As he showed so well with '40 Year-Old-Virgin,' and recent producing efforts like 'Superbad' (also starring and co-written by Rogen), Apatow builds his stories around three-dimensional characters that are developed strongly enough so we recognize them as real people, then puts them through such a wringer that universal comedy bursts forth like a fountain of inspiration. Apatow has a knack for refreshing clichés and tropes with his seemingly off-the-cuff, staccato dialogue and terrific casting. 'Knocked Up' crackles with energy, intelligence, and wit in every scene.
For all of its charms, however, there has been some concentrated criticism leveled at 'Knocked Up,’ with some viewers arguing that the film’s female characters -- particularly Alison -- are presented simply as male fantasies. Though Heigl is endlessly charming and is arguably the glue that holds the movie together, the complaint is a valid one. Apatow paints his male characters with far more nuance than he does his female characters, and the movie‘s many detours into male anxiety arguably come at the expense of focusing on Alison’s dilemma -- after all, she is the one undergoing the most dramatic changes. Indeed, the premise itself -- that a woman as alluring, successful, and together as her would not only sleep with a schlub like Ben but think of reforming him into a model father -- smacks of frat boy wish-fulfillment. Tellingly, the word "abortion" is rarely uttered (otherwise, Apatow wouldn't have a movie).
Yet, even if you can't totally swallow Apatow's male-centric view of maternal crises, 'Knocked Up' is simply too damn funny not to embrace. The jokes do teeter on the edge of sheer vulgarity (further exacerbated by the "Uncut and Unprotected" version with four minutes of added racy material), but still Apatow always manges to keep the movie from veering into the grotesque. These days, it's rare to find genuinely hilarious comedies like 'Knocked Up' that are about people and ideas. I didn't buy all of Apatow's sentiments, but there’s no doubt that he is a major new talent, and that 'Knocked Up' is one of the year's brightest, most engaging movies.
(Note that there's apparently an error on the packaging for this HD DVD/DVD combo edition of 'Knocked Up.' The back of the box states that the standard-def DVD side of the disc contains the R-rated 2hr, 9 minute cut, but it's actually the same Unrated 2hr., 13 minute cut found on the HD DVD side. Our thanks to Shannon for the tip!)
’Knocked Up' comes to HD DVD in a 1080p/VC-1 encode, and although it looks pretty good, it has enough flaws that I was slightly disappointed. To be sure, this is not one of Universal’s top-tier transfers.
Topping the list of the pros is a sparkling fresh print. Befitting a new release, there is not a single speck or blemish to be found. Blacks are pitch perfect, and while contrast is a bit on the hot side, the transfer isn’t too intense. On the not-so-bright side, color reproduction is a bit skewed. It's rare that I see a transfer with too much yellow, but that's the case here -- fleshtones look sickly, and the entire presentation just looks just a bit left of center. Add the yellow cast to the slightly hot contrast, and highlights flatten out, lessening detail and depth.
Not problematic is shadow delineation, which is above average with fine detail visible throughout. Sharpness is also excellent, and edge enhancement is not an issue. Noise isn’t an irritant, and I didn’t notice any artifacts. I still wish that 'Knocked Up' looked like a million bucks, but as a still-solid triple, this one’s nothing to sneeze at.
Considering it’s a romantic comedy, 'Knocked Up' sports a surprisingly spiffy sound design. Unfortunately, however, Universal hasn’t seen fit to include any high-resolution audio to showcase it. Instead, all we get is plain old Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 (1.5mbps).
'Knocked Up' makes nice use of music -- both score and rock/pop tunes -- which fill up the rears nicely. Some lively discrete effects pop up during busy scenes (mostly the repeat excursions to a local nightclub). There is enough dynamic action that a high-res audio track could’ve improved envelopment, but instead what we get is just a smidgen above average.
At least tech specs are up to snuff. Dialogue is smooth and well-balanced. Frequency response extends cleanly across the entire range, and low bass is tight (if hardly overpowering). I was also impressed with the sense of separation across the fronts, which is particularly noticeable with the music. All things considered, 'Knocked Up' is an above-average presentation for a romantic comedy (not a genre usually known for its gangbusters soundtracks), but with such a high-profile title Universal really should’ve sprung for a Dolby TrueHD track.
'Knocked Up' comes to HD DVD in an "Unrated and Unprotected" edition, and in addition to sporting the aforementioned additional four minutes of racy footage (all dirty jokes), there is also a wealth of standard-def and exclusive HD material. Unfortunately, it's not the ultimate 'Knocked Up' experience, as several features from the concurrently-released two-disc special edition DVD don't appear here, including a few featurettes, two gag reels, a Katherine Heigl audition tape and more.
What we do get is still substantial. The highlight is the screen-specific audio commentary with director Judd Apatow and stars Seth Rogen and Bill Hader (although Hader is barely in 'Knocked Up,' he is featured heavily in the Apatow-produced 'Superbad'). Simply put, not only is this track non-stop, it’s frequently hilarious -- and totally un-PC. From an off-the-cuff discussion of abortion to X-rated impersonations of everyone from Katherine Heigl (who was initially "terrified" of the vulgar Rogen) to Vincent Price, I'm surprised Universal didn't edit the heck out of this track. But the legal department's loss is our gain, and this track had me laughing for much of its 133-minute runtime. Any fan of the Apatow school of comedy simply has to listen to this one.
The next best extra is the collection of 16 Deleted Scenes. Running nearly 17 minutes, there is some real substance here that's superior to the vast majority of excised scene compendiums you get on most DVDs these days. Aside from the throwaway Alternate Ending, the others are full-on, meaty scenes. Granted, only a couple of sequences expand the narrative or deepen the conflict between the Ben and Alison characters, but it's hilarious all the same.
The disc also has four additional Extended Scenes, running about 6 minutes, under their own heading. This stuff is far more forgettable, and is mostly comprised of run jokes that were wisely cut for pacing. (Who thought giving Ryan Seacrest more screen-time was a good idea?!?)
Unfortunately, I found most of the remaining vignettes to be overkill. We get yet more excised material, but it's redundant. "Line-O-Rama" is a 4-minute montage the film's best lines. "Topless Scene: Web Design Company" is literally a 30-second alternate shot that includes some behind-the-actors nudity cut to get the flick a PG-13 rating. The Gag Reel (3 minutes) is funny but not nearly as gut-busting as the actual film and the deleted scenes.
The two "featurettes" are also a bummer as they provide zero insight into the making of the movie. "Rollercoaster Doc" (4 minutes) is bizarre -- a "making of" detailing a few shots during the opening credit sequence (with the cast on a rollercoaster). Did this really need its own featurette? "Directing the Director" (7 minutes) is a mockumentary, fictionalizing a set visit by a "replacement" director for Apatow (played by 'Capote' director Bennett Miller), whom we are to believe Universal wanted pulled from the film for ineptitude. This was funny for a couple of minutes, but overstayed its welcome fairly quickly.
Sadly, there is no Theatrical Trailer for 'Knocked Up.' Note also that all of above listed supplemental video material, while formatted for 16:9 screens, is 480p/i/MPEG-2. The quality is generally strong for standard-def, but it's still a shame that Universal continues to largely avoid presenting its extras in true high-definition.
'Knocked Up' was the sleeper smash of 2007, and it is easy to see why. A smart, perceptive, and very funny human comedy, it earns every laugh with genuine pathos and heart.
As an HD DVD release, this one is strong but not perfect. I liked the transfer but didn't love it, and Universal's continued spotty support of high-resolution audio is frustrating -- why no Dolby TrueHD track on a new theatrical release like 'Knocked Up?' On the bright side, there are some good extras here (particularly the audio and video commentaries), plus the film itself is presented in its unrated form, boasting a few extra minutes of yuks. While not a complete home run on HD DVD, 'Knocked Up' is certainly above average and well worth checking out.
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.