Blu-ray Review: MEATBALLS

J Hurtado, Contributing Writer
Are you ready for the summer?

Meatballs is one of my very favorite comedies. Bill Murray's feature film debut and Ivan Reitman, straight out of producing National Lampoon's Animal House were a pair of young talents ready to explode onto the national film scene. Explode they did, following Meatballs up with the unbeatable duo of Stripes and Ghostbusters all in the span of five years.

The film follows the triumphs and travails of Camp North Star, your average Canadian summer camp. There is love, there are shenanigans, but most of all, there is a great big 'ol heart. The film takes its time focusing a little bit on each of the counselors in training, but the real soul of the story is Bill Murray's Tripper and his relationship with the solemn Rudy, played by Chris Makepeace. This was a last minute addition to the film, but is really gives Meatballs something specials that most summer camp movies don't have. The film really loses some momentum around the hour mark when the Olympiad begins, but it's a small price to pay for something this close to perfect.

However, as much as I love Murray as Tripper in this film, it's pretty damned interesting to see where everyone else ended up after Meatballs, it's like a roll call of '80s sex comedy actors who never quite made it as "serious artists", nevertheless, it's worth a few words to chart their declines.

makepeace1.jpgChris Makepeace as "Rudy"- Rudy was the last minute focus for Meatballs, which was initially intended as a showpiece for the CITs (Counselors in Training). However, when Reitman discovered the incredible chemistry between Murray and Makepeace, they did weeks of reshoots, re-editing over an hour of the film to shift the focus onto their relationship. Makepeace was a handsome kid and went on to star in the '80s bully-sploitation classic My Bodyguard. Soon after that, however, he drifted off into TV Neverland, only occasionally peeking his head back into theaters with Vamp and The Falcon and the Snowman. He's done nothing since 2001.

atkin.pngHarvey Atkin as "Morty" - Morty was the big boss at Camp North Star, his main role in Meatballs was as a foil for the CITs' shenanigans. Harvey Atkin, on the other hand, has had a long career in film and TV, mostly behind the camera doing voiceover work for cartoons. Meatballs was probably his highest profile performance on film, unless you count a recurring role as Judge Allen Ridenour on Law & Order: SVU.

debell.jpgKristine DeBell as "A.L." - If Kristine DeBell looks familiar to you, well, shame on you! The only real film roles she's had either before or after Meatballs have featured here in various degrees of undress. Most notable on her resume is the title role in Alice in Wonderland: An X-Rated Fantasy, in which she was likely body-doubled during penetration scenes, but was nonetheless very nude for most of the film. She also appeared in a similar role in Cheerleaders' Wild Weekend. After missing a second big break opportunity with the ill-advised American Jackie Chan film, The Big Brawl, DeBell went on to spend most of the '80s on TV soaps. She left the business in 1990, and started a family somewhere quiet.

fink.jpgKeith Knight as "Fink" - After his role in Meatballs, Keith Knight became a go-to fat kid for '80s horror and comedy films. He secured roles in My Bloody Valentine, Of Unknown Origin, and Class of 1984 before making the jump to episodic TV. The last twenty years of his career had been mainly behind the mic, where's he's voiced everything from Miss Spider's Sunny Patch Friends to The Busy World of Richard Scarry, every now and then popping in for a bit part in a movie or TV show. He passed away in 2007 of brain cancer in his Canadian home.

spaz.jpgJack Blum as "Spaz" - Only in a summer comedy from 1979 could a character be named Spaz. Jack Blum played the fool for Meatballs and went on to a long career in Canadian horror and comedy films. He showed up in such gems as The Funny Farm and slasher classic Happy Birthday to Me. He used his long friendship with Canadian arthouse filmmaker Atom Egoyan to get cast as "Scalper" in Egoyan's breakout film, Exotica. Nothing on his resume since 2007.

The list goes on and on. Meatballs was a fertile ground for Canadian film of that period. Canadian director, Ivan Reitman, made sure of that. The film is certainly dated, it's hard for anything from that period not to be, but the sentiment holds up nicely, and I found myself laughing at gags I've seen a dozen times before as I watched the film again. The disc is cheap, buy it.

The Disc:

Meatballs on Blu-ray from Lionsgate is a bit of a mixed bag. On the positive side, the image and sound quality are a noticeable upgrade from the previous 25th anniversary DVD. I compared them side by side, and the Blu-ray is quite a bit sharper, shows a lot more detail, and has much punchier color. This is not a minor improvement, it looks fantastic. The audio, mono though it is, is also more full sounding, the thundering beat of "Making It" has never sounded so good on your home theater.

On the down side, Lionsgate's new edition drops the great 47 minute retrospective featurette that appeared on the DVD. The audio commentary from Reitman and co-writer Dan Goldberg is still there, but the loss of that featurette leaves a huge hole. If you've already got that DVD, hold on to it, but this disc is definitely worth the upgrade for image quality alone.

Special Features:
- Audio Commentary with director Ivan Reitman and producer Dan Goldberg
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