Blu-ray Review: UHF - 25th Anniversary Edition

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After logging the first chart-topping album of his 30-plus year career (last summer’s Mandatory Fun), it’s clear that “Weird Al” Yankovic’s popularity is undiminished. In 1989, he ventured into the world of feature filmmaking with UHF. Though it bombed hard (even the soundtrack album was a total chart dud), it has retained a passionately loyal following over the years. While much of this may be based on ‘80s nostalgia for fans of a certain age more than the actual quality of the film, the continuing demand was great enough for Shout! Factory to issue a Blu-ray edition marking the film’s 25th anniversary (available November 11).

There’s certainly a quaint charm in seeing George Newman (Yankovic) attempt to breathe life into a failing UHF TV station. You have to be of a certain age to even remember that second TV dial, above the one used to tune in the primary networks, with the higher-numbered UHF stations. George is a three-time loser with a Walter Mitty-like imagination. We first meet him as an ersatz Indiana Jones, which is merely a daydream distracting George from his burger-flipping duties at a fast food joint. His uncle Harvey (Stanley) wins U-62 in a card game and appoints George as program director. With dim-bulb janitor Stanley Spadowski (Michael Richards) in tow (he was recently fired from a big network station, VHF channel 8), George cranks out an endless variety of buzz-worthy weirdness in the form of original programming.

UHF 2 (380x256).jpgMaybe “Weird Al” would’ve been better off building his movie around his stock-in-trade, music-based parodies. While we do get his “Money for Nothing/Beverly Hillbillies” music video (dropped in mid-movie as a disconnected dream sequence), most of UHF centers on TV and movie parodies, making it a cousin of Kentucky Fried Movie and Amazon Women on the Moon. The various parody segments were funny in ’89, but a quarter century later their effectiveness will depend (at least in part) on one’s pop culture knowledge. The Rambo bit, with George going in guns a’ blazin’ to rescue Stanley from the clutches of channel 8 honcho R.J. Fletcher (Kevin McCarthy of the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers), is still a riot. The faux trailer for Ghandi II (“Gimme a steak, medium rare!”) also hits the target.

But the by-the-numbers predictability of the plot is what continually sabotages Yankovic’s best efforts and saps a lot of the fun from UHF. Once U-62’s ratings soar thanks to the revelation that Stanley is something of an unwitting comic genius, Fletcher decides to buy the station and promptly demolish it. No prizes for guessing what happens when George puts together a telethon to keep the station out of the network boss’ hands. A romantic subplot involving George’s girlfriend Teri (Victoria Jackson of Saturday Night Live) is similarly uninspired. The movie’s a fun blast from the past, just not as consistent as it could’ve been.

Shout! Factory’s new Blu-ray won’t serve as anyone’s audio/visual demo disc, but it’s passable. The image varies considerably in terms of clarity and grain levels, but it’s hard to say how much of that is inherent in the original cinematography. UHF was a low-budget affair that has always looked pretty unsightly. The “Money for Nothing” and commercial parodies (gotta love “Spatula City,” even after all these years) were designed to look like crappy standard definition broadcast TV of the era, so they aren’t going to look any better on BD. Fine detail is wanting for much of the film, but overall this is still an upgrade over the previous DVD. The audio is presented as a nothing-special 2.0 stereo mix that isn’t going to rock anyone’s world but one that sounds perfectly acceptable.

UHF 1 (380x255).jpgAll the previous DVD’s special features are ported over, including commentary, a short EPK featurette, music video, trailer, deleted scenes, and still photos. But best of all is the brand new inclusion, the 2014 San Diego Comic Con “Weird Al” Yankovic panel hosted by comedian Jonah Ray. The panel runs about 50 minutes and includes some very funny Q&A moments. There’s a guy who insists he appeared as a contestant on The Gong Show when “Weird Al” was a judge “in 1970” (six years before the show was even on the air and nearly 20 years before Yankovic appeared on a resurrected version of the show).

For “Weird Al” Yankovic fans, UHF on a Blu-ray is a total no-brainer. It’s also highly recommended for Michael Richards fans who want a tastes of his non-Kramer work just as he was getting started on Seinfeld (the series premiered the same month, July 1989, that UHF hit theaters).

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is music and film. As “The Other Chad,” he has written for the online magazine Blogcritics since 2008. When he’s not writing, Chaz can be found trolling jazz clubs, attempting to find somewhere to play his sax (whether anyone wants to hear…

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