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In Britain 1966 recently expelled student, Carl has been sent by his mother to find some direction in life by visiting his godfather, Quentin. However, Quentin is the boss of Radio Rock, a pirate radio station in the middle of the North Sea, populated by an eclectic crew of rock-and-roll deejays. Life on the North Sea is eventful. Carl discovers the opposite sex and who his real father is. Meanwhile, pirate stations have come to the attention of government minister Dormand, who is out for the blood of these lawbreakers. In an era when the stuffy corridors of power stifle anything approaching youthful exuberance, Dormand seizes the chance to score a political goal, and The Marine Broadcasting Offences Act is passed in an effort to outlaw the pirates and to remove their ghastly influence from the land once and for all. What results is a literal storm on the high seas. With Radio Rock in peril, its devoted fans rally together and stage an epic Dunkirk-style hundred-boat rescue to save their deejay heroes. Some things may come to an end, but rock and roll never dies.
For more about Pirate Radio and the Pirate Radio Blu-ray release, see Pirate Radio Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on April 19, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Nick Frost, Kenneth Branagh, Charlie Rowe
Director: Richard Curtis
» See full cast & crew
Pirate Radio Blu-ray Review
An uneven British comedy nets an impressive Blu-ray release...
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, April 19, 2010
"It was loud. It was rebellious. And in 1966 the British government banned Rock 'n Roll on the radio. Until one American DJ and a band of renegades launched a radio station on the high seas and raided the airwaves. They had millions of fans, a boat full of treasure, and the full attention of the authorities." Or so says Pirate Radio's theatrical trailer. While it eventually slaps the words "Inspired by a True Story" on the screen, writer/director Richard Curtis' coming-of-age ensemble comedy is only loosely based on historical fact. By the critically hailed filmmaker's own repeated admissions, it's actually a fictitious tale that merely takes a few liberal cues from several state-run snafus in the '60s and a number of off-shore broadcasters who skirted the laws of the land. Will that prevent anyone from enjoying Pirate Radio? It shouldn't. With a perfectly cast crew of witty misfits, talented comedians, and memorable actor's actors, there's a lot to love on board the rusty Radio Rock. What will prevent filmfans from enjoying Curtis' most recent effort is its watery screenplay, wandering subplots, and slippery narrative, all of which nearly sink his troubled ship.
When a rebellious group of international disc jockeys take to the oceans to illegally broadcast Rock 'n Roll to a repressed British populous, a pair of stuffy government officials -- minister Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh) and his loyal underling Dominic Twatt (Jack Davenport) -- decide enough is enough. Mounting an aggressive campaign to thwart the law-breaking shenanigans of the ship's captain, Quentin (Bill Nighy), the furrowed-browed conservatives begin looking for ways to shut down the pirates for good. Meanwhile, aboard the Radio Rock, an impressionable young man named Carl (Tom Sturridge) is sent to live with his godfather (the good captain himself) after being expelled from school. There he meets the Count (Philip Seymour Hoffman), famed American DJ and notorious rabble-rouser; Dr. Dave (Nick Frost), a roly poly Brit broadcaster; Simple Simon (Chris O'Dowd), the early-morning voice of the people at large; Gavin Canavagh (Rhys Ifans), the flamboyant, boundary-pushing king of the airwaves; Angus (Flight of the Conchords' Rhys Darby), a nutty Kiwi funnyman; Smooth Bob (Ralph Brown), late-night DJ and self-proclaimed Dawn Treader; Midnight Mark (Tom Wisdom), enigmatic ladies' man; Felicity (Katherine Parkinson), the ship's cook; John (Will Adamsdale), the station's humble newsman; Thick Kevin (Tom Brooke), Carl's new roommate; and many others. As Dormandy closes in and the eccentric DJs run wild, Carl learns he's been sent to the Radio Rock for more reasons than he bargained for.
Though billed as an ensemble piece, Pirate Radio is told almost entirely through the eyes of Carl, a young virgin cut from the same screenwriters' cloth as Almost Famous' William Miller. But while Patrick Fugit struck just the right chord as Cameron Crowe's wide-eyed rock newborn, Sturridge struggles to carry the weight of Curtis' scattershot story. Hoffman, Nighy, Ifans, Frost, Darby, Wisdom, Brown, and nearly everyone else aboard the Radio Rock descend upon the ship's newest crewman as if a Hendrix-addled Willy Wonka had burst into a dozen different characters. They impart hazed wisdom, grant him access to a bizarre candy shop of women and music, and inevitably help him to discover his identity. (Had Curtis dropped the same motley, Monty Python-esque troop in the middle of a farcical misadventure, I would have loved every droll minute.) Yet Sturridge does little more than squint and stare for most of the film, watching anxiously as his ragtag comrades act like children. His subsequent revelations are increasingly contrived, and his development as a human being even more so. Again, Nighy and his fellow actors' cartoonish antics are thoroughly entertaining, but the whole of the production takes on water whenever Carl trots from madman to madman seeking some sort of ill-defined direction (a process that drags on for more than an hour). The manner in which Pirate Radio lurches and lulls only makes matters worse, and often highlights the fact that Curtis had to trim a tremendous amount of scenes from his first cut (not to mention the additional twenty minutes of scenes cut from the British version of the film, the poorly received The Boat that Rocked).
Even so, there will be those who adore Pirate Radio. Some will see its inconsistent tone as the byproduct of a dicey edit, others will find it to be thematically relevant. Some will lament the squandered potential of its water-logged third act, others will gleefully embrace its aimless plotting. Some will cry foul when they realize next to nothing actually happens in the film, still others will praise the free-spirited structure of the story. Some will loathe its teetering everyman, others will wish he had never graced Curtis' imagination. I really wanted to wrap my arms around Pirate Radio, I really did. Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, though only written by Curtis, were smart and funny '90s gems, and Love Actually, his directorial debut, remains one of the more digestible romantic comedies I've had the pleasure of watching again and again over the years. Sadly, I couldn't get my bearings here. Sturridge is a distraction, several rim-shot characters are woefully underdeveloped, Curtis' domestic and international cuts are riddled with holes (presumably from extensive snipping), and the proceedings feel overcrowded and underwhelming. There are laughs to be had and performances to be savored -- perhaps more than this review might ultimately suggest -- but they simply aren't funny enough or strong enough to save Pirate Radio from its self-destructive tendencies.
Pirate Radio Blu-ray, Video Quality
Pirate Radio arrives in style with a colorful, entirely capable 1080p/VC-1 transfer; one that faithfully embraces every frame of Curtis' high seas culture clash. As readily as cinematographer Danny Cohen's palette complements the savory pulse of '60s rock, so too does Universal's presentation. Skintones are lovely and lifelike, British Invasion reds and blues pop, black levels are rich and well-resolved, and contrast, though a tad overbearing at times, remains strong throughout. Detail is impressive as well. Sure, softness comes to bear on a number of scenes, but it's never without cinematic merit. Fine textures are fit and filmic, edge definition is quite satisfying, and delineation is natural and revealing. Note the tattered edges of record sleeves and the flaking paint on the hull; the stubborn stubble climbing Philip Seymour Hoffman's cheeks and the rust snaking its way across the ceiling. Better still, pay attention to the technical proficiency of the transfer. Artifacting, aliasing, and source noise aren't at play, and ringing and banding only make a few negligible appearances. All things considered, Pirate Radio's transfer looks great and should easily please anyone who sinks into Curtis' story.
Pirate Radio Blu-ray, Audio Quality
With the Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, the Troggs, Procol Harum, the Turtles, Cream, and the Who on board, is it any wonder that Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track rocks? Sublime guitar riffs, raw vocals, and weighty bass beats keep Richard Curtis' sound design afloat, even though many a scene features little more than well-prioritized conversations and convincing seascape ambience. The relative quiet before each storm remains true to the director's intentions, mind you, but the melodies of the Beach Boys have never been more welcome than when they break through the silence that occasionally descends on Quentin's rebel ship. Through it all, LFE output is intense and impassioned, rear speaker activity is diligent and effective, and the resulting soundfield is quite immersive. Listen to the distant waves mingle with the clamor of the crew; as the Radio Rock floods with the sounds of its illegal sonic wares; as the Count barks into the salt-stained hollows of his microphone; as the hull of the ship and its creaking interiors gripe and groan. Dialogue is clear and clean as well, and lines are rarely lost at sea. Moreover, crisp sound effects and classic rock songs surge and relent without fail, lending the whole of the experience a truly enjoyable tone and tenor. Universal is one of the most consistent studios when it comes to lossless audio quality, and Pirate Radio doesn't disappoint.
Pirate Radio Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Blu-ray edition of Pirate Radio washes up on shore with a solid selection of special features. There aren't many surprises to be had -- sadly, there isn't a Picture-in-Picture track or a more extensive glimpse behind the scenes -- but the disc's infectious commentary, featurettes, and deleted scenes add welcome value to the release. It helps that each one is presented in high definition, offers plenty of humor and charm, and showcases the cast and crew's breezy chemistry.
Pirate Radio Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
The US cut of Pirate Radio has its share of problems, but then so does director Richard Curtis' original British cut, The Boat That Rocked. Both are bloated, both lack narrative focus, and both tend to drift off course. Still, the film is worth renting on a rainy day, if for no other reason than to enjoy everything the majority of Curtis' cast brings to the table. Thankfully, Universal's Blu-ray release is more reliable. With a strong video transfer, a fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio track, and a decent selection of supplements (including a fast and funny group commentary), fans shouldn't hesitate to add this one to their shopping carts. It isn't the definitive edition some were hoping for -- it would have been nice to have both cuts of the film -- but it does emerge as yet another solid Blu-ray release from Universal.
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