Is there any director whose body of work contains more quirky feel-good movies than Joe Dante? A genial satirist who started off under the auspices of Roger Corman’s New World pictures and quickly graduated to ‘A’ class projects like GREMLINS and INNERSPACE, Dante remains, along with his contemporaries David Cronenberg, George Romero and John Carpenter, a director whose sensibilities were retained, rather than compromised, following his move to larger budget studio pictures.
THE ‘BURBS was made just before arguably his best films (GREMLINS 2 and MATINEE) and benefits from a Tom Hanks on the cusp of mega-stardom, as well as the usual kind of quirky character actors Dante had established a reputation for working with from the beginning of his career (Bruce Dern, Wendy Schaal, Dick Miller, Robert Picardo).
When the unseen Klopek family (Henry Gibson, Brother Theodore and Courtney Gains) move into the weird old house in their neighbourhood, ‘ordinary’ suburbanites Tom Hanks, irritating Rick Ducommun and raving mad Bruce Dern decide to investigate, discovering human bones, weird goings-on at night, and a huge furnace in the Klopek basement. Things reach a climax when they cause the Klopek’s house to explode and the secret of what has been going on in there is finally revealed.
Joe Dante’s THE ‘BURBS is a satire on multiple levels. The American suburb in which the film is set is not typical of real America, but its television equivalent, and its filming on the Universal backlot where many of the television programmes of Dante’s youth were made (including Leave It To Beaver and The Munsters) is significant. The film allows the viewer to side with any of the three points of view on offer - the weird Klopeks, the ‘normal’ suburbanites, or the teenagers led by Corey Feldman, who are there to watch the show put on for them by their elders-but-not-so-betters. Like much of Dante’s work, THE ‘BURBS is not strictly definable in terms of genre. Many scenes are played as a comedy of manners, but it’s just a bit too weird for the straight comedy audience. The plot is a little bit too slight for feature length, leaving the cast to do an admirable job of ad-libbing. As a result THE ‘BURBS is never less than interesting, even if it cannot be considered amongst the best of Dante’s work.
Arrow’s Blu-ray begins with a note about the pains taken to provide the transfer on the disk. There’s still a lot of grain on the image but a look at one of the extras - a feature length work print with extra scenes - shows you how cleaned up this new transfer is. As well as the work print we get an excellent documentary on the making of the film from High Rising Productions. It runs for just over an hour and includes interviews with Dante, Corey Feldman, Wendy Schaal, Courtney Gains, DP Robert Stevens and PD James Spencer. There’s also an alternate ending that’s well worth a look (I preferred it to the actual ending of the film), a trailer, a featurette comparing the differences between the work print and the final movie version, a new commentary track with screenwriter Dana Olsen, and an isolated music and effects track.
Arrow Films released Joe Dante's THE 'BURBS in regular and limited steelbook Blu-ray editions on 15th September 2014