It's Wet Hot American Summertime! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Happy April Fool's Day, everyone! Today's April 1st, so I thought I'd take a look at a silly film today. You know, a real look at a real silly movie, not like a joke post about some made up thing like "Scream Factory just announced a special collector's edition blu-ray of the Garbage Pail Kids movie! Ha ha ha!" Oh wait, that actually happened... Well, I can't promise anything in this post will be half as ridiculous or unbelievable as that, but still, I think a goofy movie is in order. So how about 2001's Wet Hot American Summer? That's gotten a pretty recent blu-ray upgrade.
Wet Hot American Summer is kind of an oddball send-up/ homage to 80s summer camp movies like Meatballs, Party Camp, and even Sleepaway Camp. Parodying comedy creates a weird space, which also WHAS to alternatively satirize and genuinely participate as a sincere entry in the subgenre. It's written, directed and starring most of the members of the 90s sketch comedy group The State and sets up a lot of the absurd programming these people would later cook up for Comedy Central and the Cartoon Network. You can get hung up on whether each gag is meant to be sincerely funny or clever in how its making fun of past films' attempts to be funny, but really who cares? It just feels like they've thrown in every kind of joke that might potentially be amusing and related to the summer camp theme they could come up with, regardless of style or tone, and more of it works than in most comedies, so just enjoy the ride.
It's carried over a lot by a large ensemble cast, which besides most of The State guys, includes Janeane Garofalo, Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, Upright Citizen Amy Poehler, David Hyde Pierce, SNL's Molly Shannon, Law & Order: SVU's Christopher Maloni and Dr. Katz's H. Jon Benjamin as a can of peas. Plus they've also got a great pack of child actor extras, who outperform many of their 80s predecessors. And it's got a perfect soundtrack full of memorable 80s-like tunes. It's a movie both for people who grew up on and loved these cheesy old 80s camp movies, and for everyone who couldn't stand them. Sure, sometimes it gets mired in familiar easy jokes, obvious characterizations, sentimentality or doubling down on a bit that's just not working, but it's all likeable enough to keep you pleasantly engaged between the moments that actually make you laugh.
Wet Hot American Summer was first released on DVD in 2002 as a new release. It was later thrown into one of those "4 Comedy" combo back sets, and re-released in 2009 with the same disc but different cover. But when Netflix created the prequel series called Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, it was time for a new edition. So in 2015, Wet Hot American Summer got its HD debut on blu-ray with all new special features.
So it's still the same root transfer 13 years later, but that's alright because it's always looked pretty good, and the HD bump still manages to polish it off and add clarity where the DVD was compressed and smudged. What is interesting, though, is a slight alteration in the aspect ratio. The DVD is close to 1.78 (actually slightly pillar-boxed to about 1.76:1, but that would've all been in the overscan of 2002 TVs), but the blu has been slightly matted to 1.85:1. So we lost a tiny bit of picture on the top and bottom, and even a sliver on the right-hand side; but I'm presuming this is restoring it to its proper OAR. 1.85 is the usual theatrical aspect ratio, after all. Otherwise, though, the DVD's not too much worse than the blu... it's anamorphic, not interlaced, and the colors are about the same. It basically comes down to a standard HD bump and that subtle aspect ratio shift.

The audio also gets a bump from Dolby Stereo 2.0 to DTS-HD 2.0, so you can listen to those sweet 80s jams in full quality. Both discs also include subtitles.
More people are probably upgrading for the new special features than the uptick in quality anyway. Though the original DVD's collection wasn't too shabby as it was. There's a pretty lively, informative audio commentary by director David Wain, writer/ actor Michael Showalter and star Janeane Garofalo. There's also a making of featurette, a bunch of deleted scenes, a collection of (very short) cast interviews, and the trailer. There's also a couple of the songs from the film in their entirety and an additional audio track that I can't imagine anybody actually listening all the way through, which adds fart sounds to the film. And I'm not sure about the re-release in the brown cover, but the original DVD includes a fold-out insert with notes by Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly and David Wain.

Except for the insert, all of that has been carried over to the blu (even the fart track), but there are two key new features. One is a SF Sketchfest event, where members of the cast reenact scenes from the film. The audience is laughing, but they're basically just reading the same jokes from the film on a stage off a script. So it's sort of funny on its own terms, but if you have this blu, you already have all those jokes performed better in the film. Then there's the "10th Anniversary Event Highlights," which is essentially a really self-indulgent Stella performance, but eventually has some fun WHAS cast members reunions as various people from the film, including some of the kids now grown up, return to perform some silly pieces for a small Brooklyn audience. It ends with a skit by Rudd and Judd Apatow. All together, it's kind of amusing but pretty long. I think you have to be a really serious fan to stick with either of these features all the way through.

Frustratingly, there's a full-length 'making of' documentary, made up entirely of footage shot during filming of the movie, on Netflix called Hurricane of Fun: The Making of Wet Hot. Why isn't that on here? Maybe they'll eventually stick it on a First Day of Camp DVD, if they ever release one of those; but it's about the making of the movie, not the series, so I wouldn't get my hopes up. Looks like streaming will be its only home, so that's a little annoying.
Naturally, this is the best release of the film, being in HD with new features. But it's not a huge surge in quality and the new extras aren't really that compelling. So if you've already got the DVD, I'd say this is a low priority upgrade unless you're a die-hard fan. But on the other hand, it's still fairly new and already selling for some pretty cheap prices, so it;s one of those things you can quickly toss in your cart when you're buying some other stuff. That's what I did. Now, how about a First Day of Camp release, already?

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