Meatballs Blu-ray Review
Bill Murray made a string of movies in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, some of which are considered the best comedies in history. One of these movies, MEATBALLS (1979), was recently released on Blu-ray. The Saturday Night Live alum was actually in the middle of his tenure with that show when MEATBALLS was released, and one could make the argument that his success was due to either of these seminal comedic projects. A summer camp movie for older kids, this one was considered raunchy and edgy when it was released (even though it only received a PG rating). It’s surprising how much like an actual summer camp the movie is… and how sweet it feels, looking back.
MEATBALLS is the story of Camp Northstar, its CITs (counselors-in-training), and one summer’s campers. As the film opens we are introduced to Tripper (Bill Murray), the head counselor for Camp North Star. He might live at the camp all year long – the only person we see with private lodgings, Tripper appears to be completely in his element working with the counselors as they prepare for this season’s kids. When the counselors go to pick them up, we get a glimpse into a different time. Parents drop off their children at a mall parking lot to be rounded up into school buses to go to the camp. There are no cell phones, no computers – just a summer in the heat with a bunch of people you know and a bunch you don’t.
As the campers say goodbye to their parents, get their bus assignments and meet their counselors, Tripper steals away. Across the parking lot, another camp is loading up – the camp for the extremely wealthy (against whom Northstar competes each year). When we all get back to camp, though, it’s clear that one kid isn’t happy. Rudy decides to run away, but Tripper actually connects with him which leads Rudy to return to the camp. Rudy seems like a normal kid, just with a self-confidence problem (this is his first camp) – which leads to a weird, sweet friendship that would be frowned upon in todays society (given their age difference). The majority of the film, though, focuses on the friendships developed by the counselors at our little camp, giving us glimpses of the inside jokes and the wide open summer routine that each of us longs for in our humdrum adult lives.
One of the things that surprised me when I watched MEATBALLS was just how sweet it is. Having been born in ’79, I probably identified the MEATBALLS name more with its terrible sequels than I did with this movie. This is sad, because as awful as those movies were (I’m not even going to reference their actual titles) the original MEATBALLS really does the camp experience justice. You can identify with the kids and their sadness about going to camp and leaving home. You get excited too when it seems like camp is going to be fun after all. And you’re sad when camp is winding down – knowing that you aren’t going to be able to experience this very summer in the same way…
The best thing about the movie, though, is getting to see a young Bill Murray play with all of the charisma and nuance of his later films. At this point he wasn’t a serious star, he was just helping out friends (check out the commentary for more on this), director Reitman and co-writer Harold Ramis. Because of Murray’s magnetism and the movie’s heart, you forget about the rough patches (though there are plenty), the jokes that fall flat, and the scene that might be categorized as attempted rape in today’s society… but somehow it all works and by the end you want to just sit back and smile. MEATBALLS is far from perfect, but it’s fun and heart felt.
Video: (1080p, 1.78:1 Widescreen) MEATBALLS was made on a small budget in the 1970s and you can certainly tell… your enjoyment of this movie and video will probably be directly related to your history with it. This is absolutely terrible video but that probably owes to the source material. It’s honest, gritty, and just not made for HD.
Audio: (English DTS-HD Master Audio Mono) The sound is mediocre but since MEATBALLS is largely dialogue-based you forget about it; the gags that work are fun and the mix plays well enough.
Commentary with Director Ivan Reitman and Co-Writer and Co-Producer Dan Goldberg (01:33:43) A great commentary that is a shining example of what commentaries should be – this is conversational fun. The kind of feature that makes you feel like you’re a fly on the wall during an incredible discussion. The point here is that it’s just FUN to listen to these guys.