Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Parody Of A Perfect Film, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side Is No The Empire Strikes Back!

The Good: Funny, Moments of clever, Great DVD/Blu-Ray bonus features!
The Bad: A lot of the humor falls flatter than in "Blue Harvest."
The Basics: Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is a parody of The Empire Strikes Back which is entertaining, but not quite as funny as the first Family Guy Star Wars parody.

Last year, abruptly, fans who had been watching Family Guy learned about a little Christmas gift from the franchise: the second Star Wars parody! While the television release of the parody of The Empire Strikes Back, entitled Something, Something, Something, Dark Side (fans know what that's from!), was scheduled for May as that season's finale, fans were able to buy it early! Yes, three days before Christmas last year, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side was released.

And it's good. But it's no Blue Harvest. I write this with some irony because while many fans of science fiction love A New Hope (the first Star Wars film in theaters), I've always been partial to The Empire Strikes Back (click here for that review!), the Family Guy parodies have gone the other way. The other irony is this: Seth MacFarlane and his team seem less committed to making this episode funny than they are to simply remaking The Empire Strikes Back with Family Guy characters. Even so, there is some decent humor in Something, Something, Something, Dark Side and it will please fans of both Family Guy and the Star Wars Trilogy.

While watching the new Aaron Sorkin television show, the power goes out in the Griffin house and after Peter tells the story of Black Snake Moan, he begins to tell the story of The Empire Strikes Back. Following a witty comment on how Fox has made bad calls in the past, Luke Skywalker and the Rebels find themselves on Hoth where Han is preparing to leave when Luke Skywalker is attacked by a Cookie Monster and left for dead. Rescued by Han, Luke recovers right before the Empire arrives and wipes out the Rebels there.

Fleeing into space, Han and Leia take refuge in an asteroid field, before the Imperial forces drive them out (of Meg!). They make a trip to Bespin, unaware that Darth Vader's bounty hunter Boba Fett has arrived and is waiting to trap them! Meanwhile, Luke trains with the movie-trivia guru Yoda who teaches him about the Force, until he sees his family in peril and leaves Dagobah to try to rescue them. This leads to a climactic battle between Luke and Darth Vader!

Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is another fun romp through the Star Wars galaxy which is somewhat muted in its humor. Unlike the thrill of Blue Harvest where there was some excitement about which characters in Family Guy will impersonate which Star Wars character, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is more a retelling of The Empire Strikes Back. The fifty-four minute film is designed to appeal to fans of Family Guy and it is a bit more subtle than Blue Harvest. So, for example, Cookie Monster as the Wampa creature on Hoth is not a bad choice, but is a very obscure callback to one of the flashbacks in Family Guy. Similarly, Don Knots appearing as a "Don Don" (Tauntaun) and the use of "Phony" guy are more obscure than even James Woods making a cameo as an Imperial officer.

There is also less humor on the overall Trilogy in Something, Something, Something, Dark Side. So, for example, the resolution to the film is called out (leading to a clever Back To The Future parody) and there is a detail about Lando's wardrobe which is referenced. But there is a greater use of general humor in the Star Wars setting - commenting on electrical wiring on the frozen planet of Hoth, one of the AT-ATs wearing sandals, and a Darth Vader fart joke - than in Blue Harvest. This might actually make it more accessible to a wider audience than just Family Guy fans.

But it is the lack of humor which makes it more appropriate for just fans of Star Wars. During, for example, the invasion of Hoth, there is a full minute without any jokes as the Rebels are attacked and everyone flees. Star Wars fans are likely to appreciate this as a necessary evil based upon the source material, but those looking for laughs will not find this to be as nonstop funny as Blue Harvest.

That said, the animation is exceptional. When tripped, one of the AT-ATs does a hilarious callback to Peter's recurring gag of him falling, clutching his knee and groaning. And another AT-AT does a great callback to a cutaway where Brian had worms. The backgrounds are exceptionally detailed and the production value of the episode makes viewers feel like they are getting their money's worth. However, it is worth noting (what I suspected all along) that Family Guy has no real benefit in HD over standard DVD. Having seen this on Blu-Ray three times now, there is no quality difference between what I see in the HD televised episodes and the Blu-Ray quality.

As a result, only the die-hard fans will want this on Blu-Ray for the Deluxe edition. Yes, I am heavily advising that unless one wants the collectible Something, Something, Something, Dark Side lunchbox and extra large t-shirt that come in the deluxe edition, they purchase the DVD version instead of the Blu-Ray version of this work (the vast number of DVDs sold in the past ten years makes it highly probable that all Blu-Ray players will be backward compatible to DVD for at least the next fifty years). ALL of the programming features on the DVD and Blu-Ray discs are identical, so there is no loss of bonus goodies by buying on DVD as opposed to the standard Blu-Ray version. Only the Blu-Ray appears to be available in the exclusive deluxe edition. The Deluxe Edition with the lunchbox and t-shirt is not quite as deluxe as the Blue Harvest deluxe edition which also included a bunch of trading cards, a production journal and other non-programming swag.

That said, on DVD and Blu-Ray, Something, Something, Something, Dark Side includes two commentary tracks, an audio commentary and a text commentary which pops up throughout the episode (like "Pop-up Video") when the feature is activated. The audio commentary is only worth it for the comments from David A. Goodman and the fact that MacFarlane reveals that while there is a Return Of The Jedi Family Guy episode coming soon, there will be no prequels. He attributes this to the idea that the prequels are already animated, but I think it's laziness based upon the content of Something, Something, Something, Dark Side. This version of a Star Wars parody would force Family Guy to use obscure characters in big roles - Carl as Yoda, Carter as Palpatine and the Chicken as Jango/Boba Fett - but what MacFarlane seems to be forgetting is that Lucas ran the same risks of alienating his audience when he made the Prequel Trilogy. So, the idea of a Jillian as Padme interacting with Stewie Anakin and a younger Herbert, makes the possibility of the Prequel Trilogy more exciting, rather than less. The ambitious nature of the backgrounds and character designs in Something, Something, Something, Dark Side illustrate that this is not out of the depth of creative ability of the Family Guy staff.

Also on the DVD and Blu-Ray is a featurette on how the Something, Something, Something, Dark Side poster/DVD cover was made and table readings of the first two acts of Something, Something, Something, Dark Side and a scene of We Have A Bad Feeling About This (the Return Of The Jedi spoof). Fortunately, the We Have A Bad Feeling About This (the name of which has subsequently been changed to It's A Trap!) table read has only about five minutes of footage, so it does not mortgage the next episode by revealing too much in advance. Unfortunately, Seth MacFarlane seems entirely oblivious at the table read that only he is consistently laughing. Gags fall flat and while the gag they read through with Han Solo having O.C.D. will undoubtedly work as a visual gag, other verbal gags that the script had garnered no laughs from the table, nor me. If the Animatic feature on Something, Something, Something, Dark Side is any indication, there is the potential these problems will be changed before the final installment is released.

That said, this is a very pure parody and it is fun, but not quite as funny as Blue Harvest was. Still, there is enough in it that is funny to make Family Guy and Star Wars fans feel like they've gotten their money's worth!

For other animated works by Seth MacFarlane, please check out my reviews of:
Seth MacFarlane's Cavalcade Of Cartoon Comedy
Family Guy Volume 8
Family Guy Presents Partial Terms Of Endearment


For other television program reviews, please check out my index page!

© 2010, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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