Review Date: January 19, 2003
Released by: Dead-Alive Productions
Release date: ??
Region 1, NTSC
Full Frame 1.33:1
As of this writing, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers is the number one film at the box office. Many are suggesting that the character of Gollum, despite being heavily enhanced digitally, is still worthy of Oscar consideration. But it's certainly not the first time that director Peter Jackson has filmed a bizarre non-human character. In fact, he once made a movie that is nothing but the strangest puppets you'll ever see. Get ready for the most insane variety players ever. Ladies and gentleman, please welcome the fabulous Feebles!
Man, I don't even know where to begin with this one. Perhaps the best description of Meet the Feebles is The Muppet Show on acid. We're treated to a backstage look at a variety troupe, the titular Feebles. There's singing, dancing, magic, everything you'd expect from a great stage team. Everything and more.
You see, all is not right backstage at Feeble-land. The gang is preparing for a prime-time television special, but problems abound everywhere. Producer Bletch the Walrus is preparing a major cocaine purchase while his assistant Trevor the Rat films interspecies S&M porn films in the basement. Bletch is also carrying on an affair with a Siamese cat prostitute, much to the chagrin of his girlfriend (and the show's big star), Heidi the Hippo. Heidi is distressed about her cheating lover, leading her to an overeating binge.
Still with me? Oh, it gets worse. Harry the Bunny has been…well, mating like a bunny, resulting in terminal VD, and it looks like he won't survive the day. A toilet-dwelling tabloid reporter fly is looking for the scandal to trash the Feebles' name. Wynyard the Frog is addicted to heroin, and is going through withdrawal symptoms and Vietnam flashbacks at the same time. That might not be bad, except he's also the show's resident knife-thrower. Sidney the Elephant (with an extremely weak bladder) is being slapped with a paternity suit from his girlfriend, Sandy the Chicken. Yeah, you heard me right. An elephant and a chicken. And Sebastian the Fox is desperately trying to get his big song and dance number, an ode to sodomy, added to the show's lineup. And yet, there's a boy-meets-girl subplot, or at least hedgehog-meets-poodle, with new arrival Robert (or to be more correct, Wobert) and chorus member Lucille.
I am not on drugs. This is what really happens in Meet the Feebles. The movie mostly consists of short vignettes and funny songs, until it all comes together in the finale: The airing of the Feebles Variety Hour. The show starts off as a hit, but soon all the dysfunctions of the cast and crew lead to the predictable and disastrous on-stage results. I won't give away too much of the ending, but let's just say that hell hath no fury like a hippo with a machine gun.
If there's a movie stranger than Meet the Feebles, I sure haven't seen it. I thought Bad Taste was about as wild a film as one can make, but Peter Jackson always strives to top himself. He overwhelmingly succeeds with Feebles. Yet, if one can overlook the obvious attempts at excess (bodily fluids, sex, rape, gore, violence), Jackson's inventiveness with a camera still shines through. With so many quick edits, it's quite possible that the quirky 30-second maximum camera with which he made Bad Taste was also used for the Feebles. It's that type of style that gives so many of the puppets (and the film itself) real character. Admittedly, it's no Muppets, but Jim Henson took years to give his characters life. Jackson did it much faster with a fraction of the budget. I'd say the puppets (and characters) here have much more realism and depth than Fox TV's recent Greg The Bunny, a much tamer attempt at sordid puppetry.
There are also a good variety of puppet types, which also keeps everything from getting too stale. Bletch and Heidi look more like humans with costumes. It's a similar style to the aliens in Bad Taste (if you look close enough, it looks like one of those aliens is attending the Feebles premiere). Of course, not all the puppets are cute and/or tasteful. A few are racial stereotypes which might offend some groups, although with a movie like this, it's almost implied that every character (except maybe Robert) is meant to be offensive in one way or another.
Now, it's far from a perfect film. The gross-out juvenile humor that punctuates Bad Taste and Dead-Alive (aka Brain Dead) is here in spades. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's just sophomoric. But, it was Peter Jackson testing his extremes. After Dead-Alive, he cut down on the outrageousness, so maybe he got it all out of his system. Once you get as big as Jackson is today, you certainly can't go back to making films like Meet the Feebles. Some people prefer Heidi the Hippo, others like Frodo the Hobbit. What's cool is that Peter Jackson has made different films for various tastes, and thus almost everyone gets to enjoy his work in some form or another.
While many have commented on the sheer craziness of the film, there are other aspects that often go unnoticed. For one thing, some Feebles viewers have spoken negatively on the whole Robert/Lucille thing. But Robert in a lot of ways is the film's central character and really the only semi-normal one of the bunch, which helps to tie the whole story together. Until the big finale, many of the characters and storylines are mostly unrelated, and it's almost more like a series of short, sick-and-twisted vignettes (the Deer Hunter parody is fantastic though). It's Robert the Hedgehog, who is well, meeting the Feebles, that provides what little narrative there is.
I also really enjoyed a lot of the music in the movie. There's a lot of singing and dancing at the beginning, but that kind of wanes until the big show at the end. One of the opening numbers, One Leg Missing, is a real hoot, and most of the songs have really clever lyrics. Again, it's real easy to focus on the depravity of Meet the Feebles, but you don't often hear that Peter Jackson once made a musical, and a darn good one at that.
Back in July of 2002, in a chat here at HorrorDVDs.com, Anchor Bay Entertainment announced that Meet the Feebles was an upcoming project. Then in August, I met the folks at Dead-Alive Productions, who were genuinely surprised to hear about an Anchor Bay release. They claimed that they had exclusive rights.
Well, while Dead-Alive will certainly want to be the solitary source for Meet the Feebles DVDs, if they truly care about the film itself, I hope they'll allow someone to create a proper DVD release of this movie. I'm not trying to put down D-A, but it's pretty obvious that the transfer here is taken directly from a print, and not a very good one at that. Meet the Feebles is in desperate need of a re-mastering. After seeing how great Bad Taste looked, I have to assume that we can get a better version of Feebles as well. This version is full-frame, although I don't know if Jackson intended for it to be cropped to a widescreen presentation. The overall look is extremely dark and murky, which obscures many of the great puppet designs. It's extremely grainy, too. Scratches, pops and reel change markers are plainly visible. The scratches get pretty bad towards the end of a reel, and there's usually a pretty bad jump when those reels change. I don't know if the masters are lost, but if they're not, I hope that someone (whether it's Anchor Bay or Dead-Alive) will see to doing a new transfer taken from those masters.
And no, the sound is not much better. At first, when the opening title song plays, I thought it was a flashback scene and the scratchy sound was meant to emulate an old record. Imagine my shock when I discovered that much of the film plays like that. When the scratches go away (they're most prevalent at the beginning and ending of reels), there is still a noticeable background hum. The DVD has Dolby Digital 5.1 sound, but there is no directionality of the sound whatsoever. It's a mono soundtrack for the most part, just played through all of the speakers. The distortion makes deciphering some of the thick New Zealand accents very tough at times (well, at least to someone not from New Zealand). I think we can assume that whoever is re-doing the picture will give attention to a cleaned up audio presentation as well.
The only Feebles related supplement is a theatrical trailer. Trailers for seven other Dead-Alive films are here too. Extra features for early Jackson films seem pretty hard to come by, at least while he's still knee-deep in Middle Earth.
As of right now, one of only ways to see Meet the Feebles on DVD is this disc from Dead-Alive Productions (there was also an R1 Canadian DVD). And while I'm not trying to denigrate their company, I think that even they will admit that a remastered production would make this great film look and sound even better. I don't think this is the best possible version of Meet the Feebles. Still, since there is no definitive word on whether we'll ever see that remastered production (though I'm pretty sure we will), Peter Jackson fans should seriously consider getting this DVD just in case. The $14.99 price tag is pretty reasonable too. Even though I'm not impressed with the transfer, I can still see myself showing this movie off to a lot of friends, especially those who are only familiar with Peter Jackson from the Lord of the Rings films.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - D
Sound - D
Supplements - C-
- Running Time - 1 hour 37 minutes
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Theatrical Trailer
- Dead-Alive Productions Trailers