Remember the good old days when Tom Hanks was funny? I do.
This is one of Tom Hanks’ better efforts as a comedian in film. It’s right up there alongside Big and Joe Versus the Volcano. And Castaway.
Tom plays Ray, a humble guy with the week off from work who feels there’s something strange about the new neighbours. They work odd hours and they keep digging up their yard in the middle of the night, plus they beat the garbage into the bins in big black garbage bags. The house is in disrepair and there’s some sort of high-energy device in the cellar that drains power from all the surrounding homes.
|"Nobody knocks off an old man in my neighbourhood and gets away with it!"|
When another neighbour, Walter, disappears, Art (the guy from across the street) seems convinced the bizarre new neighbours, the Klopeks, have done away with him. Whilst dodging his long-suffering wife Carol, Ray and Art begin a bumbling investigation that includes the burned-out Vietnam veteran from across the street. Between the three of them they manage to put together a flimsy case based on circumstantial evidence that eventually leads them to breaking and entering and digging up the Klopek’s cellar, with disastrous consequences.
There are many loving homages to the paranoia of suburban America with some classical clichéd visions of decaying American Gothic architecture reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Psycho. There’s a familiar taste to the tale too, with a storyline practically ripped whole from nearly any episode of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone. These modern iconic references work well in what isn’t a spoof, but rather a tongue in cheek revisiting and revamping of the frighteners of the past. Fans of Tom Waits will easily draw a parallel between this film and the similarly paranoid What’s He Building in There> from the 1999 Mule Variations album too. That song and this film both paint portraits of furtive peering through screen windows and parted curtains at the hidden enemy of difference. So, as a whole, this film is a subtle dig at conformity... yet also a subtle jab at difference. Perhaps I’m reading too much into what is most obviously a simple comedy, but this darkness beneath is what makes the film so funny. Using numerous odd-angle camera shots and tense musical accompaniments to over-exaggerate the drama of the situation, Dante has created a healthy paranoia in which Hanks’ character constantly wrestles with both his unnerving fears and his rational adulthood. And that, of course, is exactly the secret to Tom Hanks’ humour.
The ‘Burbs is one of those films that don’t get made anymore, and if they are they star no-namers and sneak quietly into DVD bargain baskets. More frequently though, this sort of story and comedy is now saved for television as cinema audiences want more than the satisfactions of the past. TV audiences too want more, which is why scripts like this don’t seem to get as far as the cinema these days. That makes this film a sort of time capsule then, of a period when cinema was allowed to be silly and paranoia was funny.
But paranoia isn’t allowed to be funny these days.
For a 1989 film, the picture quality is quite good with only occasional nondescript artefacts that don’t make their presence all that heavily felt. Lines are relatively sharp and there’s only faint grain in some of the darker interior shots (inside the Klopeks’ house, for example). Flesh tones are even and the colour palette is well saturated with blacks being true. That doesn’t necessarily make the shadow detail any good though and here it is average at best (although that may well be the intent of Dante). And thankfully we receive the film in 1.85:1 with 16:9 enhancement.
While this is only delivered in Dolby Digital 2.0, it does a pretty good job. Levels are even with dialogue being clear (but for some extreme high-pitched emotional Hanks outbursts) and sound effects being comedically strategic. The surrounds carry the sound for most of the film, although there is no real separation, and the subwoofer supports some of the heavier noises like explosions and thunderstorms. Jerry Goldsmith has scored an exacting musical accompaniment here with a perky revisiting of the 1950s style perfect-suburban-Norman-Rockwell-American-lifestyle of cheery strings contrasted against a harpsichord and piano overly-dramatic horror. This adds real depth to the film and works in absolute harmonic tandem with the visuals. Superb scoring.
Hanks truly makes this film, which is a fun take on the old ‘Reds under the bed’ paranoia of middle America in the 1950s. While given a splash of paint to update it, the old themes of urban myths and irrational fear are more than evident in this funny assault on the whole thing. Fans of vintage Hanks won’t find a much better vehicle than this one, when he was at the peak of his comedic strength and popularity before Philadelphia in 1993 forever changed the course of his acting career.
Having seen this numerous times before, I still found humour in this as the film manages to maintain its rewatchability factor quite well. Funny stuff and well worth checking out, (but not for the crap extras).