Are you ready for the summer? If so, that must mean camp time (or at least it did in the 70's and 80's), complete with swimming, hiking, randy teenagers, and class warfare. Tripper (Bill Murray) is the counselor with a wicked sense of humor but an eye out for the lonely kid; can he keep his charges entertained, the lady counselors enamored, and the opposing camp embarrassed? That's the story of Meatballs.
Summer camp (does that even exist anymore?) has long provided fertile ground for all manner of films, be it family oriented comedies, bawdy sex romps, or bloody slasher films. Among the most commercially successful was 1979's Meatballs, which spawned several sequels, a number of knockoffs, and at least one brilliantly absurd parody (Wet Hot American Summer). Going on three decades after its original release, Meatballs is very dated, surprisingly heartfelt, and bolstered by the trump card that other summer camp films lacked: Bill Murray as champion of the underdogs.
Camp North Star is exactly what you'd expect it to be: situated on a picturesque lake, cabins packed with guests, and kids at every embarrassing and swollen stage of puberty. Minimal guidance and leadership comes from heavy-sleeping head counselor Morty (Harvey Atkin) and Murray's Tripper, a rambunctious id who reserves a soft spot for lonely new kid Rudy (Chris Makepeace). The relationship between Tripper and Rudy is the emotional core of the film, generating some of the best laughs and providing some measure of a structure to what is predominantly a plotless film.
Comedy, like any thing else, is often heavily tied to the era in which it's produced. Thus, many of the visual gags and jokes in Meatballs feel like relics of bygone times; two guys carrying a pane of glass (and what's going to break it?) was once a good one-off, but material like that simply falls flat now. Performance, on the other hand, can transcend era, and Murray's is the not-so-secret weapon of the film. It's easy both to see why audiences started flocking to him after this role and still appreciate his genius work all these years later; he's frenetic, magnetic, and self-aware. Even if some of the humor doesn't hold up, Murray's work does and makes Meatballs a mostly enjoyable journey to the nigh-extinct genre of summer camp films.
Meatballs is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio; the image will completely fill your widescreen TV. This was a relatively low budget film back in the day, and it shows as one now: the sunlit colors are pleasantly bright, but you'll see frequent artifacts. The image quality isn't offensive or terrible, but simply representative of the kind of inexpensive film this was.
The audio for this Blu-ray is 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand, Elmer Bernstein's very earnest music rings out nicely, but this is not pretending to be an immersive surround sound experience. It's perfectly adequate and no more.
There is but one special feature for this Blu-ray: a feature length commentary by director Ivan Reitman and Co-Writer/Producer Dan Goldberg (apparently lifted from an earlier DVD release of the film). Mostly, this is a warm remembrance of the production, but it's notable for the surprising candor displayed by Reitman and Goldberg, who acknowledge some of the difficulties encountered during shooting and how much post-production tweaking was required to make the film they wanted.