Review of Pink Panther, The
I hate this film! That was my first reaction when I heard that they were going to make another Pink Panther film. How dare they even contemplate Clouseau without Peter Sellers? It`s just wrong.
I despise this film! That was my reaction when I learned that it would be Steve Martin donning the Mac and Moustache. This was the man who destroyed Bilko! You don`t hand over a beloved character to someone with that kind of track record.
Suffice it to say that The Pink Panther (2006 version) wasn`t high on my to watch list when it hit cinemas. Then a couple of things happened. First I had a chance to watch the Peter Seller movies again. Watching them with fresh eyes revealed a truth that a younger, more naïve perspective refused to acknowledge. They actually got worse as time passed. The first was more of an ensemble piece. It was a combination of Peter Sellers` prodigious talent and luck that made the character stand out to a degree that resulted in the series of films. The second, and in my opinion the best was A Shot In The Dark, where the hapless Inspector fell for the chief suspect in a murder case. But when Sellers returned to the character in the seventies, something changed. Clouseau was no longer a character, but a caricature, one whose gimmicks overpowered any remaining subtlety. The Return Of The Pink Panther was still entertaining, with the substantial presence of Christopher Plummer giving the film a serious edge to balance the slapstick. But subsequent films relied on Clouseau`s penchant for disguise far too much, and often felt like a collection of funny bits as opposed to coherent plots. By the time Sellers` swansong Revenge Of The Pink Panther rolled around, the series had hit a nadir of fart gags and a comedy French accent that had warped itself into incomprehensibility. But these Panthers were the height of comedy genius compared to what was to follow, as after Sellers` tragically early death, there was still more to be had from the franchise, and The Trail, The Curse, and most recently The Son Of The Pink Panther plumbed untold depths of comedy tedium, recycling clips and unused footage to milk this decrepit cash cow.
The second thing that happened was that I got a chance to watch Inspector Clouseau. This is the `unofficial` Pink Panther film, made in 1968 during Sellers` extended sabbatical from the character. It sees Alan Arkin in the title role, as the French detective comes to the UK to investigate a series of crimes for good old Scotland Yard. It isn`t very good. But what is notable is that Alan Arkin`s Clouseau is a completely different animal from the bumbling `tec of the other films. This is a more thoughtful character, less prone to slapstick, while just as pitiful in his misplaced superior arrogance. Arkin`s characterisation, while different is the one thing that really clicks about Inspector Clouseau, and it`s this that made me think twice about the newest Pink Panther.
So, with a couple of reservations, but also with a mind prised open by the recent re-experiencing of the later Sellers movies, I finally sit down to watch Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau in The Pink Panther.
The Pink Panther diamond has been stolen, and its owner, French football coach Yves Gluant murdered in front of a stadium full of witnesses, and potential killers. This would be a problem at the best of times, but for Chief Inspector Dreyfuss, it couldn`t have come at a more critical time. Nominated for France`s Legion of Honour, his receiving the award will rely on the outcome of the investigation. But an investigation conducted in the public eye is fraught with difficulties; fail and he would face national ridicule. So he comes up with a plan, find an incompetent and promote him into leading the investigation and destined to fail, while he works to find the killer behind the scenes and out of the glare of the cameras. For one Inspector Jacques Clouseau, this is the opportunity of a lifetime, to prove his superior sleuthing skills.
The Pink Panther gets a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer, which is quite frankly gorgeous. As befitting a recent film, signs of age are completely absent, but the transfer is remarkably free of compression artefacts and minutiae like shimmer and moiré on fine detail. For a comedy, this film also has some splendid production design, the palette is rich and lush, and sets like Dreyfuss` office and the New York hotel are dressed in luscious furniture and finery. It`s obvious that pleasure has been taken in creating the look of the film, and you can see that subtle softening has been applied in post-production to give the movie an almost magical, larger than life feel. One disappointment is the Pink Panther itself, which has been given a hideous pink tint that makes it look like a cheap chunk of plastic.
The sound is presented in glorious DD 5.1 English. If I may be technical for a minute, it`s a 384kbps track, which is less than the usual Dolby bitrate. As we all know, the more bits there are in anything digital, the better it is, so complain to your MPs about this. Seriously, it`s a fine track that makes punchy use of the surrounds, just as you would expect from a modern film. The dialogue is clear throughout (when intended to be that is), and the music comes across well. A fair selection of subtitles is provided for the film.
As you would expect, the pink theme is extended to the packaging, a pink Amaray is contained inside a cardboard slipcase, on which the film`s main characters pose behind a pink felt paw print. Inside there is an insert with a few pages of production notes for the film, as well as an advertisement for the animations. The menu has a beautifully rendered CGI panther fooling around, with Henry Mancini`s iconic theme playing in the background. It seems a lavish expenditure for the disc, and I could watch it for ages. But the truth is revealed amongst the copious extra features.
The Feature Commentary by director Shawn Levy is your usual director`s yak track, there`s plenty of details and anecdotes about the film, he`s a nice voluble speaker and easy to listen to, but I guess your mileage goes with how much you enjoy the film.
There are 24 minutes of deleted/alternate/extended scenes on the disc, 11 in all, which you can enjoy with or without comments from the director. Some are good, most are bad.
There are three featurettes on this disc, Cracking The Case is the longest at 22 minutes, and is your usual EPK making of, plenty of clips, behind the scenes footage and interviews, but little of substance. Animated Trip lasts 9 minutes and profiles the animators who created the film`s title sequence. Deconstructing The Panther lasts 10 minutes and takes us behind the scenes of one specific sequence, The Palace Scene.
Sleuth Cams is more of this, consisting of b-roll footage from the Press Conference, Soccer Set Up and Curtain Call scenes.
The Alternate Opening Title Sequence lasts 4 minutes or so, and reveals the original CGI look given to the panther before the powers had a change of heart and went with traditional 2D animation. It also explains how this disc could have such an expensive looking menu, as they simply reused this title sequence. Optional commentary is provided.
Music Video, features Beyonce`s Check On It, or as I prefer to call it, `Beyonce Mangles Mancini`
Exclusive Beyonce Performance showcases her number from the end of the film in full. Once again an optional commentary is provided.
Finally there are 5 family friendly products from Sony trailed in the section marked Trailers.
All the extras, including the commentaries are subtitled.
The re-imagined Pink Panther is a prime example of comedy by committee. It`s designed, tuned and micro-metered to perfection to follow the holy Hollywood rules of what constitutes a family movie. When you hear in the commentary of how the film was created, and how after Sony bought out MGM it was altered even further, you can understand why the corporate stench is all over it. The Pink Panther (2006) is a soulless film, without heart, freshness or originality. It`s a brand new cash cow waiting to be milked, and no doubt sequels are in the works as I type.
And the worst thing is that it isn`t a bad film. That slight sour taste in my mouth might actually be palatable if this film justified it by stinking to high heaven, but it doesn`t. You can sit down for 90 minutes, be entertained, laugh at the funny bits and as the end credits roll, be satisfied at another Hollywood comedy that seems just like countless others, and ignore that niggling feeling that something didn`t quite click. It`s just that I expect something more from a film that purports to add to the Pink Panther legacy.
My initial annoyances relate to that assembled by committee feel. The diamond is pink. You can see in the extended opening in the deleted scenes that it is clear, and Dreyfuss relates in narration the tale of the minute flaw that reveals the figure of a dancing panther, as per the original film. But in the film proper it is lurid pink. You can imagine some whining exec sat around a committee table asking, "The movie`s called The Pink Panther, why isn`t the diamond pink? I don`t get it!" Then there is the international `soccer` match, which goes into `sudden death`. At this point I gnashed my teeth. We get it, it`s an American film, you don`t have to rub in the fact that you had the rules of football, yes football that`s right, changed for when you hosted the World Cup, but at least get the terminology right, it was Golden Goal, not sudden death.
You may say this is infernal nit picking, but the committee feel extends to the humour. This film is marketed as a family film, so there is something for everyone. And yes, for little children and people easily amused, there is a fart gag. And yes, I laughed. However in attempting to cater for everyone, it has resulted in a film that is uneven in tone. A moment of highbrow wit, or satire may be followed by a piece of physical comedy, or a pun, interspersed with Clouseau`s inane accent. The film never quite finds a rhythm, and while I found some moments hilarious, that energy waned as what would follow would be not as funny, or fall flat completely. I personally like smart funny, comedy that develops naturally from the situation. But too often this was dumb funny, contrived humour that looked out of place. Other moments would kill the momentum completely, the "I want to buy a hamburger" scene chief among them. Admittedly it was setting up a later gag, but for that 90 seconds or so, I was sorely tempted to turn off the disc. Yet there are some divine moments that pay homage to the original films. The globe gag of A Shot In The Dark is referred to here, and blasphemy, it`s even funnier. Also Clouseau and his assistant Ponton have a sensei/student relationship similar to that of the original Clouseau and Cato. It`s worth mentioning that this film could have been much worse, given the stumbles into spoofery that wound up in the deleted scenes.
The casting is questionable. Perhaps the biggest disappointment is Kevin Kline as Dreyfuss. He`s far too nondescript, and very rarely registers as anything other than a target for Clouseau`s bumbling. It`s easy to become nostalgic for the aggressive neuroses and choice dialogue of Herbert Lom`s Dreyfuss. I also recall Kline`s great accent in French Kiss ten years ago, I wonder why he wavers between French and English for most of this film. Indeed, originally the whole joke about Clouseau`s accent was that while everyone else spoke with flawless French accents, he alone mangled his. But in this Pink Panther, I felt like I was watching Allo Allo. None of the non-French actors acquitted themselves well, and it`s worth noting that Jason Statham`s dialogue wound up on the cutting room floor. Then there is Beyonce. She`s surely an example of stunt casting, a young actress guaranteed to pull in the young demographic, which haven`t the slightest idea of what a Pink Panther film is. I can only say don`t give up the day job, but I`m not exactly a fan of her R&B wailings either. It`s fortunate that she doesn`t really have to do much in this film, and as such doesn`t detract from the focus. That focus is provided by the pairing of Steve Martin as Clouseau and Jean Reno as his trusty assistant Gilbert Ponton, and when the two are on screen together entertainment is guaranteed. There`s something about Jean Reno that simply adds gravitas to a film. Even if he is in an absolute turkey, he looks like he is acting in another film, a much better film. His loyal, stalwart Ponton balances the manic Clouseau, and as such strengthens the pairing.
I`m still on the fence about Steve Martin as Clouseau. In a positive light, he does create his own character, and while paying homage to Sellers manages to distance himself from the original films. That said, there is much of Steve Martin in the character, and it depends on how much you like his brand of comedy. I thought Bowfinger was genius, Roxanne and Dead Men Don`t Wear Plaid were great, but never really got The Man With Two Brains and his `Wild and Crazy Guy` shtick went straight over my head. With Clouseau, it`s more of the latter than the former, yet it somehow seems to work, despite the uneven tone. His Clouseau is more human, more sympathetic, and even prone to a little humility. He actually relates to those around him, despite being arrogant in his own superior abilities, and you can see a rapport form between him and Ponton. But I did feel that Martin took the mangled accent thing too far. It`s worth mentioning that Sellers didn`t start mangling his French until Return Of The Pink Panther and his `minkey`, in the first two films he played the character relatively straight. Yet this new Clouseau is if anything even more destructive of his mother tongue, and the joke quickly grows old.
While this film may not be a patch on the early Panthers, it does actually hold up well in comparison to the later films. Not through character though, but through narrative. This film does have a beginning, middle and end, and is relatively successful in linking the three together. It also has character development, which those later Panthers lacked completely. But again, that committee feel comes and mars proceedings by, in my opinion, taking too many liberties with Clouseau. The original character had a singularity of purpose, arrogance, a misplaced belief in his abilities, and blindness to reality. He never ever wavered, and he was always, without fail, wrong. But we live in the caring, sharing 21st Century, and heroes must develop positively. I can just about get my head around Clouseau getting something right in this film, but he actually displays competence at one point in the proceedings. That`s just sacrilege.
Steve Martin`s The Pink Panther is comedy by numbers, it`s hit and miss, and depending on your place in the movie watching demographic, different bits hit for different people. I laughed, I enjoyed myself, but despite the names of the characters and despite the diamond, I didn`t feel like I was watching a Pink Panther film. My guess is that in ten years time, this film will be gathering dust with the Alan Arkin movie while the originals will still get copious play.
On the plus side, they didn`t excessively tamper with Henry Mancini`s great score, and the opening credits animation is just as inventive as ever. It may be politically incorrect of me though, but I miss Clouseau`s "Little yellow friend".