The Blu-Ray Dissection: The Dictator – Banned & Unrated (Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack)
Posted by Chad Webb on 08.30.2012
Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest comedy offering is now on Blu-Ray. Where does Aladeen rank among Borat and Bruno? Click to find out…
Sacha Baron Cohen: Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen/Efawadh
Ben Kingsley: Tamir
Jason Mantzoukas: Nadal
Anna Faris: Zooey
John C. Reilly: Clayton
Bobby Lee: Mr. Lao
Fred Armisen: Death to Aladeen Restaurant waiter
Directed By: Larry Charles
Written By: Sacha Baron Cohen, Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, and David Mandell
Theatrical Release Date: May 16, 2012
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 21, 2012
Theatrical Cut Running Time: 83 minutes
Unrated Cut Running Time: 98 minutes
Rated R for strong crude and sexual content, brief male nudity, language and some violent images
Sacha Baron Cohen broke into the public consciousness with his Emmy Award-winning sketch comedy series Da Ali G Show and ultimately on the big screen with Ali G Indahouse, but it was Borat that got him mainstream attention. People were hailing the 2006 effort as "a comedy classic," "one of the funniest movies in years," and so forth. I was not as enamored with Borat. Admittedly, Baron Cohen is humorous in small doses, but Borat struck me as particularly one-note and constructed only for the "shock factor." After seeing it once, that element wears off and as a result the film loses steam. I wonder if those who made those claims would stand by them today. At that point, there was still a mystery as to what was staged and who was in on the gags, but as Bruno was released, the mystery was gone. Audiences knew that certain parts were set-up and that contributed to Bruno being a poor effort. Now we have The Dictator, which is not a mockumentary, but has Baron Cohen putting his familiar shtick into a new character.
I was not prepared for how aggressively unfunny The Dictator was. Sacha Baron Cohen's modus operandi is simple, whether it is a mockumentary or an ordinary production. Incite controversy in awkward situations with offensive dialogue and/or actions. Similar to the politicians in The Campaign, Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen could have been an amusing persona if this were a satirical piece, but Baron Cohen and his frequent collaborator, director Larry Charles, opt for lowbrow, crass comedy. The amount of bodily fluid and flatulence lines probably amazed even the most avid Sacha Baron Cohen supporters. If the attempts for laughter are not lazy, they are overused. Many mildly amusing bits are recycled too often or bludgeoned to death. What makes matters worse is that the script uses all the requisite clichés for a romantic comedy! I cannot exactly say what I expecting from The Dictator, but I know I wasn't anticipating such a massive disappointment.
The oil rich North African Republic of Wadiya has been ruled for many years by Admiral General Shabazz Aladeen (Sacha Baron Cohen). He is a cruel, narcissistic man who gleefully oppresses his people. He has paid every major celebrity to sleep with him, created his own version of the Olympics so he can win every event, and is actively pursuing a nuclear weapons program. But he is under close scrutiny by other world powers, and to alleviate that, he must make a speech in front of the United Nations in New York. Before that occurs however, his Uncle Tamir (Ben Kingsley) has Aladeen kidnapped and tortured. He ends up stripped of his beard so no one can identify him. He escapes, but the damage is done. Meanwhile, Tamir seeks to replace Aladeen with his dimwitted and easily controlled body double. When Aladeen discovers this, he decides to take the necessary steps in regaining his seat as Supreme Leader. Zooey (Anna Faris), the manager of a vegan health food store and Nadal (Jason Mantzoukas), a former scientist Aladeen assumed he executed, help him along the way.
In perusing my notes, I realized the only remotely amusing parts of The Dictator transpire in the first quarter of the picture. Before the feature even starts, there is a dedication to the memory of Kim Jong-il. Soon we observe Aladeen's daily paradise of a life, which includes playing the Wii game Terrorist Attack 2k12. He has also changed the name of positive and negative to Aladeen, which confuses everyone. Scenes like that induce chuckles at most, but once Aladeen escapes capture, the film remains stuck in neutral, going through the motions of the breezy running time by covering all hackneyed plot points you can think of. Scattered moments and lines reveal that an acerbic satire could have been unearthed from this disaster. As Aladeen parades through NYC, he declares "America: built by the blacks, owned by the Chinese." And the speech at the end could have been hilariously witty, but it comes out of left field and is shoehorned in. The Dictator would rather spew insults, wear down jokes until their raw, and force us to endure a romantic thread that none of us care about.
The new trend with comedies, especially this year, is merely thinking of a clever idea and assuming the rest of the screenplay will take care of itself. Fewer and fewer entries of this genre conjure a winning premise and know where to take it. The Dictator constantly reuses material that wasn't all that funny to begin with. For instance, Anna Faris' character Zooey looking like a boy or Aladeen's silent "slit of the throat" motion to indicate he wants someone killed. Adding to the aggravation, The Dictator is also knowingly controversial. Those who have seen his previous two vehicles know that Sacha Baron Cohen is not afraid to push the envelope, but just because it's expected does not mean it can't be offensive. Baron Cohen and Charles would probably love the accusation of being offensive; that's their aim. There is a very tongue-in-cheek attitude to all the mean-spirited comments, racist remarks, and outlandish behavior as if to say "we're pretending to be offensive, so it's okay." I would not describe the humor as edgy or astute because they rely on contentious statements and actions as a crutch. Most of the time they hope that just verbalizing the distasteful wisecracks is enough for a laugh. It's the follow-through, the payoff that's missing. These antics and quips have no end game and if all else fails, go for the trusty old pee and poop buffoonery.
That is not say Sacha Baron Cohen is a bad actor, quite the contrary. His supporting roles in Hugo and Sweeney Todd were fantastic. And I truly believe he has a natural gift of comedy, the problem is he doesn't always know how to convey it properly. His persistence and dedication to his personas is commendable, and for the first half, he never misses a beat, but then the character transition must take place...and it's a bit clunky. One wonders how much influence a politically charged vegan woman would have on a vicious dictator, or why someone Aladeen intended to be executed would even remotely consider conspiring with him to take back the throne, but The Dictator just wants us to take a leap or two, right? Our star establishes no chemistry with Anna Faris, who isn't very funny anyway. Ben Kingsley appears now and then, although he is severely underused. One performance stand out is Jason Mantzoukas as Nadal whose reactions and expressiveness are a highlight.
For Sacha Baron Cohen and Larry Charles, taboo is the goal, not an afterthought or a necessary evil. But it's impossible to acknowledge or embrace that objective when the creators are so self-aware and lacking subtlety. Watching them shoot for imbecilic, repugnant rhetoric makes the comedy come across as soulless, strained, and compulsory. I wouldn't say that The Dictator needed the type of spontaneity from Borat ad Bruno, but if the filmmakers wanted to outline a structure, it shouldn't be exhibited as forced and haphazard. It's not the presence of a framework that hurts, it's the flimsiness of the build. In the end, it boils down to how much you laugh, and I just didn't with The Dictator. Ted didn't know what do to with its concept either, but at least I laughed out loud a great deal. The Dictator flashes its potential briefly, but fails on virtually every level.
The unrated cut is more than 15 minutes longer than the theatrical one, whose credits commence at the 75 minute mark. For those wondering what was added, most of it consists of small extensions here and there, nudity, foul language, etc. However, there are some notable sequences, including John C. Reilly's assassin Clayton recommending Billy Elliot on Broadway, a longer funeral home sequences, a scene where Aladeen gets beat up by a guard with enormous fake breasts, and so on. None of these improve or worsen my rating of the film. If anything, watching this for a longer period of time made me angrier, but basically both cuts equate to about the same. On a side note, although Baron Cohen's fellow screenwriting troops Alec Berg, Jeff Schaffer, and David Mandell have had considerable success on television with Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm, they also have the distinction of pummeling us with gems like Eurotrip and The Cat in the Hat. Enough said.
On the bright side (no pun intended), the picture quality of The Dictator is actually quite splendid. Sacha Baron Cohen customarily saturates his films with vivid colors, sunny skies, and clear imagery. This is no different. Both the standard and Blu-Ray versions present a top-notch transfer. The colors do no bleed together, the contrast is spot-on, and the black levels are sufficiently deep. You will notice that television clips within the movie are adjusted and older footage is appropriately grainy, but other than that the 2.40:1 aspect ratio (ever so close to the original 2.39:1) 1080p was well displayed.
The sound department is fine as well. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio track balances all the sounds admirably. You will hear plenty of music on the soundtrack, specifically foreign language covers of pop songs like R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts", Dolly Parton's "9 to 5", and Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On. They are prominent, but do not overwhelm the dialogue. The conversations and characters are all lucid and understandable. There are some random noises that pop up as sharp, but the main workout your speakers will have is the song selection. Other audio tracks included are: Dolby Digital 5.1 in French, Dolby Digital 5.1 in Spanish, and Dolby Digital 5.1 in Portuguese. You also have subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Spanish, and Portuguese.
The Dictator Blu-Ray combo pack is distributed in a conventional slimline blue keep case with an embossed cardboard slipsleeve cover on top of that. Inside are a couple sheets, one for advertisements and another for the digital copy code. The discs are housed inside both covers instead of giving one disc a movable tray. On both discs, music plays over the poster portrait for the menus. They are easy to navigate. On a side note, Amazon has exclusive packaging that apparently is just the portrait of Aladeen with a beard you can touch or something.
For some reason, there are no extras on the standard disc, even though the one sold alone in stores has all the extras the Blu-Ray does below. O..k..
Deleted and Extended Scenes (33:43) - This is long. There are 15 in all. Most of them, but not all, will appear in the unrated cut, so if you wanted to skip that, this is your chance to see quickly what you're missing. It's not anything extraordinary. Most of these scenes will result in a "meh." Among the moments not in the unrated cut will be a trip to the New York Zoo, Aladeen's father dying, a waiter's chase, and more.
"Your Money is On the Dresser" Music Video (1:35) - This weak song features Mr. Baron Cohen's wife Isla Fisher. Other than that, there is little to comment on here.
Larry King Interviews Admiral General Aladeen (2:49) - The title explains this one. There are excerpts of the interview in the unrated cut, but if you would prefer to see this longer clip, they discuss Aladeen's anti-Israeli point of view, nuclear weapons, and Ryan Seacrest.
Previews/Trailers - As always buyers will endure many trailers as the disc starts. They are: Anchorman: The Legend Continues, the Indiana Jones Blu-ray Collection, and EPIX. On the bonus features menu, you can access more trailers: Jeff, Who Lives at Home and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. None of The Dictator previews can be found, even though they use jokes not seen in the movie.
The Film: 2.5/10.0
The Video: 9.0/10.0
The Audio: 8.0/10.0
The Packaging: 7.5/10.0
The Extras: 7.0/10.0
The 411: Sacha Baron Cohen is a talented actor, and as Da Ali G Show displayed, an extremely funny man. But I have not been in love with any of his three comedy efforts, especially The Dictator and it seems to me that he is most amusing in small doses. The Dictator has Baron Cohen creating an entirely new character, and on paper, the persona has potential, but you need more than just a clever notion to produce a worthwhile film. Aside from maybe 3 small bits that I chuckled at, the humor here is knowingly offensive, smug, and generally foul. The plot starts out with promise, but quickly fades into a predictable outline. Even at well under 90 minutes, after the first 20 minutes or so, there is little to care about. The acting is a mixed bag, though Baron Cohen tries to remain steadfast, but the absence of chemistry with the rest of the cast (save for his moments with John C. Reilly) leave no spark. I certainly wasn't breaking down the ticket counter to see this feature, but it was a letdown nonetheless considering what could have been. The Blu-Ray set has terrific technical specifications though, but the extras department is lacking. Even if you highly enjoyed the movie, the set is mediocre at best. If you didn't have interest in The Dictator when you saw the trailers/TV spots all the time, I wouldn't go out of my way to check it out now. You won't miss much.