Pirate Radio Review

As Pirate Radio begins, words flash across the screen to update audiences on the events they are about to see. Into the film, the boat broadcasting that “horrible” pop music is already sailing off British waters, and a quirky group of DJs sit aboard 24 hours a day to keep it coming to an eager public.

To say this all happens fast is a bit of an understatement, and it does not necessarily piece itself together well. There is no discussion on how legislation passed that forced this radio station out into the ocean, or how this group of DJs found each other. The government seems to have one man, Sir Alistair Dormandy (Kenneth Branagh), on top of this dreadful case of misguided youth.

The latter character, the only real representation of the fight against Pirate Radio, is a well worn caricature. His fight is simply that he hates pop music and is of course out of touch with the younger generation. He seems to be the only one, as the public shown here is unanimously for the station, including people in his own age bracket. Where are his other supporters?

Pirate Radio does not want to enter the debate about broadcast standards or decency, a shame since the film could certainly have modern implications. It avoids the issues almost cheerfully, as if we’re simply supposed to laugh at the old snooty politician with a goofy mustache because of who he is. The cold color palette is supposed to further show his intentions.

Instead, the film chooses to focus on the DJs, and a newcomer to the ship named Carl (Tom Sturridge), whose reason for being aboard are explained later. The tight-nit group comes through beautifully, a mismatched band of music lovers who represent the rebellious ‘60s the best they can.

Their adventures are quite enjoyable, and credit is certainly due to Nick Frost for nearly going all the way for a laugh. They all click together, and without the chemistry, the film would simply not work. There is an additional character in the film not listed in the actor credits, and that is of course the music. Hardly any scene goes by without some classic tune playing in the back or foreground, selected to set the mood or tone as needed. The songs make up for any lapses in plotting, and certainly make the emotional transitions easier to take given their crazed pacing.

Those not familiar with the Pirate Radio saga will find the ending a bit of a surprise, forcing the DJs together in a dramatic way. It is surprisingly tense, a well directed break from the occasionally irritating “documentary” style camera work. It is satisfying, if wholly predictable and Hollywood at the same time. At least Pirate Radio finds a proper pacing to make it that far, and remain mildly enjoyable.

Movie ★★★☆☆ 

Pirate Radio is a film of two distinct palettes. On the ship, everything is warm, with slightly orange flesh tones, nicely saturated primaries, and somewhat dimly lit contrast overall. Scenes involving politicians are cold, filled with pale flesh tones, a hot contrast, and lots of blue.

Regardless, both deliver in terms of detail. Facial textures are generally impressive, Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s beard nicely defined even at a distance. Clothing patterns are resolved, and the amount of tiny polka dots and plaid makes that a surprising quality of this VC-1 encode. Environments are presented beautifully, revealing paint textures on the ship, wood grain, and some slightly wavy waters in establishing shots.

Some black crush is evident, although rarely severe. Those darker scenes maintain their crispness and depth phenomenally well. The transfer carries a nice, pleasing film-like quality. The grain structure is mostly inoffensive. A few spikes prove troublesome for the encode, appearing noisier than usual and a small distraction. There are no noted instances of banding or ringing.

Video ★★★★☆ 

Until the last 15-minutes or so, the highlight of this track is listening to these classic songs in their uncompressed glory. While many are limited by the source in terms of fullness, there is no question they sound wonderful. The DTS-HD mix presents them with fantastic clarity, including crisp lyrics and clean instrumentals. Certain tracks struggle a bit on the high end, but quickly recover.

When played through the ship’s speakers, they echo through the halls with a fine surround presence. When on full display, they wrap-around the viewer with a slight bleed, although the stronger focus is in the stereo channels where it should be.

During the finale, the track truly takes hold, with deep, rich bass aiding some explosions. Water is heard in all channels as it becomes rough, splashing through the soundfield carrying superb definition. Dialogue remains prioritized, carrying the expected level of modern fidelity during these tense moments.

Audio ★★★★☆ 

The highlight of the special features is a collection of 16 deleted scenes, all with an introduction by director Richard Curtis. Together, they run 50-minutes, but like Curtis says, they serve little need in the story. Curtis also provides a commentary, joined by producer Hilary Bevan Jones, and actors Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd.

Six featurettes run 20-minutes total, mostly of a promotional nature. BD-Live support is included, but generic.

Extras ★★★☆☆