Jeff Dunham takes a shot at Halloween in Minding the Monsters, breaking his stock roster of Walter, Bubba J, Peanut, Jose, and Achmed free from their usual shells. Here they dress up festively, well short of Achmed who realizes he enjoys the feel of feminine garb.
There are no style changes, Dunham sticking to a routine of racist barbs, non-PC zingers, and a personal life jabs. He’s a comedian unafraid of laying one out with regards to his marriage, current engagement, or otherwise. Somewhere in there fits cross-dressing, but that ruins the moment to spoil it. It’s low-brow, but that’s what keeps the audience coming back for more.
Dunham stands in front of a stunning stage design, this 80-minute, breakneck paced show pushing ahead in Georgia with Gothic backdrops. It’s not just for its ominous look as each puppet comes to life with a special introduction, crotchety old Walter appropriately taking a cue from a ’50s sitcom. Someone spared no expense, and clearly, audiences don’t either in their fandom.
Even with the slight change brought about by the season, costuming doesn’t alter the character. Snappy lines regarding outfits (ranging from Batman to Dracula) are still squarely in the wheelhouse of each personality. Dunham’s writing doesn’t shift to accommodate the suits so much as the suits accommodate the character. No one will feel cheated that their favorite takes a chip shot to squeeze in a theme.
Time is precious and editing can often feel tight, certainly concerning the stage presence of Achmed who seems to leave in record time. For the star of the show, certainly a notch above the guy with his hand in a puppet, Achmed deserved better. Still, even with a crammed schedule, Achmed remains at a peak. Peanut and Jose, however, are solid gold and with plenty of time to work their magic.
Longtime fans won’t see any shift in style, tone, or writing. The material may even be familiar to some, although that has more to do with sticking to a set of recognizable characters. Since hitting his stride, Dunham hasn’t lost anything, and in the scheme of things, has used his money wisely to put everything back into his craft. The audience is a beneficiary of his talents and funding.
Shot for Comedy Central, the Blu-ray edition is 1080p, although possibly upconverted from 1080i. Small artifacts during certain motions reveal slight interlacing errors, and the concert hall railings (and designs) suffer from light flicker. Camera motions are not kind to the venue.
Digital source material is persistently noisy, either lining the appropriately dim background with low light noise or swarming over Dunham’s suit. Either way, the image retains little of the clarity typically afforded to productions of this nature, and more or less reveals itself as a somewhat lackluster. It goes against everything spent on the design.
Saturation is high, so there’s always something to catch your eye when other elements fail. Peanut’s purple glaze is impossible to ignore and primaries have a genuine pop. Achmed’s dress (yes, dress) is a vivid pink hue, and the set carries a warmth that helps the well lit foreground action to stand out. Black levels, while avoiding crush, are not enough counter the noise in the shadows.
Detail isn’t particularly high, murkiness settling in during the general medium shots where the camera tends to plant itself. In close, the paint job on the puppets is admirable, and their texture is evident. Delineation is sloppy otherwise, and the the crowd is ill-defined in long shots.
Spacious crowds and heavy dialogue light the spark that brings this TrueHD effort into existence, a consistent performer without much to do. The best moments are the interludes that introduce characters, done in the style of new and classic movie trailers. Peanut’s is quite vivid, and the false aging on the classically-centric clips are filled with pops. If nothing else, it feels a bit authentic.
Music will swell when called upon, say the intro and outro inside the hall. Dunham’s work is almost entirely centered save for a moment with Jose who speaks from his box. That chatter leaps from the center into the right front, extending the show beyond Dunham himself. That’s a fun moment. There’s nothing life changing or aurally eccentric, but this is serviceable audio accompaniment.
A commentary leads the disc, but be warned that menu navigation is aggravatingly slow. If you want Dunham’s thoughts, it’s under audio, not special features. Save yourself the DVD-era slideshow when transitioning.
Creating Crankenstein details the methods used to dress up Walter for 8:40, the first of the featurettes. Monstrous Mistakes is a priceless gag reel that’s probably the best thing on this disc. It’s a shame Dunham doesn’t screw up more often for our amusement.
Tour of Terror is a guided visit through the set, and Frightening Photos looks into the cover shoot. Minding the Miniatures and Monster Movie Magic both dive into the downscaled shoot that intros the show.
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