The Jerk 40th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

“He hates these cans”

Life is hard, more so when suffering from a case of idiocy. So it is for poor Navin, a rather dim bulb, adopted, and then sent off to hitchhike to St. Louis. It’s not a complicated tale and The Jerk is pleasingly fond of testing social acceptance. But it’s Steve Martin as Navin who turns this lump into a comically satisfying center.

Martin bounces everywhere. He’s always shrugging his shoulders or arching his back, always full of life. His Navin carries a certain vibrancy for life, even if he lacks the slightest clue as to what’s happening. To be this jerk is to enjoy everything. That includes being shot at. Nevin is the gentlest of idiots.

In 1979, Martin emerged on screen in The Jerk. Peeling away from a stand-up career, much of his debut offering feels like part of his routine. It’s utterly random, even surreal, and fitted with characters that exist only in the wild stories of a stand-up special.

The Jerk runs with a thesis that says even the poorest and most exploited among us can still find happiness

There’s Navin, of course, but also his all-black adoptive family, scarily close to racist stereotypes yet so lovable as to absolve the script of wrong-doing. Caitlin Adams bursts onto the screen as a head-edged, motorcyle-riding carnie, cartoonish if hilariously overdone. And Bernadette Peters, Navin’s lover, is a doll who somehow contends with her husband’s oddness, while at times matching his own witless eccentricities. The pairing is written as the perfect couple.

At numerous points, The Jerk chooses to utterly lose it. Navin transforms into Bruce Lee and whacks some corrupt businessmen. That’s looney. Earlier, he’s oblivious as a madman tries picking him off with a sniper rifle, The Jerk’s funniest sequence.

With all of this mayhem though, The Jerk finds a way to connect these loose pieces. A rags/riches/rags/riches tale, there’s a happy ending in all this, too corny and too neat for any other movie. The Jerk runs with it though, with a thesis that says even the poorest and most exploited among us can still find happiness – and cash. Best as it’s known, Navin joins his family who invested around $15 in soybeans and came away with a successful stock market haul.

The final shot of The Jerk isn’t placed in a wild mansion. No, the family rebuilds their rickety house into a bigger rickety house – about six inches or so bigger – and have a blast celebrating on their porch. The money changed nothing. This unit remains together. Turns out that being somebody matters more to the people around you than those you never know. That’s sweet, especially for a movie about a guy who doesn’t comprehend a public bathroom isn’t a living space.

steve martin carl reiner shout factory blu-ray image

Video

Shout Factory brings The Jerk to Blu-ray in a new 40th anniversary edition, and with it, a new scan. Promoted as a 2K-sourced transfer, The Jerk displays plenty of fidelity and detail. There’s texture everywhere, even superb at times of total clarity.

Stable film stock produces heavy if clean grain. Shout’s encode doesn’t struggle in resolving this stock. The print itself is cleared of debris and scratches, leaving these elements pristine.

Saturation is a standout, giving plenty of life to the carnival scenes. All of the lights and flags around the area pour on primaries. Once Navin buys his mansion, there’s a series of shots dousing the screen, from a red pool hall to gorgeous blues in his new pools. All of the greenery outside looks great too. Nothing looks overcooked.

Overall brightness maintains consistency. Black levels sink in, not to pure black, but enough to create depth. Some of the grain pops out of the lesser shadows, adding to the aesthetic of a late ‘70s print even if it’s not prettied up. That’s as it should be.

Audio

Choose your weapon: DTS-HD comes in 5.1 and 2.0 flavors. Either is a fine choice. Both tracks feature the same aging, normal for something this vintage. It’s a little scratchy, little coarse, but without any definitive faults.

In 5.1, nothing utilizes the rear soundstage. This acts more like a 3.0 track since there’s nothing for the low-end to handle. With dialog comfortable in the center, that leaves room for the stereos to handle some ambient material.

Extras

Two great conversations come packed on the disc, both done recently. The first with Steve Martin and director Carl Reiner is fantastic. The two reminisce about their careers and thoughts on The Jerk today. They speak for 26-minutes. Then the writers come together for their own chat, Carl Gottlieb and Michael Elias a fun pairing. They continue speaking for 25-minutes.

Learn to play “You Belong to Me” in a seven-minute tutorial; have your ukulele handy. An extra scene of sorts shows the underground sport of cat juggling in full. A slew of trailers and radio spots come in last.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

The Jerk
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras

Movie

Steve Martin’s first starring role in The Jerk defined the comedians sense of comic absurdity and does so with plenty of heart.

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