MAN ON THE MOON
Review by Michael Jacobson
Jim Carrey, Danny DeVito, Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti
Director: Milos Forman
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 119 Minutes
Release Date: May 30, 2000
One quote I always remember from Andy Kaufman was, “I’m
not a comedian. I never told a joke
in my life.” His comedy was
something altogether different. He
took a tried and true entertainment medium and turned it into an art form.
Like all art, it pleased some and infuriated others, but like all the
best artists, Andy pushed that envelope as far as he could, and in as many
directions as possible. His art,
like his life, was one big experiment, where the mad scientist knows least of
all what the end result might be. In some ways, the experiment destroyed him.
In others, it made him immortal. That
is the enigma that Andy Kaufman remains to this day.
It is impossible to explain the appeal of Andy to those who
don’t get it, and Man on the Moon doesn’t
make the mistake of trying. Instead,
it settles into a wonderful cinematic place, as both story of and tribute to the
man. It honors the truth by not
treading into treacherous waters of ‘what made Andy like that’.
As a performer who was always on, it’s impossible to finely separate
the real from the unreal. Perhaps
that is as much a curse as a blessing. At
any length, fans of Andy would have clearly recognized the trail of fertilizer
had the movie opted for that route.
Instead, the movie’s triumph is that it pays terrific
stylistic tribute to Andy…just watch the opening and you’ll see what I mean.
Andy kept us guessing, and sometimes, the film does too.
Which is why it’s not a movie that’s going to please everybody.
You can get your money’s worth, but like Andy’s audience, you may
have to show a little resilience and a little receptiveness in order to be
Not enough can be said about Jim Carrey’s
performance…what he accomplished was astonishing, and one of those rare
moments of movie magic where you really think you’re seeing a ghost come back
to life. This is not a comic’s
imitation, but a legitimate actor’s realization.
The failure of the Academy to recognize Carrey’s efforts with a
nomination is one of the body’s biggest blunders of recent years.
The film, after the aforementioned opening, follows Andy
from his childhood and early shows into the national spotlight, where his new
manager George Shapiro (DeVito) takes a chance on the unusual performer and
helps launch his career. There were
the high points, including Saturday Night Live and Taxi, and the low points,
mainly Kaufman’s obsessive pushing of his obnoxious lounge singer alter-ego
Tony Clifton and the inter-gender wrestling, where he became the ultimate bad
guy wrestler by only wrestling women. Interestingly
enough, that latter charade has grown more and more brilliant with age, though
his contemporary audiences didn’t know what to make of it, which led in great
part to the ruination of his career.
He delighted in being a step ahead of the audience.
He didn’t tell them a joke, he made them part
of the joke. When he cried wolf and
the people ate it up, that was as good as it got for him.
In many ways, he was a comic for posterity…it takes hindsight to
appreciate how masterfully he manipulated us and kept us going. We can marvel at his chutzpah reading The Great Gatsby cover to cover before a college audience; but think
of how angry we would have been to be part of that crowd!
But crying wolf comes with a price and heavy moral lesson,
and for Andy, the poignancy came way too early in his life.
In one of the film’s best and most potent scenes, he tries to confess
to his closest friends that he has contracted a rare kind of terminal
cancer…and they can’t quite believe him.
Doctors talk to his family, and his own brother and sister smirk at the
‘gag’. Andy withered away
before the eyes of the entire world, and the entire world waited for the
punchline…and to applaud the curtain call that would never come.
To this day, some of those who were closest to him aren’t entirely sure
that it wasn’t a joke. Is it a
sad thing that a man’s death be taken so disrespectfully, or is it Andy’s
last laugh on us, that some people still wonder about it to this day?
You be the judge.
One of Milos Forman’s gifts as a director is the sense of
impartial judgement he brings to his real life protagonists.
His pervious picture, The People vs. Larry Flynt, was a prime example.
He took a celebrity and told his story as straight as possible, but never
attempted to make the audience think one way or another about him.
Whatever opinion you had of Flynt going in was the opinion you would walk
He accomplishes the same feat with Andy Kaufman in this
film. As mentioned before, whether
you love Andy or hate him, this movie is not going to change your mind.
In fact, for those who don’t like Andy, this movie could seem like a
waste of two hours.
But Andy clearly left a mark on those whose lives he
touched…look at the number of original cast members of Taxi who showed up to
be little more than extras in this film. Or
David Letterman, who, along with wrestler Jerry Lawler, faithfully recreated one
of television’s most disruptive and memorable events.
Or the fact that his long suffering manager Shapiro served as an
executive producer for the film. The movie could have been made without them, or
with other talent, but these people wanted to relive their experiences with Andy
and pay one last tribute to their fallen friend.
I’m a little disappointed in this anamorphic transfer
from Universal, but I have a theory…it’s well documented how much disc space
a DTS soundtrack takes up, and this DVD contains one (as well as Dolby Digital),
plus a two hour movie and quite a few extras.
Something had to give a little bit, and here, it was the picture quality
that suffered. Though far from
unwatchable, there is quite a bit more noticeable softness in the imaging, where
you’d normally expect crispness, and more than one instance of color bleeding.
There is also some occasional grain and compression evident in the form
of some ringing around the edges. Personally,
I’d rather see studios release a separate DVD for DTS fans, as some have done
in the past. Two 5.1 soundtracks on
one disc is a bit much, and DTS takes up too much precious disc space:
dual versions can still give customers the choice, but without the
necessity of an overall poorer presentation.
But that’s just my opinion.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is perfectly fine, and
quite good in many parts. The .1
speaker is not used much, if at all, but there are many performance scenes with
big audiences (TV shows, comedy concerts, wrestling) which access the rear
channels and create a nice ambient sound. Much
of the dialogue and music is spread across the forward stage with no clarity
Though not a Collector’s Edition per se, Universal
delivers the goods with the extras on this disc.
The Spotlight on Location featurette is quite good, as are the deleted
scenes (some of which have become underground legends).
There is an interactive story of Andy Kaufman complete with accessible
video clips, a trailer, production notes, talent files, an extra trailer for the
upcoming sequel to The Nutty Professor, and some DVD ROM extras.
His name is Andy, and this is his movie…a stylistic, funny, touching, honest bravura exercise in biopic filmmaking that captures and preserves, without spoiling, the enigma that was Andy Kaufman.