UHF (1989)

I think it was in early 1984 when I first heard “Eat It” on the radio. It was the moment I became aware of Weird Al, and I’ve been a fan ever since. I gathered up what money I could find around my house, rode my bike up to Wal-Mart, and came home with Weird Al’s In 3D album. During the summer of ’99, I heard “The Saga Begins”, Al’s Star Wars tribute sung to the tune of “American Pie”, and soon I was making a trip back up to Wal-Mart (in a car, this time) and picking up Al’s latest offering, Running With Scissors. Between those two dates, I bought every other album that had his name attached to it.

In 1988, Weird Al got this idea that he should make a movie. So, he and manager Jay Levey banged out a script which was basically a collection of skits, gags, and jokes which was loosely tied together with a plot about Al inhereting a television station. Al wrote the skits, Levey wrote the plot. Soon, Orion Pictures was on board, and a month after finishing the script, Al was starring in his first (and last) major motion picture, and Levey found himself behind the director’s chair.

UHF was the film which was supposed to save Orion pictures from bankruptcy, believe it or not. Test audiences found it hilarious. And then … disaster stuck. UHF was lost in a sea of blockbusters (Robocop II, Lethal Weapon, Ghostbusters II), and went on to, according to Al, become the 2,253rd top grossing film of all time.

UHF remained in theaters for exactly two weeks. Two years later, in 1990, UHF was released on video. The video went out of print in 1995, and since then, the only way to watch the movie was either from an old rental tape, or catching it on cable television.

Until, last month. UHF was officially released on DVD last month — yay!

For those who don’t remember, Weird Al stars in this “string-of-parodies-linked-together-to-make-a-movie” as George Newman, a loser who can’t keep a job or a relationship. Newman’s Uncle Harvey wins a radio station in a poker game, and Newman seems like a perfect fit for the position of manager. With his roomate Bob (David Bowe), girlfriend Teri (Victoria Jackson), janitor/television star Stanly Spadowski (Michael Richards), reporter Pamela Finklestein (Fran Drescher), creepy engineer Philo (Anthony Geary), and cameramen Noodles (Billy Barty), the gang set out to make money and have fun, and end up in a battle with the city’s other head television studio, network affiliate Channel 8.

UHF is presented on DVD in both fullscreen and widescreen formats. Besides getting to view the movie in its original, uncut version (more on that later), you also get a nice collection of extras. Included in that pile are Behind The Scenes, Deleted Scenes, a Commentary Track, Production Stills, and Promotional Materials.

Behind The Scenes is a ten minute featurette which lots of behind the scenes video footage. It contains brief interviews with the cast and crew, and is nice if you want to know a little but more about the film but don’t feel like watching the entire film with the commentary track.

The Deleted Scenes contain fifteen or so short clips of things that were cut from the film. As Al says in one of his introductions, “if you’ve seen this film, you know how bad the footage is that made it into the film, so you can only imagine how bad this stuff is.” He’s right, there’s nothing too exciting in here, and the fact that the cut scenes were salvaged from a 14 year old, unmastered VHS tape don’t help much.

The Production Stills contain over 200 pictures taken both from the film and from behind the scenes. It’s kind of cool to flip through, but this is DVD so it’s not very exciting, and after about 20 I got bored and went back to the other features. The production area contains pictures of posters, video covers, album covers, photos of the crew, photos from the film … there’s a lot of pictures here, if you’re into that sort of thing.

The Promotional Materials include a trailer, a teaser, and more stills.

That leaves us with the commentary track, starring Weird Al and Jay Levey. Since both fellows wrote the script and made the movie, they know basically every little detail you could ever want to know about UHF — and then more. A lot more. The majority of the movie was filmed on location in Tulsa, Oklahoma (about 100 miles from me!) and Al spares no moment in rattling off the address of every location in the film. With enough time and Post It notes, I’m sure you could travel the entire city of Tulsa and visit every location in the film. Al does 95% of the commentary, with Levey only occasionally adding notes of interest or answering questions. Both Michael Richards and Emo Phillips stop by during the taping of the commentary track, and they add some comedy (but little insight) to the track. Near the end of the film, Al calls Victoria Jackson on the telephone, and she spouts off some kudos for Al and the film, but also fails to spill any facts about the production of the film, which is what commentary tracks are basically for.

If you’re a fan of this movie and of Al, you may have already heard a couple of these stories before, but most of them are new. For example, Al tells a story of how the term “UHF” basically means nothing overseas, and so they asked him to rename the film for the overseas market. The title The Vidiot was decided upon, which he didn’t care for, but in the end they used the title The Vidiot from UHF which was even more confusing for foreign audiences, so in every foreign interview when he was asked about how they came up with the title he would just start telling about how it was a stupid name and he didn’t know where they got it from. Good stuff, and breaks up the constant list of addresses being offered up by Al.

As mentioned before, the DVD presents the film in it’s original, uncut format. Three scenes are routinely deleted from the cable version of the film. The scene where Emo Phillips cuts off his thumb while giving a demonstration on how to use (or not use) a table saw is often cut out. The end of a car commercial is also often cut off, where the owner of a car lot shouts, “buy a car, or I’ll club this baby seal!” while a seal barks close by on the hood of a car. A third scene, where Conan the Librarian cuts a student in half for returning late books is also often removed from cable broadcasts. If nothing else, it was nice to see the movie in it’s entirety — as bad as that may be.

UHF has developed quite the cult following over the past 14 years (trust me, it’s true — Al says it at least three times during his commentary track and twice on his website), and fellow fans of the weird one such as myself are glad to finally be able to own this messterpiece on DVD. As with several other “classics” (if you can lump anything Weird Al has worked on into the “classics” category) recently released on DVD, this is a pretty complete collection. You get the movie, you get deleted scenes, you get promotional material, you get a commentary track.

“You want it all on UHF?” You got it.

Check out my UHF Page HERE.

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