While a film that claims to be based on “true events” can often times at least hold some form of…well, truth to them, such is rarely the case with Pirate Radio. The “American” cut of the film that got released overseas as The Boat that Rocks, Pirate Radio had some more runtime cut off of it in an attempt to appeal to a wider audience after the film largely flopped overseas. It didn’t help it too much, however—it garnered a mere $8 million domestically, meaning that the films $50 million budget still came up short. With generally negative reviews from critics and almost zero reaction from the movie going public, Pirate Radio made little impact on theaters despite some big name talent being involved.
From Richard Curtis, director of Love Actually, Notting Hill, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Four Weddings and a Funeral, comes the musically charged, feel-great comedy about rock and roll in the 1960s. Called “A rip-roaring comedy” by Peter Travers of Rolling Stone and inspired by true events, Pirate Radio follows a band of hilarious rogue deejays who boldly defied the British government by playing the music that defined a generation, including artists such as The Who, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie and The Rolling Stones, among others. Hailed as “the finest rock movie since Almost Famous” by Kyle Smith of the New York Post, Pirate Radio stars Academy Award®-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman (Doubt, Capote), Bill Nighy (Pirates of the Caribbean, Love Actually), Nick Frost (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead), Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill), Kenneth Branagh (Valkyrie, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), Tom Sturridge (Vanity Fair), Chris O’Dowd (How to Lose Friends and Alienate People), Rhys Darby (“Flight of the Concords”), Talulah Riley (Pride and Prejudice) and January Jones (“Mad Men”).
There’s a sense you get from watching Pirate Radio that there really was a lot more to the story. Not that there are really any awkward cuts, but it just feels like there were added character bits that were left off; references to nights out in bars or some such thing make your eyebrows raise, as you wonder if you missed something along the way since our main cast never left the boat. It’s infrequent that situations like this occur, but when it does it’s nonetheless distracting. It’s a shame too, as the characters are incredibly likeable and the music and various storylines are all quite brilliant; the downside is that at two hours long, the film feels like the right length, but the story simply does not. You feel slightly robbed of seeing more of these characters and what makes them who they are; quite frankly this probably would’ve made a terrific TV show, as the time lapses in the film are simply bewildering at times (take note of the “Chicken” scene, where afterwards two of the DJs are roughed up and in bandages, and then seconds later we cut to some unknown time in the future when they’re completely healed).
Time was definitely an issue with this film, no doubt; the original cut was over three hours long and even the cut the director eventually turned in as The Boat That Rocks got lambasted for its length. But honestly I think if you enjoy the film, you’d be willing to spend that amount of time with the characters. The deleted scenes on the disc are staggering (almost an hour long with intros from the director) and I kind of wish they’d just reincorporated it all into a big, long cut of the film. After all that’s what the home video format is for—you release a commercially viable product in theaters and then do what you want (assuming the studio is willing) on home video. I guess Universal didn’t want to take the chance here, not that you can blame them as it did exceedingly poorly in theaters. This is disappointing for those of us who enjoyed the film, as that means we’re unlikely ever to see another release of this film again.
As for me? I’m in the camp that enjoyed the film. It is most certainly not without flaws, but as a character piece it’s simply fantastic. It’s akin to something like Almost Famous, but with a slightly larger scope. We focus on the innocent youth who is introduced to this world of rock and roll, but we also peer into the lives of the individual DJs at times. It’s not an original concept and whatever “true” elements that inspired this film ended up largely being an amalgamation of truth and fiction. It’s likely as true as Fargo was…and just about as entertaining, to be honest. It’s a marriage of different elements and while there was some banning of such pirate radio broadcasts in the 60s, the British government wasn’t quite as driven to eradicate them as they appeared to be in this film.
But honestly to me it didn’t matter; there’s a clear line where the facts start and end and it just eventually faded away for me as I got lost in the story and characters I was presented with. It had a slight “alternate reality” tinge to it and I was ultimately OK with it; it’s not something that necessarily couldn’t have happened, it was just there was a lot more hyperbole to this particular brand of insanity that the film exhibits forth. I did enjoy almost all of it though; I was rarely bored with any of the scenes and the films sometimes twisted sense of humor was always forcing a smile from me. It didn’t hurt that I’m fans of the majority of the cast, whether it be Philip Seymour Hoffman (who, admittedly, had a very laid back role in the film when you compare to how much screen time he got in advertisements for it), Nick Frost, or Rhys Darby, it was always a delight to watch the cast interact with one another.
The film did ultimately just crash and burn with its overall structure, unfortunately. While it’s something I’d gladly watch again, it does feel cut up and censored in some fashion; I truly wish we had gotten an uncut version from the director, as even though I definitely couldn’t have watched the film in one three-hour sitting, it’s still just a really fun film to watch nonetheless. It’s definitely not for everyone and for those expecting an entirely truthful story out of the film…well, don’t. It’s very thin in the facts department and if you expect anything more than a great cast and a good time from the film, then you’ll likely be put off by it.
It has its flaws but I still Recommend the film. I think more than anything I just really enjoyed the cast and dialogue; the story took a backseat for me, but the whole “rebelling against the man” concept is always entertaining regardless. If you enjoy any of the cast in the least then definitely check it out as it’s definitely an actor’s smorgasbord when it comes to talent and humor.
Universal pushes out Pirate Radio in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with their usual menu system; inside the case is just the disc (with incredibly bland disc art…as in there is none, it’s all just text) without any inserts of any kind on the inside. Not a huge deal, but it’s a very desolate and boring visual when you pop the case open.
Video arrives in the form of a VC-1 encoded image and…well, it’s a modern production so that means it looks great. It has a very high bit-rate too from what I observed (hovering in the 22-28mb range most of the time), so there is a very consistent and pristine look to the film at all times. You’ll really notice quite a bit of detail around the ship too, as they’re all very tight interior sequences and everything that has any bit of detail you’ll immediately take notice of, whether it’s a piece of clothing, chipped paint on the interior or Nick Frost’s naked and incredibly hairy body, there’s almost always something to marvel at in terms of detail.
Audio is a DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix and first thing you’ll immediately notice about this films audio is not its crystal clear voices or environmental sounds…no, it’s the music. The soundtrack to this film is truly phenomenal and even though there is zero Beatles music ever played (too expensive, I would image) it’s still a very robust and varied mix we get from the film. If nothing else you’ll walk away from this film with a new compilation album to add to your collection as there isn’t a bad song in the bunch that they play here. It’s truly fantastic sounding and once the films rather noisy finale (or so those nearby while I was watching the film told me) spread throughout the sound field and threw in copious amounts of LFE output as well. It’s a very strong visual and aural presentation when it comes to this film and although it’s mostly dialogue driven in terms of advancing the plot, there’s plenty of music and tiny creaking-ship sound effects to remind you that it takes place entirely on a boat (for the most part, at least).
The extras list looks unimpressive on the casing, but in reality there’s a lot to check out. Included:
Deleted Scenes (50:24, 1080p)
Featurettes (19:36, 1080p; “Tuning In,” “7” of Heaven,” “All At Sea,” “Getting Ship Shape,” “Hitting the Decks,” “Mark’s Love Den”)
Feature Commentary with director Richard Curtis, producer Hilary Bevan Jones and actors Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd
One thing to note about the deleted scenes is each one is preceded with an intro (optional, of course) by director Richard Curtis, so there’s not truly 50 minutes of deleted scenes…but it’s still close. The scenes are all quite frankly great and I really wish, again, that they’d done an extra long cut of the film for the home video release. The featurettes are good as well and offer good insight into everything from the early stages of production to the construction of a land-based set replication of the boat.
The commentary is where you’ll find most of the pertinent information about the film, however, as you get input from the director, producer, and a couple of the actors. It’s a far from perfect commentary but it’s still quite fantastic—lots of technical information and discussion about the length of the film originally.
Overall it’s a solid release and one that comes Recommended. It still definitely has its problems, but the soundtrack is just fantastic and the actors are all immensely enjoyable.
Pirate Radio is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.