In college and later at a job populated with many creative and opinionated minds, the topic that often stirred up the most heated debate was the definition of art. Although some agreed that modern art -- the type that's often so abstract that it only makes sense to its creator -- was indeed, by definition, real art, the more traditionally minded debaters couldn't agree to that.
While some might not consider movies as true art -- as compared to say, a Rembrandt -- there's usually some form of artistic expression within them. Of course, since many are for more commercially minded nowadays, one might have to do a little digging to find the art. In any event, the degree of a particular title's artistic value clearly lies in the eye of the beholder.
All of which leads to "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut." The latest in a trend of TV-based cartoons to receive the big screen treatment (including the recent "Doug's 1st Movie" and "The Rugrats Movie"), this film will undoubtably raise the question of whether it needed and/or deserved to play on the silver screen. And that's not even considering whether a film containing a group of animated, profanity spewing third grade characters is art, especially after the filmmakers apparently stated that their main purpose was to offend as many people as possible with it.
Before I render my verdict on those points, I must preface my views by saying that I've never seen the original cable TV show (that airs on the Comedy Central channel with an animation standard equivalent to filming colorful construction paper cutouts), nor have I had much of a desire to do so. As such, I can't compare the film version to the two-year-old show, although it's doubtful the program's apparently dwindling number of viewers will care what any critics have to say about it.
That said, the film certainly needed another outlet than free cable since its language and other racy content clearly dictated it couldn't play on child-accessible TV. Now with this version added to its assemblage, the animated show and its characters are about as far removed from the beloved Peanuts gang who've graced the small screen for decades as one can get, and easily make the once controversial Bart Simpson (from "The Simpsons") now seem like Bamm-Bamm ("The Flintstones") or Elroy ("The Jetsons") in comparison.
As such, and considering the cinema's considerably larger leeway, the film lands with an R rating, although it initially received an NC-17. That obviously pleased writer/director Trey Parker and co-writer Matt Stone who also supply most of the vocal talent and were gunning for such a rating, but apparently after Paramount reminded them of some financial matters -- specifically, that NC- 17 rated films make little or no money -- some necessary edits were made.
Of course those not familiar with the show and/or people who are easily offended will certainly think that not enough scissors and/or razor blades were utilized for that job. Filled with copious amounts of adult humor, along with stinging jabs at just about every thing, person, race and religion possible, the film succeeds at its goal of being a thorn in the side of anyone with even the tiniest conservative streak in them.
All of which brings us back around to the point of whether the film has any artistic merit, or is simply a vehicle designed to offend as many people as possible. The answer is both. While the objectionable content will clearly draw the most attention, many might be quite surprised to find some creativity and moderately funny, profane free moments in it.
While few, if any, could convincingly argue that this show is anywhere near the brilliant "The Simpsons" in regards of sheer creativity and intelligent writing, Parker and Stone do show some signs of that, all of which is quite surprising since they're the team also responsible for the horrible "BASEketball" and "Orgazmo."
Their smartest move was turning this film into a full-fledged musical, albeit something of a parody version of one. Several actually halfway decent songs play throughout the film -- along with a few, near nothing but profanity-laden ones -- and while the Broadway musical approach may shock the show's hardcore fans, they clearly makes the proceedings a bit more accessible and acceptable to the uninitiated.
Some decent jokes are present, along with a machine-gun like approach to dispensing the many barbs and satirical riffs at any number of people, beliefs or topics. Some are funny (the characters cracking on the animation being "crappy" -- which it is), while others are not (the whole Saddam Hussein bit). Of course, many will only appeal to the film's target audience of teen and twenty- something viewers who think the show -- and now the movie -- are the end all, be all of scathing humor.
Little do most of them know that long before they were the age of this film's characters, comedians such as Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and a young Eddie Murphy were ripping into everyone and everything with their profanity ridden and often quite obscene material. The difference was -- and still is -- that they incorporated such risque elements into their already humorous stories, often hilariously accentuating the punch line.
Here, the profanity is mainly used just for the shock value -- of seeing it spewing forth from young (albeit animated) kids' mouths -- and little more. While the target audience will eat it up, older viewers will see right through it.
It's too bad that Parker, Stone and fellow co-writer Pam Brady thought such juvenile profanity would be so funny by itself. While it does generate a few laughs among non-followers of the show (particularly the bit with the implanted V-chip shocking one of the foulmouthed tykes), their other material shows that some clever qualities are lurking about underneath the rest. Unfortunately, they're seemingly intent on being as sophomoric and shocking as impossible just for the sake of being that way.
As it stands, the picture does fly along through its relatively short eighty-some minute duration, and often at a quite frenetic pace. Unfortunately, like many big screen adaptions of TV shows that try to overextend their normal runtime, this one runs out of gas long before it reaches the finish line and the jokes -- and thus the audience's reaction -- noticeably weaken toward the end.
Simply put, if you're a fan of the show, you probably won't be disappointed with this film and its more adult take on the characters. Otherwise, if you're not familiar with Cartman and the boys or are easily offended, you'll probably want to skip this one.
While we found some moments to be funny along with some surprising cleverness hidden amongst the shock material, the profanity for profanity's sake approach shows a lack of imagination when many in the past have used similar vulgarities with far more amusing and creatively pleasant results. As such, we give "South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut" a 3.5 out of 10.