Country: USA (2003-2005)
Review by: Charlie Prince
So, this past Sunday I sat down and watched all three seasons back to back. They’re called “seasons” because they’re first shown in short episodes online at www.redvsblue.com to paying subscribers, and then edited together to make a movie which they sell on dvd. The first two seasons are each roughly 90 minutes, and the last one is a bit over two hours. The video quality (even blown up to an eight foot screen) is quite good.
The show is far more than a novelty, and I’d recommend seeing the first two seasons. The third season is much rockier, as I’ll get into below. I suspect the writers for this show could make nearly anything funny. The first season exploits the intrinsically amusing idea: what in the world would video game characters say about their lives? In this case, why are the Red and Blue teams stuck in a single canyon fighting an opposing base for no apparent reason?
There are plenty of characters in Red vs. Blue, to the point that it’s not worth explaining them all. But basically, each of the Red and Blue teams has two main characters and a rookie, plus the Red team has a tough-as-nails drill sergeant who apes the training sequences of the opening of Full Metal Jacket (or most of G.I. Jane) with a constant peppering of tough-guy comments, telling his subordinates to “cut the pillow talk” and to “put that in a memo entitled ‘Sh-t I already know’ ” or more basically threatening to order one, named Simmons to slit the throat of the other, named Grif (Simmons to Grif: “Oh, and I’d do it too.” Sarge: “I know you would Simmons, good man.”)
Red vs. Blue is hysterical in large part because all the characters are morons, and so the seemingly intense conflict with the opposing base doesn’t exactly work the way you’d think it would. The Blue team gets a tank (with a personality of its own, who goes by the name Sheila) but nobody knows how to drive it (”Why are there 6 pedals on this thing if there are only four directions!”). The Red team gets a jeep, which the Sarge names the Warthog after rejecting the names Puma and Walrus as made up animals. Characters are killed but come back to life to possess the bodies of others (”You think we should bury his body?” “Nah, why would we, he never buried us”), including a robot that only speaks Spanish. And much time is spent discussing how best to “pick up chicks” – despite the fact that there don’t appear to be any women at all in Blood Gulch, that is until the assassin “Tex” shows up, though she’s been modified with “artificial intelligence.”
The show is random enough to be a lot of fun. Think of South Park, or maybe even Aqua Teen Hunger Force and you get a sense of how random the story is. Especially random, for example, is the guy at space command that they radio in to talk to. He talks exclusively like an Mtv VJ, constantly responding with “Yo yo, what’s the deal-ee-o” and other mock-hipster phrases. He also seems completely indifferent to anything happening on the base. Perhaps the best evidence of the random quality of Red vs. Blue is the dvd itself. Even the lead up to the menu is hysterical, as the warning not to violate copyright law says “we know you’re going to steal it anyway” and the subsequent equivalent in Spanish essentially says “This is supposed to be in Spanish, but we don’t know any Spanish, so we’ve just thrown a lot of accéntéd “é’s” in instéad, although that might be French, we’re not sure.” The lead-in to the second dvd is even funnier – in fact it’s funny enough that I won’t tell you what happens so as not to spoil it. And a must-see on each disc are the public service announcements, which are hysterical.
By the third season, however, the Red vs. Blue idea seems to be running out of steam, although for the sake of the fourth season, let’s hope it was just a misfire. The range of activities in the Blood Gulch was pretty limited, so either as a result of that or in an attempt to kick it up a notch, the third season gets a lot weirder than the first two. The result? It’s not funny so much as just odd. In search of a master-mind evil doer from the second season, the Red and Blue characters team up and are sent through a portal in pursuit of the evil doer (”this will make an excellent evil lair, it’s diabollically designed!”) but instead they end up scattered to different places. The result is a series of skits that seem to happen at random as they slowly team back up, until a big explosion blasts the characters into different time dimensions depending on what direction they were facing when the explosion happened. Then it gets really weird.
At this point, the film has some fun with the different visual design of the sequel video game Halo 2 (which is also mocked in an easter egg on the third disc, where the Sarge explains new army policies and equipment changes, which for the most part all seem to make things worse, presumably mocking changes in the video game, though I’ve never played either one). The “future” is the graphics of Halo 2, the present is the original Halo, and the past is some kind of mock Atari visual world, with a talking computer that is actually the funniest character in the third season (he likes to tell knock-knock jokes). One character tries incessantly to undo all the terrible things that have happened over the three seasons, and this slowly explains a lot of the random developments from all three seasons — as we end up rewatching many scenes from the first two. Definitely the filmmakers were trying to think outside of the box, but it also felt like typical “third in a trilogy syndrome” – where footage from the first films is used to fill up time and save money in the new film (think Poltergeist III, although there are many examples). That’s probably not what was motivating the decision to re-show so much of the first two seasons (after all, it was considerably longer than the first two), but it didn’t stop the re-showing from being boring, and if anything, just reminded me of how much more I enjoyed watching those seasons the first time around than I was enjoying watching the third season. The third season isn’t terrible, and I laughed plenty of times, but it’s not nearly as much fun as the first two seasons, and at times very boring — at the 40 minute mark I seriously debated just turning it off (which I never do, so to me that’s very telling) although it did pick up a bit at the end.
Check out the first two seasons. They’re much funnier than almost anything I can remember seeing this year, but I’d skip the third and cross our fingers for the fourth. Apparently this weekend’s show at Lincoln Center is going to give a sneak peak at the fourth season in addition to the director’s cut of the third. Given how much creativity is present in the first two seasons, I have high hopes that the third season was simply a misfire and that the fourth season will again be hysterical (it debuts on the web on August 29th). The creators of the show are clearly very talented writers and I for one hope they continue to make a lot of films, whether within the Red vs. Blue world or not.
For more info on Red vs. Blue or to get their dvd, go here
For tickets to the Lincoln Center event, go here.
© Charlie Prince
Filed under: Movie Reviews and Movie Reviews: USA and DVD News: USA and DVD Reviews and Contributors: Charlie and Rating: Good ★★★