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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Pirate Radio [Blu-ray]

(aka "The Boat That Rocked")


(Richard Curtis, 2009)



Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Working Title

Blu-ray: Universal Studios



Region: FREE! (as verified by the Momitsu region FREE Blu-ray player)

Runtime: 1:56:38.199

NOTE: This is the U.S. cut (12-minutes shorter) of the film, the Region FREE UK Blu-ray HERE is the full version!

Disc Size: 46,220,582,228 bytes

Feature Size: 32,914,452,480 bytes

Video Bitrate: 30.14 Mbps

Chapters: 20

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: April 13th, 2010



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p / 23.976 fps

Video codec: VC-1 Video






DTS-HD Master Audio English 3601 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 3601 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
DTS Audio French 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
DTS Audio Spanish 768 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 768 kbps / 24-bit
Dolby Digital Audio English 192 kbps 2.0 / 48 kHz / 192 kbps / Dolby Surround



English (SDH), English, French, Spanish, none



• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Curtis, Producer Hilary Jones and Actors Nick Frost and Chris O'Dowd
• Deleted Scenes – in HD (50:20)
• Six Featurettes – in HD (19:30)
• BD-Live



The Film: 8
For the first ninety minutes of Pirate Radio my cheeks ached from perpetual smiling. Then just when I thought the movie was over, along came a third act – not nearly as much fun, though a fitting conclusion to all the sex, drugs and rock & roll that came before.

Pirate Radio might be thought of as one long music video that makes foreground, middleground and background use of some of the best rock material from what many feel (myself included) was the best and certainly most influential era of rock music: the mid-to-late sixties. The end credits list some 52 songs by The Who, The Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, Jimi Hendrix, Martha & the Vandellas, The Hollies, The Turtles, Cream, The Kinks, The Grateful Dead, David Bowie and many others (no Beatles and no Bob Dylan, though.)

The story proper, to the extent that there is a story, begins when young Carl (Tom Sturridge, with a self-image problem, if you can believe that!), is sent by his mother to live on "Radio Rock" for a few months, ostensibly to get him on track. Ha! Radio Rock is a fairly sizable boat, anchored somewhere in the North Sea, home to a handful of DJs, who, under the caring and daring management of Quentin (a sublime Bill Nighy) broadcast rock music to a rapt audience more or less forbidden to hear this music on the public airwaves.

As fictional as this seems, such was the case for a few years in the late sixties in and around Great Britain. The government pretty much dictated what could and couldn't be played on public airwaves, and so ruled that rock 'n' roll could only be aired for about an hour a day. Pirate stations proliferated, broadcasting to an audience of 25 million people. Surprising as it may seem, advertisers were keen to reach this audience and were not shy about their support until the government began a serious crackdown.

Avoiding such technical matters as how the signal was transmitted, writer/director Richard Curtis concentrates on the boat-sized egos that rotate through their shifts and do or do not speak to each other or join in on the general anarchy. The ship's complement consists entirely of men except for the cook, who is a lesbian (Katherine Parkinson). The "rule" is that no women are allowed on board except for a kind of biweekly happy hour when a boatload of lovely friendlies would arrive to contribute their all for the war effort. Meanwhile, the DJs (Nick Frost, Chris O'Dowd, Tom Brooke, Ralph Brown, Tom Wisdom and Rhys Ivans) in their unique way, serve as godfathers to shy and inexperienced Carl – and you can imagine where that leads.

The venerable Kenneth Branagh plays the stuffy and overconfident minister out for pirate blood. And speaking of pirates, there is Jack Davenport as Mr. Twatt, the mister's hatchet man. Talulah Riley is Marianne, the girl young Carl is kinda sorta fixed up with. Emma Thompson drops in as . . . well, I won't spoil the surprise. And we're about it, look for a lingering cameo by January Jones, who took a break from Mad Men to do this for us.

Director Curtis frequently cuts to Radio Rock's audience in rapt attention – drinking, dancing, smoking, lounging - recalling The Truman Show in a kind of soap opera interplay between life on the boat and their audience. A nice touch. And to give you an idea of how evocative of the era the movie is, in addition to the music, the haircuts and the jewelry: the least convincing performance is by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Usually dependable and brilliant, in this movie he seems to be rehearsing the part rather than embody it as he usually does. Hoffman is not without his moments, and his character, "The Count," does get to make some important observations, such as: "Years will come, years will go, and politicians will do fuck all to make the world a better place. But all over the world, young men and young women will always dream dreams and put those dreams into song."

Signing off with an important travel advisory: Stay tuned through the credits.


Image: 7/8   NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were taken directly from the Blu-ray disc.
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

There's an offhand quality to the photography that is ably maintained in the transfer: Often grainy and lacking in the slick sharpness of many a high def presentation, the image evokes memories of Woodstock, as it should. Color leans to an antique yellow, as if the onboard lighting had not been completely corrected; contrast is generally high with little detail in the shadows and lots of blown out areas. All this is, I would take it, intended. In other respects the transfer appears free of nagging artifacts, enhancements or noise reduction.
















Audio & Music: 7/10
While we might wish for a revelatory experience with the music, it should come as no surprise that, despite the benefits of uncompressed audio (for which, especially in this case, we are grateful), we are offered no new acoustical insights. But neither do we hear it as listeners to pirate radio must have, yet never in their entirety. Dialogue, which is sometimes a mash of overlapping effects is clear enough. Surrounds are employed subtly for the most part to establish interior shapes and sea sounds of birds and boat noises, but doesn't really take hold until the last act when a storm threatens the final curtain for Radio Rock. Expect some serious dynamics and nicely tuned LFE.


Operations: 8
Being a Universal Blu-ray, menu operations are standardized and a piece of cake to operate. There is no PIP on this, so all is simplicity itself.



Extras: 7
The high point of the extra features is, funnily enough, the Deleted Scenes. I don't generally find much of value in this category, but Pirate Radio is a rare exception. Presented in high-definition, with optional introductions by director Curtis if you like, here are 50 minutes worth of funny bits that for reasons of length or irrelevance didn't make it into the final cut. Influences of Richard Lester's Help! abound. The scene where Mr. Twatt is introduced to Miss Clitt is British humour dry and cool to the very last.

The often hilarious audio commentary plays like a memoir interspersed with the occasional factoid to place events in a historical context. And, yes, we do get to find out how much of the boat is real and really out there and how they did the transmitter-climbing scene.

The six featurettes, which can be viewed as a Play All, is a 20-minute behind the scenes adventure that begins with Curtis' original motivation for the movie and his thoughts about the state of British radio broadcasting in the late sixties. It segues to an all too brief segment where Curtis, Nighy, O'Dowd and Hoffman talk about the life-changing influence of 1960s rock, then takes us through the recreation of the Radio Rock boat and the perils of filming at sea, and eventually devolves into an extended fantasy piece that didn't make it into the movie – or, was that when I went to the fridge for a beer.



Bottom line: 8
As you can no doubt tell, I really like this movie which compares in its ramshackle narrative style with M*A*S*H. No doubt for good reason. The music is awesome, the characters, situations and performances are a delight. Not nearly as tight as In the Loop nor as audacious as The Bed Sitting Room – two other superb English satires recently transferred to Blu-ray, Pirate Radio should speak to a broader audience that ought not be disappointed. Thumbs Up!

Leonard Norwitz
April 4th, 2010


About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.

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