By Chaz Lipp
Article first published as Blu-ray Review: Harold & Kumar Ultimate Collector’s Edition on Blogcritics.
I love a good comedy as much as the next guy, but as a non-pot smoker I was a bit apprehensive to delve into the Harold & Kumar Ultimate Collector’s Edition. Though I’ve always been curious about these films, I wondered just how pot-centric they really are. The new Blu-ray collection isn’t packaged in a giant metal lighter for nothing. But it turns out these movies are pretty funny even for those who choose to remain sober. All you really need to enjoy them is a taste for raunchy, lowbrow humor.
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004) clocks in at just 88 minutes and boasts the most threadbare of plots. Harold (John Cho) is an investment banker. His best friend Kumar (Kal Penn) knows enough about medicine to get into the best med school, but simply doesn’t want to. After getting high one night, the pair decides to go to White Castle for burgers. After finding out their local one has closed down, they spend the night trying to reach the next closest location.
That’s about all there is to it, but the gags—mostly of a junky, throwaway nature—come fast and furious. Some work (Neil Patrick Harris’ cameo as an aggressively heterosexual version of himself) and some don’t (Harold and Kumar riding around on a cheetah). The object of Harold’s affection, Maria (Paula Garcés), is introduced here. Though Maria factors into each of the trilogy’s films with increasing importance, here she isn’t given much more to do other than look amazingly gorgeous (something Garcés excels at).
Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) is a rare comedy sequel that expands on the original’s concept and winds up being much funnier in the process. Much like Porky’s II: The Next Day, the second Harold & Kumar ignores the four years that passed between productions. Guantanamo picks up directly where White Castle left off, with our boys heading off to Amsterdam in pursuit of Maria, Harold’s most desired female. Kumar packed a “smokeless” bong that looks a little too much like a bomb and, in short order, air marshals have apprehended them mid-flight. As the title makes plain, not only do they get thrown into Club Gitmo, they manage to break out.
The rest of the overlong (107 minutes!) film finds the fellas trying to evade Homeland Security officials as they attempt to clear their names. Neil Patrick Harris shows up again, even straighter this time as he takes Harold and Kumar to a brothel. George W. Bush (James Adomian) partakes in the zaniness, striking up a friendship with the two stoners. The political humor, though essential soft, adds a more subversive layer that the first one lacked. The gags are still hit and miss overall, but you’ll be hard pressed to not laugh at Kumar’s sexual fantasy that involves fisting a gigantic bag of weed. Fans of T & A will find plenty to love, especially during the “bottomless party” the two friends wind up at.
I’m not sure A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas is actually a better movie than the second one, but I definitely found myself laughing harder and more frequently. Even the unrated extended cut (the first two are presented only in their extended versions) is leaner than part two at 96 minutes, never wearing out its welcome. Christmas makes a great double-header with Bad Santa for those who like their holiday viewing a bit sick and twisted. The film was released in 3D and although there is a Blu-ray available in that format, this one is strictly 2D. That means that plenty of shots include items flying towards the camera that obviously don’t have the same impact as they would with an added dimension.
Years after Guantanamo, this one finds Harold married to Maria and living large in a fancy house. He and Kumar, who has done nothing with his life except blaze up, are no longer friends. This dynamic offered a welcome change of pace from the previous two films. Naturally they’re eventually reunited, with Kumar contributing to the burning down of the Christmas tree provided by Harold’s father-in-law (Danny Trejo). They set out on a night-long journey to find the perfect replacement tree, during which they rekindle their friendship. They also cross paths once again with Neil Patrick Harris, this time acting with him in a Christmas pageant. Harold’s ersatz best friend Todd (Thomas Lennon) accompanies them for awhile, at least until his baby girl gets high on cocaine. Lennon just about steals the show with his befuddled, reactionary performance. Add to that Harold’s attempts to win the respect of his father-in-law, played to a menacing tee by Trejo, and the results are consistently amusing (if ultimately forgettable).
White Castle is pretty easily the weakest of the trilogy in terms of visuals. The 1080p transfer is fine for what it is, but the image isn’t all that sharp. Detail tends to go AWOL during darker scenes. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack has no problems. Especially for a low-budget comedy, this is a detail-oriented mix. The music sounds excellent and there is a fair amount of directionality. Guantanamo Bay isn’t much better looking than its predecessor, but it offers a suitably decent high definition transfer. There’s nothing wrong with it, there’s just nothing especially interesting about it. The first sequel also boasts a 7.1 DTS-HD MA mix. Being a somewhat more action-oriented film, the surround channels are even better utilized.
Christmas simply blows away the visual quality of the first two films with a sharp, highly detailed transfer. Colors are consistently vivid and overall the visual presentation is clearly a big cut above the earlier ones. Oddly, this one only has a 5.1 DTS-HD mix for the theatrical cut only, with the extended version only having a 5.1 Dolby Digital track. I can’t even speculate why the version mostly likely to be watched was not given a lossless mix. All I can say is that it’s inexcusable, even if the soundtrack is relatively solid. There’s even more going on, action-wise, in the third one and the HD mix is highly immersive. It’s just a shame the same level of quality isn’t available on the extended cut.
The plentiful extra features are all the same ones available on the standalone releases. A trio of commentaries accompanies White Castle, including one with Cho and Penn and more bizarrely one with supporting cast member Danny Bochart. Featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes, and outtakes offer plenty to watch even if there’s not much of substance. A couple audio commentaries come with Guantanamo, but the really cool feature is the interactive “Dude, Change the Movie!” which allows the viewer to make decisions while watching the film that literally change the plot. Talk about upping the ante for repeat viewing. If you grew up reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, you’ll be tickled pink while playing around with this option. Deleted scenes, outtakes, and a “making of” featurette round things out. For whatever reason, Christmas got shafted on extras, with only a couple short featurettes and a few deleted scenes.
A few chotchkies are included inside the tin lighter case. There’s a set of six White Castle drink coasters and three scented air fresheners. Anyone who already owns these three movies individually probably won’t find these souvenirs worth the double-dip. But if you don’t already have the trilogy, Harold & Kumar Ultimate Collector’s Edition is a good option.