Mr. Bean: The Whole Bean
review by Zach B.
Running Time: 375 minutes
Starring: Rowan Atkinson
Written by: Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson, Robin Driscoll
Starring: John Birkin, Paul Weiland
Retail Price: $49.95
Features: The Story Of Bean Documentary, Additional Sketches, Comic Relief Skits, Mr. Bean: The Animated Series Trailer, Rowan Atkinson Biography and Filmography
Specs: 1.33:1 Full Screen, English Stereo, Scene Selection (6 scenes per episode), Three-Disc Set
Released: April 29th, 2003
I'm not sure if I can really tell you what the appeal of "Mr. Bean" is, but I'll do my best. The show is easy to describe in nature - weird English simpleton Mr. Bean (Rowan Atkison) causes hilarious havoc wherever he goes (well, hilarious for the audience at least) - but it is a bit tricky to pinpoint what makes the series and character so unique and why the show has a giant fan base all over the world, and is arguably one of the biggest British exports of all time. Comedy is definitely a universal language, and even though there is a British sense to "Mr. Bean," his zany escapades are broad, usually for all ages (some of it can be a bit risqué) and will always seem pretty timely.
The entire Bean saga consisted of three writers and two directors (who were mixed and matched across the board). Rowan Atkinson himself, Robin Driscoll and Richard Curtis (who has had major crossover success in American with romantic comedies such as "Notting Hill" and "Four Weddings and a Funeral) shared writing duties while Paul Weiland and John Birkin directed. Berkin and Weiland certainly know how to stage comedy and their direction is impeccable on their respective episodes. They set the visuals and shots up just right, but not to the point where they are distracting. More importantly, they set it up all right and certainly get the timing of the comedy correctly.
Meanwhile, the trio of writers certainly do know funny. Still, it's always amazed me in how they take the most ordinary situations that all of us can relate to - going to the movies, holidays, babies, golf, school (you name it) - and make it so much fun and wacky. When Mr. Bean is out doing something, things that seem so ordinarly simple or where they shouldn't be any problems go awry in the most original and funny ways. The comedy is situational, slightly bizzare and there is a good dose of slapstick thrown in. It's not so much that Bean is in the wrong places at the wrong times, since some of his actions are rather intentional. I find it impossible to resist to see what Mr. Bean will cause in the most ordinary circumstances. It's sort of like watching a train wreck and you can't look away since you just want to see what carnage will be caused.
Still, it really is hard to imagine anyone else but Rowan Atkinson playing Mr. Bean. Even though Atkinson is a widely recognized comedic force who has a strong resumé and tackled all kinds of mediums with his comedy, Mr. Bean is probably his most famous character (most mainstream Americans probably know him best as the voice of Zazu in "The Lion King"). Anyone who has seen Atkinson perform will know how gifted he really is, and Mr. Bean remains a prime example of that. There are some naysayers out there who do find Bean annoying and really don't enjoy the humor associated with the show (or probably don't get what it's all about), but no one can't deny Atkinson's abilities. Not everyone and certainly not many actors have his seemingly uncanny comedic talents.
It's no question that Mr. Bean is largely a mute character, so it's up to Atkinson to truly make the character distinct. Of course, he succeeds beyond anyone's wildest imagination. Atkinson truly has a gift for not only high wire physical comedy, but also has some of the most impressive comedic timing you'll ever see. To top it all off, he has some mesmerizing facial expressions that truly bring the character to life and who you can only accosiate with him. The mannerisms are also incredibly strong - Bean's posture, how he moves... you could go on and on in just how articulate Atkinson has made the character. Of course, his acting chops is a major reason why the show has been so successful and why it has won over so many fans. Even though Bean causes problems, and he can be a bit obnoxious, he is still pretty loveable.
While British television productions work a bit different than American network TV, Mr. Bean never overstayed its welcome (though I still say the film "Bean" was not too amusing, disappointing and pretty pointless). The show though is instantly rewatchable - there's something hilarious in every single one and no matter how many times you watch them, you'll keep on laughing (and if you do not laugh one bit in any one of these episodes, I do recommend having your funny bone examined). In short, all fourteen episodes are fabulous and if you've seen some or all of them before, then you know what to expect. For everyone else, sit back and prepare to have your guts burst out from laughing so hard. I cannot recommend this box set more than enough.
The shows are presented in their original aspect ratios of 1.33:1 full screen and they do look very nice. The show is videotaped and despite the noise and slightly high contrast, everything looks quite nice and sharp. Fleshtones look pretty nice, while detail is very strong and colors are bold, pretty vibrant and are well saturated. Other than that, there really isn't much to say about these transfers other than they are quite excellent and the best quality fans of the show will see them.
Each episode has a stereo track in English (no captions or subtitles are provided either - not that you really need them here anyway) that sounds generally good, but it's nothing outstanding. Fidelity is incredibly high and definitely does stand out, but everything else is fair game. When you hear somebody talk, it rings in clear and is quite crisp. The choir-esque background music brings a nice touch of ambiance while the sound effects, mainly involving the physical comedy, are there but are pretty limited. There is also the audience laugh track which comes in clear too. It all suits the material fine and there are no problems, but there's nothing exciting here
The main thing here is the documentary The Story Of Bean which lasts about forty minutes. Presented in full frame and using clips from the show, other Atkinson performances, a variety of other clips and interviews which highlight the mass appeal of Bean (and do it in probably a better way than my review) and what the character consists of. Rowan Atkinson delivers quite a number of insights on what the character is to him, and some of you may be surprised to learn that he is actually a serious guy. The documentary also talks about Atkinson's upbringing, inspirations and the origins of the character, as well as Atkinson's true personality Mel "I directed the film version" Smith, comedian Lenny Henry, comedy writer Ben Elton and others are interviewed here too - you'll even find Rowan's former school headmaster dishing on him (though many of these names won't mean much to many U.S. viewers). This is well worth a watch for any fan of the show or of Atkinson, and is well put together and offers quite a lot. Too bad it doesn't even go on longer.
Under More Sketches you'll find two sketches that never aired on TV before: "The Library" and "The Bus Stop." Who knows why these were cut or their origins, but the quality is more rough than the episodes on the DVD. Don't worry, they are quite amusing and offer many laughs. Also in this section are two sketches from the U.K. Comic Relief: "Blind Date" and "Torvill & Bean." Again, it's pretty impossible to not laugh at these (Bean actually does quite a bit of talking in the first segment).
Rounding things out are a biography and filmography for Rowan Atkinson plus a trailer advertising the upcoming "Mr. Bean: The Animated Series" that will be released on DVD from A&E Home Video as well.
The antics of Mr. Bean has always been high on my comedy favorites (even if his feature film wasn't as amusing as I hoped it would be), and it's pretty easy to see why so people across the globe just can't get enough of Bean (or Rowan Atkinson, for that matter). You get the entire Mr. Bean series here, with good presentations and strong but slim extras. While I would have hoped for more content wise, it really is hard to argue with what you're getting and at what price. If you're a Bean fan then this is a must-have. If you've never experienced the wacky world so many have cherished for quite a long time and love good comedy, then it's about time to see what you've been missing. It is a must-buy for your collection.