A few years back, I was a staunch supporter of the Filmfour forums, particularly the Banned section where I expressed very strong views against censorship. When trolls started to invade, a few of us elected to leave and start our own forum dedicated to putting the censorship issue forward, and discussing films. Inventively called the film4regulars club (on Yahoo; it might even still be there) we quickly became fast friends and filmic discussion became far more the topic of now than censorship, which was getting nowhere and, lets face it, ridiculous in the light of the web. One such discussion was about Bill Murray; most of the members wanted him as our 'champ of the day', I, as initiator of the 'comedy greats champ week', wasn't convinced of his comedic skill, citing he was a funny actor as apposed to a comedian making films. Oh, how wrong I was! I was quickly initiated into the life of Murray, a talented comedian, at his best with improvisation and one of a new breed of Saturday Night Live comics along with John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd (of whom I knew were comics). So, of course, Bill Murray had his place secured as 'Champ of the day'.
Murray was plucked from the S.N.L. line up by director Ivan Reitman for Meatballs (1979), a rather simple 'summer camp' movie that nevertheless brought Murray's talents to the forefront and had a direct impact for his casting in Stripes. Harold Ramis, a comedy writer and director had such a rapport with Murray on the set of Caddyshack (1980) that he joined him to act as well as write Stripes. So the scene was set, front comedian, comedic director and a comedic writer/director. What could go wrong; in short, nothing. Released in 1981, Stripes remains as fresh and funny today as it did back then. Its success is due to the talent brought in, even though, for many, this was a first film, actors like Candy, Young, Soles, Larroquette and Reinhold brought with them an enthusiasm and inventiveness that was taken by Reitman and allowed much of the film to be improvised on set. There's a certain spontaneity to many of the gags, this keeps them fresh even after many viewings. Add into this madness a steadfast anchor in Warren Oats as the drill sergeant against whom all the mirth is directed, and a cinematographer who cut his teeth on the likes of the Godfather (1971) and you have more than just a comedy, you have a classic.
The story is very simple, washed up guy after losing his job, girlfriend and apartment in one day elects to join the army, dragging along with him his best friend. Once there high jinx commence, culminating in a graduation ceremony that ensures a passing of basic training. The last act, rather a departure from this initial setup, has our four main characters rescue their comrades from imprisonment in Czechoslovakia in a 'borrowed' secret assault vehicle. What, then, makes this edition so special, when the term special edition has been over used so much it means almost nothing? Well, this DVD is a specially reconstructed extended edition that incorporates eighteen minutes of additional footage not seen in the original release. There are six additional scenes running a variety of lengths, and all are very interesting, though one scene is wildly inappropriate, I am talking of the jungle scene, that just looks so false; it was definitely the right choice to remove it. The others add a few more gags from Murray, explain away a few loose plot holes, but don't really add that much to the picture. It is easy to spot them, even if the commentary didn't tell you, their quality is slightly worse than the surrounding material (plus most know this film so well it's easy to spot them). What I have found rather off putting, though, is this DVD is only this extended edition; in the R1 version you have the option of watching the theatrical cut or incorporating the scenes as a seamless branch (though some dislike having to press the icon), no such luck here; if you want to see the original, you're out of luck my friend. This is a real missed opportunity, not everyone will agree with this extended edition, putting in the theatrical cut would have been far more consumer friendly, but not this time around.
With that in mind, I have a tough choice. There is no doubt that Stripes has a winning formula and has stood the test of time, it is a genuinely funny film and one to own. But this extended edition is not the same, the run time is lengthened considerably and at least one of the scenes is just so out of place I cannot agree with it. This edition is very interesting, and any self respecting fan would want to see it; but to have this version forced as the only cut to watch just jars too much. Me? I'd head to the R1, not only do you get both versions, you also get to view the deleted scenes separately and with the addition of even more material. Sorry R2, you just can't cut it.