Pirate Radio is an ensemble comedy from writer/director Richard Curtis loosely based on the British government’s attempted suppression of rock and roll in the 1960s. With rock music virtually banned from British airwaves, a group of rebellious DJs exploit a legal loophole and broadcast classic rock hits 24 hours a day from a ship anchored offshore in the North Sea. Despite their borderline illegal and underground operation, their station draws around 25 million listeners, nearly half the population of Britain. It is there on the ship Radio Rock that young Carl meets the infamous ragtag gang of musical pirates after being sent to stay with his godfather Quentin, the group’s captain and manager. In no time Carl becomes part of their eccentric family and gets reckless lessons in life, love, and music. However, the future of Radio Rock is put in jeopardy when the British government cracks down on rock and roll harder than ever before.
Though the film is only a minor addition to the genre, it’s not without its fair share of genuine laughs and memorable moments. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Nick Frost, Rhys Darby, and Rhys Ifans all give entertaining performances that bring what would otherwise be flimsy one-dimensional characters to life. Along with the rest of the talented cast, they alone keep the film from succumbing to the sluggish story and give us a reason to care about these rocking rebels. The interplay between them is so natural and amusing that you really believe that they could all be friends even after the cameras stop rolling.
What I do appreciate about Pirate Radio is that it never tries to be anything more than what it is, and what it is is good old fashioned fun that embraces the devil-may-care attitude of the 60s. Sure, it falls more than a tad short in the department of character development and has about as many major plot points as a childrens book, but the always upbeat tone and great ensemble cast make Pirate Radio a surprisingly enjoyable and quirky ride. The film is essentially made up of small stories on the ship that highlight the family dynamic of the characters and is tied together by the government’s steady attempt to shut them down on the mainland. However, all these pieces never really quite come together to form a satisfying whole at the end. Still, there is plenty of superficial fun to be had here and the music alone makes it worth a watch. Pirate Radio is by no means a terrible comedy, but it is unfortunately a somewhat frivolous and forgettable one.
Pirate Radio boasts a 1080p VC-1 codec with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks decidedly gorgeous. The flamboyant and brightly colored fashion of the 1960s is captured beautifully; deep purple blazers, bright orange shirts, crazy textured clothing patterns, etc. The colors on the boat tend to look brighter and truer to life than washed out scenes filmed on the mainland, a stylistic choice that distinguishes the vivid, exciting world of rock and roll with the monotony of the musically closed-minded British government. The contrast levels are also superb and are very noticeable since the film employs moody lighting in a majority of shots. Overall, Pirate Radio looks fantastic and captures perfectly the freewheeling mentality of the 60s.
With its DTS HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, Pirate Radio provides the perfect platform for the classic rock songs of the 60s. The songs come across beautifully and do a great job of immersing you in the era of reckless love and freedom of spirit that defined the 1960s. The dialogue is crisp and there are even moments where the surround sound effects and bass are utilized impressively, especially towards the climax of the film.
Pirate Radio skimps a little on the extras with only deleted scenes, an audio commentary, and a handful of featurettes. With its cast of hilarious comedians and top notch actors, it definitely would’ve been nice to have a blooper reel. A more in depth look at how they filmed some of the scenes on the ship would also have been much appreciated and it’s surprising that there isn’t even a theatrical trailer included. Still, the extras that are there are pretty beefy and offer an interesting perspective on the making of the film. Extras include:
- Deleted Scenes
There are a whopping 16 deleted scenes totaling in at about 45 minutes. The scenes don’t necessarily fit anywhere specific in the theatrical version of the film, but still work well as humorous stand alone pieces. What’s particularly impressive about these is that there is an option to watch an introduction to each deleted scene from director Richard Curtis in which he gives a bit of history and information regarding the creation of the scene and why it was removed. It’s a nice option that you rarely see and really helps place what you’re watching in context.
Five featurettes featuring interviews with the director and actors as well as behind the scenes footage. They discuss the history of radio pirates in 1960s Britain, what it was like growing up during the rise of rock and roll, and the inspirations for the film.
- Audio Commentary
Commentary from director Richard Curtis, producer Hilary Jones, and actors Nick Frost and Chris O’Dowd . Their comments are little haphazard and don’t offer much insight into the making of the film, but their comments are nonetheless funny and they have a good time with it, leaving virtually no silent down time.
Pirate Radio is a fun film and it’s clear the cast and crew had good time making it. It’s an interesting look at a lost slice of rock and roll history, but it just feels like there wasn’t enough of a story to sustain any kind of dramatic momentum. Though Pirate Radio likely won’t make your list of favorite comedies, it certainly has its moments and is definitely worth a watch.
The screen captures are only a small representation of what the Blu-ray looks like and are not representative of Blu-ray’s true quality.