Cabin Boy (1994) Blu-ray Review: Still Floating After All These Years

Though I never saw the film in its entirety until much later in life, I was nevertheless present when Adam Resnick’s Cabin Boy briefly flickered onto silver screens near and far in 1994. I was also there when word began to spread (and quickly, at that) regarding just how popular of a title it was at the time. But my personal favorite Cabin Boy story hailed from a secondhand account, wherein a former acquaintance of mine enjoyed the movie’s many, many flaws so much, that he exited the cineplex in tears, resulting in one very confused usher walking up to him and gasping, “You’re the only person who has walked out of there laughing!”

Indeed, finding and appreciating the humor in Cabin Boy are two entirely different things.

The first ‒ and, more than likely, only ‒ time offbeat comedian Chris Elliott and oddball filmmaker Tim Burton attempted to collaborate (for whatever reason), Cabin Boy is a strange, surrealistic spoof of classic pirate movies fused with a slight (if low-rent) Ray Harryhausen vibe and an overabundance of absurdity. Alas, no one was really “ready” for whatever it was the flick was trying to show us (in fact, the whole country outright hated it!), despite the rather ironic realization that the much-more popular (and polished) Joe Versus the Volcano was equally as surreal, silly, and absurd. (Granted, Chris Elliott is no Tom Hanks, but I think the two films would make for an outstanding drive-in double-feature when you’re stoned out of your gourd.)

After being given permission to write whatever they want since Tim Burton had agreed to (originally) direct, Elliott and Resnick wrote an ambitious seafaring yarn about a young fancy lad named Nathaniel. Portrayed in the film by Mr. Elliott in his usual Chris Elliott fashion, Nathaniel is a spoiled, mouthy, annoying fancy lad who gets more than he bargained when he accidentally boards the wrong ship. While that basic storyline may seem simplistic and innocent enough, Elliott and Resnick’s script sets the tale in a surreal, anachronistic universe replete with living iceberg creatures, a whored-out take on a Hindu goddess, and Mike Starr as a giant department store salesman. It’s also kind of weird, too.

Unfortunately for everyone involved in this Touchstone (Disney) Pictures production (well, everyone save for Tim Burton, maybe), Cabin Boy wound up sinking at the box office. Prior to production, Burton jumped ship in order to direct Ed Wood (a wise move, I must say) along with his frequent co-producer Denise Di Nova, suggesting to Disney execs Elliott’s (inexperienced) co-writer buddy Resnick helm the flick. By the time the entire fiasco was finished shooting, the now-panicked suits at Touchstone chopped the picture up considerably, whittling the whole thing down to a mere 80 minutes; the absolute barest minimum length a feature film can could be at the time.

Thought it may have been a major flop in ’94, Cabin Boy has nevertheless sailed on to become a cult classic of its own since then, thanks mainly to the devoted (if perhaps misguided) post-MTV generations who grew up with it on home video. In fact, Cabin Boy has amassed enough of a following that the folks at Kino Lorber have now given them something worth swimming across the ocean for: a new Special Edition Blu-ray jam-packed with bonus goodies. Sourced from an older master, the MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer here shows off a number of visual defects throughout (read: it has not been remastered), but is undoubtedly the best the picture has ever looked.

A hearty DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo soundtrack accompanies the feature film, although there are very few instances where the mix will jump out at you (other than the completely inappropriate musical score by Steve Bartek, which is so unfitting, it is best likened to the ol’ “fish out of water” analogy). English (SDH) subtitles are include for this version (as is an o-card slipcover!), and an all-new audio commentary with Elliott and Resnick marks the official launch of this release. The first time either had seen it since ’94, the commentary is followed by a 45 min featurette with the pair recounting their struggles making the film (and their eventual acceptance of what it was to become).

Also included are archival interviews with Elliott and fellow performers Ritch Brinkley (who plays the captain of the film’s ship), James Gammon, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Brion James (who portray the ship’s extremely salty crew), Melora Walters (as Elliott’s unwitting, uninterested love interest), and Russ Tamblyn (an inexplicable half-man, half-shark creature); audition tapes of the aforementioned Walters and co-star Andy Richter (who briefly plays the ship’s first, imbecilic, cabin boy); and a selection of edited outtakes and B-Roll footage. Five TV spots and the original theatrical trailer are also included, and the package is wrapped up with a booklet featuring an essay by author/historian/brave soul Nick Pinkerton. Heck, there’s even a reversible sleeve with alternate cover art.

Despite the (yeah, OK, rightfully) bad reputation the film was immediately dismissed with upon release, Cabin Boy has somehow managed to stay afloat after all these years. Unfathomably fascinating to watch, it’s just as jaw-droppingly amazing to learn how one of the most hated films of the mid ’90s became that way. And now, thanks to this all new Special Edition from Kino Lorber Studio Classics, Cabin Boy can be appreciated in High-Definition from either perspective: be it on-screen or from behind-the-scenes. So weigh anchor and set sail for a one-way trip to absurdity, kids.

Recommended. Somehow or another.

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Luigi Bastardo

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