Weird Al’s Early Work Finally Emerges from the Archives

As Weird Al’s career approaches its fourth decade, his audience continues to regenerate itself and amass new generations of fans, like a snowball rolling down a hill. This is probably great for album sales as the younger set digs into the past and scoops up as much of Al history as possible, but no doubt, for many of these fans, it can also be frustrating. You see, when you have a career as long as Al’s, certain projects are going to fade away and become unavailable. Well, newer fans who have been feeling as though their collection has been incomplete can rejoice as next week sees the release of two Weird Al upgrades. UHF, Weird Al’s feature film makes it’s debut on Blu-Ray, and The Compleat Al sees its first release on DVD, making it the first time it’s been available since it came out on VHS in 1985. Let’s jump in and see how this work from more than 25 years ago holds up.

The rarer of the two, The Compleat Al is a piece of work that’s a little hard to pin down. The first thing you need to know about is the title. No, that’s not a “wacky” deliberate spelling error; it’s actually a spoof of the title of the then-recent Beatles documentary (the “Compleat” is a play on the misspelling of “The Beatles.”) Al’s “documentary” is a bit of a Frankenstein of a variety of sources. The framing device is that you’re watching a heightened version of Al’s life story. There are definitely a number of facts about Al’s life to be gleaned, such as the fact that Al studied architecture in college, or that he was launched into stardom from Doctor Demento’s radio show, however these true facts are often obscured and hidden beneath a layer of invented ideas and bogus reenactments of events that never occurred. Examples include the auditions for Al’s backing band, Al on stage, lighting an accordion on fire in the style of Hendrix, and an ominous trip to Neverland as Al asks permission from Michael Jackson (dressed in his outfit from the “Bad” music video, but sitting in the shadows) for permission to parody his music.

In addition to the substantial amount of material filmed for the actual special, The Compleat Al served as a compilation of Al’s music videos, which at that point would have been impossible to collect in one place, unless you watched MTV with a VCR pretty diligently over the years. Al had a number of videos to come following the release of this special, but this does contain a number of classics that are definitely fun to see again, including “Eat It,” “Dare to Be Stupid,” and “Like a Surgeon.” The Compleat Al is also comprised of clips from first three AlTV’s, which were events in which Al was given control of MTV and was able to show his videos, perform sketches, and conduct “interviews” with celebrities by editing himself into existing interviews. As of right now, this is the only way to legally obtain any of the footage from these specials, and likely, the only chance you’re going to get.

The presentation of the DVD is rather bare bones, with the only extras being two trailers for the VHS release, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t care put into the DVD. I imagine the special was initially shot in video, which means there’s only so much they could do for restoration, but all things considered, it looks pretty good. For me, though, the biggest surprise came at the very beginning. First, the CBS Fox logo was left in, but more relevant to the comedy website I am writing this for, the copyright notice, referring to illegal duplication of this “cassette” is left in tact. This is worth noting because, once you are warned not to illegally copy the VHS, you are then told what the potential side effects of video piracy are. Suffice to say that are insane, and they escalate quickly. It’s a fun little touch, and it’s not hard to imagine that if released by someone other than Shout! Factory, it could have ended up on the cutting room floor.

The movie UHF was not nearly as hard to find as The Compleat Al, but this marks its first time ever in HD. I’m no video expert, but I will say it looks great to me, and allowed me to watch Al as George Newman create his signature Twinkie-weiner sandwich in the highest possible quality. If you’re not familiar, the premise is a pretty simple one: Weird Al takes over a local TV station, which leads to a ton of strange programs, and a number of film parodies. It’s the perfect vehicle for Al, and though it didn’t become a summer blockbuster, it did become a cult favorite among fans.

UHF received a DVD release several years back which took full advantage of the format and was jammed pack with features. The Blu-Ray thankfully brings them over and even adds one in the form a recording of a panel from the most recent Comic Con, hosted by Jonah Ray. If you’re already a huge fan, there’s probably not going to be a lot to glean here, but it is fun to see Al look back on a film from 25 years ago after some time has passed.

Depending on your level of Weird Al fandom, you now have a choice in how much larger your physical media collection will grow. For the casual fan, upgrade your DVD and pick up UHF. It looks and sounds great. If you’re an obsessive then it’s time to retire the VHS and pick up The Compleat Al as well and finally get to see what Burgeropolis was meant to look like the way Al intended.

Ramsey Ess is a freelance writer for television, podcaster and a guy on Twitter. His webseries “Ramsey Has a Time Machine” has a very self-explanatory title.

Weird Al’s Early Work Finally Emerges from the Archives