Cabin Boy [Special Edition]

Studio: Kino Lorber Studio Classics

Dec 03, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

We’ll be frank: Cabin Boy is not a good movie. It’s a fascinating movie, in many ways, but by no stretch of the imagination a good film. It’s probably the worst movie we’ll ever enthusiastically recommend you pick up in a special edition Blu-ray.

Chris Elliott stars as Nathaniel Mayweather, a prissy manchild freshly graduated from an expensive finishing school. (He’s a “fancy lad,” as he’s repeatedly described in the movie.) Obliviously assuming he’s hopping a luxury boat to his daddy’s resort in Hawaii, Nathaniel accidently climbs aboard a rickety fishing vessel known as The Filthy Whore. Stuck at sea with a crew of salty fishermen, Nathaniel’s buffoonish attempt to pull a fast one and redirect their ship towards Hawaii leaves them stranded at sea in the middle of the dreaded region known as Hell’s Bucket. This is where the movie goes from dumb to downright weird.

From the start, Cabin Boy’s biggest hurdle is its awful hero. The normally-likeable Elliott is tasked with playing an irredeemably irritating character: it’s bad enough that this priggish moron behaves like a spoiled 12-year-old for almost the duration of the film, but he does so in a cloying, high-pitched accent. It’s the sort of character you could imagine having been written for an Adam Sandler sketch that was cut in dress rehearsal before SNL went to air – certainly not one you’d draw out over an 80-minute feature.

If you can get past its lead’s asinine asshatery, Cabin Boy starts to get interesting – or, at the very least, bizarre. Once you get to Hell’s Bucket the movie becomes a parade of cheaply-done, Harryhausen-like effects and surreal imagery. There are talking cupcakes, a ghost, a six-armed seductress, an ice giant and a non-ice giant, and a half-man half-shark played by Twin Peaks’ Russ Tamblyn. (The Filthy Whore’s living figurehead is played by a pre-talk show Ricki Lake.) None of it really makes much sense, but it’s a decent distraction from Nathaniel’s infantile antics.

Cabin Boy bombed spectacularly on release, making Touchstone Pictures back less than a quarter of its production budget. It earned special notoriety as a major flop thanks to David Letterman, who made an uncredited cameo in the movie and continued to make fun of his involvement in it for years to come. This is all easy to understand: the movie is really, really bad.

Watching it with no context, the special effects and fantastical plot elements seem strange for strangeness’ sake. However, with a little historical background, it all begins to make sense. The movie was originally conceived as a Tim Burton project, when the young Burton was still a rising name in the industry. Elliott and director Adam Resnick co-wrote the film on Burton’s request, and shoved it as full of many of the early Burton-y things they could come up with. The movie was greenlit after Batman established Burton as a bankable name at the box office – but the director eventually dropped out to focus on things like Ed Wood and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Instead of axing Cabin Boy entirely, he hand-picked Resnick – a first-timer – to direct it. This suddenly left Cabin Boy as a Tim Burton movie, except one no longer directed by Tim Burton – or graced with the sort of budget Burton would normally have been given to execute this script.

From there on out, the story behind Cabin Boy seems to be one where nothing went as it should have. In this extras-loaded special edition, both Resnick and Elliott recount what went wrong over a 45-minute on-camera interview and full-length audio commentary. Neither sugar-coats any part of the story; they’re not joyfully reminiscing so much as assessing mistakes. When even the shittiest films typically come with pretentious, rose-tinted commentary tracks, it’s refreshing to hear two filmmakers discuss their biggest misfire so frankly. While Cabin Boy does appear to have developed a small cult around it, neither of these two sound as if they’re part of it. The disastrous Cabin Boy production sounds like it was miserable to be part of, and listening to them talk about it is absolutely captivating. These new extras generated by Kino Lorber are some of the most interesting we’ve come across in all of 2018.

If you’re one of the movie’s admirers, well, you probably quit reading this a long time ago. But if not, there’s a lot on this disc you’ll like, too, including Andy Richter and Melora Walters’ audition reels, archival cast interviews, b-roll footage and outtakes, TV spots and trailers, and a lengthy booklet essay. Love or hate Cabin Boy, this a package that anyone who appreciates the efforts that occur behind-the-scenes of a movie will be fascinated by.



Submit your comment

Name Required

Email Required, will not be published


Remember my personal information
Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

There are no comments for this entry yet.