Adorable comes with a side of destruction for the Hendersons, a Seattle clan who happen upon – or into rather – a seven foot sasquatch. Cue sentimental and sappy occurrences meant to pilfer the heart of E.T., pulling together into an admirable creature comedy.
Initially born into the framework of a network sitcom (ironically where it would end up in 1991), Harry and the Hendersons snips some of Alf’s home bound alien appeal as John Lithgow and crew figure out what to do with their unreal guest. Harry snarls and screams for the type of playful family scares this genre would spit out in the ’80s, comfortably establishing its own niche thanks to Rick Baker’s softened creature design.
Harry is not a film with lofty cinematic dreams, likely pitched into VHS bins at a discount were it not for Baker’s work. Animatronics produce eyebrow raising smirks as action choreographs these smelly and furry antics. The film rummages through a pail of dopey sight gags and groin shots to find its heart, somehow turning this thing into an endearing classic.
Spritzed with side characters to insert some vigor and force into the proceedings, Harry is given its oddball villain. The rambunctious and overstated Jaques LaFleur (David Suchet) romps around half crouched, sniffing ferns and tasting hair in his determined quest to spy a Bigfoot. Lithgow and company are cast to scream in shock or indifference, leading to an aging Don Ameche who squashes any possible hatred of this feature with his fevered excitement.
The film is never forced to bleed pacing even as Harry falls from the script’s center. Bruce Broughton contributes an instantly touching score with an emotive spark to lift scenes up outside of the main attraction’s circles. Lithgow’s sweaty and pressured performance provides excellent lead-ins to the next action rush, needed even if Harry is caught on obvious studio sets. Melinda Dillon handles her motherly role without challenge, and Lainie Kazan is deadpan casting as the screechy neighbor.
Situations carry a, “What will Harry do next?” approach. The film barely hides the sitcom seams which bore the concept. But, that’s Harry’s relaxed approach. Ideas never overreach for laughs, and Harry’s vegetarian side spawns a humbled, soft-hearted brute without any sense of his own girth. He becomes a living cartoon thanks to Baker (and Kevin Peter Hall inside of this seamless suit), smiling affectionately toward the lens with precision timing. How can anyone hate Harry?
Fidelity is so 2014… oh, it IS 2014? In that case, eww to Harry and company. Universal picks up their DVD master and slaps it onto a different type of plastic disc to charge people a premium. A bump in resolution and compression parameters aside, Harry is looking sickly in his first HD appearance. Immediate signs of filtering turn nature dull behind the opening credits, a visual trend which will carry into this two hour feature.
Marginal close-ups will sprout an expected level of fine detail for a modestly budgeted late ’80s comedy, but with any distance this low res scan begins to crumble. Pasty appearances and a touch of ringing are clear signs of Universal’s traditional DNR handiwork, if not to their abysmal extremes. Encoding work picks up most of the remaining grain structure. And by “remaining,” that means not much.
Color touch up favors red, pushing flesh tones away from normalcy for something flushed. Primaries appear pale, registering flat as if this was scanned without adjustment from faded stock. If anything was bumped, it was shadow detail in the blacks with an equally overactive contrast, possible compensation to add heft to these waning images.
Harry shows Universal’s commitment to their lower tiered catalog titles continues to wane. Rising over comparable upscales for something with a dab of additional resolution, these Hendersons are lost in HD, still awaiting a true remaster. At least the print used is clean.
Brought over into the world of DTS-HD, this feature exists in a capably wide soundstage as stereos engage in the opening moments. Brushed aside plants split into stereos naturally as characters slink through the forest. A bit of nature’s ambiance will enter surrounds as called upon.
An artificial extension is added to Harry’s footsteps, aggressive if unnatural to the rest of this mix. Dialog carries a workable age if not consistency; certain kitchen sequences appear to have been captured by camera mics instead of better equipment. The drop is noticeable. Comparatively, Broughton’s score retains its constant richness with a mild surround bleed.
Viewers can join director William Dear for a solo commentary before checking out, Finding the Missing Link, a 17-minute making of with set footage. Deleted scenes are in nearly destroyed condition for three minutes of runtime, and two vintage marketing pieces peer in on the set as well. This should all be familiar to owners of the DVD.
Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.