We could offer you our own one-line plot description for [movie id=”349805″]”Year One,”[/movie] a high-concept comedy set in biblical times, but we prefer star Jack Black’s pithy take : “Just two dudes wandering through early civilization.”
The dudes in question are [movieperson id=”163196″]Black[/movieperson] and [movieperson id=”297537″]Michael Cera[/movieperson], two buddies living in an ancient hunter/gatherer society, trying to hit on ladies and prove their manliness to the tough guys in the village. Neither of these pursuits are working out too well, and after Zed bites into some forbidden fruit and accidently burns everyone’s huts down, the two friends set out on an epic journey through time, the Bible and the very limits of PG-13 comedy.
While you might not have been reading up on the Old Testament in anticipation of “Year One,” which hits theaters Friday (June 19), we’ve been munching on our own Tree of Knowledge since word of the project broke in 2007. Now we can produce the fruits of our investigative labor: the “Year One” Cheat Sheet.
From the Animal House to Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Ancient Middle East
Director Harold Ramis has written or helmed some of the most memorable comedies of the last 30 years, from “Animal House” to “Caddyshack” to “Groundhog Day.” As he explained to us in April, the idea for “Year One” arose from reading religious texts and applying his time-tested comic sensibility.
“I see one insane, dysfunctional family after another [in the Bible],” he said. “To take someone with a contemporary consciousness and put him in that situation at the origin of all our worst social and political and religious issues and have them comment on it could be a very funny movie.”
To pen the script, Ramis enlisted two writers — Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg — who work on one of the best comedies on TV today: “The Office.” As Ramis and Black explained , the references for the film skewed less toward the Old Testament and more toward comedy greats like Mel Brooks and Monty Python.
“It’s kind of like ’The Meaning of Life’ or ’Life of Brian’ — a funny look at biblical tales,” Black told us.
In summer 2007, we reported that Black and Cera were gearing up for the Judd Apatow-produced flick. Ramis said he knew from the start he wanted Black to play one of the lead roles, but when Apatow pitched Cera for the other main part, Ramis replied, “Isn’t he, like, 12 years old?” Then Ramis watched scenes from “Superbad” and realized, “Wow, the kid’s amazing.”
Before the year was out, Cera’s “Superbad” co-star Christopher Mintz-Plasse signed on to play Abraham’s nearly sacrificed son Isaac. McLovin joined an all-star cast including David Cross, Paul Rudd, Hank Azaria, Oliver Platt, Kyle Gass, Bill Hader and Paul Scheer. “House” doc and Maxim Hot 100 cover girl Olivia Wilde assumed the role of the princess of Sodom.
Traveling Back in Time, Ignoring Biblical Accuracy
When MTV News visited the Shreveport, Louisiana, set , we got a lesson in what it takes to bring a modern-day comedy to the ancient world. “I’m being whipped as a slave, and earlier this morning we were standing in mud and it was freezing,” Cera said. “I’m painted gold for one scene of the movie and that was insane.”
“These shoes won’t stay laced because they are too thin,” Black added. “But that’s how it was back in primitive times — they didn’t have good lacing technology.”
“Year One” placed an emphasis not on biblical accuracy, but on laughs. “I think we’ll be filling people’s heads with some terrible misconceptions,” Ramis laughed. “I’m sure we’ll end up being protested.”
To wit, there are scenes in which Cain and Abel (Rudd and Cross) get into a bloody, homicidal brawl, Abraham (Azaria) goes crazy for circumcisions and a pedophile priest (Platt) demands Cera’s character massage his hairy body with oil.
The first trailer aired during the Super Bowl in February. Since then, we’ve brought you an exclusive clip — Cera and Black exchanging Stone Age dating advice — and tons of interviews with the cast, in which they discuss such things as tips for surviving in ancient society.
Might we see a “Year Two”? Anything is possible, and without spoiling the ending, the film certainly raises a logical plotline for a second biblical adventure. For now, Ramis is involved in a third “Ghostbusters” film, while Cera is busy filming the comic book adaptation “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World.” And this summer, Black is shooting another high-concept comedy, “Gulliver’s Travels,” based on the Jonathan Swift novel and co-starring Jason Segel and Emily Blunt.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Year One.”
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