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20th Century Fox presents
Grandma: How was school?
DVD ReviewLike some sort of indie Star Wars, Napoleon Dynamite has turned into the little movie that could... possibly be one of the most bizarre marketing stories in history, with so much random ancillary junk available, this special edition DVD re-issue may as well carry the label "brought to you by Hot Topic."
Somehow, though, all the wigs, buttons, stickers, and shirts plastered with random quotes (everything from the understandable "Vote for Pedro" to "My lips hurt real bad!") have done nothing to dampen my ever-growing enthusiasm for the movie itself (though I may be alone on that point). I can't really argue with those who feel it's aloof and plotless; that's sort of the point. There's nothing to it other than a cast of truly unique and endearing freaks and geeks.
Jon Heder creates one of the most memorable movie outcasts in history; his Napoleon is both bizarre and freakishly self-confident, the weirdest kid in school who doesn't seem to register the strange looks he gets when giving a current events speech about the Loch Ness monster. Then again, at his house, he is the cool one; his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell) spends most of his time "chatting with babes" on the internet and training to be a cage fighter (his spindly arms say otherwise) and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) is middle-aged but still reliving his high school glory days (" How much you wanna make a bet I can throw a football over them mountains?").
At school, Napoleon is best friends with Pedro (Efren Ramirez), whom he admires equally for his facial hair (he's the only kid in school with a mustache!) and killer bike ("Ever take it off any sweet jumps?"). He also develops a sort of dorky intimacy with soft-spoken Deb (Tina Majorino), who sells boondoggle key chains to raise money for college and has her own Glamour Shots studio in her basement.
Aside from a few loose story threads about a school election and Kip's on-line romance, there really isn't much to the movie. But the way it's about nothing is really something; though all the characters are obviously sort of over-the-top, they also feel wholly genuine—it's not hard to imagine they were inspired by real people, and scenes of Napoleon and Pedro shopping for a suit for the prom at a thrift store or showing of their 4-H skills offer a sort of meandering brilliance. It really helps that married co-writers Jared and Jerusha Hess have a great deal of affection for them—as odd as they are, they are never treated with contempt, and credit for Napoleon's iconic status is as much theirs as Heder's. We wouldn't like Napoleon nearly so much if the movie set him up as someone to laugh at. Instead, we cheer as he waves his freak flag high (even if he doesn't seem to notice it's waving at all).
The same sweet-natured sensibility is infused throughout; this is certainly one of the most successful PG comedies ever to attract a horde of teenage admirers ("flippin'" and "dang" are about as bad as it gets in terms of language). Whether its innocence is a product of the creators' Mormon upbringing or not (the movie takes place in Idaho, but the Hess family hails from Utah), I have to say, it's pretty danged sweet.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Nicely filmed despite a low budget, Napoleon Dynamite looks pretty nice on DVD, though I certainly didn't see much improvement here over the original release, despite the fact that the film is given more breathing room with the deletion of the full frame transfer. Colors are bright and detail is good. The source print is clean and digital artifacts aren't an issue.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The mix is about what you'd expect for such a low-key movie. Dialogue is clear and natural, and the surrounds are really only used for atmosphere or to support the score and soundtrack.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 19 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Office Space: SE
13 TV Spots/Teasers
11 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by director Jared Hess, producer Jeremy Coon, and actor Jon Heder; actors Jon Gries, Aaron Ruell, Efren Ramirez, and Tina Majorino
Packaging: Keep Case
All the extras from the original disc are present; you can check out the details here. The only bonus on Disc 1 other than the old director's commentary is a cast commentary with Jon Gries (Uncle Rico), Aaron Ruell (Kip), Efren Ramirez (Pedro), and Tina Majorino (Deb). It isn't quite as interesting as I was hoping—they spend a lot of time giggling at the movie or pointing out favorite moments—but the also share some nice trivia on the shooting process and funny stories from the set.
Everything else is found on Disc 2, including two new documentaries that are worth the price of an upgrade all by themselves. On Location (41m:38s) is my favorite kind of making-of, a fly on the wall piece constructed of an amalgam of on set footage. The 43-minute World Premiere: Jared Hess is nice look at Napoleon Dynamite as pop culture phenomenon. Starting shortly before the premiere screening at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival, it jumps back and forth in time, piecing together impromptu interviews with Hess discussing the origin of different moments and characters, nervously anticipating the screening, and basking in the successful aftermath. Along the was, there are pit stops with the Hess family and a visit to a Napoleon Dynamite Festival in the town of Preston City, Idaho, where Hess grew up and the movie was filmed. It's a funny, engaging, and creative documentary.
In addition to the original short film, Pecula, a collection of deleted scenes is also repeated from the first disc, with optional commentary from director Jared Hess, actor Jon Heder, and producer Jeremy Coon; there are also a few new outtakes, including on of Jon Heder dancing, shot during the making of Pecula, that wound up inspiring the end of Napoleon Dynamite.
Casting Napoleon Dynamite includes an interview (13m:03s) with casting director Jory Weitz and audition videos for Tina Majorino, Efran Ramirez, and Haylie Duff (Summer Wheatly). Napoleon Sightings collects random appearances the character has made since the movie's popularity exploded in 2004. There are clips from Total Request Live (with Napoleon as a guest D.J.), Saturday Night Live, The MTV Movie Awards (the same Batman Begins spoof included on that film's DVD), The Teen Choice Awards 2004 and 2005, and three excellent TV spots for the Utah State Fair. There's also a clip of one of the kids at the National Spelling Bee quoting the movie for some random reason in the middle of spelling "chinook," which is, incidentally, a warm, moist Southwest wind. Duh.
Thirteen MTV on-air promos (7m:30s) offer scant laughs, but are nice to have for completeness' sake (despite the puzzling absence of the theatrical trailer). There's also a short featurette on the wedding sequence that was tacked on to the end of movie late in its run and a still gallery with candid and promotional images.
All this is wrapped up in clever menus that mimic the memorable opening credit sequence. The inner packaging looks like a "Vote for Pedro" T-shirt; I didn't get one, but some retail versions will also have a nifty lenticular cover. Lucky!
Extras Grade: A
Final CommentsIn spite of the grating media and quirky T-shirt empire that has grown up around it, Napoleon Dynamite is still a pretty great little movie, and if you agree, then this excellent re-issue is probably worth buying. Look for it on sale at a Hot Topic near you.
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