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Paramount Studios presents
Wonder Boys (2000)

James: That is a big trunk! It holds a tuba, a suitcase, a dead dog, and a garment bag almost perfectly.
Grady: That's just what they used to say in the ads.

- Tobey Maguire, Michael Douglas

Review By: Dan Lopez   
Published: March 04, 2001

Stars: Michael Douglas, Tobey Maguire, Robert Downey Jr.
Other Stars: Francis McDormand, Katie Holmes, Richard Thomas, Rip Torn
Director: Curtis Hanson

MPAA Rating: R for (language and drug content)
Run Time: 01h:50m:27s
Release Date: March 13, 2001
UPC: 097363326144
Genre: comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AAA- B

DVD Review

In this modern age of the major Hollywood blockbuster film, I've noticed a trend with some filmmakers to try almost too hard to make movies that appeal to a more even audience. People tired of the usual action-fests or seeing the Earth explode for the 50th time, usually gravitate towards anything that breaks from that pace; but the end result, in my opinion, is too often a bit condescending. "Feel good" dramas that "reach for the heart" are starting to get a bit stale, almost like the rehashed blockbusters they seek to escape. Wonder Boys seems to have the setup to be one of these movies, but then totally avoids all the expected pitfalls. Here, we have a nicely woven, slightly dark, and genuinely funny story that doesn't try to be too 'weird' but avoids becoming conventional in the same stroke.

Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp, a college writing professor whose professional career has started going down the tubes. It's been years since his last, major success as an author; he's having an affair with his boss' wife, and the film opens with his own wife having just left him. In his writing class is James Leer (Tobey Maguire), a rather odd, depressing fellow who has a talent that Tripp admires. Tripp also lives with Hannah (Katie Holmes), a young student who boards in his house. Grady's life is already in a very unusual, depressing state, but things turn even more bizarre when, one weekend, his editor, Terry, (Robert Downey Jr.) comes to stay with him. Grady encounters Leer in the out-of-school atmosphere at a gathering of prestigious authors. They both go through some very odd experiences together (which I won't reveal here), and wind up forming an awkward bond. Tripp sees the potential in Leer, which disturbs him since he can't get his own novel-in-progress off the ground.

Wonder Boys evolves into a very well structured, if not slightly complex, lighthearted comedy about how the strange lives of both Tripp and Leer mesh together with a certain amount of similarity. Most of the subtle humor comes from events and occurrences in the film that I can't really discuss without giving away some of the film's charm; but rest assured, the comedy potential is used very well. There's some nice messages behind the story as well, though the audience is not beaten over the head with them. Levity never interrupts the dramatic flow, but at the same time, the drama never becomes overburdened with sappiness or fake emotion.

The mixture of this nice story with superb casting and acting allows the whole feature to almost effortlessly entertain. Easily one of the best movies of 2000, Wonder Boys makes a good compliment to the rest of director Curtis Hanson's career.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The 2:35:1 widescreen image is extremely well-presented. The slightly muted cinematography comes across very well without any kind of compression artifacts or pixelization. Black level is very sharp and defined, and everything balances well. Anamorphic enhancement also adds visible depth and smoothness to the image. There are really no complaints here; this is a fantastic looking disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The English Dolby 5.0 soundtrack is about as good as it can get. Although Wonder Boys is more a dramatic film, the soundfield is well used. Though surround channels are sparsely used for a little ambient effect, the front channels carry a lot of directionality. Almost every scene is presented with clean stereo effects and a very immersive tone. The musical score and various songs in the film sound wonderful; loud without being aggressive. At times, the center channel (which carries most of the dialogue) seemed a bit harsh or muted, but this impression only lasted a few, fleeting seconds. The French 2.0 Surround audio isn't quite as bold and impressive, but certainly carries much of the same style.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:15m:24s

Extra Extras:
  1. Pittsburgh interactive map with Curtis Hanson commentary
  2. Songs of Wonder Boys feature
Extras Review: The first main feature on the disc is the featurette, A Look Between The Pages, which is about 12 minutes long and features interviews with director Curtis Hanson, and actors Tobey Maguire, Michael Douglas, and Francis McDormand. Watch this AFTER the movie, as it's filled with many spoilers.

The interactive map is a layout of locations used in the film. By selecting a location (as placed on a map of Pittsburgh), you are brought to a short interview clip with Curtis Hanson discussing how the location was found and used.

The "Songs of Wonder Boys" section of the disc is dedicated to the film's soundtrack. There's a short intro segment by Curtis Hanson, followed by some other features. You can access a few of the songs used on the soundtrack where they appear in the film, sort of like an alternate chapter listing done by where a song appears in the film. The complete music video for Bob Dylan's new song Things Have Changed, which is in the film's opening credits, is here as well. Finally, there is a tracklist of the entire soundtrack CD.

There are English subtitles for the movie, which are well-placed and sized (outside of the image frame on a 4:3 set).

A theatrical trailer wraps up the features. For Paramount's infamous extraless presentations, this disc makes a nice change of pace.

On a side note, there has been some worry over the fact that prior to the film, a title-card stating that the film has been "edited for content from the theatrical version," appears. However, I do not think this has anything to do with the film being altered in any substantial way. Rather, it most likely has to do with the fact that a reference to a celebrity suicide was omitted when the family of the person asked Paramount to remove the inference.

Extras Grade: B

 

Final Comments

Wonder Boys is an enjoyable, fun look at the chaotic lives of various people who aren't sure where they're headed. It's a "feel good" movie, without all the emotional baggage usually carried by the genre. Highly recommended.

 


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