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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Stepford Wives (2004)
Stepford Wives (2004)
Paramount // PG-13 // November 9, 2004
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted November 14, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

Each Summer, the press often finds themselves seeking out a big movie to go after. In the case of this previous Summer, they seemed to zero in on Frank Oz's "The Stepford Wives", an $80m production that supposedly went through on-set tension, last-minute re-edits/re-shoots and test screenings that didn't go well. Is the movie flawed? Yes. Did I feel it was as bad as the hype made it out to be? No.

Director Oz's remake of the 1975 film opens with Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman), a TV exec, giving an audience a look at the new season, which involves some rather sleazy reality shows. When one of the contestants, who lost his wife to...well, several people on one of the shows gets angry and confronts Joanna (and well, the several other people), Joanna gets fired in order for the studio to lessen the impact of potential litigation.

Feeling as if they need a fresh start, Joanna, along with her husband, Walter (Matthew Broderick), and their two kids, head off to the town of Stepford, Connecticut. Once they arrive, the couple is confronted with a series of flowery wives who seem to be happy on a level that one would guess is drug-induced. Lead by Claire Wellington (Glenn Close), the wives of the town are unquestioning and seem to only exist to serve their men. She bonds with local feminist author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler), and the two - joined by Roger (Roger Bart), one half of a gay couple - attempt to try and figure out the town's secrets. Meanwhile, Walter is welcomed into the local Men's club, headed by Clare's husband (Christopher Walken), who seems to head not only the club, but the town. While Joanna strongly dislikes the place, Walter starts to feel at home.

The film's twist in the second half would be a little more interesting had the trailer not shown it and had Paul Rudnick's screenplay not boldly hinted at it earlier in the film. Once that twist hits, the film starts to run off the rails; Oz does a decent job holding the earlier, comedic half together, but once the film turns sci-fi, it seems to be at a bit of a loss where to head next or how to best wrap things up. In terms of editing, there are certainly spots where the picture seems hastily assembled, but it didn't ruin the experience.

The film's performances are its best element. Kidman sometimes seems as if she's walked in from a different movie, but she gives it a fine try. She and Broderick are never particularly believable as a married couple, though. Walken remains funny just because he's himself. Close and Midler offer fine supporting performances, with Midler spouting an amusing conversation about pine cones. Jon Lovitz is underused as Midler's husband. Overall, this is certainly a fine cast, and while no one gives their best performance, they all combine to at least form an amusing and enjoyable ensemble to watch.

Overall, I wonder how much of an improvement a different director would make. Oz remains a shaky director without much edge, and this could have been a very sharp and somewhat suspenseful comedy had it developed characters more and focused a bit less on one-liners. There's funny bits and decent moments scattered throughout "Stepford", but the picture never really takes off. A decent rainy day rental.


The DVD

VIDEO: Paramount offers "The Stepford Wives" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality isn't wihtout a few minor concerns, but the majority of the film looks splendid. Sharpness and detail are a little short of expectations, but this seems like an intentional element of the film's cinematography. The film largely looks crisp and clear, but fine details aren't really visible.

The picture didn't suffer from too much of the usual concerns. The print used looked to be in excellent condition, with no specks, marks or other wear. However, a few traces of pixelation were visible and some mild edge enhancement was visible at times. The film's bright color palette appeared to be portrayed accurately, with nice saturation and no smearing or other concerns.

SOUND: "Stepford Wives" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is pretty modest, keeping mostly to the front speakers, with few exceptions. Surrounds kick in with some minor sound effects and some musical reinforcement, but the rear speakers otherwise stay silent. Not much in the way of ambience was heard, but sound effects seemed crisp and well-recorded. Dialogue also remained natural and easily understood. Overall, the film's sound mix presents what one might expect, but no more than that.

EXTRAS: The main supplement is a commentary from director Frank Oz. Oz does enthusiastically discuss the movie, chatting about working with the cast, trying to achieve the intended look of the picture, story issues, locations and more. However, while I wasn't expecting a total discussion of the reported problems on-set, Oz really doesn't address all the press about the film. Still, we get a pretty good amount of insight and only some moments where the director falls back into narrating the movie or heaping praise on his crew and cast.

A set of deleted/extended sequences includes some fairly uninteresting material, but one seemingly rather costly sequence - where Kidman attacks Midler, causing her to reveal what she really is - is worth seeing.

The DVD also includes a nearly 20-minute "making of" documentary, as well as a few shorter pieces: "Steford: A Definition", "Stepford: The Architects", as well as the mainly character intro pieces "The Stepford Wives" and "The Stepford Husbands". There's also the film's teaser/theatrical trailers and promos for other Paramount titles.

A gag reel proves too short, as it offers some terrific laughs - this is one of the funniest gag reels I've seen in a while, and it includes some funny Lovitz outtakes.

Final Thoughts: "Stepford Wives" has a terrific cast and clicks into place at times, mainly in the first half. The story stumbles once it takes a turn, but overall, the film isn't a bad choice for a rental. Paramount's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality and a few moderately good supplements.

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