Few comedies...nay, few movies in the annals of motion pictures!...have elicited a more varied variety of opinions than Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. Reception on Internet message boards has fallen anywhere in between "omg this is teh funniest movie ive seen all year!!1!" to...I dunno, something a lot more negative, but probably still preceded by "omg". Y'know how you can probably get where I'm going with the attempts at humor I just typed, and maybe you can imagine how someone, somewhere might crack a smile at 'em, but you think they're really just kind of lame and stupid? That's how I felt about the sporadically funny but wildly uneven Anchorman.
The plotting in Anchorman is so thin that Mary-Kate looks like a bloated mouthbreather tooling around on a Rascal by comparison, but I guess I'll rattle off a quick summary anyway. Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy stars Will Ferrell as anchorman Ron Burgundy. That is all.
Well, basically. The movie's set in San Diego in the '70s, where five-time local Emmy winner Ron Burgundy is beloved by all, except for the competing stations desperately clawing at Burgundy's astronomical ratings share. Burgundy's drunk with power and success...and aged scotch, and convinced that another cootchtacular conquest is in sight, he makes a move on Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) at a party. He strikes out, but Ron gets another chance at bat when Veronica is brought on as the station's new reporter. The rest of Ron's news team -- field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sports man Champ Kind (David Koechner), and the mildly-retarded Brick (Steve Carell) -- try their misogynistic best to woo Veronica, but it's Ron...who treats her like a gentle, delicate, kinda-chain-smoking flower...who wins her heart. Ron's soon stung by betrayal, even though it's not, really, resulting in an epic battle of wits that Veronica mightily wins, and I'm really wasting my time by rattling off a plot since it only really exists as an excuse to string jokes together, so I'll stop and move on.
Anchorman has a lot of genuinely hysterical moments. It's probably the most quotable movie I've seen in the past year, or at least it would've been if I hadn't seen Napoleon Dynamite, but I did, so I can't really say that. Number two, though! As funny and as quotable as parts of it are, the other...oh, I don't know...81% falls flat. The humor's completely random, largely improvised, and the centerpiece of a movie with a paper-thin plot. That's not criticism, just a description. Sometimes that approach works, like in the movie name-checked a couple sentences up, Napoleon Dynamite. Sometimes it really, really doesn't, like the unwatchable American version of Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and if you like that show, you're wrong and I hate you. The comedy in Anchorman is really hit or miss, a lot more uneven than it should be considering the talent of the people involved and the mindboggling amount of footage that was shot. Oh well...if you get too bored, try counting the number of cast members from Saturday Night Live, Mr. Show, and Freaks and Geeks.
Will Ferrell's created an incredible persona in the form of Ron Burgundy -- the look, the voice, the mannerisms...everything's perfect, or at least it would be if not for the fact that he doesn't really do or say much that's funny. Although I didn't keep a running tally, Steve Carell in his small role probably got more laughs than the star-'n-title character. Anchorman is a movie that's all about the humor, and if you don't like the jokes, you won't find anything else to redeem it. The comedy is random, silly, dumb, broad, juvenile slapstick. Sometimes it's random, silly, dumb, broad, juvenile, funny slapstick, but for the most part, I sat kind of slouched on my couch with disinterest, frequently waiting several minutes in between laughs. It's funny enough that I didn't feel like I was wasting my time, but not enough for me to recommend that someone I've never met shell out twenty bucks to own it forever and ever, amen. That's the review.
There are a few different Anchorman sets cluttering store shelves -- PG-13 full-screen, unrated full-screen, unrated widescreen, unrated widescreen with a second movie, Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, in tow, a set packaging Anchorman with Old School, a set with an exclusive DVD from Best Buy... I'm too lazy to try to figure out specifically makes the unrated version reviewed here "uncut and uncalled for!" as the cover shouts in big, bold letters. Some of the language isn't PG-13-friendly, but I don't see anything that couldn't net an R from the MPAA, even at their most judgmental and pernicious.
Wake Up, Ron Burgundy follows an excised subplot from Anchorman involving a Symbionese Liberation Army knockoff whose off-the-cuff manifesto demands that the airwaves be freed from the lies of men like Ron Burgundy. It's not much of a movie -- just footage from Anchorman, including deleted scenes, slightly different takes of what did make it into the movie, and some bits that seem to be presented verbatim in both. A series of voiceovers awkwardly tries to string it all together, but it's kind of a mess. A lot of the material is overly familiar, quite a bit of it doesn't fit with the timeline that's set (even though this is set after Anchorman, Veronica continues to refer to Ron as "Mr. Burgundy", f'r instance), and numerous scenes seem to drag on for far, far too long. It has its moments, sure, but Wake Up, Ron Burgundy isn't nearly as good as Anchorman, and since I'm clearly not much of a fan of Anchorman...yeah.
I think it's neat that Will Ferrell, instead of going the safe route and starring in bland, formulaic, paint-by-numbers comedies, would do something as out of left field as Anchorman. It would have been neater still (!) if I thought the movie were actually funny with any remote consistency. Maybe you'll like it more than I did. Or less. Or the same, or very, very close to it. While clearly my take on a movie is definitive and inarguably correct the vast majority of the time, Anchorman is a movie where miles are going to vary so much that I can't really cobble together any sort of strong recommendation one way or the other. So, I guess that means "rent it". If you like it, fantastic! Buy it. Maybe you'll want Wake Up, Ron Burgundy while you're at it. If not, you're only out a few bucks and an hour and a half of your life.
Video: While apparently this isn't a widely held opinion, it's mine, and I'll say it anyway: I think this DVD looks very good. Especially in the closer, tighter shots, I thought the level of detail was particularly impressive, and although the palette is kinda drab, it accentuates the garish suits in which the anchormen are draped. Edge enhancement is an occasional annoyance, but it's not something that's really pervasive throughout the entire length of the movie. No print wear, speckling, etc., etc., etc. You should have the laundry list of complaints DVD reviewers usually make committed to memory by now, and if I had any, I'd have pointed them out. Although I'm reviewing the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen disc, a separate full-frame edition of this unrated cut is also available if you're into that sort of thing, although you really shouldn't be. Wake Up, Ron Burgundy looks about as good and boasts the incrementally taller aspect ratio of 1.78:1.
Audio: The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (448Kbps) serves up the standard issue sort of comedy mix -- all the action's up front, most of the activity stays rooted in the center speaker, the rears are sparsely used, and there's rarely any need for a low-frequency rumble from the subwoofer. It's unremarkable but pretty much what anyone should have gone in expecting. I did think some of the louder dialogue had a kind of edgy quality, but it's not that big a deal. Other audio options include a 5.1 French dub, an English stereo surround track, subtitles in English, French, and Spanish, and closed captions. Wake Up, Ron Burgundy has a similar set of options, though without the French dub, and the audio as a whole doesn't sound as slick or as polished.
Supplements: Producer Judd Apatow showed the obscene lengths he was willing to go for bonus material for Freaks and Geeks, an eight-disc set with so many extras that it's physically not possible to delve through every bit of it. Apatow lavishes Anchorman with nearly that much love and attention. First, the obligatory stuff! "The Making of Anchorman" is yer usual EPK featurette, basically an extended trailer with the cast and crew describing what happened in the movie you just watched. There are a couple of interesting bits in there, particularly some of the audition footage not provided elsewhere on this set. Eight minutes or so of bloopers are the usual stuff -- prop misfires, flubbed lines, inadvertently sending everyone into hysterics...you know the drill. There are twenty-two deleted scenes, running right at half an hour total. For the most part, it's either lengthier versions of what was in the movie or filling in gaps, and there's not much comedic gold to mine here. More of Ron semi-coherently weeping about Baxter in the phone booth is the only stuff that got much of a reaction from me. There's a different ending in there too, along with a whole lot more panda bears.
There's also a commentary with writer/director Adam McKay and Will Ferrell, who are periodically joined by guests like Lou Rawls, Andy Richter, Kyle Gass, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Christina Applegate. My eyes kind of glazed over as McKay and Ferrell start off with this interminably long tirade about what they think they can and can't say in an audio commentary for an unrated DVD, although the answer is apparently "not much" judging by the number of bleeps that pepper the damn thing. Maybe that's just another joke I don't really find all that funny. Beats me. There isn't much attempt made at being informative, which would be okay if the funny parts were funny, but they're really, really not, so...yeah, kinda painful. I gave up after 25 minutes, so clearly I wouldn't recommend wasting your time.
There's a four minute music video for "Afternoon Delight", which...hey!...is actually presented as a full, original music video, not just music playing over random clips from the movie. Two minutes capturing Ron's 1979 audition for "ESPN", some kind of niche sports channel destined for failure, is also included. That's followed by a mildly amusing three and a half minute interview with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos for the MTV Music Awards. For a little background information on Ron and a peek into the mind of the legendary newscaster, Bill Kurtis spends eleven minutes candidly speaking with him in "A Conversation with Ron Burgundy". Rounding out the extras are the stuff I don't really ever bother to take a look at -- cast & crew bios, production notes, and an Anchorman-less trailer gallery.
The Wake Up, Ron Burgundy DVD includes its own set of extras. Even though the main DVD has a collection of deleted scenes and Wake Up, Ron Burgundy itself is made of nothing but deleted scenes, its DVD somehow manages to include...wait for it, wait for it...even more deleted scenes! Just a few minutes' worth, though, following Ron chasing down a political radical (the first half of one of the scenes from the Anchorman disc), an alternate ending, and a followup with Ron chasing down life, becoming more myth than man. Although those really aren't that great, there's a lot more comedy...a lot more in general, really...in the nearly-half-hour of outtakes and extended scenes. There's some good stuff in there, particularly different descriptions of Fantana's cologne, Ron trying to verbalize love, sobbing while spouting off several different news stories, drunken dancing, fending off Kodiak bears... Definitely worth a look.
Although there isn't a full-length commentary for Wake Up..., Will Ferrell and not-a-producer Aaron Zimmerman do chat over the first thirteen minutes or so of the movie, mostly to debate Zimmerman's expansive filmography and questionable involvement with the movie. More of Ron Burgundy's interviews from the MTV Movie Awards (six and a half minutes total) are also tacked on. The Jim Caviezel chat repetitively hammers the same note over and over again, confusing the actor with Jesus, but the Burt Reynolds segment is more varied and a lot more entertaining as a result.
Seven minutes of audition tapes (all full-frame and shot on video) include snippets with David Koechner, Paul Rudd, Steve Carell, and Fred Armisen (who's paired with Will Ferrell). Carell and Armisen deservedly snag the most screentime for their bits, the most memorable parts of which both involve feasting on garbage. There's also nine minutes of rehearsal footage, including the team mulling over cannibalism, retarded flirting, Ron and Brick having a heart-to-heart, some additional Brick banter, and Ron arguing for the opportunity to do some hard-hitting, not-teleprompter-fed journalism.
Two versions of Ron's angry, rambling award speech from the 1970 Emmys, briefly spotted in the movie, are presented in their entirety, running a little over three minutes total. Also, five minutes of Brick and Fantana doing remote pieces...just bite-sized chunks of news video you might've spotted playing in the background...are also shown in full. Along those same lines are five PSAs (3:41 total), where Ron rants about drugs and hippies and encourages blind governmental complaince. Kinda funny.
Both DVDs include animated widescreen menus, and if you linger long enough, you'll hear some newly recorded comments by Will Ferrell in character. Each disc is packaged in its own keepcase, and Wake Up... includes a faux-day planner called "The Many Months of Burgundy", fat-packed with nuggets like "what the hell is escrow?" and a date for an all-night Stratego tournament.
Conclusion: My feelings about Anchorman are kind of mixed -- it's funnier than a lot of comedies, but there are such long gaps between laughs sometimes that I can't really recommend buying it sight-unseen. I'd opt for a rental first. As for Wake Up, Ron Burgundy, it has its moments, but it's a step down from a movie I'm not really all that enthusiastic about in the first place. Rabid Anchorman fans may want to give Wake Up... a look, though, perhaps more for its extras than the movie itself. The price difference between this two-disc set and the standard release is around ten bucks at most online retailers.
Related Reviews: Aaron Beierle has written a review of Anchorman, and if you're looking for a second opinion, he liked it a lot more than I did. He wrote his review first, so I guess his is technically the first opinion and mine is the second opinion. If you want a first opinion, now you know where to look.