In 10 Words or Less
A postmodern take on the classic sitcom...with Will Ferrell
Loves: Will Ferrell
Likes: Nicole Kidman, "Bewitched," most Nora Ephron films
Hates: Hanging Up
The idea of making a movie out of the old TV show "Bewitched" certainly didn't rank highly on my list of wishes in life. Then again, no movie based on a TV show has ever climbed very high on that list. But a movie of a show about a witch who marries a mortal and tries to hide her powers just doesn't have much in the way of charm. Enter the Ephron sisters.
Instead of a Honeymooners remake disaster, Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail) and her sister Delia went in a different direction. The film is part of our universe, where "Bewitched" was a popular show, and is now being remade into a new TV series, starring egomaniacal actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) as Darrin. Hoping to give his career a boost following a big movie bomb, he manipulates the show to make him the one and only star, by forcing the producers to hire an unknown as Samantha the witch.
As only happens in movies, the rookie brought in, Isabel (Nicole Kidman), is an actual witch, who has given up the magical life to be "normal," much to the chagrin of her father (Michael Caine). A naive newcomer to our world, she quickly falls for Jack, and takes his offers of a job as an offer of love. So when she finds out the truth from Jack's manager (Jason Schwartman), she feels betrayed, and her true nature comes shining through.
Though Kidman's never done true comedy the way she does here, she handles herself well, especially opposite a titan like Ferrell. Though the film is hardly a typical Ferrell vehicle, thanks to some rewrites by his cohort Adam McKay he is able to cut loose the way only he can, creating some hysterical moments, including a "magical" run that made me howl. While Ferrell fires out laughs like a machine gun, Kidman is there to handle the more Ephron-ian parts of the script, and together, they create a cute pair that the audience will actually want to pull for. Too often, that lack of chemistry kills a film.
The most incredible part of this movie has to be the cast, which is simply packed with talent beyond Kidman, Ferrell and Caine. Rarely in a film do you get to the 6th, 7th and 8th parts and find a top-shelf talent in the role. Here, you certainly do, as the supporting ranks are loaded. Kristin Chenoweth (Broadway's "Wicked") is perfect as Isabel's perky neighbor, as is Shirley MacLaine as the show's Endora. Meanwhile, David Alan Grier is his usual funny self in a limited part as the show's director and Stephen Colbert ("The Daily Show") is low-key but quite funny as a writer. And though I don't recognize her from anything else, Heather Burns, who has quite a rom-com resume, including You've Got Mail, is also good as a key part of the show's crew.
Perhaps the biggest unexpected laughs come late in the movie, when a great cameo crops up. If you've never seen the movie, avoid looking at the menus to keep from ruining the surprise for yourself. You'll be very glad you did. It's surprises like this that make the movie really work, as they punctuate what could have been a very formulaic romantic comedy, dressed in remakes' clothing. Instead, the film became a fun and smart comedy that works with the actors' strengths to make an entertaining movie.
A standard keepcase carries a one-sided DVD and a Sony promotional insert. The animated anamorphic widescreen main menu is a well-designed romp through a 3-D sky, with clips of the film peppered throughout. Options available include play movie, adjust languages, select scenes and view special features and previews. The scene selection menus include still previews and titles for each chapter, while languages options include English and French Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, along with English and French subtitles, as well as Closed Captioning.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is a nice representation of the film, with excellent color, especially the skintones, including Kidman's porcelain features. For some reason, faces can be a bit washed out, but the rest of the frame looks fine, which would seem to be a production issue, not a DVD issue.
There's some slight grain evident in darker scenes, but overall, it looks very clean, though perhaps a bit soft in spots. The level of detail is quite solid, and, impressively, the frequent, yet subtle digital effects integrate smoothly with the rest of the film.
The audio, presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1, is, for the most part, a solid comic performance, delivered mainly through the center channel. The clean dialogue is supported by some occasional sound effects and enhanced music in the rear channels. Though sparingly used, when they are present, they give the soundfield a nice sense of depth.
The main bonus feature is a feature-length, screen-specific audio commentary with director and co-writer Nora Ephron. Ephron isn't the most enthusiastic speaker, but she has plenty of stories to share and thoughts about the film. Some dead spots slow down the proceedings, but those curious about romantic comedies will find the track an interesting listen.
Another "commentary" of sorts is available in the form of the "Witch Vision" trivia track. A boatload of quick-hit facts, labeled as one of four categories,
Scene Specific, Star Facts, TV Series and Bewitched Production; are displayed over the film in a stylish subtitle style. The technology behind these tracks has improved quite a bit over the years, and the result is a feature that gives viewers at least another viewing of the film with something new.
Six deleted scenes, in workprint quality, are available to view separately or in a bunch that runs almost eight minutes long. Only the extended "Isabel Gets Mad" scene is all that interesting, and that was wisely cut down in the final film, thought the "Barbershop Quartet" is amusing if you listen to the commentary on the film first.
Three featurettes follow the standard studio fluff formula, but because of the talent involved, they are much better than they should be. "Casting a Spell: Making Bewitched" is the lengthiest piece, at over 23 minutes, and takes an overall look at the film. A mix of clips and promotional interviews with the cast and crew, it's a pretty good featurette, covering the "Bewitched" concept from the old TV show through to the new movie, and talks about all the major facets of the production, including costumes, sets and special effects.
"Bewitched: Star Shots" is really a way to shine the actors' apples, as the eight pieces, covering Kidman, Ferrell, MacLaine, Caine, Chenoweth, Schwartzman, Grier and Colbert, consist mainly of the actors talking about how great the other actors are. But with comics like Ferrell, Schwartzman, Grier and Colbert on-board, it's got just the amount of funny to keep it from getting annoying. These bits can be viewed one at a time, or in a block that runs almost 20 minutes.
The final featurette, "Why I Loved Bewitched" is pure EPK material, as the cast talk about their attachment to the original source material, including whether they liked Dick York or Dick Sargeant. It's cute, but a decent nod to the original series, complete with an on-screen note that the DVDs are available. This is followed by a 20-question multiple-choice trivia game about the original show. I never was a fan, but I did pretty well at guessing the answers after watching the movie.
A good amount of interesting previews are also included on this DVD. Among the 12 trailers are Rent, The Legend of Zorro and Fun with Dick and Jane. Also included on the disc, but oddly not accessible from the preview menu, is the Memoirs of a Geisha trailer, which is the first thing seen when popping the disc into your player. Of course, despite including so many trailers, the Bewitched preview is nowhere to be found.
The Bottom Line
This is an adorable comedy that is practically the perfect date film. The recipe was simply, as Bewitched combines Ferrell's gooftastic comedy with a story that never forgets it's fun, a cast that's a comic dream and a lead who's not only beautiful and an emotional touchstone, but also, for the first time, flat-out funny. The DVD looks and sounds very good, filling the needs of the material, and a nice selection of extras should satisfy those looking to get more out of their discs. Couples looking for something to enjoy together should absolutely check this out, while fans of either Ferrell or Kidman will enjoy it as well.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.