World Population: 6,613,702,464
Population of Idaho, USA: 1,393,262
[approximate figures, as of this writing]
Odds that you live in Idaho: 4,748:1
Jared Hess' Napoleon Dynamite (2004) isn't for everyone. No, you don't have to actually live in Idaho, or even the
Midwest Pacific Northwest, to understand its humor or be entertained by its characters. Like most comedies (or films in general), you simply have to be in the right mood to enjoy it----but since Napoleon Dynamite was obviously a labor of love for Hess and company, its subtle enthusiasm and winning charm give it a slight edge over the competition. With that said, it's certainly a polarizing picture: if you're not amused after the first 15 minutes, you probably won't like the other 80. For those who appreciate its quirks, though, Napoleon Dynamite proves to be a refreshingly dry exercise in pure geekiness.
To overanalyze the film would kill its charm right out of the gate: in short, it's a story of an odd young Idahoan with a group of equally odd friends. It's a perfectly abnormal slice of life from start to finish: through conflicts at school, home and elsewhere, Napoleon Dynamite reminds viewers how awkward (some of us) were growing up. Of course, the picture is more of a caricature in this case, but that just makes it all the more fun. Jon Heder's iconic performance as skills-obsessed Napoleon anchors the film from start to finish, though Hess' deliberately paced story shines as more than just a series of off-center events. It's a romantic comedy, a coming-of-age tale, or whatever else you choose to get out of it. More than anything else, it's a highly entertaining film worth watching plenty of times.
With that said, it's also especially nice that Napoleon Dynamite generally keeps it clean from start to finish. I'm no prude, but it's great to see a live action film that doesn't need tons of swearing and off-color jokes to stand out in a crowd. Don't get me wrong: this is still fairly low-brow humor, but it's done with enough style and charm to earn it high marks in this reviewer's book. I never owned a pair of sweet moon boots, I never ran for class president and I never bought a time machine off the Internet, but I still enjoy Napoleon Dynamite. It's not a particularly long and detailed journey, but it's certainly one that interested parties can enjoy...and ardent fans can enjoy again and again.
To discuss how this low budget film became a huge success---or how Napoleon Dynamite gradually wedged itself into American pop culture---would be utterly pointless. Endlessly quoted and dissected in great detail during its theatrical release and subsequent DVD debut, Hess' ode to social outcasts everywhere arrives on disc a second time in Like, The Best Special Edition Ever!, a two-disc package with more Dynamite extras than you can shake a bo staff at. Though owners of the first release may cringe at the prospect of another double-dip, those who just can't get enough of Napoleon and company should consider this a pretty darn definitive release. Let's see how it stacks up, shall we?
This Special Edition of Napoleon Dynamite contains the same technical presentation as the first release, but it's not a problem: the 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is cleaner and clearer than the film's low-budget roots suggest, while the pan-and-scan option from the original release looks to have been done away with. Many colors are generally drab by design, providing a faithful visual presentation that fans should enjoy again. Likewise, the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix appears to be the same as the original, boasting clear dialogue and only a mild amount of surround use. Also included are Spanish and French 2.0 Surround tracks, as well as optional English and Spanish subtitles for the main feature only.
Like the original disc, the menu designs for this release (seen above) are simple, appropriate, and easy to navigate. This 94-minute film is still divided into 20 chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. Most of the longer bonus features are separated into chapters, while other chunks of extras are presented with a handy "play all" option. This 2-disc release is housed in a slim double keepcase---and while no slipcover or inserts are included, it's a safe bet that official copies will (at least) include the former. Overall, it's a better presentation than the first release.
As with many double-dips, the bonus features are the main selling point---but do the extras here make Napoleon Dynamite worth buying a second time? In a word (or two): pretty much. It's great that nothing of importance from the previous release was left off this Special Edition, while what's new here is fairly entertaining and complements the existing extras well. The new stuff leads off with a Cast Commentary featuring Aaron Ruell (Kip), Efren Ramirez (Pedro), Jon Gries (Uncle Rico) and Tina Majorino (Deb). As expected, this is a laid-back commentary featuring a handful of stories and recollections---it's certainly not technical in the least, but it's a pretty fun track that fans will enjoy.
Disc Two holds plenty of more new goodies, including a pair of documentaries that run for nearly 90 minutes combined. Leading off is an On-Location Shoot (41:35, below left) that features plenty of behind-the-scenes footage and alternate takes; interestingly enough, many of the final takes are compared to the film footage via split screen. The second is World Premiere: Jared Hess (43:28), a "non-linear" video diary with the director before, during and after the film's Sundance Premiere. True to its name, the footage jumps around from weeks before to days after...and tons of moments in-between. Also included are a few more Deleted Scenes and Outtakes than the first time around; in all, there are 11 clips that run for nearly 20 minutes total (and they're presented in anamorphic widescreen!).
Moving on, there's also an Interview with [Casting Director] Jory Weitz (13:05) and a trio of Audition Videos (8:47 total) for Tina Majorino, Efren Ramirez and Haylie Duff (Summer). Next up are a handful of Napoleon and Rico Sightings; basically, a selection of TV clips and other public appearances in the wake of Napoleon Dynamite's theatrical and DVD releases. From start to finish, we get a few MTV Total Request Live Clips (5:01), the "Tankman Begins" Short from Batman Begins (5:53, in anamorphic widescreen!), Jon Heder's SNL Episode Clip (3:57), a pair of "Teen Choice Awards" Appearances (2:41), an oddball Spelling Bee "Coded Message" (1:01) and a trio of Utah State Fair Ads (1:51).
Returning from the first DVD release are the Cast and Crew Commentary, Hess' original 2002 short film Peluca (8:47, above right), the "Wedding of the Century" Featurette, a handful of MTV Promos and a brief Still Gallery. Though some fans may be satisfied with the first disc (and rightfully so, in many respects), it's nice to know that nothing of major interest has been left behind. One little nitpick, though: we've gotten two Napoleon Dynamite releases on DVD thus far, and neither one has bothered to include any trailers or TV spots for the film. What gives?
If you've made it this far, odds are you've already seen Napoleon Dynamite---and if you didn't like it, it's doubtful that this new Special Edition will change your mind. But for those who can't help but laugh at (or with) this diverse band of oddball characters, this 2-disc set is the total package of Napoleon Dynamite goodness...even without an upgrade in the technical department, though it's not really needed. The real selling points are the new extras, not to mention the overall DVD presentation---so if those are reason enough for you to double-dip, you'll certainly enjoy yourself. It may not be, like, the best Special Edition ever, but come on...like anyone can even know that. Recommended.
DVD Talk Review Link: The Original Release (by Francis Rizzo III)
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.