Adam McKay's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy has become such a beloved and oft-quoted picture ("I love scotch. Scotchy, scotch, scotch. Here it goes down, down into my belly..." "You are a smelly pirate hooker." "Dorothy Mantooth is a saint!" "I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal." "I love lamp." "You stay classy, San Diego." And so on...) that we might easily forget what a peculiar little movie it was when it hit theaters in summer of 2004. Film comedy had become an ugly soup of Wayans Brothers abortions (yes, 2004 was the year of White Chicks), lesser Stiller vehicles, and quickly-declining Sandler pictures. But that summer, two comedies came right out of left field--the low-budget indie oddity Napoleon Dynamite, and Anchorman, a period comedy from a first-time filmmaker that was basically a parody of, um, '70s newsmen. Not exactly a sure-fire recipe for either hilarity or big box-office, to be sure. But it was a surprise hit, with both critics and audiences; more importantly, from a standpoint of style and personnel on both sides of the camera, Anchorman pretty much set the comedic table for much of the rest of the decade.
Will Ferrell (who co-wrote, with director McKay) plays the title character, the kind of gloriously stupid yet supremely self-confident oaf that would become his stock-in-trade. He is San Diego's most trusted and beloved anchorman, enjoying the spoils of his local celebrity, drinking and partying with his buddies on the "Channel 4 news team": Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), the ladies' man features reporter; Brick Tamland (Steve Carrell), the astonishingly daft weatherman; and Champ Kind (Daivd Koechner), the hard-partying sports guy. At a party, Ron pursues--and is shot down by--the lovely Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate); he soon finds, to his shock, that she is the newest member of the news team. She braves the taunts and harassment of the news room, but can't resist Ron's charms. They begin a rocky (and short-lived) romance, and things get ugly when Ron begins to feel threatened by Veronica's ambition and skill behind the anchor desk.
That moment, when they turn on each other, is when the film really catches fire; there's plenty to like in the first half or so, but as Veronica and Ron engage in a comically mismatched battle of wits, you feel the picture shift from goodness to greatness, the sheer manic energy of the enterprise giving a lift to even its weaker gags. Much of the film is trafficking in pure silliness--Ron's big "jazz flue" jam, the animated trip to "Pleasure Town," the overblown battle of the local news teams--but the film's real pulse is in the story of Veronica. McKay and Ferrell get to slyly have it both ways, both spoofing sexism and doing a bit of reveling in it; we're laughing at the Neanderthal notions of the guys in the newsroom, but we're laughing with them a little as well, which is wise way to keep a goofy 70s comedy from turning into a polemic that turns off much of its target audience. (McKay--whose recent The Other Guys surprised audiences with its trenchant critique of Bush-era greed--is showing himself, even this early, to be a pretty good smuggler of social commentary.)
That sort of parallelism makes even the trickiest jokes work--you wouldn't think a knock-down drag-out man-woman brawl could land, but damned if this one doesn't. Much of the picture's success is also due to the invaluable Applegate, who somehow manages to play it both straight and with a twist. She puts across her sighing attraction for "Mr. Burgundy" with as much credibility as possible, and seems to have put in some real work to make Veronica look and sound just right--the slightly stiff on-camera style, the serious-business body language, the stylized way she smokes her cigarettes. But watch, just watch, the way she reacts in the seconds after he drops the "f-bomb" during a newscast--that blend of disbelief and giddiness is sheer perfection.
McKay surrounds them with stellar supporting cast; the comic personalities of Rudd, Carrell, Koechner, and Fred Willard complement each other evenly and skillfully, and the cameos by faces familiar (Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Tim Robbins) and soon to be (Seth Rogen, Paul F. Tompkins, Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen) give the picture little lifts throughout. Many of the faces here would dominate comedy on the big and small screen in the years following Anchorman's success, often for Judd Apatow, who produced this film and seemed to find the template for his overloaded, improvisation-heavy style of working. There's plenty that doesn't work (the anachronistic slang, the occasional over-told joke, the anti-climactic climax), but laugh-wise, the movie still delivers.
THE BLU-RAY DISC:
The two-disc "Rich Mahogany Edition" is (for now, at least) a Best Buy exclusive; it comes packaged with a booklet, "The Many Months of Burgundy," and a dozen "collectible trading cards."
Anchorman makes its Blu-ray debut with a MPEG-4 AVC, 1080p transfer that nicely replicates the theatrical exhibition. It's a good-looking 1.85:1 image; the bright '70s color saturation pops from the screen, with a light, cinematic grain and clean, attractive skin tones. Knockabout comedy isn't traditionally known for its visual acumen, but the visual presentation here certainly does the source material justice.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also just a touch better than expected--the bulk of the mix, of course, plays in the center dialogue channel, but every over-quoted line is clean and audible. Alex Wurman's score and the period music are nicely distributed, the LFE channel is occasionally engaged (the roaring of the Kodiak bears has a nice rumble to it) and the occasional big set pieces (like the rumble of the news teams) are plenty immersive.
French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also available, as are English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Burgundy fans will be pleased to hear that Dreamworks has ported over the copious bonus features from the earlier DVD special edition and the HD-DVD release, in addition to some new goodies. The sheer volume of bonus features is downright exhausting, but well worth delving into.
On the first disc, we get both the original 94-minute theatrical version and the extended, unrated (but it would be a soft R) 97-minute extended cut. A hit-and-miss Audio Commentary accompanies both, slightly re-shuffled and re-cut for the two versions; it is basically hosted by Ferrell and co-writer/director Adam McKay, with guest appearances by Paul Rudd and Christina Applegate (both of them literally phone in it in), David Koechner, and Lou Rawls, Andy Richter and Kyle Gass, none of whom appeared in the film. Their respectful byplay with the very funny Rawls is good, and Applegate brings some moxie to the track, but much of it isn't funny at all (particularly the endless opening byplay between Ferrell and McKay for the unrated version, which is basically them just swearing for fifteen minutes like a couple of grade-school kids in front of a microphone for the first time), and it's not even a little bit informative.
Next up are, count them, 36 Deleted and Extended Scenes (53:56 total). As is the norm on both Apatow and McKay's films, a slew of improvisations and alternates were shot, and while many of them understandably didn't make the cut, there's some mighty funny stuff here (and they totally should have left Joe Flaherty in). A selection of amusing Bloopers (7:45) follows, along with a full-on "Afternoon Delight" Music Video (3:50), featuring the entire cast cavorting and lip-synching (to a fully orchestrated track) the featured tune; it's goofy fun ("This song is about daytime lovemaking!"). The funny (if easy) "ESPN SportsCenter Audition: Ron Burgundy" (1:55) closes out disc one.
The centerpiece of disc two is "Wake Up, Ron Burgundy" (1:32:55)--presented, surprisingly, in full HD (MPEG-4 AVC encoding, DTS-HD MA audio). Originally available as a bonus disc at Best Buy, this full-length alternate movie combines deleted scenes with the movie's original subplot and climax, concerning a Symbionese Liberation Army-style group of bank robbers who ultimately kidnap Veronica in order to hijack the airwaves. It's an ingenious way to present deleted scenes, and allows us to see several fine performers (Maya Rudolph, Amy Poehler, Kevin Corrigan, Chuck D, Steven Root, Justin Long, Laura Kightlinger) who ended up on the cutting room floor. There's two problems with it, though. First, the clumsy Bill Kurtis narration attempts to frame it as a sequel, which doesn't make any sense at all (we're clearly watching a parallel and not subsequent narrative, and when several of the plot points come back around--like Ron announcing on the air that he and Veronica are dating--they don't play); the first narration says blatantly that we're watching a story that didn't test well, and they should have left it as that, an alternate version of the movie. Second, and more distressingly, it's only occasionally funny. While there are laughs here and there (many of them jokes that made the trailer but not the final film), you can see why most of this material was junked; the zoo subplot is faster and less obtrusive. But Wake Up, Ron Burgandy is an enjoyable diversion for diehards. Ferrell also does an Intro-Commentary for the film with "third credited exec producer" Aaron Zimmerman (12:00), who might, might, just be McKay doing a character. They talk over the beginning of the movie, and do some pretty funny schtick.
Next are five hilarious PSAs (3:41) in which Ferrell as Burgundy in which he shares his views on drugs, hippies, and the role of government. Two full versions of the Emmy "Award Speech" (3:12) glimpsed in the film follow. Next are three fitfully funny Burgandy Interviews (10:14 total), done for the 2004 MTV Movie Awards, with Rebecca Romijn, Jim Caviezel, and Burt Reynolds. Three Specials are also included: "Cinemax: The Making of Anchorman" (9:29), a boilerplate but enjoyable making-of featurette, "Comedy Central Reel Comedy: Anchorman" (8:31), an entertaining piece in which Bill Kurtis interviews Ferrell, Applegate, and Rudd, all of them in character, and the very funny "A Conversation with Ron Burgundy" (10:41), with Kurtis and Ferrell-as-Burgandy doing a sit-down interview in front of a live audience at the Museum of TV & Radio. We also get a peek at Cast Auditions (13:03 total) for all of the principle actors for both versions of the movie (save Ferrell).
New to this Blu-ray edition are clips from the "Table Read 6/2/03" (18:37 total), which provide a glimpse at an earlier draft of the script (with several other actors filling the roles); "Raw Footage- 'Good Takes'" (39:26 total), a full 27 chunks of raw improvisations and alternate takes (it's a lot of material to wade through, but there's still plenty of good stuff here); video footage of the "Afternoon Delight" Recording Session (2:58), as the guys record and joke around; and "Happy Birthday AMC Loews" (3:15), raw footage from a funny promo piece with Ferrell as Burgundy wishing the theater chain a happy centennial. Video footage from their jovial Rehearsals (9:09) are next; they're plenty funny, particularly Carrell's improvisations. Amusing "Playback Video" (5:10) of Brick, Champ, and Fontana's remotes are next, followed by the "Commercial Break" (2:04) montage of funny moments from the set. The Teaser Trailer (1:50), Trailer (2:32), and the clever "Trounced Spiderman TV Spot" (0:17) close out the extras.
Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy first came onto my radar in 2002, when I read a script review by "Moriarty" (aka Drew McWeeny) on Ain't It Cool. Of the film, then titled Ron Burgandy, Action News Man!, he wrote, "...neither of us can believe that anyone ever sat down to write this thing in the first place. It's that deranged." The film lost some of the harder edges mentioned in that review, but six years on, Anchorman remains a ridiculous, uproarious, daringly out-there comedy.
Jason lives with his wife Rebekah and their two cats in New York and holds an MA in Cultural Reporting and Criticism from NYU. He is film editor for Flavorwire and is a contributor to Salon, the Atlantic, and several other publications. He blogs at Fourth Row Center and is yet another critic with a Twitter feed.