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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Stepford Wives
Stepford Wives
Paramount // PG-13 // November 9, 2004
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Daniel W. Kelly | posted November 5, 2004 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:
The Stepford Wives remake seems to have everything going for it. An awesome cast. A powerhouse director. A wonderful screenwriter. And an original story by author Ira Levin that is still as relevant today as it was 30 years ago. But does this update work?

The Story:
Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) has just had a nervous breakdown after being fired from her major position at a television network. So her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick), who worked beneath her at the network, moves she and their children to a perfect town in Connecticut—the town of Stepford—so Joanna can get some rest and relaxation. But something weird is happening in Stepford. The cookie cutter image wives—who usually have cookie cutters in hand—are all perfectly gorgeous, always smiling, and are so completely devoted to their goofy looking husbands that you want to puke just thinking of them being naked beneath these men. Joanna begins to notice it immediately when Claire Wellington (Glenn Close) brings her to a book group discussion in which the book being discussed is a Christmas craft book. And this also catches the notice of two other new residents: author Bobbie Markowitz (Bette Midler) and renowned architect Roger Bannister (Roger Bart). Quickly the three begin to realize something is terribly wrong in Stepford. Their husbands (Roger's gay) are involved in a secret men's club run by Mike Wellington (Christopher Walken). And the wives are all just too submissive for the tastes of these three city people. So Joanna, Bobbie, and Roger begin to delve into the terrifying truth behind the Stepford weirdos.

The story of the Stepford Wives is not much of a secret to anyone—but if it is, I'd suggest you not read further. There are some major changes in this version of the film. Before its release in theaters, the movie was initially presented as a sort of suspense film (as the original was)in previews and television spots. But then, the commercials began to change right before the movie opened, and its true colors showed through, which I think confused most prospective moviegoers. This movie is in no way scary. The decision was to take a completely new approach to the original story and make it a campy comedy. That's actually a brilliant idea, and screenwriter Paul Rudnick (In & Out) is just the man to pull it off. The camp works for most of the movie—which can be appreciated mostly by gay men I think—but the comedy didn't so much shine through, so even gay men get the short end of the stick here—and for gay men, short sticks just don't fly. This is straight out (so-to-speak) camp from moment one. All the actresses are as over-the-top as can be, and most viewers probably thought it was just plain dumb, while gay viewers could recognize female impersonator characteristics in the hyper-female roles. The addition of a gay couple to the mix was interesting, although, considering the current views of this country, I don't know how much of America wants to see a gay couple being equated with the programmed perfection that is a straight Stepford couple. It also brings up issues for gay viewers. I had to wonder—why is a gay screenwriter setting up a scenario where one of two men in a relationship needs to become a Stepford WIFE? Isn't that the very kind of role play stereotyping gay couples have been trying to move away from? The movie does try to address this issue, suggesting at one point that it is one of the male partners who unnecessarily MAKES the other one the wife, but I've never seen any evidence of that in reality. But it's still nice to have a gay man running alongside Bette Midler in a movie, so I guess I can be bribed into overlooking that insulting generalization usually only presented by heterosexuals. Many may complain that Bette is the same in all her roles, but I thought she did a really nice job of blending into this flick and not trying at any time to dominate a scene. Glenn Close was wickedly melodramatic, Matthew Broderick spent most of the movie with a goofy look on his face, Christopher Walken played Christopher Walken (not that that's a bad thing), and Jon Lovitz as Bette's husband was equally capable of blending in with the cast. Faith Hill gracefully handled a small part as one of the Stepford Wives, and Roger Bart did his job as the gay "wife" without being gratingly effeminate. The real problem with the movie was the end—which probably felt pressured to be completely different than the original. Unfortunately, it brought what was a fairly watchable movie crumbling down. First of all, I can't get past the lack of continuity. The movie couldn't decide if the women were Stepford Wives because they had chips implanted in their brains, or if they were actually reconstructed robot versions of their original selves. Most of those problem scenes were removed (and appear in the deleted scenes), but there are at least two major scenes that make it impossible to deny that the fate of the wives just doesn't make sense at the end. And the final outcome itself turned the movie on its head, and pretty much defeated the whole purpose of the original message of the Ira Levin story—although, once again, considering America's recent moral positioning, there's no telling what women really feel about their lot in life…perhaps the movie will one day be considered a masterful look at the ever changing (and backwards moving) gender roles in our society? Anyway, the movie's end is about the only part that really killed the enjoyment for me, so you can watch this film knowing you'll be somewhat entertained throughout, but rolling your eyes at the cornball finale.

The DVD

Video:
This is an out-and-out excellent DVD presentation. The movie is 1:85:1 anamorphic widescreen, enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The print is virtually flawless. The flesh tones are right on, the colors are perfectly saturated and vivid, the blacks contrast smoothly, and the image is sharp, bringing a great sense of depth.

Sound:
You have three options. There's a French audio track, a standard Dolby surround, and the best option, the 5.1 surround. As a major modern Hollywood release, this film doesn't fool around, and you get a full-fledged surround experience. The only real negative is that there's not a whole lot of bass response. You'll need to crank your subwoofer up a bit to get much of a reaction. Where this DVD release gets a major thumbs up is in the balance of volume between spoken voices and every other sound in the movie, not suffering from the typical problems on DVD and in theaters of voices being too low while the sound effects are ear-shattering. I despise that common sound mixing practice. Here, I didn't have to dive unexpectedly for my receiver remote even once to adjust volume.

Extras:
This disc is loaded with extras, but when it comes down to it, it's mostly small segments of one big "making of" documentary broken down to fill up the menu—which, let it be known, shows clips from the movie, so if you hate spoilers, don't look! Here's the breakdown:

Deleted/extended scenes—these are presented in letterbox format, and the image quality leaves something to be desired. But the scenes are worth watching, because probably some of the most time (and money) consuming effects in the film were left on the cutting room floor, in an attempt, as I mentioned before, to solve the brain chip or robot dilemma.

Subtitles—you have the option of English or Spanish.

A Perfect World: Making of—this is the longest segment, running about 19 minutes, and covering set creation, costumes, lighting, and those technical aspects. Features interviews with cast members, director, screenwriter.

Stepford: A Definition—4 minutes more making of, where cast & creators discuss the concept of a "Stepford Wife."

The Architects—6 minute making of focusing on the creative process from director Frank Oz and screenwriter Paul Rudnick.

The Stepford Wives—10 minute making of focusing on the actresses playing the wives.

The Stepford Husbands—guess what. 8 minutes more making of focusing on the actors playing the husbands.

Commentary with Frank Oz—gotta hand it to him. Frank Oz knows how to talk about his creation. He is very passionate and this is an extremely engaging "making of" commentary.

Final Thoughts:
The Stepford Wives did right in trying not to duplicate the original, making this a campy film instead of a horror/suspense. It went wrong in trying to rewrite the ending to surprise us and to make an updated comment on gender roles and women's issues. With a number of drag queen-like performances by the popular female leads, I'd say this film stands a good chance of becoming a fave of gay viewers, but overall, it's not a very energetic ride to the finish. On the bright side, if you have a good home theater system, you're in for an awesome video and sound experience with this DVD that will most likely exceed the experience you'd get in a theater.

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