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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Napoleon Dynamite (Blu-ray)
Napoleon Dynamite (Blu-ray)
Fox // PG // February 3, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted February 12, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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I almost
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had my four year chip too. See, I was one of them -- y'know, one of those people who'd whip out a Napoleon or Kip impression and quote entire scenes from this movie chapter and verse. With the love and support of my friends and family, I was able to work past this, but now Napoleon Dynamite's clawing its way to Blu-ray and threatening a relapse. Take a deep breath. Concentrate. It'll be okay. Really.

Think if Navin R. Johnson from The Jerk had grabbed his best girl, set up shop in potato country, and singledoublehandedly squirted out enough kids to populate the sleepy little town of Preston, Idaho. Everyone up in Preston is a little left on the dial, but even in a place where no one thinks anything of a toothless, incoherent old man blasting a cow with a shotgun in full view of a gaggle of schoolkids, the Dynamites are something else. Kip (Aaron Ruell) is a five foot nothing, hundred pound nothing wannabe cage fighter who whiles away his days chatting up foxy broads online. Rather than just schlump around watching her stories, Grandma bounds up and down sand dunes in an ATV. Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) suffers from a nasty case of Bund-hausen by Proxy, and even if he can't yank his head out high school football glory with a stamped on date of 1982, he can still probably chuck that pigskin over them mountains. Oh, and then there's Napoleon (Jon Heder), who wields an array of government-seized ninja death moves, devastating bow staff skills, such unflagging commitment to his art that he'll spend three hours shading a misshapen upper lip, and if he has to gun down fifty wolverines in the Arctic to protect his cousins, then goshdarnit, that's what he's gonna do.

Okay, so maybe we don't catch a peek at Napoleon tearing through a half-battalion of ninjas with nothing but a pair of nunchucks and a dream, and maybe they're holding back on the magic-wielding ligers and Scottish sorcerors for the sequel. What do you get here, though? Action! (Steak-fu. Rex Kwan Do. Slapfights.) Romance! (Enter Tina Majorino as the singularly-ponytailed love interest.) Political intrigue! (Pedro -- y'know, Efran Ramirez -- running for class president against the indomitable, heart-dotting Summer Wheatley.) Violent Kool-Aid guzzling! Mail order time travel! VHS-propelled dance grooves! Llama casseroles!
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It's a whole thing.

So...yeah. Because the flick isn't bogged down by all that much of a story, there's nothing to distract Napoleon Dynamite from being inhumanly funny. There's literally not a scene in the entire movie that doesn't out something that's instantly quotable. Napoleon Dynamite was shot in the same off-kilter little Idaho town where it's set, and the flick does feel like it has that Midwestern sort of work ethic. This isn't a comedy that's constantly mugging to the camera or leaning on Dr. Demento carnival music to remind the audience when they're supposed to giggle. It's sense of humor is brilliantly dry, understated, and unrelentingly quirky. Even the way Napoleon hunches over before awkwardly darting away -- as he does over and over again -- cracks me up.

Napoleon Dynamite is a love-it-or-hate-it movie, and dollars to doughnuts, you've been subjected to enough bad impressions or out-of-left-field quotes to know the sort of deep, dark obsession it can spark in its fans. I have to admit that the sheer overexposure has kind of smeared away some of the foam from my frothing-at-the-mouth fandom, so as much as I appreciate its off-kilter approach to comedy, I'm not nearly as smitten with Napoleon Dynamite these days as I was back in 2004. I'm really jaded and cynical, though, so don't pretend like I know anything.

Napoleon Dynamite is the Lay's Potato Chips of quirky indie comedies: if you can stomach that first bite, I betcha can't watch just once. Sometimes pop culture really does get it right. Recommended.

Napoleon Dynamite was shot independently and on the cheap, and...yeah, this Blu-ray disc kinda looks it too. Contrast tends to be drab and lifeless, and the photography's a good bit softer than usual. The movie was shot on fairly grainy stock, and its subdued palette skews towards the dull and pasty. That low-key approach actually services Napoleon Dynamite pretty well, and I'd chalk myself up as a fan of its cinematography; it doesn't spastically flail its arms around and draw attention to itself, but there's some really slick framing in here. It just doesn't make for all that much in the way of a Blu-ray disc to grab off the shelf and show off your overpriced home theater rig. 'Sbetter than a DVD but not really up to what usually springs to mind for these sorts of shiny, newly-minted five-inch discs.

Napoleon Dynamite is lightly letterboxed to an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and its AVC encode is given enough headroom to spread comfortably across this dual layer Blu-ray disc.

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Like...oh, let's go with everything from Fox, Napoleon Dynamite gets the lossless nod on Blu-ray, and this disc's packing a 24-bit, 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track. This is a straightahead comedy mix, sure, but it still sounds alright. The sound design's anchored front and center, and although the surrounds belt out a little atmosphere -- background chatter and scattered effects like a city block of cluckin' chickens -- they're mostly hanging around to flesh out the music. The soundtrack's the best thing about Napoleon Dynamite's lossless audio, from the thundering toms and meaty bass as Napoleon struts down the street in his spankin' new suit to Jamiroquai's retro-funk backing the flick's hypercaffeinated dance sequence. Bass response is punchy when the movie screams out for it, especially the throaty rumble of that hydraulics-packin' hooptie. The film's dialogue is rendered cleanly and clearly throughout too, and it's balanced well enough in the mix. This lossless track isn't all that adventurous or overaggressive, but...y'know, it's fine for what it is.

Napoleon Dynamite piles on a heap of subtitles, to the point that it looks like even the commentaries are subtitled in Italian...? Hmmm. There's a DTS 5.1 track in Italian as well along with Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in Spanish, Portuguese, and French.

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If you've already grabbed the two-disc special edition DVD set from a couple years back, you already know the drill. The same stuff's piled on here, and none of it's in high-def.
  • Commentaries!: The first track features director/co-writer Jared Hess, star Jon Heder, and producer Jeremy Coon. This isn't a high energy track so much, and although it's intriguing to hear just how much of what unspools onscreen really has been nicked from their own lives, the rest of it's awfully bland. The cast commentary -- with Tina Majorino, Efren Ramirez, Aaron Ruell, and Jon Gries -- is a lot more lively, tho'. From shooting in a house that'd been hermetically sealed since 1974 to Vincent Gallo being considered for the part of Uncle Rico to hammering out the condiment writing in the title sequence in just two days flat, it's a
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    pretty great track. The pace does slow down quite a bit in its second half, though, but the first 45 minutes or so are definitely worth setting aside the time for a quick listen.

  • Not-Quite Documentaries! (85 min.): There are two featurettes on here that clock in just shy of 45 minutes a pop. "On Location: Napoleon Dynamite" would be a pretty straightahead making-of piece, only this is...y'know, a movie that required several takes of a steak being chucked at an actor's head and dragged its cameras inside a chicken farm the size of a city block, so it's quite a bit more interesting than most. "World Premiere: Jared Hess" is a really non-linear peek at the movie's co-writer-slash-director before, after, and...why not?...even during its premiere at Sundance. Hess is ridiculously personable and has a pretty dazzling sense of humor, and I found myself laughing a lot more at this (in a good way!) than the movie itself this time around.

  • The Original Short! (9 min.): Peluca, Jared Hess' 2002 black-and-white short that set the template for Napoleon Dynamite has also been included. A lot of what's in here was carved apart and repurposed for the feature length flick, but the short sports a different Pedro along with a bit with Napoleon trying to dupe a cashier into selling him a Lotto ticket. Hess, Heder, and Coon chime in with optional commentary too.

  • Deleted Scenes and Stuff! (19 min.): The extra footage is chopped up into three sets. There are right at 8 minutes of additional scenes, including Pedro being revitalized by scarfing down holy chips, covertly stripping down a mannequin in a thrift store (spiralling off into the Lotto scene from Peluca), a plus-sized game of kickball, and Napoleon catching that delicious bass. Hess, Heder, and Coon turn up for commentary over the scenes too if you feel like giving it a listen, although the conversation mostly swirls around context and pacing. There are a few extended and alternate scenes -- a longer Nessie bit, Napoleon continuing to pester Kip mid-nacho-cheese-grating, less explosive Tupperware, and an extended whirl on the mail-order time machine -- but it's all pretty clunky. The six minute reel of outtakes mostly just follows the cast cracking up again and again, and there's some adlibbed singing by Kip at his PC and Napoleon coughing up off-brand Kool Aid tossed around in there too.

  • Promos! (11 min.): Three sets of ads for Napoleon Dynamite are crammed on here. The first is a mini-story woven throughout five spots, set with Napoleon and company palling around with Gangsta Kip in some exclusive club in Tinseltown. I like these sorts of ad campaigns that don't just recycle clips from the movie, although...well, that more boring sort of stuff is exactly what you get with a bunch of stock TV spots off MTV. Last to bat are some pretty clever promos with Napoleon and Pedro for the apparently profoundly inventive Utah State Fair.

  • Napoleon in the Wild! (19 min.): Jon Heder made the rounds in and out of character to plug the flick, and a lot of that's piled on here, even if they're pretty much awful across the board. There are two clips from the Teen Choice Awards: one with Heder accepting a statuettesurfboard for Best Hissy Fit and another featuring a quick round of tetherball with Nicole Ritchie. A Batman Begins spoof from the MTV Movie Awards with Jimmy Fallon is borderline-unwatchable, and a fake Q&A with Heder suffering through the SNL cast doing bad Napoleon Dynamite impressions really isn't any better. There are also snippets from Napoleon popping up as a guest VJ on TRL along with an out-of-left-field quote from the movie on the National Spelling Bee.

  • Other Stuff!: Rounding out the extras are a decent still gallery and a four minute clip on shooting the post-credits wedding coda a full year after principal photography wrapped.
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The Final Word
...as if you really need me to hammer out a review of this oddball slice of indie-quirk at this point. Napoleon Dynamite's a polarizing flick. The people who love the movie really dig it; the smart money says that even if you haven't caught the movie, someone around you has belted out an impression and quoted entire scenes verbatim. If you've never been able to stomach Napoleon Dynamite, then...well, why are you breezing through this review again?

I have to admit that as obsessed as I was with the movie a few years back, Napoleon Dynamite doesn't really hold up all that well for me these days, and this Blu-ray disc's low-key audio and video don't exactly scream out for a $25-$35 upgrade to anyone who's already shelled out for one of the DVD sets. If you have an off-kilter sense of humor and deftly managed to avoid catching Napoleon Dynamite up till now, though, it's worth checking out, and most of the usual suspects online are only charging a few extra bucks for this Blu-ray disc over the two-disc special edition DVD anyway. Recommended.
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