Napoleon Dynamite
Fox // PG // $29.99 // December 21, 2004
Review by Aaron Beierle | posted December 7, 2004
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The Movie:

"Napoleon Dynamite", without a doubt, presents the geekiest character ever seen on-screen. However, this isn't one of those Hollywood pictures where the geek suddenly transforms at the end and gets asked out by the head cheerleader. This really, really isn't one of those movies. The film stars John Heder as Napoleon, a tall, awkward kid, with a shock of orangish hair, thick glasses and no real idea about how to approach modern society.

The majority of the film is pretty uneventful - Napoleon lives on an Idaho farm with his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), an odd ex-jock who has Al Bundy-like dreams of sports greatness. Also on the farm is his weird older brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), who spends the majority of his day talking to women in internet chat rooms. Napoleon's only friend is Pedro (Efren Ramirez), who has just arrived in school. Otherwise, Napoleon spends most of his day getting beaten up by those who are bigger than he is, which means...well, just about everyone.

Napoleon doesn't have a girlfriend, either, but he does have an interest in Deb (Tina Majorino), who tries to sell things door-to-door to make enough money to go to college. The unexpected occurs when Pedro also starts having an interest and takes Deb to a dance. Pedro also works into Napoleon's plans when he convinces him to run for class president against the popular Summer Wheatly (Hayley Duff).

"Napoleon" really doesn't have much going on - the movie is generally an assembly of bits - and ends up relying entirely on the quirkiness of the characters and the performance of lead John Heder, who plays the part perfectly. The character is so completely lost and cartoonish that it's amusing, but his irritability - the character is an individual and wants to stay that way - that caps it all off wonderfully. While Napoleon is sure to annoy some, I thought Heder's delivery was often priceless. There's one particular scene where he tells a girl that she could drink whole milk instead of 1% because she isn't fat that's weirdly hilarious.

"Napoleon" (an indie success in theaters, as the $400,000 film had an unusually massive ad campaign that helped it to just over $43m at the box office) certainly won't be to everyone's taste: the film's hero is unlikable and the movie operates in a bizarre universe that, despite taking place in modern times, looks like it could be happening in the eighties. But those who are looking for a very weird, very quotable, character-driven comedy might find "Napoleon" enjoyable.


VIDEO: "Napoleon Dynamite" is presented by Fox in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and 1.33:1 full-frame, with each edition taking up one side of a dual-sided, single-layered disc. The transfer generally appeared fine, with satisfactory sharpness and detail. Most scenes appear crisp and clear, but some shots are visibly a bit softer.

The picture doesn't show much in the way of concerns, though. A little bit of edge enhancement and grain does show up, but the picture is free of pixelation and no specks, marks or scratches on the print. The film's vivid color palette looked bright, well-saturated and clean. Flesh tones also looked accurate. Overall, not a dazzling presentation, but fine for the material.

SOUND: "Napoleon" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is pretty low-key, with the majority of the audio coming from the front speakers. Surrounds kick in for some minor ambience and reinforcement of the music, but otherwise, the rear speakers are silent. Dialogue remained clear and natural-sounding, while music sounded surprisingly dynamic.

EXTRAS: The DVD includes a commentary from director Jared Hess, actor John Heder and producer Jeremy Coon. The commentary is subdued, but pretty amusing at times. We learn more about the inspirations for the characters and some of the situations, and the three chat about what happened behind-the-scenes during some of the production. There's some fun stories and a bit of insight here-and-there, but it's not a real energetic track and there are some pauses of silence at times.

Also on the widescreen side are 4 deleted scenes (with optional commentary) and a still gallery. Flip the disc over and you'll get the director's short film, "Peluca" (w/commentary), a series of MTV promos for the film,a brief featurette on shooting the final scene and a promo for "Arrested Development: Season 1".

Final Thoughts: "Napoleon Dynamite" doesn't have much plot, but the movie coasts fairly well on the strangeness of its characters, some very funny lines and the lead performance from Heder. It's definitely not for everyone - it's a real love it or hate it movie - but those looking for an oddball comedy should give it a try as a rental. Fox's DVD edition provides fine audio/video quality and a few good supplements.

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