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Groundhog Day

Columbia/Tri-Star // Unrated // January 27, 2009
List Price: $28.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 22, 2009 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
There are very few films that are truly unique, especially since when one comes around it's quickly copied over and over if it has even a modicum of success.  One film that is different from the rest is Groundhog Day, the tale of a man who gets trapped repeating the same day over and over.  What's more surprising is that it isn't a science fiction film, but rather a romantic comedy (one that accents the comedy and downplays the romance for most of the picture).  Bill Murray gives one of the best performances of his career (including Lost in Translation which I really liked) in this modern day classic.  The Blu-ray transfer will please fans and though the extras are only mediocre, they round out the disc nicely.

Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a weatherman at a Pittsburgh TV station who has dreams of making it on a major network.  Insufferable, abrasive and a typical prima donna, Phil dreads going to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania every year to cover the February 2nd Groundhog Day festival there, the oldest in the nation.  This year on the annual trip he gets to be unpleasant to his cameraman (the criminally underused Chris Eliot) and his new, constantly happy producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell).
Constantly complaining about how objectionable the small town of Punxsutawney is, Phil wants to leave as soon as the festival is over.  Unfortunately a blizzard (that Phil ironically predicted would miss the area) snows them in and Phil has to spend another day in hicksville. 

That's when something odd happens.  The next morning Phil wakes up and it's February 2nd once again.  He meets the same people, has the same conversations and gets trapped once again in the small town.  The next day it's February 2nd once again, as it is the next day, and the next day, and the next...  Phil is forced to relive the day over and over, until he gets it right.
There are a lot of things going for this movie.  Not the least of which is the two leads.  Andie MacDowell is delightful and brings the right mixture of sex appeal and bubbling personality to the film without being too sappy or unreasonably sweet.  Bill Murray makes the film however.  He plays the offensive egotistical Phil perfectly at the beginning of the film.  Phil comes across as an ass, but a funny ass and he's never so mean as to make the audience turn against him.  As he's forced to relive the same day over and over he mellows, and his nicer persona seems just as real.  It's a nice progression and Murray pulls it off wonderfully.

The film has a lot of laughs too, and never seems to drag.  When the obnoxious insurance salesman Ned runs up to Phil (for the countless time from Phil's perspective) who just decks him with a punch, it's hard not to crack up.  The same can be said when Phil steals the star hedgehog and leads the police through the town on a high speed chase. 
The amazing thing about this movie however it's more than just a silly gag-filled comedy.  It has a message that's thankfully not pounded over the viewer's heads:  you choose how to live your life and that each day can be a new beginning.  As Phil experiences the same day over and over he goes through different phases.  First disbelief, then when he realizes that there are no consequences for anything he does, he lives for pleasure and fun.  Eventually that turns out to be an empty dead end he gets depressed, but even suicide offers no relief.  It's only then that he examines his life and has a life-changing transformation.
The Blu-ray Disc:


This disc comes with a nice looking 1.85:1 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encoded image that does the film justice though it's not one of the stronger Blu-ray's out there.  The image had a nice amount of detail in the close ups, with all of the creases and crags on Bill Murray's face showing up well.  The image was a bit soft in several scenes though, and the colors were not as bright as I was expecting and looked a little muted in some places.  There was grain present, especially in the scenes were the daytime sky was predominant, but this always seemed like a natural amount.  While the film never pops like the best examples of HD tend to do, this disc still makes the film look very good and much better than the SD DVD.
Viewers get to relive February 2nd over and over again in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 sound.  Like the video, the audio track fits the film.  It's mainly dialog based, but they still make use of the full soundstage when they can.  The grounghog event in the center of town has a lot of the noise and singing thrown to the rears and there are several other examples of neat audio effects such as when the tray of dishes in the dinner comes crashing down from behind the viewer.  While the sound design won't wow many people, the soundtrack does its job well.
This disc sports all of the bonus items from the last DVD release of this film, along with a new BD-only feature that's pretty unimpressive (more on that later).   The fact that Bill Murray doesn't appear in any of the recently filmed bonus material is a big disappointment. 
First off is a commentary track by director Harold Ramis.  It's not that impressive, and drags in more than a few places.  He talks a lot about the actors (they were all wonderful) and the production but not about the story itself.  Ramis also appears in "The Weight of Time" a 25-minute look at the film with screenwriter Danny Rubin, producer Trevor Albert and actors Andie MacDowell and Stephen Tobolowsky (Neddle Nose Ned).  This was fun, with Ramis talking about the reception the film received and the positive reaction from the spiritual community.  He also reveals that Tom Hanks was offered the main role but turned it down.  The other featurette on the disc is a seven-minute long look at groundhogs in the wild, "Study of Groundhogs: A Real-Life Look at Marmots."  It's mildly interesting but has almost no replay value.
The bonus section wraps up with six deleted scenes, (the one with Bill playing pool should have remained in the film, it's brilliant) and the Blu-ray exclusive "Needle Nose Ned's Trivia Track."  This is only available to viewers who have Profile 1.1 players, but if  you don't, you're not missing much.  Stephen Tobolowsky who plays the obnoxious insurance salesman Ned ("Bing!") in the film pops up occasionally or walks on to the screen to give some random trivia or ask a question to see how much you've been paying attention.  "What is the name of the TV station where Phil works?"  Most of the trivia is pretty dull and this track comes across as obnoxious rather than fun.
Final Thoughts:
It's no surprise that Buddhists and many other organizations of faith have embraced this film.  It has a simple but profound message that is hidden cleverly inside a hilarious comedy.  This Blu-ray disc looks fine though it doesn't pop or have the vibrancy of the best HD discs.  An excellent movie with a solid high definition transfer, this comes highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
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Highly Recommended

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