Paramount // 2004 // 92 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // November 15th, 2004
The town of Stepford has a little secret.
In 1975, the phrase "Stepford Wives" became a part of American vernacular. This was all because of a little horror movie called -- oddly enough -- The Stepford Wives. Katherine Ross (The Graduate) starred in a horror movie about what happens when man decides to tinker with nature and make robotic wives. A success, The Stepford Wives spawned three made-for-TV movies ("Revenge of the Stepford Wives," "The Stepford Husband," and "The Stepford Children"), as well as a 2004 update titled, oddly enough, The Stepford Wives. Directed by Frank Oz (Housesitter, The Score) and starring Nicole Kidman (To Die For), Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller's Day Off), Glenn Close (Fatal Attraction), Christopher Walken (The Rundown), and Bette Midler (What Women Want), The Stepford Wives takes its revenge on DVD care of Paramount Home Entertainment.
Welcome to the town of Stepford, Connecticut, where everyday is a day of martial bliss and domestic happiness. After bigwig TV producer Joanna Eberhart (Kidman) is fired from her job due to bad PR on a reality show she created, Joanna and her husband, Walter (Broderick), who also quit his job at the same TV company, decide to take their children and move to the quaint town of Stepford. Stepford is an exclusive community sporting families filled with beautiful homes, wealthy residents...and a secret that could tear Joanna and Walter apart. Joanna meets a few of the local Stepford wives -- including what appear to be the town leaders, Claire Wellington (Close) and her husband Mike (Walken) -- but finds their attitude to be less than normal. The women are all perky, happy, and fiercely devoted to their husbands. During a picnic, one woman's head spins and shoots out sparks. This doesn't sit well with Joanna who, along with a few newfound friends Bobbie (Midler) and Roger (Roger Bart), decides to get to the bottom of Stepford's strange ways. What they discover is a town plot more bizarre and dangerous than anything they've ever encountered.
The original The Stepford Wives is a very popular '70s horror film, unseen by this reviewer. I don't know much about the film except the secret plot twist, and that never did entice me enough to sit through the movie. From what I understand, the original film leaned heavily towards horror and creepiness. In director Frank Oz's 2004 version of The Stepford Wives, the horror elements have been all but exorcised and replaced with writer Paul Rudnick's (Addams Family Values) sardonic, zinger filled screenplay. Instead of horrors beyond your wildest dreams, you get witty one-liners, like this exchange when two women discuss Christmas decorations:
Stepford Wife: I'm going to use a pinecone as the baby Jesus this year.
Bobbie Markowitz: And I'm going to attach a pinecone to my vibrator and have a REALLY Merry Christmas this year!
In other words, this new version of The Stepford Wives has been transformed from a geeky horror show into a balls-out wacky comedy. Does this work to the film's advantage? Well, I can't say what the original film was like. I did, however, enjoy this new version The Stepford Wives...to a point. Oz and Rudnick have crafted a funny morality tale (a robot won't love you like a real person, nobody's perfect and nobody should have to be perfect, et cetera) with very good performances throughout. Actors like the stunning Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick (finally looking like a middle age man), and Christopher Walken (who chews the scenery every chance he gets) sink their teeth into the screenplay and ham it up at every turn. Bette Midler runs around the movie looking quite frumpy and cranky while Roger Bart, as an effeminate gay man living with a conservative lover, nearly steals the show with more funny one-liners than the rest of the cast combined.
The Stepford Wives runs just over an hour and a half, and that's a very good thing -- by the time the movie has run out of gas, the end credits begin to roll. Director Oz was smart in keeping the run time short -- the story clips along at a good pace and doesn't allow the viewer too much time for boredom. The film often seems like an odd blend of comedy, drama, and science fiction. At its best, The Stepford Wives is a very funny movie (Rudnick fills the screenplay with inside jokes at everything from vibrators to AOL). At its worst, it's a muddled, schizophrenic story that doesn't always know which way it wants to go. With a little more polish on the screenplay, Rudnick may have been able to craft a classic satiric comedy about the differences between the sexes. Instead, the movie is a mish-mash of odd ideas and unfinished thoughts -- one half tastes great and the other half is definitely less filling. It's no secret that the film's production was troubled with re-shoots, new endings, and an unhappy cast. Though the film is better than some critics would lead you to believe, there are still real problematic areas with the finished product. Even so, the film's entertainment quota is rather high, even when you know you're really just watching big budget trash.
When the film was released in theaters during 2004, it pretty much sank like a stone. My guess is people weren't sure what to expect, and what they got wasn't satisfying -- fans of the original were most likely disappointed that The Stepford Wives was now a comedy, and people looking forward to a straightforward comedy were unhappy with the sci-fi elements. In other words, this film really pleased no one. If you missed The Stepford Wives in theaters (and I can't blame you, I had a lack of interest in seeing it as well), I'd urge you to give is a spin on DVD -- you may find yourself enjoying it more than you anticipated.
The Stepford Wives is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Say what you will about the film, this transfer is in great shape. Paramount has put forth a lot of work to make sure this picture looks crisp and clear, and it's paid off -- there is hardly a defect on this transfer of The Stepford Wives. The colors are solidly rendered and the black levels are all dark without any gray tinting.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround in English and French. This sound mix on The Stepford Wives is also good, if not great -- because this is often a wacky comedy, the bulk of this mix can be very front heavy. There are moments, however, when both the front and rear speakers are utilized (mostly for background noise and ambient sounds). Also included on this disc is a Dolby 2.0 Surround mix in English, as well as English and Spanish subtitles.
Paramount has released a "Special Collector's Edition" of The Stepford Wives for you rabid, robotic fans to drool over. Here is what you get:
* Audio Commentary with Director Frank Oz: This is one of the weaker commentary tracks I've run into. Oz is somewhat chatty, though his discussions about the production, casting, and story are all fairly bland. There's nothing here about the film's troubled shoot or casting choices, either. All in all, it's a snoozer of a commentary track.
* Featurettes: "A Perfect World: The Making of 'The Stepford Wives,'" "Stepford: A Definition," "The Stepford Wives & The Stepford Husbands": These featurettes are very short and don't do much for the viewer's knowledge of the film. "A Perfect World" is typical promo fluff about the making of the film -- talking heads, clips from the film, et cetera. Nothing that you haven't seen before. "Stepford: A Definition" talks about how the term "Stepford" has seeped its way into the American lexicon (which is to say this is a pretty pointless featurette). "Stepford: The Architects" is a short on the production design, though since the production design on this film isn't anything all that special...well, you get the point. "The Stepford Wives & Husbands" is a brief look at the casting of the sexes. I feel bad for the male actors cast as the husbands -- as many of the interview subjects on this feature out, they were cast because they were geeky looking. The poor schleps.
* Stepford: Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes and Gag Reel: These are pretty obvious -- you get a few deleted scenes from the film as well as a gag reel of everyone blowing their lines. Har-har-har.
Finally, there is a teaser trailer for the film, as well as a theatrical trailer, both in anamorphic widescreen.
The Stepford Wives didn't live up to my expectations, but wasn't quite as horrific (not in a good way, either) as I anticipated. It's a good example of what happens when the actors, writers, director, and crew don't really know where they want to go with the ideas they're presenting. However, Nicole Kidman looks yummy...so all's (almost) forgiven! Paramount's work on this "Special Collector's Edition" is probably far better than the film deserves.
I need to check out the original 1975 Stepford Wives before I can come to a solid conclusion...hung jury!
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Commentary Track with Director Frank Oz
* Five Featurettes
* Gag Reel
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Teaser Trailer
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site