He's having the worst day of his life…over, and over…
Here I am again, writing about a great comedy that deserves a review from our site, but a disc that was released too soon. I don't mean the studio didn't have time to finish it, but rather that Columbia had not yet become the great studio for DVD it is today. Hence one of the great romantic comedies of our time, and perhaps the best role of Bill Murray's career, gets the bare bones treatment. Still, a fine transfer for a fine movie.
First off, Groundhog Day has a unique premise: Bill Murray (Ghostbusters, Stripes, Caddyshack) plays Phil Conners, a curmudgeonly weatherman from a local station in Pittsburgh. Every February 2nd he has to go to Punxatawney, Pa. where the whole town has a big celebration for Groundhog Day. The home of Punxatawney Phil, the most famous ground hog in the world, the station always does a little fluff piece for the news. Conners gets upset when a blizzard he didn't predict keeps him in town overnight, but that is nothing compared to the fact that when he wakes up, it is February 2nd all over again. And again. It seems the calendar has just stopped for Phil, and he lives the same day over and over.
You might think this would make for a comedy that stays on one track, but it goes much further than the premise would imply. For one thing, it is an incredible character study, as Phil realizes that nothing changes except himself, and how he affects those around him. At first he tries to manipulate and take advantage of his foreknowledge, but that grows tiresome after awhile. He then sets his eye on his new producer Rita, played with a cheery sincerity by Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Multiplicity, The Muse). I'll go even further and say this is her best role ever. They had just met prior to this trip, so they don't really know each other, but eventually Phil knows everything about her. Unfortunately for him he simply can't get this intelligent woman to fall for him in the one day he has. This leads to a stage where he goes suicidal (which only kills him til the next morning) and eventually on to enlightenment; where he realizes with infinite time he can truly become a Renaissance man and be a positive effect on the lives of everyone, if only for that one day.
While there are a whole host of supporting characters making up the population of the small town, the only other character that gets much play is Chris Elliot (Cabin Boy, Kingpin, There's Something About Mary) as Larry, the cameraman. Usually I find him insufferable, but here he had a quieter, naïve quality that made him more real, rather than a caricature or mere comic foil. Great performances for all three of the main characters, but the real emphasis is on Murray and MacDowell, who had a great chemistry together. Lest I forget, this is another teaming of the comic genius of Murray with director Harold Ramis (Ghostbusters, Analyze This, Caddyshack). Ramis is great whether he is directing, writing, or just acting, and he plays a short cameo in the picture as well.
Beyond great performances and direction is a magic script. This film can bring laughs and make you truly feel for Collins as he goes through the stages of acceptance. I'd nearly forgotten how great this movie was when I had the opportunity to watch it on DVD for the first time.
Speaking of the DVD, the transfer is nearly flawless. On one side is a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer and the other side a full frame open-matte, which means no side information is lost. Colors are a bit muted for the winter climate, but always accurate and detail is sharp with barely a hint of edge enhancement. Fleshtones and blacks are smooth and accurate, with great shadow detail. Very high marks on the transfer.
The soundtrack retains the original audio format (OAF) of Dolby Surround, and is perfectly adequate for the film. There is little use of surrounds, but music and effects spread nicely across the front soundstage, with dialogue anchored in the center and always audible, even when the characters whisper.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only complaint is this disc was done back in '98, before Columbia really got on board with extras. Only a leaflet of production notes and the trailer are included. I would have loved giving this film the extra treatment Ghostbusters received, or anything halfway close. I truly hope Columbia revisits this title again, as they've done on some prior early releases, and gives us a real special edition.
In the end, the movie is the main thing, and for such a great movie barebones is decidedly better than nothing. I urge everyone to rent or purchase this movie and have a special day that at least you won't have to live over again.
All involved with Groundhog Day are commended on a great movie. Columbia is urged to revisit this title with a special edition, or perhaps they will end up spending the same day over and over til they get this disc right. Still a fine transfer, and a worthwhile disc.
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