Judge Kent Dixon saw his shadow while writing this review, which means six more weeks of studio double dips.
Phil Connors (Bill Murray): Well, it's Groundhog Day…again…
Rita (Andie MacDowell): I'm sorry? What was that again?
Bill Murray is a funny man. Despite an unpredictable personality his friend Dan Akroyd once described as the "Murricane," Murray anchored the casts of several successful comedies from the mid '80s to mid '90s, not the least of which was Groundhog Day. After a bare-bones DVD release in 2000, fans waited two more years for a "Special Edition," which offered more extra content, but nothing of real substance. Now that the film is celebrating its 15th anniversary, fans have been treated to new release on both DVD and blu-ray.
Facts of the Case
Weatherman Phil Connors (Murray) is a bitter, self-centered cynic who just can't seem to get the big break he feels he deserves. Setting out with his cameraman Larry (Chris Elliott) and producer Rita (MacDowell) to cover the Groundhog Day festival in the small town of Punxatawny, little does Phil know he's about to cross over into…the groundhog zone!
Murray has created some very endearing and memorable characters over the years. Whether you're a fan of John Winger in Stripes, Dr. Peter Venkman in Ghostbusters, Bob Wiley in What About Bob?, or any of his other incarnations, you're likely a fan of at least some of his work. Think for a moment about any of the films that have prominently featured Murray, then imagine those films without him. It's likely they just wouldn't have been the same without his playful approach, razor sharp comic timing, and improv skills.
Groundhog Day came along at a time in both Murray and director Harold Ramis' lives and careers when they needed a change. Ramis had recently left his wife and was ready for the next phase of his career, something he has defined as the "restoration comedies," that would include Groundhog Day, Multiplicity, Analyze This, and Bedazzled. Murray was weathering his own divorce and seemed to obsess over the new project, resulting in Ramis sending screenwriter Danny Rubin to meet with Bill, rather than taking his 2 a.m. phone calls. Friction continued between the two throughout production and as soon as the film wrapped, Murray stopped speaking to Ramis, something that hasn't changed for more than a decade.
Given the unbelievable drama surrounding the film, it really is astounding we're left with a final result that is both a funny and entertaining film, and one that conveys such sentimentality and important life lessons. At its heart, Groundhog Day is about the importance of the simpler things in life, like treating people with kindness and care, and making the most of every day. Do you sense a bit of a spiritual message in there somewhere? It's not too surprising, as Ramis found his way over to Buddhism with his second wife. The broad themes of the film aren't exclusive to Buddhism though, as Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faiths also promote similar core values.
The morals and message of the film come wrapped in some touching moments between Murray and MacDowell, and some memorable comedic scenes with Murray and nearly every other actor in the film. From Chris Elliott to Stephen Tobolowsky and Ramis himself, who makes a cameo in the film as a doctor, viewers are treated to great comedians chewing on excellent scriptwriting. Let's not forget the unique plot of time repeating and how the "Groundhog Day" phenomenon has appeared throughout pop culture in such varying incarnations as the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause and Effect" and the Nine Inch Nails song "Every Day Is Exactly the Same."
Content aside, how does this new version of Groundhog Day fare, especially on the Blu-ray front? I found the picture to be quite dark, partly due to the wintery setting of some scenes and the after-dark nature of others, but it did require bumping up the brightness level to be able to enjoy the picture. Once I dealt with that issue, the picture was impressively clear and clean, with fine detail visible in everything from falling snow to the actors' faces. The audio presentation is also solid, reproducing the soundtrack faithfully without overpowering the dialogue or sound effects.
Presented in standard definition, the extra features include: "A Different Day: An Interview with Harold Ramis" reflects back on the film from the director's perspective, such as his amazement at the long-lasting impact Groundhog Day has had on a wide range of communities from psychiatrists to Hassidic Jews. "The Weight of Time" delves a bit deeper into the structure and content of the concept behind the film and how that developed into the final script and the film we have today. It's unfortunate the poor video quality of this particular feature makes it pretty painful to watch, but stick with it as the content is well worth it. Did you know that groundhogs, wood chucks, and marmots are different names for the same creature? "The Study Of Groundhogs: A Real Look at Marmots" will teach you more about these creatures in six minutes then you've likely known before.
On the BD extra front, you'll find a unique pop-up trivia track called "Needle Nose Ned's Picture-In-Picture Track," which as the name implies, has Needle-Nose Ned, the beloved and eccentric character from the film, popping up on the bottom of the screen at random, sharing miscellaneous bits of trivia. There is also a direct portal to Sony's BD-Live service, but as of the writing of this review, there is no unique content available there. Six deleted scenes are included and while they flesh out a bit more of the back-story of how Phil spends his days, there's really nothing too tragic about these being cut from the film before it was released. Finally, the audio commentary is filled with interesting anecdotes, insights, and behind-the-scenes details, all delivered with Harold Ramis' dry wit and charm.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
A "Where are they now?" featurette might have been nice, especially on a release that commemorates the film's 15th anniversary. Actor Stephen Tobolowsky has appeared on Heroes and Chris Elliott, Andie MacDowell, and Bill Murray are all still keeping themselves busy, but it would have been nice to hear their reflections on the film and what it meant to their careers.
Groundhog Day is a great comedy, but so much more. It's a cautionary tale that warns us not to miss out on the special moments of life and to invest in the people who mean the most to us. It's also a romantic story of how two unlikely people can fall in love despite their differences and incompatibilities. To this day, the film remains high on my list of comedies and having the film in this new high-quality Blu-ray transfer makes it that much sweeter.
Repeating the same day over and over again? As long as it's with Groundhog Day on Blu-ray, that's alright by me!
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