He's having one of those days. Over and over and over and over and over again!
It had been a few moons since director/actor/writer Harold Ramis and comedic superstar Bill Murray had worked together on a movie. Their last few outings, the smarter-than-it-looks Meatballs, Stripes and the mega-hit Ghostbusters, had been critical and commercial successes. In 1993, Ramis came across a script by writer Danny Rubin that had much promise in its premise: what if a schnook like Murray got caught up in a time warp that forced him to repeat the same day over and over, forever? With this clever idea and a talented cast at hand, Groundhog Day instantly won over its audience with both its cynical humor and warmhearted romance. Set in the snowy town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day proves that sometimes you can get a second chance at love…and a third, and a fourth, and so on. Columbia originally released Groundhog Day on a bare-bones DVD a few years back and has finally revisited this comedy in a newly produced "special edition."
Facts of the Case
Each year weatherman Phil Connors sets off for Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual Groundhog Day festival. Folks come from far and wide to see if Phil the Groundhog will predict an early spring or six more weeks of winter. Accompanied by his flighty yet cheerful producer Rita (Andie MacDowell, Multiplicity) and a smart-aleck cameraman (Chris Elliot, Cabin Boy), Phil begrudgingly prepares and heads off for his assignment. What Phil doesn't prepare for is a bizarre time warp that forces him to relive the same day—Groundhog Day—over and over again! As Phil tries to figure out his unbelievable predicament, he begins to realize that this daily curse may actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise!
I've often wondered what would happen if I had one day to live over again. What would I do with my first chance? What wild things and unabashed indulgences would I partake in? Of course, none of us has this luxury. But Phil Connors does. He has this luxury ten times over, and then some.
In actuality, the premise to Groundhog Day is a bit silly; there's no real explanation for Murray's bizarre time prison—his merry-go-round of Groundhog Day just happens. You'd think this would be a hindrance to the movie (director Ramis even mentions in the commentary track that the filmmakers toyed with giving a reason for the time warp, though ultimately dropped it), but the whole thing works marvelously. I never felt like I needed a reason why Murray gets stuck in his small-town hell; he just is. It's a credit to the makers of the film that this idea works so well. Over and over again we see certain scenes played out exactly as they were done the first time with only Murray's character making the change. This provides for some very imaginative and hilarious moments.
Groundhog Day is probably the best film in Bill Murray's canon to utilize his wry, sarcastic humor with a softhearted story. Groundhog Day could easily be perceived as a date movie, but one where both men and women will get a kick out the premise. Writers Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis have not only crafted an original story but also added finely tuned character arcs; Phil Connors starts off as an S.O.B. but slowly comes to the realization that there's more to life than being a jackass with an attitude. Finding his sparring partner and love interest in Rita, an ever upbeat woman who spills over with kindness, Phil sees that if he's to get out of his predicament and find happiness he needs to make a change from the inside out. Hey, a funny comedy with a message! Haven't seen one of those in a long time! Murray is aided by a great cast of characters: Stephen Tobolowsky appears as obnoxious insurance salesman Ned Ryerson, Murray's real life brother Brian Doyle-Murray plays a gruff official at the Groundhog celebration, and Chris Elliot is Larry, the obtusely strange cameraman who is only around to mock Phil's pretentiousness. And, of course, who can forget the lovable groundhog played affectionately by Scooter?
Bill Murray has either been feverishly lucky at picking scripts or just knows a good comedic script when he sees it. Unlike Chevy Chase (who I still think is funny) or Dan Aykroyd, Murray is still making good movies that show he's more than a funny face. Like many other Murray comedies, Groundhog Day includes dozens of classic scenes or moments that play just as well as they did almost ten years ago (has it already been that long?) when the film was first released into theaters. Groundhog Day proves that while we may all start off as jerks, given the right breaks we can change our ways. For Phil, a literal time warp is a good start.
Groundhog Day: Special Edition is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. While I don't have the original disc to compare this new "special edition," I think that the two transfers rank right beside each other. The transfer on this disc looks clean and bright, though there seems to be some instances of grain and dirt throughout the image. Fortunately, this is never too intrusive to the viewing. Overall the color schemes look well saturated and bright with the dark levels even and solid. A slight amount of edge enhancement was spotted, but nothing overly dire. By all means a nice looking transfer by Columbia.
Whereas the original feature only had a minimal Dolby 2.0 track, this new special edition features a great new array of audio options: Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, and 2.0 Surround in English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese. The 5.1 track sound excellent; George Fenton's wacky yet somber music score is heightened, the background noises are spread throughout all the channels, and the center/front speakers display a richer quality than the 2.0 mix available on the original Groundhog Day release. All in all the dialogue, effects, and music are free of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are subtitles in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Korean, and Chinese.
Groundhog Day: Special Edition features a few all-new extra features, though in all honesty this new disc is a bit thin on substantial bonus materials. The first new feature is an audio commentary by director Harold Ramis. Ramis seems very at ease doing the commentary track and discussing various aspects of the film. While the track isn't a laugh riot (there are a few moments when Ramis gets a kick out of himself and cracks up the viewer as well), it is packed with lots of insight into the making of Groundhog Day. One interesting tidbit: Ramis and composer George Fenton wrote the theme song "Weatherman" performed by Delbert Clinton (no relation to Bill). The second feature is an all new documentary on producing Groundhog Day called The Weight Of Time. The piece is a great overview on the production of the film that includes interviews with director Harold Ramis, writer Danny Rubin, producer Trevor Albert, and actors Andie MacDowell and Stephen Tobolowsky. Interspersed throughout this feature are behind-the-scenes photos, outtakes, and flubs from the movie. The feature touches on different difficulties in filming the movie (the harsh Illinois winter weather where it was shot, making sure that the scenes that repeated looked exactly alike, etcetera). The only disappointment is that Bill Murray is MIA during this whole experience. This short (around 25 minutes) yet thorough documentary is a great piece for fans of the film. Finally, there are a few updated filmographies, production notes, and three theatrical trailers for the movies Groundhog Day, Peggy Sue Got Married, and It Could Happen To You.
While some may disagree, I feel that Groundhog Day is one of the best movies to come out of the 1990s. Bill Murray and Harold Ramis are at the top of their game with a script that features more laughs than a barrel of…well, groundhogs. Columbia's double-dip is most welcome, though the exclusion of any deleted scenes or Murray's input is a sore point for this reviewer. However, don't let that detour you from picking up this disc—it's a doozey!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Director Harold Ramis
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