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Our reviews of Napoleon Dynamite (published April 4th, 2005) and Napoleon Dynamite: Like, The Best Special Edition Ever! (published May 16th, 2006) are also available.
Vote for Pedro
In 2004, Napoleon Dynamite appeared from nowhere, surging into a sudden popularity among American teenagers. It became an instant meme at schools and online, complete with "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts and several catchphrases that are still familiar. The film did even better on DVD, turning the sudden phenomenon into a wildfire hit. Now, Napoleon Dynamite has arrived in high definition, so that we can all experience it again looking better than ever. Unfortunately, popularity and quality releases doesn't change the fact that the film really isn't that good—and never has been.
Facts of the Case
Napoleon Dynamite (Jon Heder, The Benchwarmers) is a socially awkward loser who lives in Preston, Idaho. Thankfully, he does have one friend in the newly arrived Pedro (Efren Ramirez, Crank). He also has a chance to develop a relationship with Deb (Tina Majorino, Veronica Mars), but only if he's able to cope with bullies, his pathetic older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell, Think Tank), and his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries, Taken).
I realize that a negative review of Napoleon Dynamite is going to put me in line for plenty of hate mail, but I see no point in pretending: the only thing that made this film successful was the studio hype machine. Without Fox and a huge MTV marketing campaign, Napoleon Dynamite wouldn't even have registered on the Richter scale of teen popularity. This has been discussed by a lot of critics, of course, but normally as a bit of an afterthought. As a non-fan of the film, though, I think it's impossible to overemphasize this point. This is the perfect example of studio-driven predestined popularity—groups of teenagers so willing to follow marketing that they actually find this film funny.
To be fair, there are a few good moments. There's something strangely charming about the developing friendship between Napoleon and Deb, and I enjoyed some of the gags with Kip and uncle Rico. More importantly, I appreciate the cinematography on display here, almost reminiscent of Wes Anderson. The main difference is that Anderson fills every still frame with small details, while many of the shots in Napoleon Dynamite are almost painfully empty.
To an extent, I understand why so many people like this film. We all knew some people like Napoleon in high school, and we probably never talked to them. This film offers us a voyeuristic peek into what their lives might be like, with no hint of irony or explanation. The weirdness of that setup alone seems to be enough for some people. I don't want to deny you any fun, I just don't understand the appeal myself.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Without a doubt, if you are one of Napoleon Dynamite's many fans, the Blu-Ray release is definitely worth checking out. Although the film was shot on a shoestring budget, the 1080p transfer actually looks quite good. There is a very natural looking grain, and the colors are consistently brilliant. A few scenes have a hint of edge enhancement, but the whole image holds up to close scrutiny. The sound is also fine, although a DTS Master HD transfer seems like a bit of overkill. Still, the music comes through with plenty of brawn, and the voices are always clear. I suspect this is as good as Napoleon Dynamite has ever looked and sounded, and represents a clear improvement over standard definition.
There is also a whole slew of special features here. I suspect the majority come from previous DVD editions, and all of them are still in standard definition. Still, it represents a collection of as many special features as even the most rabid Napoleon Dynamite fan could ask for. There are two commentary tracks, a collection of deleted and extended scenes, and a massive collection of promotional materials. They have also included Peluca, the short film that inspired Napoleon Dynamite in the first place. Some sort of retrospective look at the impact that this film had for independent cinema or its fan base, but nothing of that sort has been included. Still, there is enough here to make any DVD edition obsolete.
Should you pick up this new edition of Napoleon Dynamite? That depends. If you are one of the 10 people who missed it the first time around, I can't recommend it as a blind buy. It's a quirky little film that polarizes audiences, and I'm on the wrong end of that polarized response. For those who already love the film, though, this is the perfect home format for a little revival showing with a group of your Napoleon Dynamite lovin' friends. It's a great transfer and a great collection of extras.
It's a good edition, but that still doesn't make Napoleon Dynamite a
great movie. Gawd.
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