Judge Ryan Keefer needs a clarification on something: is tater tot eating a skill?
"Well, I have all your equipment in my locker. You should probably come get it cause I can't fit my numchucks in there anymore."
Well, if there was a movie about a high schooler growing up in a town that draws lion and tiger hybrids and claims to possess ninja skills that could grow into a large cultural phenomenon, this would be it. So break out the tater tots and play someone in a game of tetherball, while DVD Verdict determines if you should pay even more money for this special edition of Napoleon Dynamite!
Facts of the Case
Well, those of you who have the dialogue burned into your brain should probably skip this part, but for those who haven't seen the movie yet, Napoleon (Jon Heder, Just Like Heaven) lives with his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell, Think Tank) and their grandmother. One day, grandma breaks her coccyx and Uncle Rico (Jon Gries, Get Shorty) moves in with the boys for a while until she heals. This proves to be uncomfortable for Napoleon when Uncle Rico's get rich quick schemes impede on his life within Preston High School and his burgeoning friendships with Pedro (Efren Ramirez, Jury Duty) and Deb (Tina Majorino, When a Man Loves a Woman). Pedro decides to ask out the most popular girl in the school to a dance and run for class President, and Napoleon is willing to do what he can to help him win. So yeah, in a nutshell, that's the movie, one that cost $400,000 to make and made almost $45 million domestically. What's the big deal?
There's something about Napoleon Dynamite that just sticks with you, and it's probably the characters. Jared and Jerusha Hess's (Nacho Libre) story isn't that good; in fact it's somewhat predictable. The action (or lack thereof) that the characters exhibit can get kind of frustrating at times, as there's a lot of staring or shots of tedious everyday things (which I guess may sum up Idaho, but I don't know). So it's got to be the characters, right? If one was to get over-analytical and try to determine what made this movie successful—aside from the smartly done MTV campaign and that Diedrich Bader of Office Space appears in yet another modern cult classic—it was that there was either something semi-important that you could take away from what the characters were doing in the film, that there were things that you could identify with, or things you recall ridiculing.
Let's break down those people important in Napoleon's "inner circle," shall we? Uncle Rico is a guy who tries to impress people with his past sports life, even if it occurred almost a quarter century ago. The moral to take away from Uncle Rico? Stop living in the past, before you find yourself associating with high school kids in a slightly creepy way. Napoleon's brother Kip sports an effeminate lisp and supposedly trains to be a cage fighter, but it's slightly hard to do when you're in online chat rooms for huge blocks of time. What can you learn from Kip? Well, when his chat room girlfriend LaFawnduh shows up (and turns out to be reasonably attractive, something none of us were expecting), it shows that good things come to those who wait. Pedro is Napoleon's newest friend who does unique things that Idahoans haven't seen before, like shaving his head for no reason and generally possessing dreams that are larger than reality, but dreaming big is never a bad thing. And Deb is the quiet encouragement for Napoleon and Pedro, helping them to do things that they may not have thought possible.
As for Napoleon, we're talking about a guy who wears moon boots, has red curly hair, belongs to the sign language club, and dangles He-Man action figures from the window of a school bus. You can safely hope for him to do well, even if he falls flat on his face every so often. The end of the film is a surprise, but throughout the film, Napoleon does unique things, marching to the beat of his drummer, and nobody else's. And truly, isn't that something we should all be doing? If not, then you're a decroded piece of crap, and maybe a sicko!
The first version of this film on DVD came out as a flipper disc with widescreen and full frame presentations, along with a commentary by Heder, Hess and producer Jeremy Coon which was OK, but slightly scary, as most of the film was based on real-life experiences that Hess had growing up. The short film Peluca that the film was based on is included, as well as a look at the self-titled "Wedding of the Century," some deleted scenes and a stills gallery. This new two-disc version thankfully drops the full frame version, retains the good stuff (in the case of the first disc, right down to the menus) and includes some new extras. The only new thing on the first disc is a second commentary with Ruell, Gries, Ramirez and Majorino. They all recall the film fondly and joke around quite a bit (Gries seems to be the "leader" of the commentary), and recalling some on-set high jinks as well. Ruell confirms what we've all been waiting for: the time machine scene was based on a real experience! Overall this was not too interesting and kind of boring.
Switching over to disc two, there are a pair of 40-minute documentaries that are interesting viewing. The first one is a nonlinear look at Hess' success before, during and after the film's release. It goes as far back as two months before the Sundance premiere, all the way to the summer of 2005, while Hess was in Mexico making Nacho Libre. Included with Hess's random musings is some footage from the Preston, Idaho Napoleon Dynamite festival which they apparently hold each year. Hess's family discusses their successful progeny, and Hess discusses his thoughts pre-and post Sundance. His nerves two hours before the show, and his relief 90 minutes afterwards are quite palpable. The piece ends with a couple of MTV films execs approaching him and talking deal, all caught on camera, and you can't ask for a better ending than that. The other documentary is an on-set look at the film, as Hess and company set up shots like the steak toss, Grandma's dune ride and Napoleon and Pedro's sweet jumps. It's more of a "fly on the wall" look at the production as we watch Hess get everything done, and the occasional subtitle either flushes out any hushed vocal tones or directs viewers to other parts of the disc. It's nice and helpful, like a special feature should be! There are a few more outtakes and deleted scenes on the second disc, and some audition footage of Ramirez, Majorino and Haylie Duff (Summer), complemented by an interview with the casting director. A section called Napoleon Sightings (which I thought was going to be a stills gallery of Napoleon look-alikes) is basically a lot of Heder in costume and/or character on various promotional stops and awards shows, and, count 'em, 13(!) television spots promoting the film complete this set.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Those who dislike Napoleon Dynamite dislike it almost viscerally. I think a lot of people didn't like it because the MTV hype machine may have set some unrealistic expectations for the film. But if you take it with the moments the film has, and not as a complete story, you might appreciate it a little more.
A somewhat solid first release is given an exhaustive, thorough treatment (and a second disc to boot). Those of you who like the film and don't have it yet should run out to get it. Those of you who bought the first version shouldn't hesitate to double-dip on this release, as I'd assume that there's no more gold to mine from this well.
Not guilty, and please make sure you pay the court costs in change.
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary with Director/Co-Writer Jared Hess, Actor Jon Heder and Producer Jeremy Coon
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