3% body fat. 1% brain activity.
After the horrendous attacks on September 11th, America was shaken to its very core. One trivial question that loomed: "Would America still want to see movies?" Well, duh. Of course they did. The question was, what kind of movies? Arnold Schwarzenegger's terrorist action flick Collateral Damage had been ceremoniously postponed, as had the Dave Barry/Barry Sonnenfeld comedy Big Trouble (which also included some terrorist themes). Zoolander had the sad task of being one of the first films released theatrically after the terrorist attacks. Writer/director/producer/star Ben Stiller's comedic tale about vacuous male models and international assassination was supposed to lift citizen's spirits and keep them laughing through troubled times. Depending on whom you ask, this may or may not have been the case. Either way, Paramount has let loose the über-model Derek Zoolander in a special collector's edition of Zoolander on DVD.
Facts of the Case
They're good looking. They're attractive. They're…really, really, really, really ridiculously good looking. They're male models, and through the years they've made us feel better about ourselves by telling us what to wear, how to look and who to be. What you DON'T know is that down through history male models have been behind almost every assassination attempt from Abe Lincoln to JFK!
Derek Zoolander (Stiller) is the top male model around the globe. However, his thrown is in danger of being overthrown over by the obnoxiously good looking Hansel (Owen Wilson, Bottle Rocket). Sporting a surfer attitude and long luxurious locks of blonde hair, Hansel soon overshadows Derek as the "Male Model of the Year" at the VH1 Fashion Awards. Dejected, Derek retreats back home where his coal-mining father (Jon Voight, Ali) thinks he's a complete weenie. But Derek has bigger problems in the form of Mugatu (Will Ferrell, TV's Saturday Night Live), a hideously freakish top fashion designer with plans to assassinate the leader of Malaysia! Brainwashing Derek with some 1980s tunes, Mugatu devises a plot to use Derek as his tool of death! With the help of an attractive Time magazine reporter (Stiller's real life wife Christine Taylor), Derek must thwart Mugatu's plans for fashion domination (and his desire to keep underage children making clothes overseas) before it's too late!
A question to ponder: why is it that at the end of every movie description the hero must prevail "before it's too late"? Why can't it be "before it gets too late in the evening" or "before it gets past everyone's bedtime"?
Watching Zoolander I was struck by how much time and energy went into the film. Here is a movie that was nurtured and cradled—it was obvious from the first reel that this was, for all intents and purposes, Ben Stiller's "baby." Aside of the general cast, there are about a zillion cameos in Zoolander: David Bowie, Natalie Portman, Donald Trump, Christian Slater, Billy Zane, Fred Durst, Heidi Klum, Tommy Hilfiger, Lenny Kravitz, L'il Kim, Garry Shandling, Veronica Webb, Lance Bass…hell, even Fabio pops up. It seems as if everyone but George Washington and Barry Williams was given a cameo appearance in Zoolander. Unfortunately, multiple cameos do not a movie make. What Zoolander makes up for in famous faces it lacks in sheer laughs.
The problem may be that male models, or fashion in general, is just not that funny of a topic. Actually, I take that back: fashion and male models can be funny, it's just that it's been done before in other films. Granted, past movies didn't completely revolve around one bubble headed model, but that's beside the point: making a male model the culprit of assassination is just not very humorous. The plot feels very patched together so that Stiller and his big-wig Hollywood friends can do some funny things. I cared little about why Mugatu was using Derek for his devious plot—instead I just waited around for the famous faces to start showing up.
Derek Zoolander was actually conceived back in 1996 for use in the VH1 Fashion Awards show skits. Ben Stiller plays Derek as a complete idiot. Complete idiots in movies can be funny. However, when the main character is the idiot, and that's his defining gag…well, it makes for a stale one-joke movie. Zoolander often feels like the worst SNL character sketch stretched out into a full length film (maybe it's not so coincidental that SNL stars Will Ferrell and Nora Dunn are featured in the movie). The supporting characters are equally as abrasive and one-note as Derek. Will Ferrell's villainous Mugatu comes complete with a weird looking hairstyle, obnoxious clothing, and a little poodle in the vein of Dr. Evil or Bond's Blofield. Mugatu is mildly funny, though not nearly as funny as he could have been (didn't Mike Meyers spoof James Bond baddies dry in his "Austin Powers" movies)? Milla Jovovich (The Fifth Element), not usually known for her comedic chops, plays a Boris and Natasha like henchman…err, henchwoman…who does little but walk fast and sneer a lot. Jerry Stiller (Ben's real life father) does a variation on his Seinfeld character as Derek's manager at the fictitious Ball's Models. Christine Taylor has the thankless task of playing off of Derek's dimwittedness. The only person who comes out of this film unscathed is Owen Wilson. Playing an almost typical Wilson character (clueless and indifferent), Wilson once again elicits laughs with his almost stoner-like delivery.
While I feel justified in my dislike for this film, I want to point out that it's not a horrible film, just a misfired one—Stiller is a talented director and a funny guy (I'll admit to laughing at a scene where Derek and four male model buddies playfully have a water fight with gasoline, ending with disastrous results). With the right material and cast I think that he could make a really funny movie. Sadly, Zoolander is not that movie. It's a film that has lots of heart, but no real soul. Just like Derek Zoolander.
Zoolander is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Paramount has done a wonderful job at making this print look crisp and top-of-the-line. Colors and black levels are all very bright and well saturated with only the slightest hint of edge enhancement showing up. Otherwise, this is an outstanding print that shows no instance of shimmer, grain, or digital artifacting.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround as well as Dolby 2.0 Surround in English and French. This 5.1 soundtrack is very well mixed with directional effects utilized throughout the film. There are many instances of head-thumping techno music and rock and roll songs, and even an explosion or two just for effect. This very aggressive soundtrack should please audiophiles. All aspects of the soundtrack are free and clear of any excessive noise or distortion. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Well, nothing's better that sitting though a movie I didn't enjoy and then having to wade through an obscene amount of special features. But, here goes…
Starting off this "collector's edition" of Zoolander is a commentary track by writer/producer/director/star Ben Stiller and writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg. I kind of got the feeling through this commentary that the participants (especially Stiller) knew that this was not the hit they were hoping for (there's some discussion about how certain scenes "just aren't funny"). Some of the guys' comments and one-liners are pretty funny, making this commentary track more entertaining than the film they're watching.
Next up are five deleted scenes with optional commentary by Stiller. You know, oddly enough I found most of these to be really funny. One particular deleted scene with Owen Wilson and Winona Ryder really had me laughing (Hansel points out that he loved Ryder in Aliens). Five more extended scenes are included (also with optional commentary) that aren't nearly as entertaining as the deleted scenes. Also included are some outtakes of the actors flubbing their lines. Each of these deleted/extended/outtake scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and in rough form.
Two VH1 Fashion Awards skits feature the first appearance of Derek Zoolander, one from 1996 and the other from 1997. Like most Saturday Night Live skits, Zoolander works much better in the confines of a short burst than a 90-minute movie. A music video for the Wiseguy song "Start The Commotion" is featured, and after you watch the video you may never get that annoying song out of your head.
Next up is a promotional gallery filled with six "Derek Zoolander Public Service Announcement" spots, three MTV "Cribs" parodies, and six other miscellaneous spots featuring interviews and flubs formed into promos. Finally, there are three separate still galleries featuring Hansel's portfolio, Derek's portfolio, and Zoolander production stills, as well as an alternate (and pointless) end title sequence.
Also included on the second special features menu (highlight the big 'M') is an Easter egg featuring some dance rehearsals by Owen Wilson and Ben Stiller, with Stiller doing some commentary explaining what's going on.
I'll finish this review with my stock statement: comedy is subjective. One man's Caddyshack is another man's Ishtar. While Zoolander didn't tickle my funny bone, you may find it a bit more humorous. To each his own (and please, someone else own this copy of Zoolander I'm holding).
Zoolander is guilty of being just plain unfunny. Paramount is acquitted due to the hard work they've put into this disc. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
• Commentary by Ben Stiller and Writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg
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