Featured Blu-ray review: Napoleon Dynamite
June 5th, 2014
In 2004, Napoleon Dynamite was a small independent film that earned buzz at the Sundance Film Festival and was picked up by MTV films. MTV pushed the film hard and it worked, as the film earned more than $40 million starting in limited release. I didn't get a chance to see it, but saw it when it came out on DVD and really liked it. A few months later, I watched it a second time and I wasn't as impressed. Now that it has been ten years since it came out, will I like it like the first time, or has it aged poorly?
We are first introduced to Napoleon Dynamite as he rides the bus to school. To call him socially awkward is an understatement. His presentation in history class for current events involves the Loch Ness Monster, Japanese Scientists, and Scottish wizards. After class he meets Pedro Sanchez, a new kid who transferred from Mexico. He's about as socially with it as Napoleon is, so the two become friends.
Napoleon needs friends, because his home life is awful. He lives with his grandmother, who is inattentive, and his older brother, Kip, who is a jerk. Kip is in his 30s, is unemployed, takes to "babes" online, and trains to be a cage fighter. This might make him sound like a meathead jock, but in reality, he's as scrawny as Napoleon is, actually more so. (We see this when he tries to train at a dojo run by a man named Rex.) He does have one friend, Deb, who like Napoleon and Pedro is socially awkward to an alarming degree. She makes money selling boondoggle keychains.
I'm not sure how much more of the plot I can go through before I run into spoilers. This is mainly because there's not a lot of plot here. The film is more of a series of awkward events. And yes, I know I'm using that word a lot in this review, but it fits. It fits so well. I guess there are three main plot threads. Firstly, Uncle Rico comes to stay with them and that disrupts Napoleon's home life. Secondly, Pedro wants to date Summer Wheatly, the most popular girl in school and Napoleon helps him. And when that doesn't work, he runs for school president and Napoleon again helps him.
When I first saw Napoleon Dynamite, I liked it, because it was interesting and quirky and new. The characters were so strange that it was hard to imagine what they were going to do next. However, the second time I watched it, I wasn't as drawn into the film, because while it was still quirky, it wasn't new. The film was no longer interesting, because I was no longer intrigued by what the characters would do next. Granted, you no longer have this sense of the unknown when you watch any movie a second time; however, most movies have compelling characters that are worth spending time with, even if you know how the movie will end. This is not one of those movies. Sadly, it commits the same sin a lot of Indie Comedies commit. It mistakes quirky characters for actual humor. It tries to mine humor from their quirks, but this quickly grows repetitive.
The first time I watched Napoleon Dynamite I liked it. The second time I watched it I didn't like it as much. This is the third time and it will likely be my last.
There are lots of extras on the Blu-ray, but none of them are new to this addition. There are two audio commentary tracks, the original short film the film is based on, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, auditions, and more. It is a great selection of extras, but again, none are new.
Also, it appears that the transfer is the same as the previous Blu-ray release and this isn't good news. The film cost just $400,000 to make and will never look top-notch as a result, so you can't blame the transfer for most of the issues, and there are a lot of them. The level of details isn't great, the colors are faded, the blacks are not deep, etc. The audio is similar with clear dialog, but very little activity in the surround sound speakers.
If you have never seen Napoleon Dynamite but you like Indie comedies, then give it a rental. It is worth checking out at least once, but if you are like me, it won't have the replay value for a blind buy. If you saw it over and over again and still love it, but don't own the previous Blu-ray release, then the 10th Anniversary Edition - Blu-ray Combo Pack is worth picking up. However, if you already own the Blu-ray, the only thing new is the packaging. The packaging looks good, but it is not worth $15.
Submitted by: C.S.Strowbridge
Filed under: Video Review, Napoleon Dynamite