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Featured DVD Review - (500) Days of Summer - Updated with Blu-ray

December 19th, 2009

(500) Days of Summer - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray with Digital Copy

It is very hard for a film to break out of limited release and become a legitimate mainstream hit. However, that is exactly what (500) Days of Summer did. It opened in July in just a couple of dozen theaters, but at its peak it reached the top ten and played in more than 1,000 theaters, while it earned more than $30 million at the box office. And now with more than a couple of major nominations during Awards Season so far, it appears the film will be a success in that regard as well. Obviously the majority opinion of the movie is strong, but will my voice be added to that choir? Will the DVD be worth picking up, or will a rental be enough? How about the Blu-ray, will it be worth the extra cash?

The movie starts at the end with the aftermath of a relationship that obviously ended poorly. That relationship was between Tom and Summer. He's a hopeless romantic; she's someone who doesn't believe in love. He studied to be an architect, but currently works as a writer for a greeting card company and he's not happy with that, but hasn't gotten worked up enough to actually do anything about it. They meet the day she becomes his boss's new assistant, and for him it is love at first sight. For his two friends, this is trouble, because they know how this ends for him. We know how it's going to end for him, as we see its tragic end after the opening narration. The movie doesn't just start at the end, but every scene is out of order and begins with a number representing what day it is in their relationship. It makes the film more difficult to follow, but it also makes it a lot more interesting to watch.

This movie could have been a disaster. It has all of the ingredients of a terrible Indie comedy, including overly hip music, the quirky characters, the pop culture references galore, etc. In the hands of filmmakers who didn't have a light touch for the subject, this could have been unbearable. Fortunately, everything that could have been a liability works here. The movie follows a lot of the romantic comedy clichés, including the friends that mean well but give bad advice, the wise-beyond-her-years child, etc., but we get a sense that the filmmakers are using these clichés in a playful manner. (The Enchanted-like dance number stands out as an obvious example of that, but there are others.) In fact, there's a scene with Tom playing Wii Tennis with his younger sister, Rachel, the aforementioned wise-beyond-her-years child, where she says, "Just 'cause some cute girl likes the same bizarro crap you do... that doesn't make her your soul make, Tom." While watching this I thought this was the filmmakers recognizing that their two leads are typical of Indie comedies. You can't be a fan of mainstream culture and be in an Indie comedy.

The quality of the film begins with a great story that will be recognizable by almost everyone, but still remains fresh. There's an excellent script that plays with the standards of the genre, but gives them a real twist. Top if off with an amazing cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who has picked up a couple more nominations, and you have one of the best Indie movies of the year. Absolutely worth checking out, and even without extras, the movie itself has enough replay value to be worth a blind buy.

Speaking of extras, I only have a DVD-R Screener of the movie at the moment, so I can't compare the DVD to the Blu-ray with Digital Copy. What I have only has two extras, but what it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality. The audio commentary track features the two screenwriters, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, the director, Marc Webb, and the lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and the four of them fill the track with information while being very entertaining. As good as the movie was, the audio commentary track might be better and it raises the replay value immensely. Also on the DVD are more than half a dozen deleted scenes, also with audio commentary track, which run a total of 14 minutes.

Update

The Blu-ray is loaded with exclusive extras starting with a nearly 30-minute long making of featurette called Not a Love Story. It tackles every aspect of the filmmaking process from the inspiration to reception. (Apparently a lot of the movie is based in reality, which is kind of scary.) Summer at Sundance spends 14 minutes talking about the history of Sundance (very briefly) and the film's premiere there. There are two audition tapes for Matthew Gray Gubler and Geoffrey Arend, with optional audio commentary track. There are two scenes presented in storyboard form, which can be scene either separately or compared to the final film and with or without commentary. The first of two music videos is next, this one for "Bank Dance" featuring the two leads and directed by Marc Webb, which is very stylish. Next up is a Sid and Nancy / (500) Days of Summer mash-up, which is a little hard to explain but worth checking out. Another music video is next, this time for "Sweet Disposition", which is from the soundtrack. There is a six-part conversation with the two leads. Each segment is about 2 minutes long, more or less, and they get into some really interesting topics. There are six more featurettes under the heading of Filmmaking Specials that are short segments with the direct or the two leads on subjects from the character, casting, the dance number, etc. In total there's roughly 90 minutes of Blu-ray exclusive extras to be found here, about half of which are in High Definition (by running time) and all of which are worth checking out.

Speaking of High Definition, the film looks great given the film's low budget and the nature of the movie. Detail is good, if a little soft, and there were no problems I could spot. Likewise, the audio is clear, but the mix won't challenge your home theater system. It's a dialogue driven movie with only hints of ambiance and sound design. There are no complaints, but not something you will pop into your machine to show off your home theater system.

The Blu-ray also comes with a Digital Copy of the movie.

Looking at the price, currently on Amazon.com, it costs $9 more than the DVD, which is more than 50% additional expense. If you say the Digital Copy accounts for half of that, which is fare, the premium for High Definition is a much more acceptable 22%. Even if you say the Digital Copy is just $3, the premium is 32%, which is still worth it given the amount of Blu-ray Exclusives.

(500) Days of Summer was the sleeper hit of the summer and it deserved its box office success. The DVD isn't overloaded with extras, but the extras we do get have high replay value and it is easily worth buying. In fact, it is a contender for DVD Pick of the Week. Meanwhile, the Blu-ray with Digital Copy has even more extras and even with a higher than usual premium, it is worth the upgrade and a clear choice for the Pick of the Week.

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Filed under: Video Review, (500) Days of Summer