Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe sits through 114 minutes of ads while waiting for the movie to start...
Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) is a daydreamer who escapes his anonymous life by disappearing into a world of fantasies filled with heroism, romance, and action. When his job along with that of his co-worker (Kristen Wiig) are threatened, Walter takes action in the real world by embarking on a global journey that turns into an adventure more extraordinary than anything he could have ever imagined. (From Fox’s official synopsis)
Because Ben Stiller’s remake of Norman Z. McLeod’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (1947) arrived late to my mailbox and because I found it so artistically offensive, I’m going to keep this review short and to the point. Stiller has created a shallow, self-serving impression of sentiment and beauty that is plagued with shallow imagery and offensively prideful product placement. It is a long form commercial masquerading as award-season seducement. Steve Conrad’s screenplay, based on the book by James Thurber, would probably be tolerable if it wasn’t for Stiller’s narcissistic streak and inappropriate use of brand names, but is still definitely the type of sickly-sweet dreck you’d expect from the author of The Pursuit of Happyness and The Weather Man. Conrad doesn’t manipulate the audience’s heartstrings with well-placed plucks and strums -– he attacks them with hobnail boots. When coupled with Stiller and cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh images, the listless plot, shallow characters, and trite dialogue become unbearable – verging on parody.
This near parody of a certain type of movie remains my only hope for the film. Stiller has made a name for himself as a hair-triggered buffoon in some of the most obnoxious comedies of the last couple decades and his directorial debut, Reality Bites (1994), is a painful reminder of the middle ‘90s cinematic malaise, but his second film, Cable Guy (1996), is one of the most underhandedly subversive blockbuster comedies of the last three decades. Zoolander (2001) and Tropic Thunder (2008) weren’t nearly as salacious, but were definitively clever cultural satires. Perhaps The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is secretly following this trend as an insurrectionary indictment of Oscar-baiting in general. Maybe the empty, maudlin streaks, pretty pictures, and blatant corporate appeasement are all part of a bigger joke played on filmmakers that forgo artistic identity and integrity in hopes of getting their hands on a little golden statue. Probably not, but I can try to put a silver lining on the whole ‘quirky indie meets life affirming and culturally significant movie’ experience, right?
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was shot on standard 35mm film and is presented on this Blu-ray in 2.35:1, 1080p video. Disconnected from everything I hate about the movie, it’s easy to admire Stiller and Dryburgh’s dazzling and colorful imagery. Walter’s mundane, pre-adventure life is tinged and softened by fluorescent lights and cool hues. Even in the brightest daylight, the basic highlights are cool blue and teal with only pinkish skin tones and poppy red or yellow hot spots. Blacks and whites are purposefully muddied by the blue/teal base, but the contrast levels are still strong enough to differentiate elements, even in the shallow focus backgrounds. Walter’s dream world is similar in terms of sharpness and clarity, but is definitely warmer, replacing the teals with yellows and lush greens. The natural beauty of the Icelandic and Himalayan locales makes a similar trek from cool to warm as Walter ‘finds himself’ (or whatever), but is much more colourful overall, specifically in terms of oranges and greens. The more eclectic palette, richer black levels, and more vigorous natural textures lead too busier background details and a generally more impressive experience. The film base causes some fine, steady grain, minor haloes, and high-frequency colour bleeding (mostly on the edges of those red pops), but there aren’t any notable compression effects (perhaps a little low level noise shimmer in some of the backgrounds).
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was mixed with the new Dolby Atmos theater sound system in mind, so it is little surprise that this 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is so consistently busy and immersive. Again, the rat race and adventurous settings are largely differentiated. The cityscapes and office spaces are dry and gentle, but still pretty lively in terms of general ambience. There are a couple of instances of street noise fluttering over dialogue, causing odd noise reduction effects, but no distortion issues. During these scenes, Theodore Shapiro’s gentle bell & mandolin score (very similar to Thomas Newman’s American Beauty themes, minus the pathos) blends into the quietness of the whole thing, but eventually bursts out into a number of pop music ditties that more effectively fill out the stereo and surround speakers. Some of these bits are impressively structured, specifically the multi-channel re-arrangement of Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity,’ while others are simply louder than the score. The Icelandic and Himalayan scenes feature a steadier buzz of wind and other natural sounds, along with a handful of standout experiences, including a relatively violent air to sea landing, a bike ride past a loud flock of birds, and an LFE-rumbling volcanic eruption.
- Five deleted scenes (7:30, HD)
- Two extended scenes (4:30, HD)
- Two alternate scenes (3:40, HD)
- Behind the Scenes:
- The History of Walter Mitty (3:40, HD) – A brief primer on the story’s journey from Thurber’s story to the screen (twice).
- The Look of Life (5:00, HD) – On the screenplay, specifically choosing Life Magazine as Walter’s job.
- That’s a Shark (5:60) – Concerning the oceanic section of Walter’s Icelandic adventure.
- The Music of Walter Mitty (4:00, HD) – On Theodore Shapiro’s score and José González’ songs.
- Icelandic Adventure (3:30, HD) – Further footage from the Iceland location scout and shoot.
- Nordic Casting (3:50, HD) – Footage from audition videos.
- Titles of Walter Mitty (2:50, HD) – Concerning Kyle Cooper’s integrated opening titles.
- Skateboarding Through Iceland (2:20, HD) – Raw footage from the planning and filming of Stiller’s highway skateboarding.
- Ted-Walter Flight (2:50) – More raw footage; this time from the choreography and effects planning of the city fly-through fight.
- Pre-viz footage (4:20, HD)
- Reference photography gallery
- Music video: ‘Stay Alive,’ by José González (4:20, HD)
Perhaps The Secret Life of Walter Mitty just brought out my inner curmudgeon. According to box office numbers and CinemaScore ratings, audiences liked it plenty. But, even separated from contrasting expectations, I find it hard to believe there wasn’t a large contingent of people that felt like they were watching a loosely interlocking series of commercials. Those that didn’t feel that way have a very attractive Blu-ray to look forward to – though be warned; its extras are minimal and fluffy.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 15th April 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD-MA 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Latin Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted/Extended/Alternate Scenes, The History of Walter Mitty, The Look of Life, That’s a Shark, The Music of Walter Mitty, Icelandic Adventure, Nordic Casting, Titles of Walter Mitty, Skateboarding Through Iceland, Ted-Walter Flight, Pre-Viz, Reference Photography Gallery, Music Video, Trailer, DVD Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Ben Stiller
Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Kathryn Hahn, Sean Penn
Genre: Adventure, Comedy and Drama
Length: 114 minutes
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