Wonder Boys

January 28, 2012 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

About last August I started wondering to myself…I wonder when “Wonder Boys” will be available on DVD? That question was soon answered when Paramount announced that they would be re-releasing the movie in theaters during the Holiday movie run. This was to get the movie some Oscar attention, as most of the “artistic” films usually come out during this time. Wonder Boys originally debuted earlier in the year, around February. While it’s true that Michael Douglas, already an Oscar winner for Wall Street, gives a great performance, it’s the rest of the cast that makes the film work on so many levels. First you have Tobey Maguire, one of the few “younger” actors who clearly has a career in front of him. He chooses his projects carefully and has ended up with some pretty good roles (can you say “Spiderman”?). Katie Holmes, not only endowed with good looks, but is yet another actress who seems to have a bright future in Tinseltown. And there’s always Frances McDormand, another Oscar winner who is up for yet another Academy Award (though not in this movie). Lastly, there is Robert Downey Jr. Unless you’ve been in a cave for the last six months, this guy has been everywhere. Lest we forget, the guy is an actor and has had some pretty good roles. If he can get his personal life in order long enough, he might be able to get back on track and salvage what’s left of his career. He should be thinking Director Curtis Hanson for giving him this part to begin with. So we have a great cast, both leading and supporting, but now what? What is so special about Wonder Boys that it was released twice in the same year, but still got overlooked for any major Academy Award nominations. Let’s find out…

Douglas plays Grady Tripp, he’s a professor at a Pittsburgh College (if you dig around in the DVD you learn that it’s Carnegie-Melon), who has written one of the finest books in recent memory. However the memory of that book is fading and his follow-up to it is approaching 3,000 pages. Not exactly light reading. He teaches a creative writing class with James Leer (Tobey Maguire) as his star student. Though shy and an intervert, he has a flare for it and enjoys expressing himself creatively through the written word. Hannah (Katie Holmes) not only rents a room from Grady, she’s also a student in the class who has a minor infatuation with Tripp. The fact that Grady’s wife has left him gives Hannah the opportunity she’s been looking for to make a move on the professor/teacher. Grady’s problem is this: He smokes too much marijuana. He sees it as a release, an escape if you will, but he also sees it as a problem and a way to continue work on his new book. Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) , an aspiring editor who needs Grady to finish up his ever-lengthening novel to have a job, plays more of the comic relief. And Sara (Frances McDormand), the Chancellor of the University, is not only Grady’s boss, but someone who he has been having an affair with for quite some time. And she’s pregnant.

I don’t really know how to explain the rest of the movie. It’s odd. Wonder Boys works on so many levels (much like Hanson’s last movie “L.A. Confidential”) that it’s hard to draw a straight line and say “…here’s what happened…” It’s just not like that. For instance, there’s a random occurance with a dog that happens to get shot (and who also graces the cover of the DVD) that spends an inordinate amount of time in the trunk of a car. No point, really, but it does tie into the big picture of the stories that come together. Maguire’s Leer has to accept that he is a good writer and that it’s most likely going to be his profession for the rest of his life. He needs an emotional change, though, or else he’s going to end up just like Grady. As far as the DVD goes, it’s got it’s share of special features, but yet again (just like L.A. Confidential) no commentary track? You’d figure that a movie as praised as this, released twice in the same year for purely critical reasons, the Director would want to take two hours of his time and put his thoughts down for the audience that he’s trying so desperately to please. But no such luck. Still, it’s nice to finally have this movie on DVD and it looks and sounds good. More likely than not, you’ll have to watch it a couple of times to catch everything that’s going on, but it’s worth it. I’ve seen it a few times now and not only is it enjoyable, but the performances seem to get better as well.

Video: How does it look?

Wonder Boys is presented in it’s original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Paramount, still keeping with their renewed promise to release everything anamorphic, does. The image looks good and clean throughout, even if the movie takes place in Pittsburgh. Now that’s not a knock to all you who live in Pittsburgh, but the movie takes place in the Winter and it’s cloudy for the most part. This grayness in the skies tends to give the film a very saturated look, thereby taking it’s toll on the transfer. As far as how it looks, it looks great. I did notice a few scratches and artifacts which shouldn’t be right for a movie this new, but on the whole the edge enhancement is minimal and black levels are right on target as well. On the whole, it’s another good transfer for a great movie.

Audio: How does it sound?

Obviously not a movie for audio, this DVD sports a Dolby Digital 5.0 mix (the loss of the .1 subwoofer is not really that big of a deal…not that much blows up in this movie). From the opening credits of Bob Dylan’s “Things Have Changed” to the closing credits, the audio delivers a consistently acceptable track. Dialogue is clean and clear and surround effects (when used) do they’re job, but for the most part, it might as well be limited to the front speakers. I can’t really find or say anything else, other than the fact that the audio is more than acceptable and serves it’s purpose.

Supplements: What are the extras?

As I mentioned earlier, the lack of a commentary by Curtis Hanson is a definite flaw in an otherwise flawless story. The DVD does contain it’s share of extras though, most noteably an interactive map of Pittsburgh (complete with Commentary by Curtis Hanson…don’t ask, I don’t understand either). Many of the key parts of this movie are selectable and when “clicked” on, you’ll get an explanation of what it was in the movie and why it was selected. Also included are some cast and crew interviews (something which Paramount has started to do with a number of their discs) and it’s just that. It’s nice to see the interviews, as you feel more “in touch” with the actors and in turn, with their parts. The “Songs of Wonder Boys” is another feature that has, you guessed it, a commentary with Curtis Hanson about the music that was selected for the movie and the Bob Dylan music video “Things Have Changed” presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and in Dolby Surround. A theatrical trailer is also included (again in non-anamorphic widescreen) which rounds out the features. Lastly, Paramount has included the term “Dynamic Interactive Menus” on the back of several of their titles (Titanic comes to mind). If anyone knows what this means, feel free to let me know…as I don’t have a clue. Either way, with or without the dyanamic interactive menus, this is one DVD that you need to own–or at least give it a few rentals. Highly recommended.

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