Napoleon Dynamite review by Mike Long

There are probably several ways to define a "movie fan", and one would be a person who sees a lot of movies. And as a "movie fan" sees more and more movies, they begin to notice the similarities between them and can often pick out a film's influences. Thus, one feels that they rarely see a truly "original" movie. Napoleon Dynamite breaks that mold and emerges as one of the most unique films that I've seen in years. This film defies genre pigeonholing and offers a challenging viewing experience.

Jon Heder stars as the title character in Napoleon Dynamite. Napoleon is a high-school student in Preston, Idaho and would easily be classified as a geek or nerd. He always wears moon boots and likes to draw unicorns and other mythical creatures. He rides the bus to school and is a member of the "Happy Hands" (a sign-language group). His home-life is equally as strange. Napoleon lives with his Grandmother (Sandy Martin), who often leaves home to go on wild adventures, and his older brother, Kip (Aaron Ruell), who claims to be training to be a "cage fighter", but actually spends most of his time in chat rooms. Things get even weirder when Napoleon's Uncle Rico (John Gries), a self-involved man who lives in the past, comes to live with them. Meanwhile, Napoleon has befriended a new student named Pedro (Efren Ramirez), and the two of them scheme to get dates to the dance and win the school elections.

The above synopsis is only the tip of the iceberg in describing this truly bizarre film. Napoleon Dynamite may be one of the quirkiest characters ever committed to film. Beyond his unusual clothing, one can't help but notice that Napoleon's eyes are always half-closed (if not entirely closed) and he rarely looks directly at anyone. His mood is also odd, as he doesn't seem to exude any self-confidence, yet he's always annoyed with people and acts very impatient. (He often snaps at others with his trademark "Dang!" or "What do you think?!" or "Idiot!") Why most movie nerds are portrayed as smart, but shy people, Napoleon comes across as a semi-retarded guy who seems to have PMS. Napoleon's odd speech patterns fit the film, as Napoleon Dynamite is very oddly paced and people speak very slowly, leaving large gaps between their sentences. (This reminded me of the speech patterns in Twin Peaks.) At times, Napoleon and Pedro seem to be heavily sedated.

If you're turned off by the description of Napoleon, then the film won't appeal to you, as it's narrative is just as strange. For the first act, the film doesn't have any real story -- we simply observe Napoleon in his everyday life. This gives us ample opportunity to get to know the characters, but it's also slightly confusing. However, once the story gets going, things begin to gel somewhat. But, unlike most movies, it's very hard to predict where Napoleon Dynamite is going. The movie is constantly full of surprises, as Napoleon's moods swing, so does the movie.

As I write this review, it's been about three days since I watched Napoleon Dynamite and it's given me a chance to reflect on the effectiveness of this film. As I was watching the movie, I proclaimed it to be the weirdest movie that I'd ever seen. (And that's a huge statement.) For, even in the most avant-garde films, I usually know how I'm supposed to feel about the story and the characters. With Napoleon Dynamite, I didn't have that luxury and viewing the film made me extremely edgy. However, as time passed, I began to remember certain parts of the film and the charm and humor of the film began to set in. There are some very funny and touching moments in the movie, but they can simply be hard to take in while watching the film. Napoleon Dynamite isn't a great movie and I'm not even sure if it's a good movie, but it's definitely an original movie which will leave its mark on the viewer.

Napoleon Dynamite dances onto DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The DVD contains both the full-frame and widescreen versions of the film, on either side of the DVD. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was screened. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good and doesn't reveal the low-budget nature of the movie. The picture shows only a slight amount of grain and the image is quite sharp and clear. The colors look very good and the picture has nice depth. There is some minor artifacting on the image, but it's not distracting. The film carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The rear speakers come to life occasionally during musical cues and crowd scenes, but most of the audio comes from the center and front channels, which do give us good stereo separation.

The DVD is loaded with extra features, which vary in quality. Both the widescreen and full-frame versions feature an audio commentary with director/co-writer Jared Hess, star Jon Heder, and producer Jeremy Coon. This commentary is somewhat interesting, but it's also a disappointment, as the trio never talk about the origins of the Napoleon character or where his eccentric behavior came from. Hess does point out some scenes which were influenced by his life, but we never learn more about Napoleon. The widescreen side of the DVD contains 4 deleted scenes which encompass 8 minutes. These scenes have a PLAY ALL feature and can be viewed with or without audio commentary from Hess, Heder, and Coon . There is some good stuff here, and some very funny moments, all of which should have been left in the movie. This side of the disc also has a still gallery. The extras on the full-frame side are kicked off with 7 "MTV On-Air Promos", which total 4 minutes in all. Five of these simply contain footage from the movie, but the last two show Napoleon and Pedro in Los Angeles and are funny. "The Wedding of the Century" (4 minutes) is a brief behind-the-scenes look at the shooting of the final scene in the film, which comes after the credits and was shot a year after the movie's principal photography wrapped. The final extra is "Peluca", the original 9-minute short film which first introduced the world to Napoleon, who is called Seth in the short. The film is black & white and shows some grain and minor defects. The short is quite good and contains many scenes which found there way into Napoleon Dynamite. "Peluca" can be viewed with audio commentary from Hess, Heder, and Coon. As with the commentary on the feature film, we learn about the making of the short, but we still don't get the origin of Napoleon.

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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