May 27, 2005

Dodgeball on DVD

Average Joe's: Team motto - "Aim low."
Dodgeball manages to pull off something completely unexpected; it's a great time at the movies that mostly avoids the gross out tactics without ever ceding its edge. Much like some of the great stupid comedies of our past, it features a likeable and good-natured set of quirky underdog protagonists against an incredibly stupid and often quite out-there villain who drops the IQ level of the room a few dozen points every time he opens his mouth.
It takes that classic setup and pushes it to the limits. You've never met underdogs quite so incapable, nor a villain so jaw-droppingly stupid. Every single sports cliché is either utilized or satirized over the course of the film and a wide variety of celebrity cameos provide almost snapshot punchlines.
It is also notable for featuring one of the great casts in modern comedy. Vince Vaughn (fresh of the success of Old School at the time) and Ben Still provide the star power in the leading roles, but the supporting cast is a veritable who's who of cult comedy. Alan Tudyk of "Firefly", 28 Days Later, and A Knight's Tale fame makes a show-stealing turn as Steve the Pirate. Steven Root (Jimmy James on "Newsradio", Bill on "King of the Hill", and of course Milton in Office Space), Jason Bateman ("Silver Spoons", Starsky & Hutch, and most currently and hilariously "Arrested Development"), Hank Azaria ("The Simpsons" and Mystery Men), Gary Cole (Office Space, the Brady Bunch movies, A Simple Plan, and "Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law") all create memorable characters that fuel this film's comedic spark. Each of their characters could go head to head with anything SNL has created in the last twenty years. But Rip Torn stands above them all by creating one of the most memorable performances of his career with Patches O''Houlihan, the dodgeball coach from hell.
And while there are times when the gags are dead in the water, when they do hit they provide some of the best laughs of 2004. And of course, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story will be forever immortalized for adding the line, "If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball!" to our cultural vocabulary.
Patches O'Houlihan: Master of a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation.

Globo Gym Purple Cobras: They're taking the bull by the horns. It's a metaphor. But they actually did, though.
Being a relatively low-budget sleeper hit, Dodgeball is not the kind of film you'd expect a standout video presentation from. But the widescreen version provides a better than expected anamorphic experience, with a clean and sharp picture with vibrant colour, natural skin tones, and solid blacks that never obscure detail. There was the occasional shot that was a tad on the soft side, but each instance appeared to be a result of the original print rather than any transfer-related defect. Any edge enhancement was minimal, and never stood out on either my CRT or LCD displays.

Welcome back to the Ocho: They're your announcers,  Cotton McKnight and Pepper Brooks.
The English Dolby Digital mix is pretty standard fare for a comedy. Since the film is primarily dialog driven, the mix remains rooted in the front speakers for the majority of the film. Some of the bigger sports scenes open up the mix a little bit, but generally lack the power and creativity of other sports films. Some of the commentator voiceover work stood out in mix in a less than desirable fashion; otherwise, dialog and sound effects were clear and undistorted. This isn't a DVD to turn to if you want to give your system a workout, but it never detracts from the movie experience.

Dodge This: Even the special features menu takes a beating.
First the bad: This is one of the first Fox DVDs I've owned that has a series of trailers and commercials before loading the main menu. Fortunately all can be skipped via the next chapter button, providing minimal disruption in accessing the features. Once you make it through, the extras are surprisingly numerous for a single disc release.
Off the main menu, "First Look" provides another commercial in the form of a featurette on Fox's "Elektra". Strangely, it's non-anamorphic widescreen video window-boxed inside an anamorphic widescreen frame. This results in black bars on all four sides of the picture regardless of your display device. A rather ill-conceived feature, altogether.
From the special features menu, we have a variety of more interesting options. The first (not including the hilarious easter egg) is a commentary with the first time writer/director and his two stars. It's a relatively low key track with the main running gag being all of the things Fox legal told them they weren't supposed to say. The participants are often informational, but the track falls into self-congratulatory territory a little bit more often than I'd like. Not a bad listen, but I've heard plenty better.
The Deleted Scenes section provides a number of scenes either cut or trimmed from their original length for the theatrical release. The director was quite fond of them in the feature commentary, but I didn't see anything that would have really added to the film.
The Alternate Ending plays off one of the film's red herrings in a truly hilarious fashion. Quick to watch and highly recommended.
The four featurettes are mostly fluff, but they give a good idea of how much preparation went into getting the cast trained and ready as believable dodgeball champions.
The blooper reel is surprisingly lacklustre considering the geniuses of comedy on this film's cast. The best ones play off one of the cameos' previous roles, Alan Tudyk's pantomiming, and the gruff referee's increasing irritation as the leads screw up take after take for his big scene.
Two of the film's trailers are provided along with a trailer for the Johnny Knoxville vehicle The Ringer and one for "Arrested Development" ― proving once again that Fox can't market that show for beans.

Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story
placed sixth on my list of the top ten films of 2004 at the beginning of this year. It didn't hold up quite as well on the repeat viewing, but it remains one of the most likeable and enjoyable comedies in recent memory. This single disc DVD presentation reminds me of exactly how thinly stretched most two-disc sets are these days, providing me with every extra I'd really care about for this film without ever affecting the picture quality. If you're a fan of the film, this disc is a no-brainer. If you haven't seen it yet, chances are you'll probably be a fan soon. Strongly recommended.

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