The Stepford Wives (2004) Review

It’s hardly surprising that Hollywood is keen on remakes. At the top of every movie executive’s list, at least equal with ‘Have Big Hit’, is ‘Avoid All Possible Risk’. Working to an already established thematic template is one way to do this, and has led to the development of the ‘high concept pitch’: “It’s Forrest Gump meets Zulu with a rocket launcher!” Taking an already successful film from the past and remaking it – or ‘re-imagining’ it, to use the pretentious phrase which first surfaced around the time of Tim Burton’s flaccid remake of ‘Planet of the Apes’ –is an even safer way to get a project off the ground. Most of the time, the result is dire, especially when it contradicts the cultural sensibilities of the original: witness the appalling Hollywood remakes of the British films ‘Alfie’, ‘The Italian Job’ and ‘Get Carter’ (interestingly, this isn’t always the case: the Hollywood remakes of ‘The Ring’ and ‘The Grudge’ actually improved on their Japanese originals).

The worst and most confusing employment of the ‘remake’ is when the new version contradicts the tone and feel of, and fails to improve on, the original. It’s into this grim basket that Frank Oz’s version of ‘The Stepford Wives’ falls. I refer you to Kevin O’Reilly’s fine theatrical review to which I have nothing whatsoever to add, not a single thing, except to say that it makes one reel in disbelief that such a snide, witless, unamusing project could have attracted such a raft of acting talent (the cast includes Nicole Kidman, Glenn Close and Christopher Walken). Glenn Close - one of Hollywood's finest actors in the 1990s and a woman who, with Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Jodie Foster and a handful of others essentially redefined and expanded the permitted 'roles' women were allowed to play in mainstream English language cinema – is here to be seen wearing a pink headband and leading a group of superditzy sex kittens in an aerobic workout based on the spin cycle of a washing machine, which is rather like watching a prize quarter horse being forced to wear a straw hat and carry snotty kids along Blackpool beach.

All good fun? For the cast maybe, not for the audience. In fact, seeing Kidman’s overplayed, if professional performance here caused me to fear for her safety, if not her sanity. One of the most talented actresses of her generation, she is in extreme danger of burn-out, having tackled far too many projects recently, including the extraordinarily demanding triptych of ‘The Hours’, ‘Dogville’ and ‘The Human Stain’ consecutively. I was hoping that after that lot she would take a break, but a glance at the IMDB reveals that she’s scheduled to star in no less than seven movies in the next two years (although admittedly one of these, Luhrman’s take on ‘Alexander the Great’, has been indefinitely postponed)! This cannot be good for her temper or her judgement.

This Special Collector's Edition of the Stepford Wives presents a widescreen anamorphic transfer of the film and includes a 5.1 French soundtrack, plus an assortment of extras directed by the seemingly inescapable Laurent Bouzereau. They kick off with A Perfect World: The Making of the Stepford Wives, a 20-minute overall look at the film's construction and filming. It's divided into tiny featurettes, each a minute or two long, which look at either an overall aspect of the film, such as the costumes or sets, or at particular scene, such as the 4th July celebration, the square dance, the Book Club meeting or the climactic ball room scene. There's only a little information on each, but one does get a sense of what seemed to be quite an expensive production process. The building of the huge, lavish sets, including the massive supermarket, the gardens, the ballrooms and the men's association building is outlined. Ann Roth's costume design is given fulsome and deserved praise. Screenwriter Paul Rudnick explains his attempts to combine the seductive and the obscene in his version of the Stepford story. Close reveals that the movie was actually shot in her hometown of Greenwhich, Connecticut.

Stepford: A definition features under four minutes of the movie's cast providing their own explanations for what a Stepford Wife really is and how the phrase came about.

Stepford: The Architects allows Oz, writer Rudnick to explain their motivation for doing the film and their decision to replay for laughs what had previously been a low-key horror film stemming from the first wave of feminism hitting the U.S in the 70s. Satire? Thriller? A comic take on the American Dream? It lasts just under six minutes.

The Stepford Wives is ten minutes of Kidman, Midler, Bart, Close and Hill describing how they approached their portrayal of a Stepford wife (or husband) and what the experience was like. Hill, a huge star in the U.S but virtually unknown to this writer, gushes vacuously. It was at this point, as I struggled to listen to yet another overwhelmingly sincere testament to how great it was to work on the movie and how terrific the sets were and how perfect and talented everyone was that I began to experience a curious sense of vertigo, as the division between the fantasy world of Stepford and the 'real life' world of Hollywood movie-making began to blur, horribly. This also feels like a retread of one or more of the other featurettes and even recycles some of Kidman's comments from one of them.

The Stepford Husbands is Broderick, Lovitz, Walken et al talking about how they played their parts, for six minutes.

Stepford: Deleted/Extended Scenes is made up of Square Dance, Husbands on Driveway, Bobbie's Kitchen, Lab Sequence, Herb on Pole and Claire's Electrocution. Bobbie's Kitchen is the biggest 'discovery' here, a deeply disturbing sequence where Midler mutates freakishly, producing an egg whisk from her finger and turning into a lawnmower at the end.

The Commentary by Frank Oz is conversational and informative. Oz is an engaging speaker, rather more involving than the film itself, and reveals that he shot, at great expense, an entirely different beginning featuring hordes of marching, Prada-clad women that proved wrong for the film (it's odd that this isn't included in the deleted scenes). He explains why several comedic sequences were cut in order to drive the story forward and provides a very comprehensive (and extremely complementary) overview of the different crew and cast members who helped make the film.

A Gag Reel closes out the Special Features.

Visually, 'Stepford' literally shrieks from the screen, presenting an extremely intense, oversaturated colour palette. It's hard to tell whether the transfer is too red or if it's representative of the original print. Generally, however, a very good picture.

A powerful 5.1 mix that brings the soundtrack fully to life. Full and clear throughout.

There’s not much more to say about ‘The Stepford Wives’. Discussing the movie with a friend, she said that if she was heavily hung-over, unable to move from the sofa and turned on the TV to find that there was absolutely nothing else on except the film, she would watch it. I wouldn’t go this far. If you did like the film, then – in the absence of a definite image comparison until the R2 becomes available at the end of this month – I think the R1 is the way to go, as it offers a French soundtrack and Spanish subtitles.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 11:05:00

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