Anchorman Unrated Gift Set Review

There are moments in Anchorman that are as brilliantly funny as anything I’ve seen in the past couple of years. Adam McKay’s film has the kind of lunatic comic verve that is reminiscent of the films that Steve Martin made with Carl Reiner. Like some of those films, it’s visually undistinguished and erratically paced but the highlights are good enough to make one forget the more obvious flaws.

Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) is the anchorman for San Diego’s Channel 4 news programme. World famous in San Diego, Burgundy combines a limitless capacity for self-admiration with a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. Along with his news team, he believes that he rules the airwaves at a time when real men drank scotch while smoking as if their lives depended on it, and the only place for women was behind the handle of a drinks trolley. Naturally, in these circumstances, when the station bosses decide that a woman would be a valuable addition to the news team, Ron and his friends panic. The fact that Veronica Corningstone (Applegate) turns out to be as gorgeous as she is intelligent only leads to complications when Ron falls madly in love with her.

Anchorman comes at a time when American screen comedy is on something of a commercial roll. The likes of Jack Black and Ben Stiller are as much a part of the Hollywood mainstream as their forebears such as Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were twenty years ago. But what makes Anchorman a more effective comedy than, for example, Dodgeball, is that Ron Burgundy is such a well-rounded, carefully thought-out creation. From the deliriously tasteless suits to the inflated turn of phrase, which mixes reference to Greek myth with an endearing penchant for ludicrous hyperbole, Ron is a very funny and strangely credible character. Will Ferrell plays him for all the laughs he can possibly get but he also inhabits the character to such an extent that he has an emotional reality that makes him oddly touching. Now this is a mainstream Hollywood comedy and it’s as vulgar and tasteless as most of its contemporaries, so I don’t want to go overboard on how convincing the character is. However, Ferrell realises that a great comic character is more than just a string of amusing one-liners – like other recent triumphs like Alan Partridge or Rob Bryden’s appalling Peter DeLane, every single detail rings true and seems horribly familiar.

Nor does the film make the frequent mistake of highlighting a central character at the expense of the supporting cast. The walking personality disorders that make the up the three members of Ron’s news team are often just as funny as Ron himself and this is largely due to the superb, and terrifyingly credible, performances. David Koechner, complete with ludicrous stetson, is any feminist’s nightmare as the outlandishly macho but suspiciously homoerotic Champ Kind. Paul Rudd, all moustache and bad aftershave, is very funny as man-on-the-spot Brian Fantana. Best of all, Steve Carell is touchingly offbeat as weatherman Brick Tamland. The names are brilliantly chosen and not a million miles from the real thing. Also wonderful, as usual, is Fred Willard as the show’s producer, with a great running gag about the various anti-social activities of his teenage children. The biggest surprise is Christina Applegate, an actress who has never made much of an impression on me. Her comic timing is immaculate and she manages the difficult trick of being sexy and funny, despite her role becoming something of a drag upon the film after a while.

Let me expand on that last remark. Like most comedies of recent years, particularly the ones from various alumni of “Saturday Night Live”, once Anchorman has established its frame of reference, it has nowhere to go. The arrival of Veronica Corningstone allows for some outrageously sexist gags – there’s one about menstruation which almost beats the all-time classic from South Park: Bigger, Louder and Uncut - but once she and Ron fall in love, the plot becomes increasingly contrived and some of the freshness vanishes. When characters are as funny as this, we just want to hang out with them and the narrative convolutions tend to detract from this. The funniest moments are completely irrelevant to the plot – a Sergio Leone / Bruce Lee style confrontation between four news teams for example, the responses of Fred Willard to his children’s teachers, or the utterly charming moment when the Channel 4 News Team begin an acapella rendition of “Afternoon Delight”.

A more serious problem, and again this is something incredibly common amongst recent American comedies, is the scattershot, anything-for-a-laugh nature of the film. Some gags don’t hit the spot at all but, more irritatingly, some good ones are extended so far beyond their lifespan that the smile begins to freeze on your face. Examples include Ron’s vocal gymnastics before the show – funny for a moment but extended to a couple of minutes – the ‘jazz flute’ renditions and Ron’s conversations with his scene-stealing dog. The emphasis on vulgarity is also a bit irksome, not because it’s offensive but because it’s so obviously going for easy laughs when the film makes it very clear that Ferrell and company are more than capable of doing so much more. The slapstick is also insistent and highly variable in quality, although the level of physical clowning is good.

The most disarming thing about Anchorman is its sweet and generous nature. Ron and his colleagues are ludicrous but they are never contemptible and the more off-the-wall their behaviour gets, the more you like them. This particularly goes for Steve Carrell’s Brick, a man who has turned non-sequitur into a state of mind. It’s worth watching the movie again just to catch some of his more deranged comments – my favourite being “People seem to like me because I’m polite and rarely late. I like to eat ice cream and I really enjoy a nice pair of slacks”. Don’t ask me why this is funny because I don’t know. The happy ending may be inevitable but the slight intrusion of sentimentality has a blissed-out silliness that makes it hard for you not to succumb. Much the same can be said of Adam McKay’s film. It’s sometimes embarrassing and often downright sloppy but, at its best, it’s pure delight and Will Ferrell, in his best screen role so far, is so often inspired that it soon becomes obvious that he’s on the verge of becoming a major screen star.

The Disc

This is a review of the Region 1 ‘Gift Pack’ of Anchorman which contains the unrated version of the film, which is six minutes longer than the theatrical release, and a bonus disc containing the feature length ‘New Adventure’, Wake Up Ron Burgundy. More about that later.

The technical aspects of the disc are as good as you’d expect for a film from 2004. The picture quality is excellent and as detailed and crisp as you could wish. Some reviewers have commented that the image seemed a little dark but I didn’t find this to be a problem. There are no significant artifacting problems and the colours are strong and rich.

The soundtrack is equally impressive. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is absolutely fine although it’s obviously not the kind of film which is designed to show off your equipment. There are some good surround moments but for the most part the soundtrack does its job by delivering the dialogue clearly and making the most of the insistent music and song score.

There are quite a few extra features on the first disc but the overall impression is one of disappointment. There are funny things here but a lot of filler that isn’t particularly diverting, let alone amusing. The biggest letdown is the commentary from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. This strikes me as a missed opportunity. The comments on the film are unenlightening and the constant emphasis on obnoxious vulgarity becomes extremely wearing after a while. There are some surprise guests on the commentary but I can’t say that I particularly welcomed them – although fans of 1970s lounge soul will probably be appreciative of one of them. “The Making of Anchorman” isn’t much better and the plethora of film clips prevents the inclusion of anything substantial. As for Ron’s interview with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos from the 2004 MTV Movie Awards, it’s potential is mouthwatering but the actuality is a real let down. Ron is funny but Romijn-Stamos is about as animated as a tailor’s dummy. The ultimate impression is of two people sharing one parachute.

The generous selection of deleted scenes is better and there are some genuine laughs to be had from them, particularly the extended chances to see the news team make fools of themselves. The bloopers are amusing but they wear out their welcome very quickly - there’s only so many times you can watch highly paid actors forgetting their words or corpsing. The ‘archive’ interview with Ron Burgundy is overstretched but occasionally quite hilarious. Ferrell takes a while to warm up but the middle section has some good moments. The ESPN audition tape is brief, fast and funny. Best of all, however, is the dementedly silly video for “Afternoon Delight” sung by Ron and the news team. This is five minutes of explosive comic joy and the only extra feature that you’re likely to watch a second time. I’m delighted to report that it has subtitles so you can sing along with the idiotic lyrics.

The second disc which came in the ‘Gift Set’ release under review is called Wake Up Ron Burgundy and is, broadly speaking, another feature length film, made up of deleted scenes and alternate takes. This has a promisingly silly plot involving an SLA-style group of terrorists called ‘Alarm Clock’ and some nice moments involving the news team. But it’s not all that funny and 90 more minutes of this stuff is at least 60 minutes too much. It might help if the narrative made sense but it doesn’t. One minute, Veronica is away for the week, the next she walks into the office. But when she walks in, it’s as if no-one knows her. Worse, the narration begins by telling us that she and Ron are devoted lovers but, halfway through, they have their first date. None of this would matter if the film really flew off on its own wings but it’s so obviously tied to Anchorman that it just looks a bit amateurish. Apparently, McKay and Ferrell felt that it was better to do this than include all the extra material as a bonus on the Anchorman disc but a lot of it really doesn’t work – there’s a distinct lack of comic momentum - and, all in all, it would have been better buried within the extras on the first DVD.

The second disc contains some more deleted scenes and outtakes – the effectiveness of this is very limited after nearly five hours of the stuff – and two more MTV Movie Awards interviews. These are with Burt Reynolds – looking distressingly old and tired – and Jim Cavaziel – where the single joke is that Ron thinks Cavaziel is really Jesus Christ. The redeeming features are the cast auditions, which are genuinely funny, and the rehearsals which provide a revealing insight into the improvisatory creation process. You also get some amusing video playback bits with Champ, Brian and Brick, a couple of very funny infomercials in which Ron condemns drugs while promoting scotch and cigarettes, and some spoof award acceptance speeches.

Both discs feature animated menus with some deliberately offensive comments from Ron. The films and all the special features, apart from the commentary, are subtitled in English.

Anchorman is often hysterically funny and is worth watching, even though the longeurs are sometimes longer than they should be. The DVD presentation is technically impressive but the extras are slightly disappointing. The bonus disc is even more disappointing and is a clear case of stretching a thin idea beyond all measure.

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