Napoleon Dynamite(Fox Home Entertainment, 5.16.2006)
Napoleon Dynamite -- that human ostrich in hiked up jeans and Darth Vader winter boots -- is back and this time he's being special editioned. Jared Hess's debut feature is a sweetheart of a movie, well-intentioned and emotionally sincere, presented through a thick veil of hyperbolic cartoonishness. So thick, in fact, that if you focus on nothing but the surface of this film, you'll walk away thinking that Idaho is akin to a distant planet, where bizarre creatures and animals move about the plains, interacting only through quirky turns of phrase.
Just below the surface of every over-the-top, plot point oddity, however, there's a river of melancholy that drives these characters along. By now, most of us know the story: the friendless title character meets a new student named Pedro and a second, entrepreneurial classmate named Deb. Napoleon doesn't know how to act around either Pedro or Deb -- he doesn't know how to act around anyone -- but, through trial and error (and seemingly countless stories of ligers and dragons), he befriends both.
But even after making buddies, Napoleon just keeps on making things up. He lies to everyone he encounters, unfolding one dweeby layer of himself after another. He weaves his beautifully vivid daydreams into stories about hunting wolverines and "numchuks," foolishly sharing them with the sea of classmates he wants so desperately to like him. Of course, they hate him for it and it's in these scenes that we suddenly realize Napoleon wasn't born this way.
He's hurting badly, as are Kip and Uncle Rico and just about every character we get to know in the movie. You don't recede into your own head or buy time machines off the Internet if you love the world you're already in. All of their hearts have been crushed like those tater tots in Napoleon's cargo pants. As it turns out, Idaho is like anywhere else: so ridiculous and so sad.
Another high school coming of age movie would have mercifully hooked Napoleon up with a socially slick mentor by the second act, who'd have guided Napoleon through the basics of becoming both cool and relevant to others, before being physically transformed into the winner we knew was hiding inside him all along. But this film takes a different approach: Napoleon doesn't change a lick from beginning to end, even as he inexplicably adopts the aforementioned mentor role himself, as a campaign manager to Pedro's bid at high school president. This campaign should be themed, "The Fool and the Fool who Follows," as it reeks of naivety and disaster at every turn. That is, until the single most memorable, moving, joyous moment in the entire film takes place.
Previously unable to imagine how others see him and, in turn, incapable of moving past the flustered, narrow world view held behind his large metal glasses and dirty blond perm, Napoleon bravely imagines what a friend indeed truly needs, then acts selflessly to give it to him. Pedro, minus a required skill to follow up his nomination speech, thinks he's lost the election. Napoleon acts quickly, walking onstage in front of all those he's reached out to before and has been rejected by through ridicule and force then dances his ass off, free as a bird.
In a reverse of expectation, Napoleon reveals the alter ego inside him only for a moment, before receding back into the self he knows and, at some level, prefers. In the very next scene, he's dopey and confused looking again, good old Dynamite. All in all (and in his own way), Napoleon's accomplished a lot: Pedro is the new high school president and Napoleon no longer has to play tetherball alone. He now has Deb to play with him.
The extras on "Like, the Best Special Edition Ever!" are both thorough and unique. The Hess/Heder commentary from the previous DVD edition is carried over here and is joined by a new cast commentary by Aaron Ruell (Kip), Efren Ramirez (Pedro), Jon Gries (Uncle Rico), and Tina Majorino (Deb). Easily the best feature on disc two is a 45-minute doc titled World Premiere Jared Hess. It consists of a series of interviews with Jared Hess, edited out of sequence, that are captioned relevant to Napoleon Dynamite's debut at Sundance in January 2004. For instance, while one interview might read "4 Hours Before Napoleon Dynamite World Premiere," another interview might read "18 Months After Napoleon Dynamite World Premiere." This featurette was directed by 21 Grams auteur Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Just kidding.
A second featurette captures life on the Napoleon Dynamite set, while a thorough series of deleted scenes, extended scenes, outtakes, and alternate scenes make up a good portion of disc two's remaining extras.
Of the remaining features, the most notable for Jared Hess fans will be the inclusion of Peluca (this was also included on the earlier single disc release), the Hess short that debuted the character of Napoleon Dynamite (played by Jon Heder) and features a number of sequences that eventually made it into the Napoleon Dynamite feature film. So pick up Napoleon Dynamite on DVD and keep reading DiscLand. I recently heard Napoleon say, "Yeah, it's pretty much my favorite website. It's like reviewing and criticism mixed...bred for its skill in magic." -- Jason Woloski