After his success in “Old School” the year before, Will Ferrell continued his series of goofy characters in 2004’s “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” which he not only starred in but co-wrote. This, in turn, led to more goofball roles in “The Producers,” “Talladega Nights,” and “Blades of Glory,” interspersed with occasional warmhearted characters in “Elf” and, his best film to date, “Stranger Than Fiction.” But Ferrell knows that it’s the outlandish caricatures that pay the bills, so we may see more “Anchorman” kind of roles in his future. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, in “Anchorman” Ferrell plays a throwback to the male chauvinism of an earlier era with his variation on the Ted Baxter TV news anchor. You remember Ted Baxter, played by Ted Knight, from the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Baxter looked the part of a dignified elder statesman, with a mane of silver hair, a mellifluous voice, and a brain the size of a jelly doughnut. Ferrell not only plays the same sort of character in Ron Burgundy, the movie even pays tribute to the older show by naming Burgundy’s dog “Baxter.”
The movie’s preface sets the tongue-in-cheek tone: “The following is based on actual events. Only the names, locations, and events have been changed.”
The place is San Diego, California; the time is the 1970s, when, as the familiar-voiced narrator, Bill Kurtis, tells us, in “a time before cable the local anchorman reigned supreme, when people believed everything they heard on TV.” In this field Ron Burgundy was a legend, a supreme egotist, and complete blockhead. But everybody in town loved him, and his television station was number-one in the ratings.
The movie’s high jinks are actually close to the truth. Although attractive talking heads still dominate TV news, in the 1970s and before, there were few or no women involved. At Burgundy’s station, he is the anchor of an all-male news team of idiots: Brian Fontana (Paul Rudd) is the reporter in the field; he’s so manly he keeps a wall of cologne in his office. Champ Kind (David Koechner) is the sports reporter; he’s a loudmouthed macho imbecile. And Brick Tamland (Steve Carell) is the nerdy weatherman; he admits to being mentally challenged. All four of them are male chauvinists to the hilt, and it doesn’t help that the program’s producer, Ed Harken (Fred Willard), is equally against women on the show.
What little plot there is involves a woman trying to insinuate herself into this clubby male society. She’s Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), a reporter the network wants working at the station because of complaints about “a lack of diversity.” The word “diversity” confuses most of the male staff, and Veronica is determined to get ahead in a man’s world.
Naturally, the male news team resents her, while at the same time they all try to pick her up. She’ll have none of it, until she unaccountably falls for Burgundy. And that’s about the extent of the story line. What the screenwriters could have developed into a more pointed satire is mostly a series of gags involving the male pigs slobbering over themselves and acting like children whenever Veronica appears, Burgundy’s sudden urge to fall in love, and the continued foolishness of the news team.
There are a couple of laugh-out-loud moments, however, and a few assorted smiles, which is better than most comedies provide these days. Willard has the funniest bits in telephone calls to his son’s school; Ferrell has a silly piece of business with an embarrassing erection at the office; the team does a delightful harmony on “Afternoon Delight”; and Carell is so amusingly off-the-wall, he could have had the starring role.
Then there are some humorous cameos that liven things up: Vince Vaughn, Luke Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Tim Robbins show up as rival news anchors from various TV stations, and an all-out gang fight among the competing news teams is a kick (“No touching the hands or face”). The always entertaining Danny Trejo makes an appearance as a bartender. And Jack Black enters the picture as an outraged motorcyclist.
Adam McKay directed the film in much the same way he would have directed segments of “Saturday Night Live,” his old stomping ground. Later, McKay would do “Talladega Nights” with Ferrell. Which brings up the star, who is pure Ferrell in this one.
Most of the comedy is rather obvious–silly and corny–yet it’s often so dumb it’s intermittently funny. I just wish there had been more plot to go with the nutty caricatures. Either that, or maybe this so-called “Unrated, Uncut & Uncalled For” edition could have been more outrageous. It isn’t.
I thought the picture looked a little soft. I have to say that up front because it’s about the only thing I could see wrong with it, if you consider that “wrong.” The video engineers maintain the movie’s original screen size of 1.85:1 (or 1.78:1 since it fills out a 16×9 widescreen television), and they use an MPEG4/AVC codec in transferring the 1080 HD DVD reproduction to disc. Colors are excellent, quite natural, especially flesh tones, and the screen is reasonably free of grain or noise. In short, the video is fine; it just doesn’t exactly pop off the screen at you in high-def. It’s simply good without being in any way impressive. Maybe that’s a good thing in terms of realism.
Like the video, the disc’s Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio sounds laid back and relaxed. It doesn’t have much to do, so it doesn’t do much. Still, it’s very clean, with excellent midrange clarity, and that’s about it. I noticed the rear channels coming to life maybe one or two times during the entire movie. Since the only job the audio has to work on is dialogue and a little background music, you can’t expect a “Transformers” type response. The nature of the soundtrack understandably limits the dynamic range and bass response, as well as the surround effects.
Paramount offer an abundance of extras on the disc, although some of them seem less likely to bring the same pleasures as others. For example, there’s an audio commentary with star Will Ferrell, director Adam McKay, and an assortment of other people including Andy Richter, Paul Rudd, David Koechner, Christina Applegate, and even Kyle Gass and jazzman Lou Rawls, the latter pulled in to comment on Ferrell’s flute tootling in the film. It’s partly interesting and partly empty chatter. Next there is the compulsory making-of featurette, “The Making of Anchorman,” about nine minutes with the filmmakers. After that is a Ron Burgundy interview, about three minutes, with Ferrell staying in character. Then there’s Ron Burgundy’s ESPN audition, again with Ferrell in character; and “A Conversation with Ron Burgundy,” ten minutes with Bill Kurtis, probably the cutest segment in the set. Following that, the cast members do a music video, “Afternoon Delight”; then, there’s a two-minute “Commercial Break” with more goofiness; a “Special Report,” six minutes; and about seven minutes of bloopers. Finally, the longest bonus item is a series of twenty-eight deleted and extended scenes that one can play all at once for a whopping thirty-seven minutes!
The extras wrap up with twenty scene selections but no chapter insert; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages; English, French, Spanish, and Portuguese subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired. As always with a Paramount HD DVD, we get pop-up menus, bookmarks, a guide to elapsed time, and an Elite Red HD case.
“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” has a talented cast of comedic actors, so some of the film has to work in spite of itself. It’s just that a lot of the movie is overly sophomoric, clownish, and redundant to be truly classic. It’s more like a “SNL” skit that got out of hand, a good idea that kept going and going but never quite jelled into a story. Still, there are bits and pieces that undoubtedly remain in memory, and for those moments alone, one has to admire the effort.