My family and I have this ongoing argument about “Napoleon Dynamite.” They think he’s a fairly normal character who is as the studio describes: listless and alienated. I think he’s got some developmental issues that make him a social misfit, and maybe that’s why they find this 2004 comedy funnier than I do. I just can’t bring myself to laugh at Napoleon the way that they can, because his character seems to me emotionally behind his age group. I’ve heard him called a man-child, but even man-children don’t run off the way Napoleon does, arms at his side. To me, he’s like a third grader inside a high school student’s body.
But more people seem to side with my family on this, as “Napoleon Dynamite” has become the poster child for cult films. Though it was shot on a budget of just $400,000—star Jon Heder reportedly was paid just $1000—“Napoleon Dynamite” grossed over $46 million.
Indy films are known for their quirky characters, and in fairness, Napoleon isn’t the only oddball. So is his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), who, at age 32, still lives with Napoleon and their secret-motorcross-riding grandmother (Sandy Martin) but spends his days in Internet chat rooms talking to “babes” and “training to be a cage fighter.” Then there’s Uncle Rico, who lives in his Dodge van camper and sells various things door-to-door when he’s not filming himself dropping back and throwing a football—convinced that one day the NFL will discover him.
But wait, there’s more. If you’re wondering how many losers an indy film like this can contain, the answer is enough to create a deadpan story about adolescence that feels like a coming-of-age film, but where people don’t come of age as much as they find comfort in discovering a like mind. Deb (Tina Majorino) is also socially awkward, but she seems at least to have the emotional development appropriate to someone her age. Same with Pedro, a transfer student from Mexico. But energy, like water, seeks its own level, and this trio finds a comfortable friendship develop because they’re all “listless.” So is the plot, in fact, which is basically a slice-of-life that weaves together Rico’s, Napoleon and Kip’s nerdy lives with the trio’s prom plans and a campaign to elect Pedro president of the student body.
If it sounds like I’m not a fan of the film, it only began that way. For me, it was an acquired taste that I can now appreciate; for my family, it was love at first sight. Fans of the film will be wondering whether this 10th Anniversary Edition with flocked “Liger” striping on the cardboard slipcase is worth getting. The answer is as complicated as Napoleon. Yes, and no.
On the plus side, it’s good to get a DVD and Blu-ray of “Napoleon Dynamite” in the same package, and the flocked striping is kind of fun. But the bad news is that there really isn’t much in the way of brand-new HD content, and the Fox design team, which has a history of messing with the heads of collectors, strikes again. We get a trifold cardboard insert that fits inside the slipcase, but rather than put a slot for each disc on separate “pages,” the designers put two slits on the back page so that the discs not only overlap but actually rub against each other.
So you have to remove the double-sided DVD in order to get to the Blu-ray, and with a double-sided disc there’s no way to do that without manhandling it. Or manCHILDhandling it. The potential for damage was clear to me when I first opened the package and saw that whoever at the factory inserted this DVD had already gotten it gunked up with smudges and residue. What’s more, once you pull out the trifold with the discs on it, it’s almost impossible to get it to fit properly again inside the box. “Eco-friendly packaging” aside, this case is positively the stupidest design I’ve seen, and that’s too bad, because this film—and fans—deserve better.
There’s no visual upgrade whatsoever, so don’t buy the 10th Anniversary Blu-ray thinking you’ll get a better picture than the Blu-ray that’s already been on the market. In fact, the transfers appear to be identical, just a little on the soft and undersaturated side, still. “Napoleon Dynamite” is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen.
The audio is also probably a duplicate, with a featured DTS-HD MA 5.1 English audio carrying the dialogue just fine and not required to do much heavy lifting beyond that. Additional audio options are French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround, with subtitles in English SDH, Spanish, and French. But that’s a step off of the first release, which offered additional language options in Portuguese, Japanese, and Italian, and subtitles in Italian, Korean, Portuguese, Japanese, and Mandarin.
As for the bonus features, aside from the DVD there’s not much here that fans wouldn’t have already seen before. The cast and director commentary tracks (two, count ‘em) are here, same as before, and so is the short film “Peluca” with optional commentary, along with outtakes and deleted scenes, and “The Making of the Wedding of the Century” that’s also a carry-over from the first Blu-ray release. There’s a new Fan Club Piece that’s presented as an Easter Egg (do people still do that?) and DVD features are as previously released, but that’s about it.
“Napoleon Dynamite” may be a “sweet” film, but you can’t say the same for this 10th Anniversary Edition. If you already own the film on Blu-ray, I really can’t think of any reason why you’d want to replace it with this version.