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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/15/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/15/2014
At least once a month, I make my speech about how directors with true visual talents don't get enough recognition. I'm even more emphatic about this argument around Oscar time, as I feel that the Best Director nominees are rarely those with a true visual flare. After all, filmmaking is the medium of telling a story through pictures, and, in my opinion, those pictures should be as interesting as possible. So, when a movie comes along with a cinematic style which makes me sit up and take notice, I feel the need to applaud that fact. Little did I know that Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty would be such a film.
Stiller plays the titular character in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, a fastidious and quiet man who works in the photo archives at Life Magazine. He is very serious about his work, but he's recently turned his attention towards Cheryl Melhoff (Kristen Wiig), a new employee, but he's too shy to speak to her directly. Instead, Walter has a tendency to get lost in his own mind, where he envisions himself as a bold adventurer. These fantasies are quite vivid, and Walter usually ignores those around him when he's in one. Walter's well-kempt world is shattered when it's announced that Life will cease publication and that a group of consultants, lead by Ted Hendricks (Adam Scott), have come in to oversee the final issue. At this same time, Walter receives a package from Sean O'Connell (Sean Penn), Life's top photographer, promising the perfect photo for the final cover. The problem is that the negative is not in the package. So, Walter decides to trek around the globe in order to find O'Connell. Suddenly, the man who has spent so much of his life daydreaming about adventure is living one.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is based on the 1939 short story by James Thurber, which was made into a film starring Danny Kaye in 1947. (There was also a cartoon in the 1970s called The Secret Lives of Waldo Kitty.) This new version puts some modern twists on the story, but the main conceit is still easy to grasp. Walter is a very mild-mannered and quiet man who, due to some difficult times as a teen, opts to live a small life. But, he has a very vivid imagination and in his mind, most any situation can turn into a great adventure. Who hasn't daydreamed about suddenly being involved in something wild and daring? -- The kind of thing which one would see in the movies. Wild some of Walter's daydreams are a bit odd -- the street fight scene is a little too much and then there's the scene which my proclaimed to be the weirdest thing she'd ever seen -- but I think that we can relate to the fact that some part of Walter would like for his life to be more than it is.
The premise of the second half of the film is also a no-brainer: Having immersed himself in daydreams, Walter is now given the chance to have real adventures. But, the movie then doesn't seem to know what to do with this idea. On the surface, the film turns into a globe-trotting action/adventure, as we watch Walter conquer the elements on different continents. But, Stiller and screenwriter Steve Conrad are also clearly going for a spiritual component as well, as Walter goes on this trek. However, I felt that this part of the film sorely lacked in emotion. The movie is telling us that Walter is going through this great change, but I simply didn't feel it. The other cloying thing about the story is that the two twists which come about in the third act may be the most predictable in film history. Unless you were out of the room for the beginning of the film, you should easily be able to guess how the movie is going to end. This is very disappointing, as the first act is very unpredictable, as we don't know when one of Walter's fantasies will begin.
While The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a toss-up in the story department, it is a visually brilliant film. From the moment that the cleverly-placed titles appear on-screen, we get the feeling that Stiller is out to make a movie with a unique look and he succeeds. While the landscape shots in the second half of the movie are beautiful, it's the framing of the shots and the transitions (most notably the shot in which a filmstrip becomes an exterior) which really show that Stiller has upped his game. I've certainly enjoyed his movies like Zoolander and I've noticed that they've had some cool shots, but Stiller is really trying to be a "filmmaker" here and it shows. So, in the end, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is worth seeing -- come for the entertaining fantasy sequences, but stay for the wonderfully shot movie.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty equates beards with evil for some reason on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look fantastic, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image's depth is very impressive -- the landscapes look as if you could step into them -- and the level of detail is fantastic. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The surround sound effects are nicely detailed and display individual effects. We are treated to some of these during the fantasies and they really to life once the real adventure begins. The stereo effects are nicely done as well, showing good separation. The subwoofer effects are plentiful and the volcano scene really got the bass channel going.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Blu-ray Disc contains several extra features. The Disc brings us nine DELETED, EXTENDED, AND ALTERNATE SCENES which run about 17 minutes. Of the "deleted" scenes, only one is truly new, the rest are simply scenes from the finished film with one small difference. These would have most likely fit better into the "Extended Scenes". We do get to see more of Walter's fantasies, including another Benjamin Button reference. "The History of Walter Mitty" (4 minutes) gives an overview of the original short-story and delivers clips from the 1947 version. "The Look of Life" (5 minutes) examines the production design, the costumes, and the overall look of the film. We get a look at the elaborate stunts in "That's a Shark!" (6 minutes). "The Music of Walter Mitty" (4 minutes) brings us comments from composer Theodore Shapiro. "Icelandic Adventure" (3 minutes) takes us on-location in Iceland to show how the country was used for several different places. "Nordic Casting" (4 minutes) shows us audition footage of the locals cast for the Greenland scenes. "Titles of Walter Mitty" (3 minutes) introduces us to Kyle Cooper, who designed the opening title graphics for the film. "Sights and Sounds of Production" (5 minutes) focuses on the skateboarding scene and the street-fight scene. We also get a "Pre-Visualization" (4 minutes) of that same fight scene. "Gallery: Reference Photography" offers 13 stills which influenced the look of the film. We get the MUSIC VIDEO for the song "Stay Alive" by Jose Gonzalez. The finale extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long