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Strange Wilderness (2008)

Paramount Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 5/20/2008

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/18/2008

When Adam Sandler first broke into movies in the mid 90s, I was a huge fan of his work. But, as time went on, I felt that his movies became far too self-indulgent and cruel, and ceased to be very funny. (As Sandler grew in popularity, his characters seemed to be more cocky and annoying.) Still, there is one thing that I admire about Sandler; he takes care of his friends. From the outset, he has surrounded himself with a group of performers and he always gives them roles, both large and small, in his movies. Recently, longtime collaborator Allen Covert has branched out and begun producing movies under Sandler's Happy Madison Productions banner. The first effort, Grandma's Boy, was predictable, but amusing. The latest outing, Strange Wilderness, made me wish that Sandler wasn't so generous.

Steve Zahn stars in Strange Wilderness as Peter Gaulke, the host of a nature show which he inherited from his late father. While his dad was a popular host, Peter's ineptitude and lack of knowledge about animals has landed the show a 3am time slot and very poor ratings. When station manager Ed Lawson (Jeff Garlin) threatens to cancel the show, Peter begs for one more chance. Per chance, Bill Calhoun (Joe Don Baker), an old colleague of Peter's father, contacts Peter to let him know that he's found Bigfoot. Peter decides that this is exactly the kind of thing which could save his show. So, he gathers his crew, Fred Wolf (Allen Covert), Cooker (Jonah Hill), Junior (Justin Long), Whitaker (Kevin Heffernan), and Danny (Peter Dante) and informs them of the plan. Joined by travel coordinator Cheryl (Ashley Scott), the group travels to South America to hunt for the legendary creature.

As with any synopsis, the above summarization gives you an idea of the skeleton of the film, or the framework onto which the rest of the story will be placed. However, with Strange Wilderness, there is no "rest of the story". That story is all that we get. To say that this is a one-note film would be giving it about a 1/2 note too much credit. We meet Peter and his goofy pals, learn that he's going to lose his show, and then they go looking for Bigfoot. Other than a barely-used competition with nature expert Sky Pierson (Harry Hamlin), who is also looking for Bigfoot, there are no subplots or detours. When Cheryl is introduced, we assume that she will be the love interest, but she immediately shoots Peter down and that's that. Is this a refreshing change of pace, or simply laziness on the part of writers Fred Wolf and Peter Gaulke? Wait a minute, Fred Wolf and Peter Gaulke? The writers named the characters after themselves? OK, yeh, it's laziness.

But enough about the story, we're here for the jokes, right? Well, if that's the case, then keep walking, as Strange Wilderness has just about as much humor as it does plot. The attempts at comedy here are extremely weak and one gets the sense that even the actors didn't find what they were saying funny. While we are treated to the typical "dick and fart jokes" that define this sort of film, they are tired even by the genres standards and are never funny. We are also treated to the kind of bizarre humor which normally inhabits Sandler's movies, but it falls flat here. The movie also goes for laughs by showing old, stock footage of animals and having Zahn do inaccurate information over it. There are some funny lines here, but again, it falls short. Was Zahn asked to ad-lib this or was it written for him? Either way, these sections of the film strive to be a sort of nature-bound Mystery Science Theater 3000, but they fail miserably.

When Strange Wilderness suddenly appeared in theaters this past February, I was surprised, as the film is filled with actors that I like, but I'd never heard of it. Now that I've seen it, I know why. The movie was shot in late 2005, and I can only assume that it sat on a shelf until Paramount decided to dump it into theaters. Given the talent involved, both from the actors and from Fred Wolf who's credited with writing some amusing film, I expected to at least be entertained. But, Strange Wilderness is a true turkey and just like the large bird in the film, it left me in a lot of pain.

Strange Wilderness emerges from the forest and onto DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, although there is a fine amount of grain in some shots. The picture doesn't offer a great deal of detail and I noted some shimmering at times. The colors are good, and the image has an appropriate amount of brightness. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, especially in the forest scenes. We also get some nice surround effects during these scenes, and a few gunshots remind us that the subwoofer is still there.

The Strange Wilderness DVD contains an odd assortment of extras. "Cooker's Song" (6 minutes) is simply behind-the-scenes video Jonah Hill performing the song which he sings in the film. It's longer and there's lots of cutting up, but it's essentially the same song. In "The Turkey" (7 minutes, we get behind-the-scenes footage of the scenes in which an animatronic turkey are used. "What Do We Do?? (6 minutes) is behind-the-scenes footage, complete with alternate takes, of the planning scene. "Reel Comedy: Strange Wilderness" (21 minutes) is a special from Comedy Central which is a promotional piece for the film. It contains comments from the cast, who discuss the making of the movie. The DVD contains 12 DELETED SCENES which run about 22 minutes. Most of these are simply extened versions of scenes which exist in the finished film. And, like the film itself, they aren't very funny.

UPDATE: On April 7, 2009, Paramount Home Entertainment brought Strange Wilderness to Blu-ray Disc.  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 sharp and clear, showing no intrusive grain and no defects from the source material.  The picture shows a nice amount of depth, most notably in the exterior scenes and a good level of detail.  However, the image is slightly dark at times -- this is a tad noticeable in the daytime shots, but it's quite obvious at night, when the action is somewhat hard to make out in some scenes.  On the plus side, the colors are good.  The Disc contains a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.0 Mbps.  The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects.  This is a serviceable track, as the in-film music sounds good and there are some nice stereo effects at times.  These effects are detailed and show good separation.  There are a few moments which activate the subwoofer and the forest sounds provide a few surround sound effects, but the mix could have easily presented more rear speaker action.

The extras on the Blu-ray Disc are the same as those found on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long