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THE STEPFORD WIVES

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Bette Midler, Jon Lovitz, Faith Hill
Director:  Frank Oz
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  92 Minutes
Release Date:  November 9, 2004

“What…have…they…DONE TO YOU??”

Film **1/2

First question…how do you remake a classic horror film with a famous twist ending that virtually everybody knows?  Second question…how do you review the remake while referencing the original without giving it away?

Director Frank Oz had to answer the fist one himself.  The second problem is all mine.  So here goes…

The only way to remake The Stepford Wives in the new millennium is to make it as politically correct as possible.  The way the filmmakers chose to do it was to heighten the camp and have as much fun with the premise as possible, while making sure the ending rectified and resolved any sexual related difficulties.  As a result, the new movie lost all of the bite of the original, but became a kind of kooky, fun, interesting contraption of its own.

Joanna (Kidman) is a gung-ho, ambitious president of a television network whose career takes a drastic turn for the worse in the opening moments.  As a way to recover from the shock, she agrees to move with her husband (Broderick) and children away from the jungles of New York and into the suburban paradise of Stepford, Connecticut.

It’s a place with beautiful homes, green grass, blue skies, and “perfect” women…emphasizing the quotation marks, because the wives of Stepford all seem to be born out of a male chauvinist fantasy.  They are all blonde, beautiful, submissive, love to do housework, and worship their husbands.  And, of course, they have a secret…something sinister is lurking in Stepford.

The secret of the wives, which was kept for a knockout punch in the original movie, is actually let out of the bag quite early on here…guess the writers figured there was no point in even pretending modern audiences didn’t know what a “Stepford wife” was.  The trouble is, they had to opt for an entirely new ending, which they concocted seemingly to take the danger out of what the story was meant to be.  It may not sit well with fans of either the first movie or the novel it was based on, who probably like the untampered with version enough not to desire a PC remake.  In fact, one key shocking visual near the end, that was obviously meant to mirror an iconic image from the original movie, actually makes no sense at all in conjunction with what the writers constructed for their finale.

The tone is a bit uneven throughout.  The first twenty minutes or so are over the top and campy…in fact, it’s a bit painful to see an actress as talented as Nicole Kidman having to ham it up so badly.  Once it settles in, it moves at a good clip and keep our interest.  But the ending, as I’ve stressed, is a complete sellout and a letdown. 

How could they have remade this movie differently in this day and age?  I don’t have a clue.  Maybe the point is that some films are better left untouched and in their original glory. 

Video ***

This is a mostly fine anamorphic transfer from Paramount.  Colors are plentiful and bright throughout, and each tone renders with clarity and integrity.  A few darker images strangely lose definition and seem a little grainy, but there aren’t too many of those.

Audio ***

The 5.1 soundtrack is fairly lively despite being a mostly dialogue-driven comedy.  Surrounds are used mostly for ambient effect, while the subwoofer stays mostly dormant.  Spoken words are clean and clear, and dynamic range is fairly good.

Features ****

There are plenty of extras in Stepford, starting with an enjoyable and informative commentary track by Frank Oz.  It’s a pleasant listen as he discusses casting, working with the actors, how certain ideas evolved or were done away with and more, including how discarded ideas were carefully “edited” around to actually change certain storylines!

Five featurettes chronicle the production, including the making-of, a definition of “Stepford wives”, the men of Stepford and more.  They feature cast and crew interviews and plenty of behind-the-scene footage.

Finally, there are 6 deleted scenes, a gag reel, and both the teaser and theatrical trailers.

Summary:

If modern filmmakers wanted to use The Stepford Wives to make a new statement, they should have thought more about what they wanted to say.  Instead, their efforts, while entertaining to a degree, seem more akin to a sitcom battle of the sexes with an all-too-appropriate outcome.

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