Appeal initially missed in artsy film
By Terry Lawson
Detroit Free Press
By Terry Lawson
The most talked-about film at January's Sundance Film Festival was the documentary "Murderball" (ThinkFilm), the story of a form of full-contact rugby played in souped-up wheelchairs. It wowed the audience, and the fiercest player, Mark Zupan, became the toast of the festival.
Yet the film failed to break beyond the art-house circuit, perhaps because the title was a little too fearsome, or perhaps because people thought they might be uncomfortable watching people in wheelchairs getting knocked around.
The DVD should set that score straight. If you think these guys can't take anything anyone can throw or push at them, all you have to do is check out one of the bonus features, pitting them against MTV idiots Steve-O and Johnny Knoxville.
Meanwhile, a documentary called "The Emperor's Journey," which had penguins with French voices describing the perilous challenges they must endure to mate and raise little penguins, attracted almost no attention, but Warner Independent saw something all the festival-goers did not.
It bought the film for U.S. distribution, replaced the talking penguins with a dramatic, informative narration by Morgan Freeman, ordered a new, more serious, score written, and retitled the film "March of the Penguins" — which went on to become the most popular and talked-about documentary of the year. It would earn more than $77 million at the box office, making it the second-most-popular nonfiction film of all time, after "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Warner has released the "March of the Penguins" on DVD in both wide and full screen, but the film is beautifully photographed and composed, so the wide-screen is far preferable. Extras include a look at the incredible effort to make the film over the course of a year in temperatures that sometimes plummeted to 138 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.
Unfortunately, Warner has chosen not to include the original French version with the French voices of father, mother and baby penguin (there is a Japanese-dubbed one as well) for the sake of comparison.
The movie that launched a million tabloid covers and, rumor had it, the divorce that shocked the nation, "Mr. & Mrs. Smith" (Fox) headlines the week's list of recent theatrical releases.
And while this kiss-kiss-bang-bang comedy-thriller about a stale marriage that perks up when secret assassin Angelina Jolie discovers her target is her own husband isn't exactly a model of great storytelling, it is turned into good fun by director Doug Liman (who contributes a non-gossipy commentary) and the stars — whose chemistry on screen is uncontestable.
Underappreciated at the box office, perhaps a consequence of its surface resemblance to "The Incredibles," was last summer's live-action "Sky High" (Disney), named for a secret high school for kids with super powers.
Struggling with his studies and his place in the firmament is Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano), whose parents just happen to the be the superest heroes in the universe, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston). Extras include an alternative opening sequence that is just as good as the one used.