Director Adam McKay is a comedy genius. He's about the only comedy director, besides Woody Allen (yes, still), whose movies I still get excited about. While the press was busy spilling tons of ink (and more misplaced raves than I can count) on Judd Apatow (who has produced three of McKay's films, it should be noted), McKay was busy making movies that were sublime and surreal. Instead of being confined to the rigid constrains of mainstream comedies, he took bold leaps into the absurd. And unlike Apatow, his movies actually looked like real movies, with visual depth and an uncanny sense of action and editorial nimbleness (the race scenes in 'Talladega Nights' almost trump the great 'Days of Thunder'… almost).
After McKay left as head writer on 'Saturday Night Live' (he oversaw the halcyon days with frequent partner Will Ferrell), he embarked on his first film: 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.' The movie, while not a runaway success (its $90 million gross looks like a pittance compared to 'The Hangover's $467 million) it has since earned its status as a certifiable cult classic, endlessly quoted and lovingly remembered and talked about.
'Anchorman' takes place in the 1970s (it's never really defined what year, not that it matters), and narration courtesy of Bill Kurtis lets us know that this is a golden era for newsmen. And chief amongst those newsmen is San Diego's own Ron Burgundy (Ferrell) and his team of newscasters – field reporter Brian Fantana (Paul Rudd), sportscaster Champ Kind (David Koechner) and meteorologist Brick Tamland (Steve Carell). They're all, more or less, good natured idiots and misogynists. All of this gets challenged when Veronica Corningston (Christina Applegate) shows up and takes the station by storm. Not only is she gorgeous (there's a great montage where each member of the team tries to woo her) but she's a hell of a news anchor. Their world goes topsy-turvy. Soon Ron and Veronica start a romantic relationship, which never trumps his outrage that she is seen as his equal.
Of course that all sounds very straight and if you know the movie you know that it gets a whole lot weirder than that, mostly because Ferrell and McKay are such demented madmen. There are little things that still reveal themselves after multiple viewings, stuff like the fact that every news report we see from the Channel 4 broadcast involves animals (there is never any attempt at national news) or spotting Seth Rogen in a tiny role as Veronica's field cameraman.
But this is Ferrell and McKay's show. McKay brings his gentle surrealism (Ron Burgundy has whole conversations with his dog), pointed social commentary (chauvinism vs. feminism being the movie's chief conflict) and dense visual style (this is a real period movie, not some goofy nonsense) to the scene and has enough care with his wonderful stable of actors to make the movie really unforgettable. Instead of relying solely on Judd Apatow-style riffs (although there is plenty of that, too), McKay has built an entire world from the ground-up, housed with weird and wild characters.
It may have just been a tad too bizarre for the mainstream, but now it's gladly found the cult following it deserves. And McKay and Ferrell have gone on to a wonderful career, with 'Talladega Nights,' the brassy, brilliant 'Step Brothers,' this summer's 'The Other Guys,' and their Broadway show 'You're Welcome, America.' Clearly McKay and Ferrell have followed Ron Burgundy's advice: they've stayed classy.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Anchorman' makes its way to high definition as an exclusive from electronic giant Best Buy. The movie comes packaged in an oversized box (it's a "Rich Mahogany Edition") that comes with a booklet ("The Many Months of Ron Burgundy") and a pack of collectible playing cards (12 in total). The movie itself is on one 50GB disc, with two different cuts: the original theatrical cut (PG-13) and a longer, unrated cut. The only difference, as far as I can tell, between the two versions, is an extended bit with the word "fuck" and a boner gag that goes on for a little longer. The second 50GB disc houses a spin-off movie called 'Wake Up, Ron Burgundy' and a whole boatload of special features.
'Anchorman' comes equipped with a sturdy 1080p, AVC-MPEG-4 transfer (1.85:1) that borders on dazzling.
McKay wisely avoids the traps that most comedies fall into: over-lighting, flat compositions, and other cues of visual obviousness. 'Anchorman' is a period comedy, first and foremost, and while it's not exactly 'Boogie Nights,' it does have a wonderfully detailed and lush visual style, which is beautifully captured here.
Colors (and there are a lot of them – this was the 70s, after all) pop, skin tones look good and natural, black levels are deep and dark, and sequences with lots of extras or visual flourishes (like a nighttime, poolside party at the beginning of the movie) show amazing depth and dimensionality.
There isn't anything to complain about, either. The image never softens, there aren't any buggy technical issues, there is a fine layer of grain that lends the movie an authentically filmic quality without ever overwhelming things. Overall I was completely impressed.
(The same assessment can be applied to the supplemental movie 'Wake Up, Ron Burgundy,' although to a lesser degree, because it's really a collection of deleted scenes instead of a fully mastered, ready for the cineplex movie. But still, it looks damn good for what it is.)
This isn't a particularly action-heavy movie (obviously), but the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix handles things nicely regardless.
'Anchorman' is a talky movie, so the emphasis of this mix is on dialogue, which means that most everything is front-and-center in the mix. But when the dialogue sounds so crisp and clear, that's fine by me. It's easier to make out some of the more subtle jokes (yes – there is subtlety – in the movie and the mix) and keep everything straight.
As far as surround sound support, there's not a whole lot of it, but when it is required, things sound bold and full. You can hear it in sequences like the aforementioned party sequence, and a large, full-scale rumble with competing news teams (a sequence which features cameos from Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins and Luke Wilson among others). These sequences maintain a solid level of immersion and atmosphere.
Additionally, both Alex Wurman's slinky score, and the fine collection of period-specific pop songs sound really great.
There are also French Dolby Digital 5.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks available, and subtitles in English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Okay. Deep breath. The Blu-ray of 'Anchorman' has all of the voluminous extras that were on the original DVD, the bonus disc with 'Wake Up Ron Burgundy' (an entirely separate feature in and of itself, more on that in a minute) as well as some new extras that are exclusive to this "Rich Mahogany" edition. We're going to be here a while, you might want to pour yourself a cup of coffee.
How strange that a merchant-specific (for now, at least) release would end up being one of the year's strongest overall Blu-ray packages. But that's the case with 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.' With no fewer than three high definition versions of the movie, two Blu-ray discs full of supplemental goodies (including almost an hour of exclusive material) and wonderful picture and sound quality. It's just really solid and wonderful, and you know what? The movie deserves it. It's a certifiable cult classic by a couple of guys who know how to mix the silly and the surreal in bold and inventive ways. This, as far as I'm concerned, is a must own.