Napoleon Dynamite: Like, The Best Special Edition Ever!
May 18, 2006
In an attempt to cash in on the recently minted cult film status of Napoleon Dynamite (2004), the film’s star Jon Heder’s emerging film career and director Jared Hess’ new movie coming out this summer, 20th Century Fox have double dipped with a new edition that adds even more extras onto an already decent effort. Napoleon Dynamite is one of those films you might not love right away. For me, it took a couple of viewings for its charm to sink in. It had been championed as an auspicious independent film debut for Hess but was it a case of the Emperor having no clothes? Napoleon Dynamite ended up resided somewhere between the cruel alienation of Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995) and the eccentric playfulness of Rushmore (1998) with an emphasis on the latter.
The opening credits, displayed on various plates of food while “We’re Going to Be Friends” by the White Stripes plays, establishes its indie/cool credibility right from the get-go. The film is comprised of a series of vignettes focusing on the misadventures of Napoleon Dynamite (Heder) and the people that populate his esoteric world. He is a bespectacled oddity with a constantly dazed, open-mouthed expression and 1970s style afro. He’s an aspiring artist who draws pictures of unicorns during high school class time. Like Max Fischer in Rushmore, Napoleon is a legend in his own mind (although, he lacks Max’s ambitious drive), however he seems closer to Dawn in Welcome to the Dollhouse in the sense that he is kind of pathetic and constantly persecuted by the bigger and stronger kids.
When their grandmother wipes out an ATV on nearby sand dunes, Napoleon and his older brother, Kip (Ruell) are visited by their Uncle Rico (Gries), who doesn’t so much supervise them but get Kip involved in his job of selling plastic Tupperware-like products door-to-door (the 24-piece set with a free model sailboat). Rico too is a legend in his own mind, living in the past (1982 to be exact) and dreaming of old football glories. Napoleon meets Deb (Majorino) at his door selling her custom-made key chains. There is a mutual attraction but she ends up dating new student Pedro (Ramirez). He and Napoleon become friends and they work together as Pedro runs for school president against Summer (Duff), the stuck-up popular girl of the school.
Jon Heder plays Napoleon like a live-action mix of Beavis and Butthead, albeit slightly smarter and sweeter. You have to admire Napoleon’s refusal to conform. He lives his life on his own terms. Heder fully immerses himself in the role as he completely transforms himself into Napoleon. The beauty of a first-time, low-budget indie like this is that most of the actors are nobodies and so it is much easier to believe that they are their characters.
The filmmakers seem to be fascinated with freakish, white trash culture much like the aforementioned Dollhouse and Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997). It is difficult, at times, to determine if they pity, hate or empathize with the characters in their movie. Are we supposed to laugh at or with these characters? Ultimately, however we are laughing with the heroes of this film (Napoleon, Tina and Pedro) and laughing at their antagonists (Summer and Uncle Rico). The context in which we view Napoleon and his activities is the key, I think, to how Hess views these characters and it is with definite affection. He admires their resilience and ability to remain true to who they are despite all of the outside pressures that bear down on them to conform. It is this theme that helps elevate Napoleon Dynamite past its quirky façade to become more than a sum of its clever parts.
On the first disc is an audio commentary by director/co-writer Jared Hess, producer/editor Jeremy Coon, and actor Jon Heder. Coon talks about how they got the White Stripes song in the movie (this was the first time the band lent their music to a film) while Hess talks about the autobiographical elements. His younger brother’s behaviour was the inspiration for a lot of Napoleon’s mannerisms. It’s a low-key track with decent observations from all the participants.
New to this edition is an additional commentary from cast members Aaron Ruell, Jon Gries, Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino. They start things off joking about all the different studio logos that appear before the film (the mark of a true indie film) with Gries coming off as a very funny guy. They spend a lot of time laughing at various bits in the movie and do tell some pretty funny anecdotes about filming. As the film progresses, they all become more talkative and tell some good stories on this entertaining track.
The second disc starts off with “On Location: Napoleon Dynamite,” a collection of behind-the-scenes footage that allows us to watch the filming of a few scenes from the movie. We see Hess rehearse scenes with his actors and then watch them shoot it.
“World Premiere: Jared Hess” follows the director as his film is seen for the first time by an audience at the Sundance Film Festival. The featurette unnecessarily cuts back and forth in time to before, after and during the premiere that is intended to be clever but comes off as annoying.
There are four deleted scenes with optional commentary by Hess, Heder and Coon. Included is another locker room scene where Napoleon is made fun of again. There are also more scenes between Pedro and Napoleon.
New to this edition are additional outtakes and extended scenes including a montage of oddball things that Napoleon and Pedro do and a memorable game of kickball. We also get to see the cast blowing their lines which is pretty funny.
Another new bit is “Casting Napoleon Dynamite” featuring the casting director talking about how he got involved in the film and his first impressions of the screenplay. Included are audition videos for Majorino, Ramirez and Haylie Duff. All three do a good job and it’s easy to see why they were cast.
The last new extra is “Napoleon Sightings,” a collection of clips of Heder milking his new found fame for all its worth. He reprises Napoleon on MTV’s Total Request Live and guest DJs on the show with his schtick totally confounding the teeny bopper crowd who don’t know what to make of such an odd character. We also see Napoleon’s cameo on the MTV Movie Awards and Heder’s opening monologue when he hosted Saturday Night Live (with cast members popping up in the audience as characters from the movie). The TRL bit is the funniest with the rest of the material getting increasingly tiresome as things progress.
Also included is a still gallery.
“MTV On-Air Promos” include seven ads done specifically for MTV that feature Napoleon, Pedro, Deb and Uncle Rico.
“Peluca” is a short film that Hess shot while a student and is the earliest incarnation of Napoleon Dynamite with Heder. It is basically an ultra-low budget blueprint for the feature-length movie. It is interesting to see the evolution and differences between the two.
“The Wedding of the Century” is a brief look at Kip’s Wedding that reunited the cast months after they made the movie (and can be seen after the end credits of the movie).