Groundhog Day appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the picture looked good, though a few nagging concerns kept it from being something particularly special.
Sharpness seemed consistently fine. The movie remained nicely crisp and detailed at all time. I never saw any signs of softness or fuzziness as the film always seemed distinct and accurate. A little shimmer popped up on occasion, but jagged edges and edge enhancement provided no concerns. However, print flaws were a modest issue. The film appeared somewhat grainy at times, and I also saw periodic examples of speckles, grit, nicks and other light debris. The defects never became extreme, but I thought the movie offered too many of them for a reasonably recent flick.
For the most part, colors looked positive. Skin tones occasionally came across as somewhat reddish, and a few interiors showed slightly muddy hues, but usually I found the colors to seem nicely vivid and vibrant. They mostly appeared accurate and rich, with no signs of bleeding or noise. Black levels seemed deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately opaque but not excessively heavy. Ultimately, Groundhog Day offered an acceptable image, but not one that seemed particularly excellent.
When the specs for this special edition DVD first appeared, many partisans thought they offered a misprint. The original movie-only DVD included just a Dolby Surround 2.0 track, and comedies such as this aren’t usually seen as being prime for souped-up new audio mixes. Nonetheless, the special edition of Groundhog advertised both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks!
As it happens, this is a misprint. The DVD’s case even states that the movie includes a DTS track, but alas, none is to be found. While we do get the promised Dolby Digital remix, I guess DTS fans will have to walk away disappointed.
Nonetheless, I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Comedies usually feature very limited soundfields, and as a whole, Groundhog fit into that mold. The mix remained fairly heavily oriented toward the forward channels. In the front, I heard pretty solid stereo separation, however, as both music and effects seemed nicely delineated and spaced appropriately. Elements blended together cleanly and they moved from channel to channel in a smooth and natural way. The score was definitely a highlight, as it seemed broad and engaging.
In regard to the surrounds, they mainly offered general reinforcement of the forward spectrum, but they managed to add a nice layer of ambience to the package. The music became quite involving at times and seemed warm and reasonably active. The outdoors “Pennsylvania Polka” bits were the highlights in that regard, as they even showed some minor split-surround usage; the right rear channel appropriately dominated the proceedings at that time, which allowed us to feel more like a part of the setting. Effects seemed a little more general, though they still bolstered the main track well, and they also offered a modicum of stereo audio in the rear; for example, at times I heard cars go from front to one of the surround channels. The soundfield didn’t excel, but it worked very well for the material.
Audio quality also seemed solid. I heard a smidgen of edginess to a little of the speech, but that only occurred on a couple of occasions. Otherwise, the dialogue sounded nicely natural and distinct, and I discerned no concerns related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and accurate, with no signs of distortion or other problems. They also boasted a nice punch when appropriate, as the mix offered good low-end reproduction. Bass response came to the fore during the track’s strongest elements, those that related to music. The score and various songs sounded absolutely terrific throughout the movie. The music demonstrated bright and vivid highs and provided rich and warm lows as it consistently seemed very lively and inviting. Groundhog Day featured too limited a soundfield to merit “A” consideration, but nonetheless, I was exceedingly pleased with what I heard.
I never owned the old Dolby Surround-only DVD, so I can’t directly compare them. I did check out parts of the film via the Dolby 2.0 track found on the special edition, however. If the original DVD offered audio identical to the version I discovered here, then the new mix provided a substantial improvement. As heard on the SE disc, the 2.0 edition sounded terrible. It often seemed to barely expand past the center channel and appeared quite bland and constricted in regard to its soundfield. In addition, the quality of the sound was very flat. All elements came across as muffled and drab, and the mix showed almost no signs of life. Again, since I never watched the original DVD, I can’t state that it sounded this bad, but if the new one includes the same 2.0 track, then the 5.1 remix is a substantial improvement.
While this special edition release of Groundhog Day doesn’t pile on the extras, we do find a few goodies. First up is an audio commentary from director Harold Ramis who offers a running, screen-specific conversation. Ramis is a definite audio commentary veteran, as he’s also provided tracks for Bedazzled and Analyze This among others. This piece fits in with those other chats. Ramis always comes across as moderately engaging but not consistently interesting, and that tone shows up during Groundhog Day.
On the positive side, Ramis shows a nicely comedic bent at times as he jokes about some events from the set. In addition, he adds some details about the production such as changes made to the script, working with the actors, and challenges on location. His tone remains light as he covers some moderately interesting topics at times.
However, this is a fairly spotty track. As with his other commentaries, Ramis lets more than a few empty spaces pass, and he occasionally does little more than tell us the names of actors and describe the action on screen. This tendency definitely intensifies during the film’s second half; Ramis still offers some decent information, but he often just quotes lines and lets many parts pass without remark. Overall, Ramis provides a reasonably interesting commentary at times, but he doesn’t make it a consistently engrossing affair, and it suffers from too much filler and dead air.
In addition, we get a new documentary about the film. Entitled The Weight of Time, this program runs for 24 minutes and 40 seconds as it mainly mixes film clips and interviews with participants. We hear from director Ramis, producer Trevor Albert, screenwriter Danny Rubin, and actors Andie MacDowell and Stephen Tobolowsky. In addition, we find a few outtakes from the set; though brief, those offer some of the best parts of the program as we see snippets of Murray as he clowns before the camera.
As a whole, “Weight” is a reasonably entertaining program, but I can’t call it a great piece. At times it covers alterations made to the script, continuity issues, topics related to the location, the greatness of Bill Murray, and the spiritual implications of the story. The documentary moves at a decent rate and it always seems fairly interesting, but it never rises above that level. I think it’s watchable but fairly superficial, and it doesn’t offer enough depth. For example, we learn a little about continuity challenges, but considering the nature of the film, this should have been a major topic. All in all, “Weight” seems like a good piece but not one that is terribly memorable.
Finally, a few small tidbits round out the package. We find theatrical trailers for Groundhog as well as It Could Happen to You and Peggy Sue Got Married. We also get Filmographies for director Ramis and actors Murray, MacDowell and Elliott plus the usual brief but fairly interesting Production Notes within the DVD’s booklet. Disappointingly, Ramis refers to a few deleted scenes in his commentary, but they don’t show up on the DVD. This is a fairly lackluster “special edition”.
Years after its release, Groundhog Day remains one of Bill Murray’s finest films. It’s a charming and clever piece that offers a consistently entertaining program, largely due to the performance of its star. The DVD offers a good picture plus surprisingly vibrant and robust audio and a mix of modest supplements.
Recommendations are always sticky when it comes to reissued titles, and Groundhog Day is no exception. For those who don’t already own a copy of the film, the new special edition is a no-brainer. It’s a fun film with great rewatchability, so it’d make a nice addition to your collection.
However, the question seems iffier for those who already possess the original DVD. While the special edition’s supplements are decent, they don’t merit purchase on their own. As such, the issue of a potential repurchase then revolves around any improvements to film picture and sound. I never saw the old disc, but I’d be surprised if the image marked any growth; the current one looks good, and I’d expect the original provided similar visuals.
Sound becomes a trickier issue. The special edition offers a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, whereas the old one included only a Dolby Surround mix. Again, I never heard the original, but if it resembles the 2.0 version found on the special edition, then it was a disaster; this DVD’s Dolby Surround edition was flat and muddy. The 5.1 track provided much stronger, clearer and more vibrant audio. It comes down to this: if owners of the movie-only DVD are pleased with the presentation of the film, then they should stick with it. However, if its audio leaves you cold, I think you’ll be much happier with the special edition.