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Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Christine Taylor, Will Ferrell, Milla Jovovich, Jerry Stiller, David Duchovny, John Voight
Drake Sather, Ben Stiller, John Hamburg

3% Body Fat. 1% Brain Activity.
Box Office:
Budget $28 million. Opening weekend $15.525 million on 2507 screens. Domestic gross $45.162 million.
Rated PG-13 on appeal for sexual content and drug references.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 89 min.
Price: $29.99
Release Date: 3/12/2002

• Audio Commentary With Actor/Writer/Director Ben Stiller and Writers John Hamburg and Drake
• Five Deleted Scenes With Commentary By Ben Stiller
• Five Extended Scenes With Commentary By Ben Stiller
• Outtakes
• Two Original Skits From VH1/Vogue Fashion Awards, 1996/1997
• Wiseguys’ “Start the Commotion” Music Video
• Promotional Spots
• Photo Galleries
• Alternate End Title Sequence


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


Zoolander (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Off the top of my head, I can’t recall the first time I saw Ben Stiller’s work. Actually, a glance at his résumé shows he worked on 1987’s Empire of the Sun, so that was probably my initial exposure to Stiller. He also briefly played on Saturday Night Live in the late Eighties, so I would have seen him there as well.

Beyond these vague recollections, I can specify my earliest memory of Stiller, though. This came during his short-lived 1992-93 Fox program called The Ben Stiller Show. (Not to be confused with his short-lived 1990 MTV program called The Ben Stiller Show.) At one point Stiller did a U2 bit that parodied their video for “One”. As I recall, I felt the skit was very clever but it never actually became funny; I respected what he did with the concept but Stiller was unable to actually milk it for laughs.

To a large degree, that early impression of Stiller remains with me, especially in regard to his parodies. Stiller exhibits an incisive eye and can capture the heart of his subjects, but he just can’t make the material terribly amusing, at least not in my opinion.

I’d only witnessed this side of Stiller in bits and pieces, though. Like most folks, I’ve come to know him better as a comedic actor in flicks like There’s Something About Mary and . I’ve also seen some of his parodies through vehicles like the MTV Movie Awards, which is where he did the “Tom Crooze” bit also found on the Mission: Impossible 2.

But it doesn’t look like Stiller engaged in a full cinematic spoof until 2001’s Zoolander, and it also offered a project that was fully his, for better or for worse. Stiller never wrote any of his prior flicks, whereas he penned this one along with Drake Sather and John Hamburg. Of course, he also starred in it, and Zoolander was Stiller’s third directorial effort; he also helmed 1994’s Reality Bites and 1996’s The Cable Guy.

Also known as “Jim Carrey’s first dud”, the latter produced a stench that apparently kept Stiller from the director’s chair for half a decade. In the interim, he became a decent-sized star, so I guess he figured the time was right for a full-on Stiller masterpiece. Is Zoolander that magnum opus? Nope. Overall, it has some fun moments, but it reinforced for me my feeling that Stiller remains more clever than funny.

In this flick, we follow the titular lead character of famous male model Derek Zoolander (Stiller). One of the field’s all-time greats, at the start of the flick we see him as he goes for a fourth consecutive model of the year award. His only competition? A brash young newcomer named Hansel (Owen Wilson).

Hansel grabs the prize, but the oblivious Zoolander doesn’t notice and strides to the podium anyway. This begins his downfall. In addition to this tremendously embarrassing event, Time magazine journalist Matilda (Christine Taylor, Stiller’s wife) pens a negative article about the model. This adds to his funk and he quits the business. Oh, and it didn’t help that his three male model roommates and friends all blew up at a gas station. He returns to his South Jersey coal-mining family and tries to fit in with that scene but fails again.

In the meantime, the fashion world is rocked when the new prime minister of Malaysia (Woodrow W. Asai) promises labor reform, which will cut off the supply of cheaply made garments. A spooky panel demands that he be killed, and they need a total moron like Zoolander to do the deed. Above the objections of his agent Maury (Jerry Stiller, Ben’s dad), the machine sets in motion, and superstar fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell) concocts a plan to brainwash Zoolander.

Throughout the movie, this plot slowly starts to unravel, and Matilda is the one to figure out some of the pieces. Zoolander returns to modeling when Mugatu lures him into the fold - all as a pretense for the scheme - and Derek also deals with his rival Hansel. Of course, Zoolander and Matilda start to fall for each other as well.

As a whole, Zoolander is a pretty scattershot flick. Essentially I’d describe it as This Is Spinal Tap meets The Manchurian Candidate. At times, the film works reasonably well, and it contains some entertaining moments. However, virtually all of these occurred due to the supporting actors; I still fail to see Stiller as an accomplished comic, at least when it comes to this kind of mocking role.

While it was necessary for Zoolander to be an idiot, Stiller fails to find any heart in the role. Derek’s simply too stupid to live. Hansel’s a moron as well, but Wilson actually manages to make him seem like a nearly believable person, whereas Stiller’s turn is so forced and artificial that it never goes anywhere. Much of the time I thought the movie had a lot of potential, but Stiller actively hurt it and made it more difficult for me to enjoy the tale.

On the other hand, most of the supporting cast provides fine work. As noted, Wilson did a lot with the role. Despite his bizarrely misshapen nose, I accepted him as a model, whereas Stiller always seemed to “play-act” the part too much. In addition, Ferrell is very funny as Mugatu. Normally I feel largely indifferent toward his act, but Ferrell does nicely as the freaky designer and helps create an entertaining and amusing personality.

One fun aspect of Zoolander relates to the film’s scads of cameos. Some flicks use star appearances gratuitously, but for this one they’re an integral - and clever - part of the tale. Most come from folks who play themselves, while others feature famous people in different roles. I really liked them, though, especially since they took me by surprise. If you haven’t already seen the film, make sure you avoid cast listings - it might take away some of the fun if you know who’s there in advance.

Overall, I found Zoolander to offer a moderately entertaining flick. Its weaknesses related to its most significant participant, as Ben Stiller continues to be a technically able comic who shows little ability to firmly inhabit a role; on the surface, his work seems solid, but he simply rarely makes me laugh. However, he had the good sense to surround himself with people who are very funny. Because of that, Zoolander works in fits and starts.

Trivia time: Mugatu was the name of a creature from the ”A Private Little War” episode of the original Star Trek. Yes, I recognized this immediately when I saw Ferrell and heard the name. Yes, I’m a total geek.

The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B-

Zoolander appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. I didn’t think the picture looked absolutely terrific, but it appeared solid for the most part.

Sharpness generally seemed fine. At most times, I found the movie to exhibit positive clarity and crispness. I saw only a few signs of softness or fuzziness in some wider shots. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and I also detected no evidence of edge enhancement. As for print flaws, I witnessed a little light grain at times, and I noticed a few examples of speckles and grit. Nothing serious occurred, but a few defects did appear.

Colors usually looked nicely bright and vibrant. I thought the hues seemed slightly heavy on a couple of occasions, but those were rare. The tones generally came across as accurate and vivid. Black levels seemed deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately thick but not excessively opaque. Overall, the picture of Zoolander wasn’t great, but it appeared satisfying as a whole.

Also quite good was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Zoolander. As with most comedies, the film’s soundfield stayed fairly heavily oriented toward the front channels, where it presented fine presence and stereo imaging. Music seemed to spread broadly across the speakers, while effects were appropriately localized and they blended together neatly. The surrounds usually offered general reinforcement of the front audio, but they kicked in with some unique material at times. For example, the “Relax” hypnotism sequence used the rears nicely, and a few other sequences contributed good activity. Overall, the soundfield appeared unspectacular, but it worked fine for this sort of material.

Audio quality was more than acceptable. Dialogue seemed reasonably natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was nicely bright and vibrant. Both songs and score showed fine range and clarity, and they contributed some terrific low-end elements at times. Effects also came across as clean and accurate. They seemed well reproduced and kicked in good bass when appropriate, such as during an explosion. Zoolander offered a consistently solid soundtrack.

On this “Special Collector’s Edition” of Zoolander, we discover a smattering of extras. First up is an audio commentary from actor/writer/director Ben Stiller plus fellow screenwriters Drake Sather and John Hamburg. All three were recorded together for this running, screen-specific piece. Overall, the commentary offered a breezy and compelling look at the film.

Not surprisingly, Stiller dominated the track, though he didn’t do so in a forced or egotistical way. He wore so many hats on the film that it was absolutely inevitable we’d hear his voice more than the others. Sather and Hamburg contribute some good material, but this was Stiller’s commentary to make or break, and he handled it well. He and the others discussed a myriad of elements about the movie, from its origins to casting to story and script changes to locations to a number of other bits. Very few empty spaces appeared, and the three men kept the tone light and engaging across the board. They provided a very solid commentary that seemed enjoyable and educational.

After this we discover collections of Deleted Scenes and Extended Scenes. We get five of each. The deleted scenes run between 23 seconds and four minutes, 40 seconds for a total of eight minutes, 23 seconds of footage. The extended scenes last between 34 seconds and two minutes, four seconds for a total of seven minutes, 56 seconds of material. All 10 snippets can be viewed with or without commentary from Stiller.

Overall, I thought the various clips were pretty interesting. Actually, many of them were quite good, and I felt a few of them should have made the final cut. All appeared in non-anamorphic 2.35:1 with Dolby Surround 2.0 sound. As for Stiller’s remarks, he didn’t always tell us why the material was removed from the film - which is the basic mission of deleted scenes commentaries - but he usually provided that info, and he also added some good statements about the shots.

Many more video-based extras appear here. Next we locate six minutes, 33 seconds of Outtakes. Most of these consist of the usual flubbed lines and laughing, but they also include a few more interesting moments. Most of those came from a variety of unused ad-libs offered by Will Ferrell, and those make the segments more entertaining than normal.

As noted in my review, the Zoolander character first emerged during some VH1 Fashion Awards Skits. The DVD includes both the 1996 edition (two minutes, 45 seconds) and the 1997 take (three minutes, 52 seconds). While not any funnier than Stiller’s material in the movie, I thought these were cool to see since they show the earliest incarnation of the part. I was very happy to find them on the DVD.

Next up is an Alternate End Title Sequence. This two-minute and 15-second clip offers exactly what it indicates: a different version of the closing titles. It’s interesting to see but not something fascinating; I mean, a lot of folks didn’t bother to watch the real end titles!

In the Photo Galleries section we find three subsections. It includes “Derek’s Portfolio” (eight shots), “Hansel’s Portfolio” (12 images), and “Zoolander Production Stills” (19 snaps). The two portfolios are fun to see since they give us clearer views of material from the film. The production shots

Zoolander includes a music video for the Wiseguys’ “Start the Commotion”. This clip uses the standard mix of shots from the film intercut with lip-synch images of the band. Actually, the latter elements seem more clever than usual, as they feature the performers in outfits that emulate various performers, but it remains a pretty ordinary video.

Tons of short pieces show up in the Promo Spots domain. “PSAs” offers six phony public service announcements from Zoolander; each lasts between 15 seconds and 25 seconds. “MTV Cribs” gives us three 30-second bits, while “Interstitials” contributes an additional six clips, each of which lasts between 20 and 30 seconds. All of these are fairly similar promotional pieces that usually show Derek as he spouts inanities. They get a little redundant after a while, but they still offer a cool extra.

One frustration in regard to these areas and the deleted/extended scenes domains: no “Play All” option! It’s annoying to have to constantly return to a menu to watch such brief pieces. However, in other ways, Paramount provide some very considerate touches. Most of Zoolander’s extras include both English and French subtitles. In addition, this is one of the few Paramount releases that doesn’t force you to sit through unskippable “Warning” screens; when it starts, it jumps straight to the main menu.

And that’s another area that deserves discussion. When the main menu begins, we hear narration from Stiller as Zoolander; he explains the different options to us. Similar chat pops up during the “Special Features” screen as well. It’s a fun touch, especially since the DVD never forces us to sit through it; you can make your selections while Stiller yaks and don’t have to wait until he finishes.

Though a moderately enjoyable piece, I doubt they’ll induct Zoolander into the parody hall of fame anytime soon. While the movie has enough entertaining material to warrant a look, it suffers from the blandness of its star; when the lead actor is the worst thing about a movie, that becomes a trap from which it can’t escape. I liked the flick as a whole, though, for the supporting cast helped overcome Ben Stiller’s weaknesses. As a disc, the DVD offered generally solid sound and picture as well as a pretty decent roster of extras. If you’re wilder about Ben Stiller than I, Zoolander likely warrants a purchase, whereas others might want to rent it instead.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3.6562 Stars Number of Votes: 64
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