HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
HTS Overall Score:85
Ben Stiller reminds me a lot of Bill Murray and his choice of movies. On one side of the coin we have a guy who can pull off some really crazy comedies, and on the other side we have a man who really enjoys playing the deeper, more “artsy” type of roles. We’ve had comic gold from Stiller in “Zoolander”, “Tropic Thunder”, “Meet the Parents”, etc. and then we’ve had his creative artist side with “Greenberg” and “The Heartbreak Kid”. With both Kristen Wiig and Ben Stiller with cameos by Patton Oswalt and Kathryn Hahn, you’d be expecting another goofy comedy, and while there’s a few laughs here and there, the film is anything but one. Taken from a short story by one James Thurber, revolving about a daydreaming mouse of a man, it delves into ideas about living life to the fullest, creating a niche for yourself in the world and actually doing what you imagine.
If you’re expecting an adaptation of James Thurber’s short story, then you’re going to be a bit disappointed. It’s the original “Secret Life of Walter Mitty” in name only. The original short story from 1939 was adapted with Danny Kaye as Walter in 1947 and certainly took some liberties with the concept, but stayed semi related to the source material. Here there’s some rather wild deviations. The basic premise is there, but Stiller has taken some interesting takes on the book. The original story is actually rather simple. It’s a light hearted, goofy tale of a man who’s constantly daydreaming about being a hero. Whether that hero is an Astronaut, or a sailor, or saving a woman’s dog, he’s dreaming about being someone important, and really it’s not hard to see why, he’s a bit of a powder puff and married to an incredibly domineering woman. It’s a simple man’s escape from the crazy woman at home. Now fast forward to modern times. Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller), is also a mousy man, this time single and working for “LIFE” magazine, in charge of all the photographic negatives that come in. In the new digital age his job his being phased out, as the magazine is being shut down and converted to an online only publication. With the new head of operations coming in (Adam Scott), he’s being browbeaten and insulted left and right, his love life is pretty much nonexistent, as he silently has a crush on an office worker named Cheryl (Kristen Wiig). To make matters worse, being that the company is shutting down, they only have one last physical publication left and the negative that will be on the front page is nowhere to be found. It seems that the famous Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn) has sent them his best photo ever and Walter can’t seem to find it. Daydreaming throughout the day to forget that his life is nothing but a boring mess he finally comes to a head when he realizes that he needs to find this negative.
Jumping on the first plane to Greenland, he tries to track down Sean from the last coordinates he was at. This changes his life forever as Walter now has to travel through the ice wastelands of Greenland, Iceland, dodging a volcano’s eruption and still trying to keep an updated profile on E-Harmony. Meeting with nothing but close calls, he travels back home only to come to find out that his mother knows Sean’s final location. This time Walter has to travel to Afghanistan where he finally can confront Sean and finish his final job at LIFE Magazine by retrieving the missing negative.
The film tends to feel a bit surreal and almost Indie in its creation. The camera shots are excellent, but it has a sort of editing method that makes you feel Sundance Film festival rather than a Fox Studios release. The same is said about the storyline, it carries that sort of meandering feel to it, never plodding, but still just softly wandering down the road with its hands in its pockets, whistling to a tune that only it can hear.
I had a hard time reconciling the story myself. Coming from a longtime fan of Thurber’s whimsical narrative, this overly introspective look at Walter Mitty seemed a bit jarring. Part of the issue was that the original short story was just that, short stories of a goofy guy daydreaming. As a result it ends up being a bit overly long, as a near two full hours are stretched from a few vignettes penned 73 years ago. Rather than just a simple story about a daydreaming office worker trying to escape the boredom of life with a domineering wife, we have an entire drama built around going out and living your life to the fullest, experiencing new things etc etc. It seems a bit like the English teachers who take a simple adventure story and then lecture for weeks on how it’s a subtle breakdown of the economic and social issues of our modern days. As a movie, it went over fairly well, if not a bit drawn out. Stiller plays Mitty actually quite well. Very mousy and hesitant. Kristen Wiig was actually the surprise here, toning herself down quite a bit to play his love interest. It feels like it could have been better if they had tried to keep that lighthearted tone of the original novel and original Danny Kaye adaptation, and the overly introspective tone tends to target itself at a specific audience, rather than the broader sweeps painted with the others.
Rated PG for some crude comments, language and action violence
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=16034[/img]Fox’s 2.40:1 AVC encode is nothing if not truly stellar. As with a lot of modern films, this one is given a heavy Teal color grading and I mean REALLY heavy on the Teal. The image detail, though, is simply flawless as you can see every pore and grain of sand on Ben Stiller’s dirty face during his travel. Long shots and up close facials are both incredibly detailed and marvelous to behold. The sweeping landscapes in his travels are some of my favorites as the unique camera style tends to showcase those natural beauties quite well. Black levels are inky and deep, nothing to complain about here as we see Walter in the bowels of a fishing vessel and the dark basement of LIFE magazine’s camera negative department recreated perfectly and without any detail loss in those low ambient light scenes. The disc is given a rather healthy bitrate on a BD-50 so there are no major digital artifacts to be seen. The only downside to the encode is that some of the CGI softs tend to add a softness to the picture at times.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=16042[/img]For a film that’s so low key in its filming style and tends to be a character study, the 7.1 DTS-HD MA track is absolutely stunning and truly wide scale. The soundstage is extremely wide and gives an enormous dynamic range, giving us the quit calm of Walter’s work, only to be punctuated by daydream sequences that make you feel like you’re in the middle of an “Expendables” movie. The surrounds team with action as Walter jumps off a helicopter into the ocean or dives out of an exploding building carrying a Chihuahua in his arms. Ambient noises are constant, with the bustles of a city street, to the chirping of birds in the Afghan countryside. I was really impressed with the low end as it throbs throughout the entire movie and shakes the rafters when needed with thudding helicopter blades or the roar of a diesel boat engine. Truly immersive and incredible, I was really not expecting something this expansive and well done from a dramatic film. Well done, Fox, well done.
• Deleted, Alternate and Extended Scenes
• Behind the Scenes
• Gallery: Reference Photography
• Music Video: "Stay Alive" by Jose Gonzales
• Theatrical Trailer
I have a fond spot for the James Thurber short story and this is most certainly not the Walter Mitty that I remember. This still doesn’t take away from the fact that Stiller’s version is still an entertaining romp, and definitely good for a watch. Especially if you’re into those sweet, inspirational type of dramas. The video and audio are certainly enjoyable here, and fans of Stiller’s more serious side should definitely check it out. Recommended for a watch.
Starring: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Jon Daly
Directed by: Ben Stiller
Written by: Steve Conrad
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 7.1, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Turkish, Ukranian DD 5.1, Russian DTS 5.1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Runtime: 114 minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: April 15th, 2014
Buy The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Good for a Watch
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