Before I jump into my review of 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,' I should warn you that Will Ferrell makes me laugh even when he isn't trying. He could be standing in the background of a scene looking blankly at another actor, or simply nodding his head in agreement, yet still I can feel the chuckles brimming behind my teeth, just waiting for this bizarre court jester to do anything that gives me permission to finally burst.
'Anchorman' turns Ferrell loose in the '70s as an arrogant, San Diego newscaster (named Ron Burgundy, of course) who captains a team of rowdy newsman (played with hilarious abandon by Paul Rudd, David Koechner, and Steve Carell). When their boss (Fred Willard) hires an ambitious female reporter named Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate), the sanctity of their boys' club is threatened. At first, Ron falls head over heels for this new potential plaything, but when the strong-willed Veronica is promoted to co-anchor, Ron fights to prove he's the only anchor who deserves to sit behind the desk.
Ferrell laces Burgundy with comic gold -- his smarmy smirk and over-enunciated delivery combine to create a character who seems to genuinely believe he's a god among men. Ferrell dives headfirst into the role and plays everything with unwavering confidence. He bawls at the heavens when he cries, he gurgles his screams when he's enraged, and his eyes come to life every time he tries to prove his worth. The film's funniest moments come from the simple contrast between his self-assuredness and the bumbling reality of his actions. In fact, if it weren't for Ferrell's commitment and gusto, 'Anchorman' would probably crash and burn within its first ten minutes.
Steve Carell also makes the best of his brief scenes, nearly stealing the show from Ferrell. He crafts his Brick Tamland into a wide-eyed man-child who's desperate to win the respect of his friends. After re-watching this performance, it's no wonder that the "Daily Show" alum has become such a celebrated leading man on both television and the big screen. Meanwhile, the always-reliable Rudd and Koechner round out the talented ensemble with quick timing and comedic intensity. When the news team faces a cameo-laden group of evil anchors, the sheer joy of the performances make me crack up every time. 'Anchorman' is definitely one of those films where it seems clear that the entire cast had a blast on set.
If I have any gripe with 'Anchorman,' it's that the film often feels like a compendium of "Saturday Night Live" sketches. Director Adam McKay ('Talladega Nights') was an SNL writer for 6 years, and quite frankly it shows as he gets bogged down with subplots and running jokes that almost bring the middle of the film to a screeching halt. Luckily, McKay knows how to end strong -- he recovers nicely and delivers an absurdly funny finale.
If you're not a fan of Will Ferrell, I doubt you'll stumble onto anything in 'Anchorman' that will change your mind. As with most comedies, the humor in the film is completely relative to the viewer. Some will laugh maniacally at Ferrell's antics, while others will simply stare blankly at the screen. As a died-in-the-wool Ferrell fan, you can guess which camp I fall in, but I'd recommend using your own personal love or hate of his other films to help determine how likely you are to enjoy this one.
(Note that this "Unrated" cut of 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy' is four minutes longer than the theatrical version. The differences are inconsequential in the plot, primarily comprised of a few scene extensions that allow the actors to squeeze in some extra R-rated language.)
'Anchorman' is presented with a colorful 1080p/AVC transfer that's solid enough, but falls short of the best catalog transfers. First the good news. The film's bright '70s costumes are painted with vivid primaries and striking hues that put the film's standard DVD to shame. An increased level of contrast makes Ron's white shirt pop beneath his burgundy jacket, while deep blacks help craft a convincing three dimensional picture. Detail is decent for the most part -- twills and tweed are sharp, facial hair is suitably rendered, and the rampant wood grain patterns strewn about the cheesy sets are clearly defined. More importantly, I'm pleased to report that this HD DVD transfer doesn't suffer from any significant artifacting or source noise like the standard DVD.
On the not-so-bright side, the picture generally looks a bit soft. Exterior shots fare better than interiors, but almost every scene in Ron's apartment feels muddy and murky. For a good example of this shifting clarity, look no further than Ron's dog -- the mutt's hair is noticeably crisper during day lit shots. I was also terribly distracted by the film's erratic grain fields. While the grain is subdued for the majority of the film, some darker shots look simply awful. At the end of the day, fans of 'Anchorman' will be happy with the upgrade this HD DVD delivers, but I doubt anyone will be throwing this disc in to show off their high-def rig.
'Anchorman' features a technically proficient Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 surround track (1.5 Mbps) that handles what it's given with ease. Like most comedies of its type, the film itself is a conversation-heavy affair that doesn't boast a soundfield brimming with subtleties. Still, dialogue is perfectly prioritized and balanced across the front channels -- most lines even have a welcome level of LFE support that gives each voice a rich presence in the mix. Sound effects are crisp, pans are smooth, and accuracy is surprisingly on point for a screwball comedy.
But that's about it. The rear channels are used for the occasional cannonball splash and trident clang, but they're subdued for the most part. Even the anchor-battle relies on the front speakers to supply the majority of the chaos. At least the film's classic rock soundtrack hints at the dynamic potential of the mix -- I enjoyed listening to drum beats pulse along the floor as guitars strummed cleanly across the soundfield. Overall, although this track certainly does its job, I can't help but wish the sound designers had taken the time to create a more immersive mix.
Although this HD DVD edition of 'Anchorman' ports over all the entire supplement package from the Unrated DVD, it lacks the majority of extras from the "Wake Up Ron Burgundy" bonus disc that came with the Limited Edition Giftset DVD. That disc featured an experimental feature-length cut of the film (comprised entirely of deleted scenes and alternate takes), further deletions and outtakes, audition and rehearsal footage and more. Still, this is certainly a packed set as it is:
Depending on your opinion of Will Ferrell, 'Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy' will either make you bust a gut or shake your head in disbelief. Either way, this HD DVD is decent upgrade of the previously released 'Unrated' DVD, but nothing more. The video and audio are both solid but unexceptional, and the extras are often funny but far from illuminating. All things considered, this one's definitely worth a look, but some may want to give this one a rent before making a final purchase decision.