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Teamed with a relentlessly cheery producer and a smart-aleck cameraman, TV weatherman Phil Connors is sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities. But on his way out of town, Phil is caught in a giant blizzard, which he failed to predict, and finds himself in small town hell. Just when things couldn't get worse, Phil wakes up the next morning to find it's Groundhog Day all over again... and again... and again.
For more about Groundhog Day and the Groundhog Day Blu-ray release, see Groundhog Day Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on January 25, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliott, Stephen Tobolowsky, Brian Doyle-Murray, Marita Geraghty
Director: Harold Ramis
» See full cast & crew
Groundhog Day Blu-ray Review
Sony again digs into its catalog and delivers the high definition goods--just in time for the film's 15th anniversary.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, January 25, 2009
A huge segment of comedies come from the alumni of Saturday Night Live. Before Will Ferrell and Adam Sandler, back in the era of Dan Akroyd and Chevy Chase, Bill Murray was a hot ticket item. He delivered box office gold in Caddy Shack and Ghostbusters. As usual, the longer a comic actor sticks around, the more likely he is to be cast as a lead role in a somewhat serious romance. Such was Murray's destiny for Groundhog Day, which served up a unique take on the romantic comedy by posing the question "what if there is no tomorrow?" The film mixes equal parts Twighlight Zone, Fantasy Island and Back to the Future (without the most entertaining elements of any of those). It revolves around a weather man and his TV producer as they set out to report on a harbinger of spring--a suburban groundhog whose shadow can predict when winter will end, according to local legend. But more relevant to the Blu-ray release celebrating the film's 15th anniversary, Sony has expertly transferred the movie to 1080p and Dolby TrueHD. The music often sounds audiophile caliber, which is a big surprise coming from content produced during the early days of digital audio.
Jaded, sarcastic TV weather man Phil Conners (Murray) is egocentric and embittered. When he isn't delivering a weather report, everything out of his mouth is either a barb to put someone down or some kind of boast. For three years in a row, his beat for Groundhog Day has taken him to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. But things will be different for his fourth trip. In addition to Larry the cameraman (Chris Elliot), a new producer at the network, Rita (Andie MacDowell) accompanies Phil to the small town. The network has arranged for Phil to stay in a quaint bed-and-breakfast. He wakes up at 6:00 a.m. to the inn's clock radio playing Sonny and Cher's I Got You Babe. Just like the past three years, he broadcasts an account of the Groundhog Day festivities from the town square, where officials of Punxsutawney consult a groundhog to predict when spring will come. According to folklore, if a groundhog emerges from its burrow on February 2 and throws a shadow, spring will be delayed. Looks like it will be a long winter. To make matters worse, a harsh storm is brewing in contrast to Phil's own forecast. The blizzard forces the network staff to stay another night in Punxsutawney. In the morning, Phil wakes up to the same song, runs into the same people who say the same things and quickly realizes it is Groundhog Day all over again. The next morning, Groundhog Day starts all over again, just like it did the day before.
At first, Phil is angry and frantic that he is reliving the same day over and over again, but doesn't take him long to realize how to capitalize on an existence without consequences or a future. Using his increasing knowledge of the people and occurrences of the town to get what he wants: women and money. But the repetition and meaninglessness of this existence proves too depressing and Phil begins to stage suicides. It doesn't matter. He wakes up at 6:00 a.m. to Sonny and Cher just like always. Looking for a more serious challenge, Phil tries to seduce Rita, but instead he falls in love with her. Day after day, his familiarity and feelings grow for Rita, but she starts every day like the last. Eventually, Phil has to let go, but how can he weather the mundane, repetitive existence to bring meaning and love to his life? Bill Murray turns in a fairly insipid performance. Like most comedians who try to make the switch to romantic comedies, he is not very convincing in his portrayal of a frayed soul who makes life-altering discoveries. MacDowell is a bit better as the ever-sanguine and genuine producer. The story by Danny Rubin is certainly engaging as a lesson about love and selflessness.
Groundhog Day Blu-ray, Video Quality
The 1.85:1 picture is far superior to NTSC versions of the film, but will not win any awards for best 1080p. The good news is that Sony did the right thing with its transfer, leaving colors neutral and allowing grain to appear without noise reduction. Skin tones occasionally look a bit unnatural or pale in outdoor shots compared to the best Blu-rays out there, but overall the dynamics of the video performance is impressive. The transfer shows good detail and depth. Watch the scene when Phil wakes up in the inn. Details in the bedding and room are rendered with good resolution. When he looks out the window, the pedestrians and streets appear detailed. Faces and clothing textures also bear this out. Murray actually seems far older than I remember him at that time--no doubt because the Blu-ray reveals lines and definition in his face that were simply not visible before.
Black level is perhaps the most impressive aspect of Groundhog Day's picture. While there is a hint of digital noise, it is no more obtrusive than the film grain. Watch the scene where Phil stands with a female escort outside a movie theater. The shadow detail and gradients in the darkness provide a surprising level of definition in darker scenes--and there are many of them. Watch as Phil and Rita dance on the bandstand. The subdued color balance and deep inky blacks deliver a lifelike presentation. Even in many lighter scenes, the accurate black level helps picture depth. Overall, the picture is solid but lacks that special spark common to many Blu-rays that make the definition magical.
Groundhog Day Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Even better than the picture, the sound of Groundhog Day is vibrant and beautifully defined and balanced. The dialog is clear and crisp, and there isn't much content assigned to the surrounds or LFE channel. Nothing special in terms of HT system bombastics (one shouldn't expect otherwise from a traditional romantic comedy). But the music by George Fenton is mastered perfectly. The entire scope of the film's music is worth enjoying in Dolby TrueHD--from Frank Yankovic's Pennsylvania Polka to Ottmar Liebert's You Don't Know Me to the closing number, Nat King Cole's Almost Like Being in Love. To me, that final cut was worth sitting through the film. Sony is proving very adept at delivering the sonic goods, even in an otherwise lackluster production from the early days of digital audio.
Even the tinny Sonny and Cher hit emanating from the nightstand's clock radio sounded like a real radio. When Phil smashes it on the floor, that sounded pretty real too. Car engines and dialog occasionally sounded boxed in rather than open and dynamic. And there were other imperfections. During the ballroom scene featuring a medley of Phil's Piano Solo with the Eighteenth Variation From Rapsodie on a Theme of Paganini, the audio suddenly shifted heavily to the left surround. This coincided with a change of camera angle, so it could have been intentional. But it was an odd effect, out of character with the rest of the 5.1 mix. Above all, the overall lack of coloration or digital compression artifacts was a pleasant surprise.
Groundhog Day Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
I was also pleased with the extras Sony provided for its 15th anniversary edition--particularly the HD interview with the director. Other studios might have just included a standard definition version.
Audio commentary with Director Harold Ramis--Going over the original production in technical detail, Ramis provides everything you ever wished to know about the film. Mostly, it's dry and dull, but occasionally some humor, a key insight or a point of interest shines through.
A different day: an Interview with Harold Ramis--The high definition documentary clocking in at 10 minutes is an excellent excuse to avoid the audio commentary. Ramis is a good interview and manages to fit all the salient points into a short time.
Groundhog Day: the Weight of Time--A standard definition, 24 minute "making-of" documentary ported over from the 1998 DVD version.
The story of Groundhogs: a Real Life Look at MarmotsAnother high def exclusive featuring a short but sweet look at groundhogs, also known as marmots and woodchucks.
Needle Nose Ned's PiP Popup Trivia Track--Yet another BD exclusive, ideal for trivia hounds, especially those of us stuck in the early '90s.
Rounding out Sony's bonus offerings are six deleted scenes, a promo and preview track and Sony's BD Live capability.
Groundhog Day Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
While the original story by Danny Rubin is charming, it lost something in the translation to screenplay and lost even more with Bill Murray taking on the lead role of Phil Conners. While his sarcastic antics and deadpan wisecracks are second-nature, the entire evolution of the character--particularly his discovery of what is meaningful and worth pursuing in life--is not believable. Granted, it is a challenging acting job for all the cast to pull off the illusion that the protagonist and no one else is living the same day over and over. Murray's character retained information from previous days and grew, whereas the others were strictly static. The exception was Andie MacDowell who actually broke character to some extent when she finally saw Phil's worth. This break made the story work but as with Bill Murray's performance it required suspension of belief. The way Rita regarded Phil seemed too negative to be turned around in one day. Regardless, the film hits a soft spot with many viewers. I can recommend the Blu-ray as the definitive version, especially fans of Bill Murray and romantic comedies with a twist. Be sure to watch it on Groundhog Day, which is coming up soon: February 2.
Groundhog Day: Other Editions
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