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That Thing You Do!(1996)
A Pennsylvania band scores a hit in 1964 and rides the star-making machinery as long as it can, with lots of help from its manager.
For more about That Thing You Do! and the That Thing You Do! Blu-ray release, see That Thing You Do! Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 8, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Liv Tyler, Johnathon Schaech, Steve Zahn, Ethan Embry, Tom Hanks
Director: Tom Hanks
» See full cast & crew
That Thing You Do! Blu-ray Review
When you / put a film on Blu / you better use a new HD remaster / it ain't so hard to do...
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 8, 2013
I watched That Thing You Do! yesterday for the first time since, oh, the late 1990s—I remember renting it from Family Video on VHS—and for the past twenty-four hours, I've had the bubble-gummy title song on a loop in my brain, making me absentmindedly hum the chorus and drum the beat on my thighs and wonder, why hasn't the cast of Glee covered this yet? Written by Fountains of Wayne bassist Adam Schlesinger, it's a pitch-perfect imitation of an early 1960s rock song, an ode to "She Loves You"-era Beatles with an earworm of a hook and sugar-coated harmonies. It's a good thing the song is so great; not only does it have to be believable as a Billboard chart-climbing single, but we also have to hear it about a dozen times in the movie, which follows a small-town rock group from garage practice sessions to national superstardom to sudden flame-out, all within a few short months.
Making his narrative feature debut, the film was written and directed by Tom Hanks—he also has a substantial but non-central role as the group's manager—whose vision of the pre-psychedelic 1960s rock scene is somewhat Norman Rockwell-ized, removing sex and drugs from the picture to focus on the dreams of the four fresh-faced bandmates. When That Thing You Do!'s theatrical cut came out in 1996, the critical consensus was that it was charming but dramatically thin, a charge Hanks countered a decade later by releasing his substantially longer director's cut on home video. Via seamless branching, both versions are available on 20th Century Fox's new Blu-ray release, which is unfortunately hampered by a high definition transfer that's rife with compression and other picture quality issues. But more on that down in the "Video Quality" section.
The film itself holds up well after seventeen years. Tom Everett Scott stars as the jazz-obsessed Guy Patterson, who works in his overbearing father's Erie, PA appliance shop by day and hangs around the store at night to blast his favorite records and play drums in the back room. Some of his pals have formed a band, and when their drummer, Chad (a young Giovanni Ribisi), breaks his arm, they ask Tom to fill in for a single performance at a local college's talent contest. Control-freak singer- songwriter Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech) is initially irked when Tom speeds up his song, "That Thing You Do"—turning it from a doo-wop-ish ballad into an up-tempo rocker—but the crowd goes nuts, the band wins first-prize, and Tom is made a permanent member, joining party-hard pretty boy guitarist Lennie (Steve Zahn) and a squeaky clean bassist (Ethan Embry) who's never actually named in the film. They call themselves The One-ders, and the running gag here is that their neophyte fans constantly mispronounce it as "The Oh-need-ers."
That Thing You Do! traces the band's unexpected, rocket-like trajectory to household name recognition. They get a recurring gig at a scuzzy pizza joint down by the airport, record their hit single—look out for Chris Isaak in a cameo as the sound engineer—and attract the attention of Phil Horace (Chris Ellis), a small-time manager who lives out of his Winnebago and offers the disbelieving boys a contract. Jimmy is suspicious, but Lennie—who has all of the film's best lines—responds, "A man in a really nice camper wants to put our songs on the radio. I'm signing...you're signing...we're all signing!" It's impossible not to burst into a wide smile when they hear their tune broadcast across the airwaves for the first time, dancing and hugging and generally freaking out with all of the hi-fis in Mr. Patterson's shop turned up to 10.
Never expecting to play outside of Erie—let alone Pittsburg, or anywhere else beyond Pennsylvania—the guys treat every success with a baffled and infectious "how did we get here?" joy. Naive and over-awed, they're primed for exploitation, and the savvy agent Mr. White (Tom Hanks)—who signs them to Play-Tone Records and becomes their new manager—remolds and refines the band, putting them in new suits, giving Tom a signature pair of sunglasses, and changing their name to The Wonders. ("As in," asks Lennie, "I wonder what happened to The Oh-need-ers?") Mr. White takes them from the state fair circuit to a nationally televised appearance on an Ed Sullivan-esque variety show, but with stardom comes compromise. While some of the guys are more than willing to sell out—Lennie's just in it for the chicks—the uber-serious Jimmy can't stomach indignities like guest starring as the clam shack house band in a low-budget beach movie, or being forced to record covers of Play-Tone catalog songs. Worse, his girlfriend Fay (Liv Tyler) has joined them on tour as "wardrobe mistress," and it becomes increasingly clear that he doesn't really love her. Meanwhile, Tom—whose own girlfriend (Charlize Theron) left him for her hunky dentist—begins falling for Fay almost obliviously, even as the dream of the band falls apart.
The film's theatrical cut does feel short and drama-less and underdeveloped—it's more of a wispy evocation of an era than a grounded story—but Hanks' extended cut helps rectify some of those wrongs, expanding on the characters' histories, giving us a better sense of the intra-band relations, and filling out the on-tour experience. The most interesting revelation here is that Mr. White is gay—which isn't even hinted at in the original version—but the biggest boon to the additional 39 minutes of material is simply the pleasure of enjoying this world a little longer. More than anything, That Thing You Do! is a fun film, alive with period details and full of good humor and heart. It's unavoidable noting that the actors who play The Wonders have subsequently been one-hit wonders themselves—only Steve Zahn remains a "name," and barely—but they're perfectly cast. Zahn is as hilarious as he's ever been, Johnathon Schaech broods with the best of 'em, Ethan Embry is all boyish glee, and Tom Everett Scott is warm and relatable, ideal as the eyes through which we watch the narrative unfold. We buy these guys as a band. Better yet, they make us want to be in a band; you can't make it through That Thing You Do without feeling a pang of desire to be up on stage, wowing the crowd.
That Thing You Do! Blu-ray, Video Quality
Get ready for disappointment. That Thing You Do! makes its Blu-ray debut with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that appears to be a bad recycling of a now-ancient DVD-era master, sourced from what looks like a thrice-duped internegative. Shot on 35mm with spherical lenses—which almost always create a slightly less resolved image than anamorphic glass—you might reasonably expect the film to look a little soft, but sometimes the picture here is outright blurry, with no discernible fine detail whatsoever. Worse, from the first frames the image looks rough, with specks on the print and busy patches of noise intensifying the already heavy grain structure, making highlights—which can sometime appear a little overexposed—look seriously blotchy. It's distracting, especially in closeups of the actors' faces, and I can't imagine how Fox would think it's acceptable to re-release the film looking like this. Color fares better, but only marginally; black levels often crush shadow detail in darker scenes, and cinematographer Tak Fujimoto's tones can seem either wimpy or oversaturated, with occasionally wonky skin tones. I don't know what happened here, entirely, but I'm sure That Thing You Do! can and should look better. I'm probably being a bit generous with the 2.5/5 score.
That Thing You Do! Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The shoddy picture quality is probably reason enough to pass on this disc—particularly if you already own the 2007 DVD set— but if you're still interested, you can at least rest assured that there are no similar issues with the film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. This is a functional, music-focused mix that never really wows but does get all the essentials right. Most importantly, dialogue is always clear and easily understood, sitting at the top of the mix. Below this is the general ambience, which is often bled over quietly into the rear speakers, letting us hear applause and cheering from all directions, along with a few rare cross-channel effects. The track is at its best, though, when The Wonders let loose with "That Thing You Do," which sounds more polished—and bigger, especially the drums—as the film goes on. The disc also includes Spanish and French dubs, and English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
That Thing You Do! Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
All of the extras from the 2007 DVD release have been ported over here, with no new additions:
That Thing You Do! Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
It's short on drama and it whitewashes some of the grimy realities of early 1960s rock and roll, but That Thing You Do! is fun, funny, and as catchy as its title song. Unfortunately, while Tom Hanks' directorial debut has withstood the test of time, the film's picture quality has not. 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray transfer looks to be a slipshod reappropriation of an old DVD-era master, with a blotchy, noisy, dingy picture. It really is disappointing, so much so that I hesitate to recommend the film at all. Those who own the 2007 DVD release should probably just hold onto it—there are no new extras here—and those thinking of a blind buy should perhaps rent the disc on Netflix before committing to a purchase. I'm 100% positive That Thing You Do! could look drastically better.
That Thing You Do!: Other Editions
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• That Thing You Do! Blu-ray - February 20, 2013
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