Zoolander (2001)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Jerry Stiller
Extras: Commentary Track, Deleted Scenes, Extended Scenes, Outtakes, Promotional Spots, Alternate End Title Sequence, Original Characer Skits, Music Video, Still Galleries

Have you ever noticed that when a movie is made using a pre-existing/familiar character, the story is always as convoluted and complicated as possible? Why is that? Just look at movies such as "The Addams Family", "Casper", "Wayne’s World", and "Mission: Impossible", just to name a few. Well, the film debut of the Ben Stiller character Derek Zoolander is no exception. The film "Zoolander" has an absolutely insane plotline, which takes a backseat to the barrage of bizarre jokes. This interesting little film is now strutting its stuff on DVD, courtesy of Paramount Home Video.

The character of Derek Zoolander (played by Ben Stiller) was originally created for the "VH-1 Fashion Awards", and makes his feature film debut here. Derek is the world’s most popular male model, and three-time winner of "Model of the Year". Unfortunately, he is also one of the dumbest and most conceited people in the world, and has made his fortune off of "looks", such as "Blue Steel" and "Le Tigre". (Which are essentially the same pose!) Derek’s popularity is being threatened by a new model named Hansel (Owen Wilson). Due to this competition, and some other tragedies in his life, Derek decides to retire from modeling, despite the protests of his agent Maury Ballstein (Jerry Stiller).

But, Derek is lured back into the game by the popular fashion designer Mugatu (Will Ferrell), when he chooses Derek to model his new line of clothing. What Derek doesn’t know is that Mugatu plans to use him as a pawn in a plot to assassinate the Prime Minister of Malaysia. (The Prime Minister wants to crack down on slave labor in Malaysia, thus essentially destroying the entire fashion world’s business.) The only ones who can save Derek are plucky Time magazine reporter Matilda (Christine Taylor, the real-life Mrs. Stiller) and Derek’s rival, Hansel. Will they be able to stop Derek from killing the Prime Minister in front of the entire world?

"Zoolander" is one of those films, which is a bit difficult to digest after the initial viewing. For this film the difficulty arises from the fact that the humor is both incredibly broad & stupid, while being very subtle at the same time. Imagine, if you will, a Zucker Brothers film crossed with "This is Spinal Tap" and you’ll get an idea of what this is like. Combine that with the fact that the main character is an absolute idiot, and you’ve got a film which many people may find accessible. Also, the storyline is very silly. The entire film is a spoof of the fashion industry and the importance, which the media places on models. Every cliché, stereotype and prejudice the world has ever had about fashion models is put on the spot here and deliriously mocked. So, if the viewer doesn’t have a good working knowledge of media aesthetics, or happens to be a male model, they probably won’t find the film very amusing.

The more I watched "Zoolander" for this review, I found myself appreciating it more and more. The film’s biggest flaw (and co-writer/co-producer/director/star Stiller admits this in the commentary) is that Stiller and Owen Wilson aren’t on-screen together enough. Thus, the first half of the film is a bit weak, but the second half, where Derek must turn to Hansel for help, is much better, as these two play off one another very well. (See "Meet the Parents" for more examples of this.) So, don’t give up on it if you find it to be boring in the beginning. It takes a while for the film to set up its premise and for the viewer to get comfortable with the characters. This is one of those films where the parts are better than the whole. In the future, I doubt that I’ll watch the entire movie over and over, but there are certain scenes, such as the "Walk Off" and the finale, which I will definitely view. On top of all that, "Zoolander" is worth watching for the thousands of cameo appearances only. Almost every second you will see a familiar face somewhere in the shot and it would make a great game to just count them all.

It’s also Derek’s goal to look good and he looks very nice on this DVD from Paramount Home Video. The film is presented in an <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and has been <$PS,letterboxed> at 2.35:1. The image is very sharp and clear, as with most Paramount releases, and only shows a minute amount of grain in some of the daytime shots. Otherwise, this transfer is near-reference quality. The best aspect of this DVD image are the colors. As it is set in the world of fashion, there is a very wide color palette in "Zoolander" and all of the colors, from the bright reds to the deep blacks, look great here. There is no distortion to the image, nor are there any defects evident from the source print. Overall, a very fine transfer.

This impressive image is backed up by a nice audio display. The <$DD,Dolby Digital> <$5.1,5.1 channel> audio track offers clear dialogue and no ambient hissing or crackling. There are constant surround sound effects throughout the film, which add a great deal to the viewing experience. The soundfield is very wide and the sound-to-speaker placement is very good. The film has several scenes that include crowd noise, and these sounds are filtered quite well through the rear speakers. Also, the techno-rock soundtrack offers a nice subwoofer response throughout the film, although one explosion is noticeably lacking in LFE response. Along with the video transfer, this DVD presents a very good A/V package. (Note: on my system, the "Zoolander" DVD appeared to be recorded in a lower volume than the average DVD, so I had to make adjustments accordingly.)

While Paramount isn’t exactly famous for the extra features on its DVD, "Zoolander" is loaded with goodies. We start with an <$commentary,audio commentary> featuring Stiller, and co-writers Drake Sather and John Hamburg. This is a fun and entertaining commentary, although, I must admit, none of the speakers sound very excited about what they are doing. (Perhaps this is a response to "Zoolander"’s box-office performance.) This group speaks consistently throughout the film and gives a nice overview of the production. Of particular interest are their comments on casting and the tidbits thrown out about the original script for the film, which would have been an extravagant big-budget film. Despite the fact that this isn’t the most exciting commentary ever, it is very informative.

We next have five deleted scenes, which can be viewed with or without commentary from Stiller. Each of these scenes are actually pretty good, but the last one, featuring one of the film’s best cameos is absolutely hilarious. Following this are five extended scenes, which, again, can be viewed with or without commentary. While not as good as the deleted scenes, there are some gems here, including a longer version of the "Walk Off". There is a six-and-half minute outtake and gag reel presented on the DVD which features some funny moments. Owen Wilson has a line here, which had me on the floor.

Next, we have the original Zoolander skits from the "VH-1 Fashion Awards". The 1996 skit runs for nearly three minutes and simply introduces Derek and his "looks". The second skit, from 1997 (four minutes), has Derek doing an infomercial for the "Zoolander University of Modeling for Men." What makes these two shorts interesting is the amount of material here that made its way into the feature film. In a similar vein is the "Promotional Spots" section. This features six Public Service Announcements featuring Derek, which were actually TV spots. Then, the film shows how it used its MTV connections with three mock "MTV Cribs" TV spots, in which Derek’s loft is profiled. And finally we have six Interstitials, which are basically on-screen interviews with the characters from the film. The best of these has Derek arguing with Ben Stiller. Strangely, the theatrical trailer for "Zoolander" is not offered here.

Finally, we have an alternate end title sequence, which offers clips from the film along with the end credits, as opposed to the simple black screen which appears in the finished film. The still gallery offers nineteen production photos, along with the glamour shots of Derek and Hansel, which are seen throughout the film.

While "Zoolander" won’t appeal to all, it is a fun comedy that does a good job of skewering the media and the fashion world. Ben Stiller is great in the title role, but Owen Wilson steals the show as the slightly off-center Hansel. The movie is short and sweet and will be a nice break if you’ve seen too many intellectual films lately. The DVD offers a great transfer and an impressive array of extra features. I would have to say that this DVD is ridiculously good looking.