The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives (2004)
Paramount Home Video
Cast: Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Jon Lovitz
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Trailers and more

I have to admit that I’ve never been a big fan of the original "Stepford Wives" from 1975. I always found the film a tad too dry and unexciting for its own good. However, under the direction of Frank Oz, whose body of work I greatly admire and whom I consider an incredibly gifted storyteller, I was hopeful that this Ira Levin story will finally get its dues. So when I received this DVD for review I was eager to check it out.

After ungraciously losing her job at a TV network, Joanna Eberhart (Nicole Kidman) and her husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) move to the quaint little town of Stepford in Connecticut. Everything seems perfect in this snobby upper-crust neighborhood. A little too perfect one may say. As Joanna quickly realizes however, the women of Stepford act quite a bit erratically. One of them picture-perfect prettier than the next they do seem to lack a certain quality, usually associated with human beings. Brains. They all seem to be completely artificial, shallow, superficial and plain dumb, and Joanna gets increasingly determined to find out what’s wrong with these bimbos.
[Spoiler warning: Please skip this paragraph if you do not wish to know more about the secret of Stepford]
In the meanwhile her husband Walter is being included in the men’s circle at Stepford where he learns the truth about the Stepford Wives. A truth that has been withheld from public view for some time. With the help of modern science, the men of Stepford have actually replaced their original wives with dummies. Inserting microchips into their brains, they altered the women’s behavior, conscience and now even control their physiognomy with remote controls. After evaluating Walter, they also extend their offer to him… to turn Joanna from a high-powered executive to a remote controlled robot without her own will. There, only to serve one master. Her husband.
[Spoiler end]

This new version of "The Stepford Wives" has been updated to include more contemporary references in the material that will make the film more accessible today’s audiences. It has also been wonderfully cast with an array of actors you would not necessarily pick for their parts without thinking. Led by Nicole Kidman and Matthew Broderick, the cast also features Bette Midler, Glenn Close, Christopher Walken, Jon Lovitz and Faith Hill, for example, each of them leaving a great impression in this tale. Frank Oz made sure the film is never too serious and sprinkled in some great moments that lighten up the material a bit while never taking away from the suspense. The pacing of the film is great, making it fast enough to keep the suspense going but also taking enough time to explore the subject in small little flourishes.

Ira Levin’s novels often have a very paranoid and somewhat claustrophobic feel to them, whether it’s "A Kiss Before Dying," "Rosemary’s Baby," "Sliver," and of course, "The Stepford Wives." It is certainly hard to properly bring Levin’s sublime sense of threat, isolation and paranoia to the screen and just like Polanski did with "Rosemary’s Baby," Frank Oz managed to walk the tightrope and find just the right tone for this material.

Paramount Home Entertainment is presenting "The Stepford Wives" in its original <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. A <$PS,fullscreen> version is being sold separately but it is not part of this review. Since this is a brand-new movie production, the image is, as expected, without even the slightest flaws. No blemishes, speckles or grain are evident anywhere and the level of detail in the transfer is staggering at times. Contrasts are always balanced and the black levels are deep and solid, firmly rooting the image with blacks that never break up and always hold their detail. No edge-enhancement or compression artifacts distract from the viewing experience.

The audio on the release is also a contemporary, active surround mix that uses a wide sound field and makes aggressive and virtually constant use of the surround channels. With a natural frequency response and dynamic range the track always brings out the best of each given moment and also gives David Arnold’s score plenty of room to breathe.

A series of special features are included on this release, including foremost a <$commentary,commentary track> by Frank Oz. Oz is witty, humorous and highly engaging as he elaborates on the making of the film as well as his intentions. It is a very entertaining commentary that’s also not too light on the informative side.

Also included are a selection of featurettes, such as "A Perfect World: The Making of The Stepford Wives." It is a traditional promotional featurette with some behind-the-scenes footage as well as cast and crew interviews.

A selection of deleted and extended scenes is also included on the release, giving you another glimpse at some of the characters in the film. These scenes are nicely complemented by a gag reel with some great, hilarious moments on the set. An overview over the Stepford Wives and one about the Stepford Husbands can also be found as well as easers and trailers for the film.

I greatly enjoyed this remake of "The Stepford Wives." It is an eloquent film that so aptly observes our continuous hunger for perfection as well as the shortcomings of it. With plenty of humor and a good level of suspense this film makes for a great viewing. Check it out yourself.