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The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (Blu-ray Review)

walter mitty why so blu thumbAn assumption about The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is that it appears to be a light-hearted adventure comedy made for a trendy crowd, due to the use of various elements in its trailers.  I would not necessarily agree, but that seems to have inspired a lot of ire in the film from some, for reasons that are beyond me.  Having seen the film a couple times now, I was very happy to enjoy it for what it manages to accomplish.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is a film about one man’s journey that may not have a whole lot of depth, compared to the scope of the film or others like it, but it worked for me in a very crowd-pleasing kind of way and I liked that.  Now the Blu-ray is available for people to enjoy the journey at home.

Film: 

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More based on James Thurber’s short story from a thematic sense, rather than a literal adaptation, the film revolves around Walter (Ben Stiller), an employee at Life magazine, who frequently daydreams of alternate ways (often fantastical) to handle situations.  These daydreams usually stem from a lack of motivation or courage to stand up for what he wants or what to take hold of in life.  Everything starts to change once Walter does make a big decision, as he finds himself tasked with locating an important photograph supposedly sent to him by photojournalist Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn).  Walter has to find this photo, so he makes it his mission to do so, which involves retracing Sean’s steps, leading Walter on an adventure to various locations in the world, where he, let alone many other people, may never have considered going to.

There is one clear issue with the movie that it actually manages to turn into a positive, as it progresses further into the runtime and that has to do with making the style work.  At the outset, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty wants the audience to know that this film exists in a hyper-real world, where Mitty can not only have daydreams involving him jumping out of windows and surviving explosions, but also actually dive into freezing cold oceans and battle sharks.  There was a decision made to basically be very on-the-nose about everything, from the visuals to the dialogue and things can feel a bit jarring because of it, especially in its first half.

The reason I think it is jarring is because this is a very earnest film, with a specific kind of ambition (and a firm eye on broad quirkiness) that is somewhat new for Ben Stiller as a director.  As most of Stiller’s films have had a satirical edge to them, I guess the notion of putting a sweet-natured film about discovery and finding one’s self is something of a different direction to travel for a filmmaker.  Film’s Stiller has directed like Zoolander or Tropic Thunder are obviously poking fun at aspects of American culture, while ‘Mitty’ is more about celebrating life as unsubtly as possible.

THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY

The style and tone of the film does eventually find a way to balance itself out and the film is all the better for it, once it does.  For all the crazy fantasy sequences that occur early on, the best bits in this first hour really do revolve around the characters in their smaller scenes, which goes on to aid the film later on.  The romance subplot is certainly a big part of this.  Much of the motivation for Walter comes from a friendship he forms with the new girl in the office that he has a crush on, Cheryl (Kristen Wiig).  Stiller and Wiig have a nice chemistry together and Cheryl is actually developed as a person that could be very real, as opposed to an impossible love interest that also happens to be perfect and perfectly available for Walter.  Given that this relationship exists, the film finds a way to ground itself, regardless of how predictable the endgame for these two may be.

When the film does move into its more adventurous parts, such as Walter heading to Greenland and Iceland through various means of travel, the film does open up for the better as well.  Along with having some great photography of these various locations (cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh does a fine job), the film has a lot of fun with how to keep Walter as the main focus, with the audience discovering what he discovers at the same time.  It provides the film with a sense of exploration that manages to be a lot of fun, before the film settles back down and allows for some drama to kick in.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty could be classified as a light drama, with adventure/comedy elements, but I do not think that makes it any less of an enjoyable film that can’t be seen by most audiences.  The PG rating should be a pretty big indication of that anyway.  I think that is the reason that the theme of “living life to the fullest” is so broad and obvious, as it is a film made for anyone to enjoy.  Even if it’s not perfect, I am happy to see a film like this during the holidays, rather than a very standard family holiday movie that offers little in the way of substance.

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While having very obvious intentions, the film is also quite fun, which went a long way for me.  I do not need every movie, with similar concepts, to have to play things with more “tact” or downplay what they are trying to convey to the audience on a thematic level.  The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not an arthouse film.  There may be the thought that it wants to succeed on a much grander level, but it does not really do that either, as there is not much more to it.  It is a rather simple film, but regardless, it is fun (with only some shades of darkness thrown in).  I liked watching Stiller (who is quite good in the film) go through these different adventurous scenarios and evolve as a character over time.  The movie has an active imagination and I was fond of seeing it in action.  Sometimes the fantastical flourishes feel overdone, but for the most part I really enjoyed what this film was putting forward and felt very positive coming out of it.

Video:

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Encoding:  AVC MPEG-4

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio:  2.40:1

Clarity/Detail:  If The Secret Life of Walter Mitty has one thing that cannot be spoken against, it has to be the wonderful cinematography.  While it may lean on the special effects a bit heavily, the film looks gorgeous for most of its runtime, which is reflected well in this very video presentation that is very clear throughout.  The fine detail can be seen in the wide shots and the close-ups in a way that really benefits the quality of the transfer that does a great job of supporting what Stiller and his DP were able to accomplish in the visual look of this film.

Depth:  Given the fantastical aspects of this film, it makes sense how strong the depth of field seems, given the scope that is presented.  This continues to apply once the film heads into grand areas in true reality as well, which is just nice.

Black Levels:  The black levels are fine here.  For a very colorful and bright film, the scenes that do head into darkness are well handled.

Color Reproduction:  Given the use of colors to really build the film out of its opening, mundane settings, it is great that the film’s Blu-ray does a fine job of handling this aspect, even if there is a noticeable amount of blue that seems to be in every frame of the film.

Flesh Tones:  Everyone looks great in terms of details and textures.

Noise/Artifacts:  None I could see.

 

Audio:

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Audio Format(s):  English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles:  English SDH, Spanish

Dynamics:  This disc has a DTS-HD MA 7.1 track, which means it is awesome.  The sound is incredibly well balanced and sounds great any way you look at it.

Low Frequency Extension:  Lots of visual effect sequences add plenty to this aspect, making it a great time to have a woofer for a ‘small character drama’ set in a big world.

Surround Sound Presentation:  There is a wonderful use of sound in this film that is very well spread around one’s surround system.

Dialogue Reproduction:  Even with all that is going on, the film manages to keep the character focus present due to how clearly understandable everyone is, amidst all that is going on within the film.

 

Extras:

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Yep, I am going to complain about a lack of a commentary track for this film, as I would have loved to hear what director/star Ben Stiller and writer Steven Conrad would have had to say about this film, but alas, all that is available are a variety of featurettes and some deleted scenes.

Features Include:

  • Deleted, Extended & Alternate Scenes – There is an alternate opening to check out, along with another visual effects moment, but this is mostly excised material that was not necessary for the film.
  • Behind the Scenes – This section contains a variety of featurettes that rarely last more than 5 minutes:
    •             The History of Walter Mitty – Some thoughts on the original story.
    •             The Look of Life – A look at the concept of the film.
    •             That’s a Shark! – A look at Iceland.
    •             The Music of Walter Mitty – A look at the score of the film.
    •             Icelandic Adventure – Another look at Iceland.
  • Nordic Casting – Many different characters in this film, here is that process of finding them.
  • Titles of Walter Mitty – A look at the creation of the title design.
  • Sights and Sounds of Production – A look at two of the big action sequences in the film.
  • Pre-Viz – A look at an early version of a fight scene in animatic form.
  • Gallery: Reference Photography
  • Music Video:  “Stay Alive” by Jose Gonzales
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • DVD Copy of the Film
  • Digital HD and UltraViolet Copy of the Film

Summary:

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I am a fan of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.  It has a broad take on its subject matter, which supports the use of big budget effects, but I enjoy the film for its look, its humor, and its easy but nice message.  It was also a nice change in pace for Stiller, which I found admirable.  The Blu-ray is very strong in its overall presentation and has just enough extra material to make it a bit more worthwhile as well.  A solid offering overall.

Order Your Copy Here:

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Blu-ray Cover

Aaron is a writer/reviewer for WhySoBlu.com.  Follow him on Twitter @AaronsPS4.
He also co-hosts a podcast,
Out Now with Aaron and Abe, available via iTunes or at HHWLOD.com.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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