DVD - Image B Sound B+ Extras B-
BD - Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Bill Murray, Andie MacDowell, Chris Elliot, Stephen Tobolowsky
screenplay by Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis
directed by Harold Ramis
by Bill Chambers I've heard the argument that Groundhog Day fails because it proposes the redemption of world-class crank Bill Murray--but, boy, does redemption fight an uphill battle against him. I suspect the criticism is misdirected at the prolific cinéma du redemption in general. Maybe the finest film yet directed by Harold Ramis (who's unfortunately been stuck in a high-concept rut since--his own personal Groundhog Day), Groundhog Day turns the titular Americana celebration into an existential abyss for Phil Connors (Murray), a self-centred weatherman for a TV station he considers a pit stop on the way to bigger and better things.
Stranded, due to a blizzard he failed to predict, in Punxsutawney, PA after covering their annual Groundhog Day ceremony, Phil spurns an invite to the local evening festivities from his pretty producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), opting instead for a lonesome nightcap and an early sleep. An immediate sense of déjà vu overcomes him when he awakens the next morning to the same radio broadcast from the day before. He dresses, goes downstairs, and is startled to find himself greeting townspeople claiming to be headed for the Groundhog Day ceremony. He probes them for answers: Is Groundhog Day suddenly held twice a year? The next morning, déjà vu all over again; and it's a time loop that only Phil is stuck in--his own private six more weeks of winter.
The film boasts one of the more successful "What if?" scenarios because it keeps fishing for ideas that will enrich the central premise, and we take pleasure in co-screenwriters Ramis and Danny Rubin out-imagining us. Phil robs an armoured car, cheats at "Jeopardy!", and kidnaps the groundhog (lending the film an angry-feeling extratextual relationship to Ramis/Murray's Caddyshack), and when he gets pulled over by a cop for speeding, he plays out a common fantasy of placing an order for a cheeseburger. Perhaps the keenest development in Groundhog Day sees Phil going on a suicide binge: As most of us, I suspect, would, Phil eventually rejects his immortal status.
This is the turning point in his transformation, for he needs to devalue his own life in order to see beyond it towards self-improvement--and it's here, I think, that the film becomes a tabula rasa to a variety of religious doctrines seeking pop analogies for the path to spiritual enlightenment. (The picture contains especially stark sequences for the somewhat Pollyannaish Ramis, including one where Phil tries to prevent the clockwork heart attack of a homeless man he reflexively, but without belabouring it, calls "Dad.") Thereafter, he stops referring to himself as a god ("Not the God") and starts behaving like one, utilizing his powers of foresight to positively affect the citizens of Punxsutawney, a little extra each repeated day.
This of course entails wooing Rita, mostly because Andie MacDowell is second-billed--Rita's really kind of a drip, the sort of person who gets offended if you toast to good times instead of "world peace." At first he leaks info from her to use it to his advantage the following day (such as her favourite drink, or her dislike of fudge), but eventually his well-honed, hard-won excellence speaks for itself. I should say that Bill Murray stays Bill Murray-esque until the Nora Ephron finish; as he changes a tire for a carpool of old ladies, Phil could be an idea from DC Comics' reject pile: Supersmarm. While it's not a charmless performance like the one he gave in Scrooged (which has an arc similar to Groundhog Day's), Murray's Phil does have some acid in his veins. Yet the contempt for Scrooged director Richard Donner that manifested on screen in Murray's scenery-chewing dissipates here in something that feels like respect for the ingenuity of the material and for frequent collaborator Ramis. I don't think of the humbling of Bill Murray, his recent career specialty (he brings an irresistible world-weariness to Wes Anderson's Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums) after toeing the waters in Groundhog Day, as being nearly so subversive as the question of, say, If Phil knows a snowstorm is due to strike in the afternoon, why doesn't he ever try sneaking out of town in the morning?
Columbia TriStar has reissued Groundhog Day on DVD as a feature-light Special Edition. In addition to a pleasing 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer (that nevertheless kicks off with gritty, edge-enhanced credits, a colour palette overabundant with pink and orange, and infrequent print speckles) with an accompanying Dolby Digital 5.1 remix that only George Fenton's often Fellini-esque score uses to its advantage, you get a chummy, if largely rote, commentary from Ramis in which we learn that Reni Santoni was a voice-over artist on the film and that sort of thing. Also on board is an agreeable 25-minute looking-back called "The Weight of Time", though MacDowell and Stephen Tobolowsky (providing a nice thematic analysis of Groundhog Day) are the only principal cast members interviewed. Filmographies and trailers for Groundhog Day, It Could Happen to You, and Peggy Sue Got Married round out the disc. "The Weight of Time" affirms rumours of Murray's philanthropic streak: he bought 500 danishes for a crowd that showed up to observe the shoot, just as he would later write Wes Anderson a personal check for a shot in Rushmore that Buena Vista refused to fund. Originally published: January 21, 2002.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
It would appear that Groundhog Day's reputation swells in inverse proportion to the tackiness of its cover art. You'd never guess from the amateurish, inane Photoshop collage--what's the significance of Bill Murray's hands pointing at the 10 and 1 positions on the alarm clock (which, by the way, isn't even a prop from the movie)?--(dis)gracing the front of the BD that the film recently made the National Registry and Ebert's Great Movies list and just last month was hailed as one of the ten best American movies of all-time by renowned literary theorist Stanley Fish. Luckily, while Sony's art department is staffed with chimpanzees, their A/V crew knows what it's doing and does it exceedingly well: Groundhog Day docks on Blu-ray in an impeccable 1.85:1, 1080p transfer that trades the noisy, vaguely-electronic look of the DVD for a tactile, filmlike image. Though colours and in particular flesh tones still have a pronounced cinnamon cast, the picture enjoys a suppler palette than it ever has at home and shadow detail is exemplary. And if the mix itself is no great shakes, the accompanying 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track is warm and full-sounding.
Joining the returning extras from the 2002 DVD are two HD featurettes from J.M. Kenny--"A Different Day: An Interview with Harold Ramis" (9 mins.) and "The Study of Groundhogs: A Real Life Look at Marmots" (6 mins.)--plus a 5-minute batch of deleted scenes (six in total) mastered in 4:3 letterbox. With an upper lip dappled in sweat, Ramis briefly considers the movie's ecumenical value and reveals that Tom Hanks was a contender for the Bill Murray role. Meanwhile, the marmots segment finds a couple of biologists with dirty hands viewing a marmot colony as their own personal "Meerkat Manor", stressing the soap-operatic quality of the critters' interactions. I learned a little, but the very idea of this piece is a bit too literalminded. As for the elisions, the most noteworthy is a sequence that suggests Phil has become a pool shark. I suspect it was dropped because, aside from being unconvincing (the camera cuts away from Murray's face whenever he shoots) and atonal, it ironically makes you wonder where Phil found the time. Exclusive to the format is something called "Needle Nose Ned's Picture-in-Picture Track", but unfortunately(?) I couldn't access it with my pre-Profile 1.1 player. HiDef previews for The Pink Panther (2006) and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen round out the platter. Originally published: February 10, 2009.
*The disc does not contain a DTS 5.1 track as originally advertised.