Length: 101 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p
Languages: English, French, Portuguese Dolby TrueHD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese (Traditional), Chinese (Simplified), Korean, Thai, Indonesian, Dutch, Arabic
What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?
Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is a self-centered, egotistical weatherman for a television station in Pittsburgh. Every February the station dispatches him to the western Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney to cover the annual Groundhog Day festivities, where “Punxsutawney Phil” emerges from hibernation on the 2nd of February. If the groundhog sees his shadow, the residents have another six weeks of winter to suffer through.
Phil makes it clear that he has grown weary of the ritual and he wants to get in and out of Punxsutawney as quickly as possible. He is accompanied by his new producer, Rita (Andie MacDowell), and his cameraman, Larry (Chris Elliott). Rita is unrelentingly cheerful about the assignment, and Larry can’t understand why Phil is complaining. “I don’t understand what’s wrong with the groundhog festival,” remarks Larry. “You know, when I worked in San Diego I covered the swallows returning to Capistrano six years in a row.”
After spending the night at a local bed and breakfast, Phil is awakened at 6:00 a.m. to the sound of Sonny & Cher singing “I Got You Babe” on the clock radio. During his walk to the town square, Phil runs into an old high school classmate he has completely forgotten about, Ned Ryerson (Stephen Tobolowsky), better known as “Needle Nose Ned.” Now an obnoxious insurance salesman, Ned has difficulty believing that Phil doesn’t remember him. “I dated your sister Mary Pat a couple of times,” says Ned, “’til you told me not to anymore.”
When “Punxsutawney Phil” sees his shadow, the weatherman can scarcely conceal his contempt for both the event and the local townspeople, whom he dismisses as “hicks.” Phil, Rita and Larry head back to Pittsburgh, only to be forced to return to Punxsutawney because of a blizzard and a closed freeway. Phil spends another night at the bed and breakfast, and when he wakes up the next morning – once again to the sound of Sonny & Cher – he discovers that it is still Groundhog Day, all over again. The weather is the same, the people are the same, the band in the town square playing "Pennsylvania Polka" is the same, and “Punxsutawney Phil” sees his shadow again. This scenario is repeated the next morning, and the morning after that. Phil Connors finds himself caught is some sort of time warp, one from which there appears to be no escape.
There are plenty of laughs in Groundhog Day, but it also conveys as serious message about maturing and redemption. Once Phil gets beyond his understandable bewilderment, he initially responds to the situation by seeing how much he can get away with. He discovers that nothing that he does has lasting consequences, because every day starts off as if the previous day never happened. He learns things which enable him to seduce a local woman, and then he tries to do the same with Rita. Ultimately, however, he has to come to grips with the idea that nothing that he does actually matters.
Groundhog Day is a wonderful film and it has not aged a bit since it was released in 1993. Bill Murray is terrific as Phil, and he and Andie MacDowell demonstrate some genuine on-screen chemistry. Stephen Tobolowsky is nothing short of hilarious as Ned, stealing every scene in which he appears. Director Harold Ramis keeps things moving along at a solid pace and the film never loses its momentum. Groundhog Day was a huge box office hit and garnered mostly rave reviews. If you haven’t seen it before, now is the time to enjoy it in glorious Blu-Ray. If you have seen it before, now is the time to see it again.
The 1.85:1 1080p transfer is very satisfying. The image is generally sharp and clear. A moderate and appropriate amount of film grain is evident, giving Groundhog Day a pleasing, film-like appearance. The color palette is deliberately subdued, as all of the action takes place on a gray day in February, but the colors and skin tones appear to be accurate. Black levels are good and shadow detail is excellent. I did not observe any edge enhancement or annoying digital artifacts. All in all, this is a first-rate Blu-ray disc, and it is the best that Groundhog Day has ever looked on home video.
The Dolby TrueHD soundtrack is very good. This is essentially a romantic comedy, so there is not much here to tax your sound system, but music plays and important part in the film and the soundtrack has excellent separation. The score by George Fenton is very enjoyable and the film also includes songs by Ray Charles and Nat “King” Cole. The dialogue is clear and intelligible throughout.
The extras on this Blu-ray release include an interesting and informative commentary track by director Harold Ramis. He is obviously happy with all of the performances in the film, and he is quick to point out the many scenes in which Bill Murray used improvisation to enhance the film. Also included is a new, ten-minute interview with Ramis.
“The Weight of Time” is a standard definition “making of” featurette which has previously appeared on DVD. I had not previously thought about how carefully the film had to be choreographed in order to maintain the illusion that nothing in the background is changing from day to day.
Are you interested in groundhogs? Nature lovers will undoubtedly enjoy watching “The Study of Groundhogs: A Real Life Look at Marmots.”
Six standard-definition deleted scenes are included. With the exception of a poll hall scene, they are fairly brief, with a total running time of less than six minutes. The final product was not hurt by the deletions.
I am still scratching my head over a Blu-ray exclusive called “Needle Nose Ned’s Picture-in-Picture Track.” When engaged, this feature has Stephen Tobolowsky popping up on the screen, in character, apparently sharing tidbits about the film. While I had no trouble getting Ned to appear, I could not figure out how to hear Ned's audio track. The disc contains no specific instructions, and nothing I could do would allow me to hear him. If there is some trick to this which I have missed, please let me know. NOTE: The problem was in the setup of my BD player's audio and has now been corrected!
There will be some BD-Live features which will be available on the release date.
The disc is secured in a standard Blu-ray keepcase.
The Final Analysis
The reputation of Groundhog Day has only grown over the years, and with good reason. It is a terrific, original, wonderfully made film, featuring an excellent cast. It is one of those films which demands repeat viewing, so this Blu-ray disc is an investment which you will gladly make.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Sharp LC-42D62U LCD display
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: January 27, 2009