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Orange County

review by Zach B.

 

 

Rated: PG-13 (For Drug Content, Language and Sexuality)

Running Time: 82 minutes

Starring: Colin Hanks, Jack Black, Catheron O'Hara, Schuyler Fish, John Lithgow, Lily Tomlin

Written by: Mike White

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

 

Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $29.99

Features: Audio Commentary with Director Jake Kasdan and Writer Mike White, 15 Interstitials, Four Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English 5.1 Dolby Digital, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (17 Scenes)

Released: June 18th, 2002

 

 

Shaun Brumder (Colin Hanks) used to be another air-headed teenage surfer in Orange County, California spending his times partying on the beach and surfing. But after his good friend is killed by a gigantic ocean wave while surfing, Shaun becomes depressed with his life and confused about his future. But one day, like a light from Heaven, Shaun finds a copy of a book by the famous writer Marcus Skinner in the sand. The book touches Shaun and changes his life... so much, that he gives up his old lifestyle and becomes a serious, hardworking student. Shaun makes it his mission to get into the prestigious Stanford University and study with Skinner.

Considering how high Shaun's test scores are, it shouldn't be a problem for him to get accepted. His high school guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) even tells him that he's a shoe-in and that he doesn't even need to apply to any other schools. But then any high schooler's worst nightmare comes true for Shaun... his counselor ends up sending someone else's drastically worse transcript under his name. Naturally, Stanford rejects him and Shaun feels that his life is ruined. But barely anyone around him cares. His emotionally fragile mother Cindy (Catherine O'Hara) doesn't think it's the end of the world, his friends don't seem to understand and his father Bud (John Lithgow) refuses to make a donation to Stanford so he can get in. But his girlfriend Ashley (Schuyler Fisk) does believe in him even if she is a bit sad that they may be parting ways, and his drug-addicted brother Lance (Jack Black) is willing to help. So after a meeting with a Stanford head is blown thanks to the dysfunctional members of his family, the two help Shaun to go see the admissions head at Stanford (Harold Ramis) and explain the mess before it's too late.

In a season where Oscar releases expanded and craptacular movies came out, in an age when teen films seem to be mindless slasher stories and gross-out comedies with all the stereotypes you know and love, "Orange County" was a surprise cut above them all and was a modest success when released in January 2002. Yes it's a teen film, but it's a different kind of teen film. It's somewhat a hybrid of smart dialogue and elements mixed in with goofy fun that so many of us consider a guilty pleasure in the types of movies we tend to enjoy. Think "Say Anything..." meets nearly any teen comedy from 1996 on.

The man we have to thank for that is writer Mike White, who's no stranger to this genre before. A former writer for shows "Dawson's Creek" and "Freeks & Geeks," knows exactly what it's like to be a teenager and what problems they face in their daily lives, no matter how big and small. I'm a personally a big fan of White's work, especially the underrated and overlooked gem that he wrote and acted in, "Chuck & Buck." White uses the same kind of approach in "Orange County" and it does succeed. He takes comedy that is rather mainstream and offers something people can relate to, but with everything else, he offers a subtle intelligence that rings true throughout. The plot and some of the characters in the movie may be incredibly farfetched, but how he uses them and the fact that they work throughout makes this movie somewhat believable. Though the film and its characters know itself and can be easily predicted by many moviegoers, what White writes is rather entertaining so its easy to go along for the ride. Even though the standard gags that can be in any teen film are hit and miss, his dialogue dealing with college, society and nepotism are often funny and hit the right marks.

Jake Kasdan (father of the famous filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan and another "Freaks & Geeks" alum) directed the film, and he captures what White's script is all about. The wackiness and broadness, but also the deep undertones that aren't always expressed to their fullest on purpose, making the audience imply ideals for themselves. Kasdan has some nice and frentic shots that are laid out quite nicely. Kasdan also keeps the film going and at a brisk pace. While uneven, the film runs a bit under ninety minutes in length. Overall, he does a solid job here giving the film a familiar yet somewhat independent flair.

The acting in the film is quite strong as well, and all the actors suit their roles quite nicely. Colin Hanks (yes, son of Tom Hanks) plays Shaun exactly as he should. There's a sense of eagerness within him always, but there's always that frustration, sadness over college and loss of hope as things tend to snowball on him. While it remains to be seen if Hanks can fill his father's shoes, but judging from this film and his past supporting work, he's on his way. Equally impressive is Schuylar Fisk (Sissy Spacek's daughter). She captures the sensibilities of Ashley quite well. Ashley is a nice girl in conflict who wants the best for her boyfriend, yet she also knows that him going to Stanford could mean the end of their strong relationship. There's also Jack Black, who many will be disappointed with by the fact that he is advertised as a lead role, yet he really doesn't have that much screen time in the end. Still, there's something likable about Black, and when he's in his scenes, he does tend to steal them. Supporting performances from Garry Marshall, Chevy Chase, Catherine O'Hara, John Lithgow and Harold Ramis are a load of fun too, even if their roles are way out there (I loved Lily Tomlin as the most brain dead and worst guidance counselor of all time). Plus, there are some cameos from a few respected actors you may have heard of... which brings me to a point. There has been some controversy surrounding this film. Many think it would not have been made if Tom Hanks' son and Sissy Spacek's daughter were starring in it. I must disagree, because the actors hold their own, this film is strong for what it is and certainly "relation" doesn't always attract an audience to see a film. Besides, I'm sure those kids would have actually been getting a bit part in one of their parents' movies instead of starring here.

I felt that the much more mainstream humor outweighed "Orange County," disguising what this film really is. But appearances can be deceptive. A lot of people are going to simply dismiss "Orange County" thinking it's another run-of-the-mill teen film by judging it from its advertisements. But if you sit down to watch the film, you may realize there is much more than what's on the surface. It's not the deepest film of all time, but it has a lot more depth than ten standard teenage comedies combined. Yet the message White offers is something valuable, and something a lot of high school students around the world will never realize and will never take to heart. Even if you don't get into the college you want, it's not the end of the world. Just because you go to a highly respected school it doesn't automatically mean success. You can still go to a good college and turn out to be something big. It's not always the education you receive that makes you who you are, but those around you and what you've made yourself. Again, too bad some students will never realize this as long as they live.

 

"Orange County" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and given Paramount's high track record with their transfers and that this is a new release, the results are terrific, if a little bit inconsistent, which may disappoint some home theater enthusiasts. Still, the overall result matters, and this is one fine transfer if you ask me. What I found pariticuarly annoying is how there is a lot of halo edges on the characters in quite a few scenes. I got used to it, but it's still pretty distracting. Equally distracting is a good deal of shimmering (plus some noise here and there), and how some night scenes don't shine to their best, looking a bit faded and fuzzy. I wonder if some of this is due to the film's low budget (I'm assuming it is). Your usual blemishes, nicks on the print and pieces of dirt pop up here and there too, not to mention just a tiny bit of film grain which isn't too noticable and some incredbly slight and very low edge enhancment. Still, the many postive aspects of this transfer make up for it. Most of the time it looks quite bright, very sharp and gives off a strong feel to it. The background detail and black levels are pretty phenomenal. The transfer does keep up with its locations too, be it the Stanford campus, the interiors of Shaun's house or some lovely outdoor shots of scene Orange County, it's all here and comes off well. Color saturation is very nice too where it's all so vibrant and much of the film's look pops right out at you, all with some of the best fleshtones I've seen on DVD. Overall, it's a flawed but lovely transfer.

 

An English Dolby Digital 5.1 track is included for "Orange County," as well as Dolby Surround tracks in English and French. The 5.1 track is quite good, featuring very strong dynamics. The words out of the characters' mouths are easy to hear and are quite crisp, as the film features a variety of music and sound effects, and none of the elements get mixed together for an akward experience. You can hear each sound portion as you should. Most of this track is broad, but how the sounds are mixed and it all works makes this a fine mix. There are a lot of sound effects that bring great punches to this track, such as speeding cars, the usual assortment of noises at parties and the results of a fire. The music is also well integrated into the mix, using all the channels quite nicely and giving you a strong sense of the film's tone, topped off with some deep bass. Fidelity is pretty high too. Overall, everything comes together nicely for a fun track, just like the movie itself. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captions.

 

Paramount has given "Orange County" a very nice share of supplements, that perfectly compliments the film if you ask me. First up is an Audio Commentary with Director Jake Kasdan and Writer Mike White. This is a fairly good track, though the comments are not always screen specific and there is a fair share of silence. Each of them have semi-nasaly voices, which I'm sure may get to some people (but it's the comments that count, right?). Either way, they share some interesting production stories and technical details, which I ended up enjoying, as well as some slight background information. I really enjoyed White's contribution on a commentary to another film he wrote, Chuck & Buck, and it's sorta the same here. Still, I think these two have really good careers ahead of them and have gotten steady work already, and this track fits the movie fine. I also noticed that Paramount has a disclaimer before the menus start up... it seems more and more studios are doing that these days.

There are also four Deleted Scenes. No explanations are given on why they were cut, but to say to make the film's running time less, then, uh, that's a bad excuse seeing how this movie is a mere eighty-two minutes (with credits no less). The scenes altogether run about five and a half minutes. They're fun to watch and fit nicely within the movie actually, but they really don't add anything special. Still, they're good watches that fans of the film should enjoy.

On the more promotional side of things, we have 15 different Interstitials. These are promotional ads, and I believed they were used on MTV to hype the film (makes sense, how MTV Films co-produced this movie and that Viacom owns them and Paramount). Either way, some are clips from the movie and others seem to be made especially for the ads. Most of them are quite funny, and did sorta remind me of the MTV Movie Awards promos where they used the Max Fisher Players from my all time favorite film, "Rushmore." Finally, we have a Theatrical Trailer in English 5.1 Dolby Digital and non-anamorphic widescreen.

On a different note, the keepcase for the DVD itself is quite interesting and is one I haven't seen before. I really like it, actually. It has two flaps on the side that you open, and then you can open the rest of the case. I guess it's used for more protectional purposes, but either way, it's pretty neat if you ask me. I also really enjoyed the film's menus... even if I felt a cameo appearence right ruined it for those who haven't seen the movie, but it's not major. I guess I just like the words about life intertwined with the images (the same goes for the box art).

 

"Orange County" is smart teen fun, with solid performances, a breezy tone and actually ties in important life lessons without being preachy. This is one great release from Paramount, as it features very cool supplements, a strong 5.1 Dolby Digital track and a very nice looking transfer. If you're interested, be sure to check it out. If you're not, don't automatically dimiss it as a teen comedy, because there is a lot more to it than you may think. Fans of the genre, comedy lovers and fans of the movie... this is one for your collection.