Screenplay : Drake Sather & Ben Stiller and John Hamburg (story by Drake Sather & Ben Stiller)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Ben Stiller (Derek Zoolander), Owen Wilson (Hansel), Christine Taylor (Matilda Jeffries), Will Ferrell (Jacobim Mugatu), Jerry Stiller (Maury Ballstein), Milla Jovovich (Katinka)
The unstated joke throughout Zoolander, Ben Stiller's humorously surreal comedy about the fashion industry, is that the two leads, Stiller and Owen Wilson, who play competing male supermodels, look nothing like male supermodels.
Stiller's character, Derek Zoolander, talks incessantly about how hard it is being "really, really, really ridiculously good-looking" and how he can't help that he was born with "perfect bone structure," but all of this runs contrary to Stiller's visage. Of course, both Stiller and Wilson are hardly unattractive men, but male supermodel material they are not. Yet, this works in perfect tandem with the movie's underlying goal to skewer everything about popular culture in general and the fashion industry in particular, because the movie's connecting thread is that, with only rare exceptions, every character is somehow oblivious to a larger reality.
The character of Derek Zoolander was initially born out of a skit done for the 1996 VH-1 fashion awards by Stiller and Drake Sather, a writer for TV shows such as The Larry Sanders Show (Stiller and Sather cowrote the movie alone with John Hamburg). At first, I wasn't sure if Derek Zoolander—self-absorbed, shallow, and utterly dim—could hold an entire movie, but his character is surprisingly resilient, mostly because Stiller gives him a sweet naivete that tempers his less-appealing personality qualities.
The plot of Zoolander is, in a word, bizarre. It appears that the newly elected prime minister of Malaysia is on a crusade to eradicate child labor, which means dire straits for an international fashion industry that relies heavily on third-world children laboring in sweatshops to make high-priced garments. Big-time fashion designer Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell), whose curly white coiffure matches his pet poodle's, is enlisted by the shadowy backers of the fashion industry to find someone to assassinate the Malaysian prime minister. They need someone dumb enough that he can be brainwashed in less that two weeks; hence, they immediately light on Zoolander.
Zoolander, of course, has no idea any of this is going on. He's too busy worrying about perfecting his new "look" because his current signature look, trademarked Blue Steel, is getting old (nine years in the planning, the new look, Magnum, still isn't ready). Zoolander is also preoccupied with the fact that he career is beginning to slide, especially after the hot new model, Hansel (Wilson), a stoner adrenaline junkie with tousled Dutchboy blond locks, wins the VH-1 Male Model of the Year award, thus robbing Zoolander of his fourth straight victory. (The scene in which Zoolander, so sure that he has won, strides up to the podium and begins giving an acceptance speech even though Hansel's name was called is both hilarious and oddly heartbreaking.)
Zoolander is also being pursued by Matilda Jeffries (Christine Taylor), an intrepid investigative reporter for Time magazine who is trying to get a scoop on Mugatu. While it's an unglamorous job, Matilda ends up functioning quite well as the requisite straight (wo)man (some of the movie's downright funniest scenes are her perplexed, "You've-got-to-be-kidding" looks in response to something Zoolander or Hansel has done or said in complete earnest).
Directed by Ben Stiller in his first stint behind the camera since 1996's underrated black comedy The Cable Guy, Zoolander is brash and sometimes subversive, often pushing into territory where you wouldn't expect it to go. Stiller gives the movie an erratic, glitzy look—much like something you would expect to see on MTV—but he constantly undercuts the surface with pointed jabs at everything that characters in the movie stand for. One of the funniest sequences involves Zoolander going back to a coal mine in New Jersey to get back to his roots with his father (Jon Voight) and his brothers who, although ashamed of having a male model in the family, all share Zoolander's spiky coif.
Many of the jokes are obvious, and a great majority of them rest on Zoolander's male bimbo persona and his penchant for turning everything in his life into a runway show (he seems to be incapable of not modeling at any given moment). Yet, at the same time, there is something genuinely subversive about the whole project, especially the way Stiller has brought in dozens of recognizable faces—Donald Trump, Winona Ryder, Lenny Kravitz, Gary Shandling, Natalie Portman, Cuba Gooding Jr., Billy Zane, and Lance Bass of N'Sync, to name a few—not to mention the entire fashion/entertainment industry as represented on TV by VH-1 (which coproduced the movie) and E! to make fun of themselves and the way they elevate pretty people to the highest cultural status.
Everything about the movie is terrifically absurd, from the neo-Manchurian Candidate brainwashing assassination plot, to Zoolander and Hansel's competitive walk-off in which they try to out-"male model" each other, to the scene in Hansel's cavernous apartment that leads to a "freak fest" orgy involving midgets. Stiller is even daring enough to go where no white man has gone since Ted Danson by employing blackface jokes not once, but twice, the second time being hilariously literal.
But, underlying it all is an undeniable sweetness that will appeal to those who don't want to see the movie as mean or cutting in a satirical way (which it is). Zoolander's desire to help other people through his school for troubled children, the Zoolander School for Kids Who Don't Read Good, can play as either a character trait that makes him likable or yet another jab at fashion models who parade around for various causes as thinly disguised self-promotion. Zoolander cuts both ways in this respect, which gives it an added edge lacked by many Hollywood comedies.
|Zoolander Special Collector's Edition DVD|
|Audio|| Dolby Digital 5.1 surround|
Dolby 2.0 surround
|Languages||English (5.1, 2.0), French (2.0)|
|Supplements|| Audio commentary by director/cowriter/actor Ben Stiller and cowriters Drake Sather and John Hamburg|
5 deleted scenes (with optional commentary by Ben Stiller)
5 extended scenes (with optional commentary by Ben Stiller)
Original skits from 1996 and 1997 VH-1 Fashion Awards
"Start the Commotion" music video
15 promotional spots
3 photo galleries
Alternate end title sequence
|Distributor||Paramount Home Video|
|Release Date||March 12, 2002|
|Presented in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1), Zoolander's transfer is, as Derek Zoolander himself would put it, "really really good-looking." The image is razor-sharp with strong contrast and excellent detail, from the ridiculous platinum curls on Mugatu's head, to the frizzy fake fur on Hansel's various outfits. With all the eccentric and outlandish fashions, Zoolander is an intensely colorful film, with a broad palette of striking primary colors that are perfectly saturated and smooth. The darker scenes boast excellent shadow detail and thick, inky blacks.|
|The soundtrack is presented in an effective Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix that uses a broad front soundstage and full employment of the surrounds to show off the movie's wide range of songs (which includes the resurrection of numerous '80s tunes like Wham!'s "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and Michael Jackson's "Beat It").|
| The screen-specific audio commentary by director/cowriter/actor Ben Stiller and cowriters Drake Sather and John Hamburg starts out a little slow—none of them seem particularly comfortable at first—but quickly picks up and proves to be worth listening to. As it is the three writers talking, most of their comments revolve around the plot and the many, many permutations the script went through over many years (at one point, it was going to be an homage to Alfred Hitchcock's North by Northwest (1959), complete with a climax on Mount Rushmore). They also have interesting notes to offer about the casting, including the fact that Mugatu was originally written with Andy Dick in mind. |
Further evidence of the tweaking Zoolander went through before reaching the screen can be found in the five deleted and five extended scenes. Each scene has optional commentary by Stiller, and most of them are discussed throughout the group commentary, as well. Some of this cutting-room-floor material constitutes small subplots that were discarded entirely, while other bits are simply variations on scenes in the movie. There is also an alternative end title sequence, as well as a collection of six and a half minutes of outtakes, which mostly involve the actors (understandably) flubbing their lines because they're laughing (all of this material is presented in nonanamorphic widescreen transferred from video masters).
You can also see the genesis of the Derek Zoolander character in two skits that originally aired during the VH-1 Fashion Awards in 1996 and 1997. The first is an interview with Derek and includes many of the same jokes that were later used in interview sequence at the beginning of the movie; the second skit is an infomercial for DZU—the Derek Zoolander University of Modeling for Men. And, while there are no theatrical trailers included, there are 15 hilarious promotional spots divided into three sections: Public Service Announcements (6 spots with titles like "Zoolander on Racism" and "Zoolander on Education"), promotions for MTV's Cribs (3 spots in which Derek shows us his "crib"), and Interstitials (6 other various spots, included 3 in which Ben Stiller and Zoolander are interviewed side-by-side). There is also a set of three anamorphically enhanced photo galleries: Derek's portfolio (7 images), Hansel's portfolio (12 images), and Zoolander production stills (19 images).
Copyright © 2001, 2002 James Kendrick