A few years ago Tom Hanks decided that he'd like to direct a feature of his own. The result was one of the sweeter, more entertaining pictures of 1996 - and yet, the film never really received much of an audience. "That Thing You Do!" is the story of a garage band in the 1960's called The Wonders that rides from it's small town roots to take the nation by storm from a little song called - what else, "That Thing You Do!".
The band, singer/songwriter Jimmy Mattingly (Jonathan Schaech), drummer Guy Patterson (Tom Everett Scott), guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn), and a bass player (Ethan Embry), soon find themselves under the management of Play-Tone records and a Mr. White (director Hanks). Hanks does a wonderful job of capturing a fairly realistic tone of even the smallest events, from the talent shows with a group of nerdish kids dancing to their own tune in front of the stage making fun of the host to when the band finally makes their televised appearance.
He also does a terrific job at capturing the joys of the band rising to fame. There's two superb moments early on, as drummer Guy suddenly speeds up the pace of the song. The band members initially are furious, but the crowd's into it, and Lenny turns to ask gleefully - "what's going on here?". Another sequence has the band first hearing their tune on the radio, and Hanks does a stellar job showing the rush of their new popularity.
There's also a lot to be said about the casting choices. Hanks directs two terrific comedic actors in Embry and Zahn (who gets all the film's best lines), and Scott is also terrific as the lead. The only actor that struck me as a fairly weak choice was Schaech, who isn't really able to bring across the drama in the later scenes as the band finds itself breaking apart. There's a bit of predictability to the events and where it all leads up to, but Hanks is able to skip over the cliches with the film's boundless energy and some terrific humor - some of Zahn's lines are especially laugh-out-loud funny.
It's a light film, but thankfully Hanks keeps things well-paced and with just enough hints of drama that it keeps from floating away. Superb cinematography, strong editing and excellent performances, writing and direction keep "That Thing You Do!" in the realm of an overlooked gem.
VIDEO: This is a very good anamorphic transfer from Fox, but it's not quite at their usual level. "That Thing You Do!" is presented in the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and the film's "period" look is captured well by one of the most highly respected cinematographers, Tak Fujimoto ("The Sixth Sense"). Yet, there's a bit of softness to the image throughout the movie. This may have been intentional - and it's certainly not to the point of being hazy or distracting - but it keeps the picture having a slightly "flat" look overall.
On the positive side, I really noticed little if anything in the way of flaws with the presentation. The print used is crystal clear, with only a couple of minor speckles throughout the movie. I didn't notice any pixelation or edge enhancement, either. Colors look wonderful, appearing well-saturated and clean. Black level also seemed solid, and flesh tones came across looking accurate and natural. A very nice transfer overall from Fox, but just not quite fantastic.
SOUND: "That Thing You Do" is offered in a very enjoyable Dolby Digital 5.0 presentation. It's certainly not agressive, but it captures the musical performances with ease. There's a scene as the band is recording in a church early on in the film, and the music sounds convincingly placed in that space. Even in other performances throughout the film, music is nicely reinforced by the surrounds. There's even some very nicely done sequences such as when the group plays their first big show, and crowd noise is nicely heard in the surrounds.
Yes, being a comedy, the sound does tend to fold-up to being dialogue driven when the band isn't performing. Still, my expectations were met and occasionally exceeded by how well the Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack handled the catchy tunes of the film. Dialogue also was clear, natural and easily heard. Nothing remarkable, but still a very nice presentation.
MENUS:: Although menus are not animated, "That Thing You Do!" plays behind the main menu.
EXTRAS: 6 Trailers (2 English, 2 Spanish, 2 Italians), 6 TV Spots, 11 minute promotional documentary, music videos for "That Thing You Do" and "Dance With Me Tonight".
Final Thoughts: "That Thing You Do!" is a funny, sweet and touching film that marks a great directing debut from Hanks. Although Fox's DVD doesn't provide too much in the way of features, it does offer solid video quality and better-than-expected audio quality.
The Film *** 1/2
Video 88/B = (352/400 possible points)
Audio: 89/B+ = (356/400 possible points)
Extras: 79/C+ = (237/300 possible points)
Menus: 79/C+ = (158/200 possible points)
Value: 83/B = (249/300 possible points)
FILM GRADE: *** 1/2
DVD GRADE: B