(Movie review originally written in 2001.)
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.
This new DVD edition provides both the 147-minute "Tom Hanks Extended Cut" and the 108-minute theatrical cut of the film. The new theatrical cut adds a ton of small moments to the picture. There are no explanations regarding the new footage, but the extended cut seems more like a "first cut" before things were streamlined for the theatrical cut. One of the main additions here is more of Tina (Charlize Theron), who was a minor character (the girl guy is dating early in the film) in the theatrical cut and, despite more footage, still isn't much of a character here, either. The new footage is interesting to see and enjoyable in that I continue to like the film's performances, but it does add some considerable length to a movie that, in the theatrical cut, was times pretty much right.
VIDEO: This is a very good anamorphic transfer from Fox, but there are still some mild concerns at times. "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. The picture looks a little crisper on this release, but it's still on the softer side.
On the positive side, the print appeared cleaan this time around, with no specks, marks or other issues. Some slight edge enhancement and artifacting were spotted, but these issues didn't take away from the viewing experience too greatly. Colors look wonderful, appearing well-saturated and clean. Black level also seemed solid, and flesh tones came across looking accurate and natural.
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. Amazon.com lists the title as having a DTS soundtrack, but it does not (the box does not list this as a feature.)
EXTRAS: No commentary is offered here, but we do get a series of featurettes on the set's 2nd DVD. The funniest moment comes in "The Wonders: Big in Japan", a featurette detailing the movie's fun press tour of Japan, which started with Everett Scott forgetting his passport and being left behind. When he was able to take a flight to Japan to catch up with the others, the in-flight movie happens to be... "That Thing You Do". We also get a sweet reunion featurette where the actors discuss how much fun they had filming the movie and some of the stories from the set.
"HBO First Look" and "The Making of 'That Thing You Do'" are about 10-13 minutes each and provide an entertaining - if not hugely in-depth - look at the making of the movie. "The Story of the Wonders" is a 30-minute look at each of the main characters and their background, as well as the comments from the various actors about playing and developing each of their characters.
Final Thoughts: "That Thing You Do!" is a funny, sweet and touching film that marks a great directing debut from Hanks. The new extended cut of the film isn't better, but it's nice to be able to see and also have the option of the theatrical cut on the same DVD. The extras aren't plentiful, but they are enjoyable. Image quality is slightly improved here, as well. Recommended.
The Film B+