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Around the World in 80 Days (2004) DVD Review

"Around the World in 80 Days" (2004) movie poster Around the World in 80 Days

Theatrical Release: June 16, 2004 / Running Time: 120 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Frank Coraci

Cast: Jackie Chan (Passepartout/Lau Xing), Steve Coogan (Phileas Fogg), Cιcile De France (Monique La Roche), Jim Broadbent (Lord Kelvin), Ewen Bremmer (Inspector Fix), Ian McNeice (Colonel Kitchener), Karen Joy Morris (General Fang), Roger Hammond (Lord Rhodes), David Ryall (Lord Salisbury)

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While the release of The Incredibles next week will change things dramatically, up to this point, 2004 has been a rough year for Disney films at the box office. The biggest successes financially have been critical misfires (The Princess Diaries 2, The Village), while films that were lauded in reviews (like the clever animated comedy Teacher's Pet) went ignored.
A number of the studio's most expensive films have been duds with critics and proved costly flops, including the underperforming King Arthur, The Alamo, and this one, Around the World in 80 Days.

A crucial part of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in 80 Days was exploring and celebrating the expanding Earth of the late 19th-century through the different experiences found all over the globe. This 2004 Walden Media film, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, is less concerned with that and more interested in being a vehicle for international action star Jackie Chan to engage in his fast-paced stunt work.

Chan's character is quickly introduced and an impromptu hiring makes him valet to the quirky British inventor Phileas Fogg (Steve Coogan). The clearly Asian Chan passes himself off as a French man named Passepartout to avoid suspicion in a recent Bank of England robbery that has gathered the full attention of the nation's Ministry of Science, an institution that Fogg finds himself at odds with.

Steve Coogan plays the resourceful Phileas Fogg and Jackie Chan is his valet Passepartout. Jim Broadbent plays the bland villain Lord Kelvin, Britain's Minister of Science.

Always up to a challenge, Fogg makes a bet with the Ministry's pompous head Lord Kelvin (Jim Broadbent) that he will be able to travel around the world in just 80 days. This sets Fogg, a man responsible for such creations as a sound-response light system, off to circumnavigate the globe and see the places he never has. (In this version, Fogg has never left England before.)

This new film adaptation makes a number of changes to the text, some to play into the presence of Jackie Chan (making martial arts and Asian villains frequently-used tools), and some to simply serve a modern audience. The protagonist Phileas Fogg has more insecurities and more flair than the character as written, and now there's a lady along for the ride, Monique (Cιcile De France), the headstrong French artist and obvious love interest.

Overall, this new adaptation feels pretty clunky. After a very slow start, things pick up a bit but even when the film finds a sufficient pace, it goes nowhere as its trio of protagonists go everywhere. At no point does there feel like there's a greater meaning to the episodic journey. Adventure is present, but not particularly engaging, and any rush is negated by simply recalling the lack of menace posed by Lord Kelvin and the other poorly-defined stuffy British villains set on making Fogg's trek more challenging.

Passepartout (Jackie Chan)uses the power of his tophat to defeat an Asian bad guy. Phileas meets Monique (Cecile De France), the obligatory French artist love interest.

Several times, the film suffers from star-catering, as Jackie Chan's readily-displayed antics sideshow the plot, dampen the momentum, and make the potentially reasonable 2-hour runtime feel very excessive. Giving Chan the free reign to engage in his stunt-filled action sequences gets tired very fast, and the extended fight scenes in China and New York are quite tedious. Not to mention that the same sort of violence that has been Chan's trademark for decades has subtly progressed to a family-friendly PG-rated domain.
While weapons (which now include drums and paint) are used sparingly, there's still a surprising amount of fighting (albeit comic fighting), which makes for that inevitably odd blend that results from marrying Jackie Chan with "Disney."

Like the 1956 Around the World in 80 Days, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, this one features a sprinkling of amusing cameos. Arnold Schwarzenegger plays an egomaniacal Turkish prince well on his way to realizing his goal of having a different wife for each day of the week. Rob Schneider excels in the San Francisco scenes, giving the best homeless guy performance since Steve Buscemi in Big Daddy and being responsible for many of the film's biggest laughs. Owen Wilson and brother Luke show up as the down-to-earth Wright Brothers, and Kathy Bates appears as the Queen of England.

These cameos are a highlight of the film, and rise above some of the leading performances from the international cast. Among them, Chan and De France have charisma which shines through, beyond their obvious language difficulties. Steve Coogan looks the part, but he is wooden as the rather dull protagonist.

Rob Schneider succeeds in getting lots of laughs in his short appearance as a San Francisco hobo. Arnold Schwarzenegger is not on auto-pilot for his cameo as a Turkish prince.

Looking to expand beyond Adam Sandler comedies with this more challenging multi-genre project, Frank Coraci's direction offers a hodgepodge of styles that lack one clearly definable feel. There just isn't consistency, and while it's partly intentional (to distinguish the various locales), it's not easy to warm to. Computer-animated worlds sometimes act as a transitioning map, a location and day number occassionally remind us where we are (always in a different font), and fast-paced editing and zooms given this "Before the Turn of the Century" (though the century is not specified) piece a much modern look than its setting would merit.

Another drawback: Around the World relies heavily on slapstick, which is both comedically weak and unnecessary for the rest of the film. The light-hearted tone does not fail altogether, but the sight gags and pratfalls just seem like they belong in a different film.

Though the late-19th century setting of Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days is an important character (and perhaps the most important one), the book has a kind of timeless, universal appeal that made a film version in the '50s relevant and entertaining and could make a new adaptation feel the same. But that is not this film, which diverges from the text. Its desire to merge Jules Verne with Jackie Chan does not resonate and does not consistently delight.

Buy Around the World in 80 Days from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen,
(Fullscreen Version Available Separately)
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: November 2, 2004
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
White Keepcase

VIDEO and AUDIO

Around the World in 80 Days is given first-rate video treatment with this beautiful looking 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer.
The picture quality remains sharp and clean. Colors are quite vibrant, fleshtones are accurate, and there are terrific levels of depth and detail.

Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, Around the World definitely offers a pleasing audio experience. The sound has a crisp, always discernible quality to it. Dynamically, there are some peaks and valleys, but there wasn't a constant need to play with the volume controls. Surrounds are called to reinforce with atmospheric effects and score selections, and overall the soundfield finds a nice balance and the mix serves to enhance the film, not detract from it.

Oddly, you cannot change audio tracks or turn on and off subtitles while the movie is playing. This most likely is one drawback from having the option to play the film with an alternate opening, which is achieved with DVD branching technology.

Around the World in 80 Days DVD Main Menu A computer-animated chicken appears in the alternate opening sequence.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The first bonus feature is an option to play the film with a highly-touted but very minor alternate opening. This alternate opening amounts to a new scene of just about 40 seconds,
in which a chicken appears in an intergalactic dream that an unseen Phileas is having. It's imaginative and neat-looking, but it doesn't really flow with the rest of the opening, so its inclusion in this form doesn't make much sense (until you give the commentary a listen anyway and notice a recurring chicken theme).

The meatiest extra is the Audio Commentary which brings together director Frank Coraci and star Steve Coogan. This commentary, only viewable on the alternate beginning version, offers a pretty enjoyable second take on the film. There is a nice enthusiastic and light-hearted tone to the discussions from Coogan and Coraci, who claims he's doing this commentary track only to get his chicken opening restored. The commentary reveals Coraci's intentions and inspirations for this quasi-remake, referring to some technical aspects as well as specific scenes and the actors who make cameos in them.

"Discovering Around the World in 80 Days" (18:50) is a standard but good making-of featurette. Utilizing clips of interviews with the cast and crew plus a good amount of production footage, this program covers a number of facets of the film's production including casting, plot/character changes, shooting in locations around the world, the numerous cameos, and designing Phileas' inventions. It's pretty clear that the filmmakers expected their film to more of an effect on the moviegoing public. Nonetheless, this featurette concisely and sufficiently covers Around the World's making.

Hacjue Chan, actor/producer/stunt choreographer, in the featurette "Around the World of Jackie Chan." Director Frank Coraci introduces the deleted scenes. Dave Stewart in the "Everybody All Over the World" music video.

"Around the World of Jackie Chan" (6:30) is a kind of fluffy featurette that centers on the the Chinese actor's slapstick and martial arts which figures so largely on the movie. There are interview clips from the director, a few co-stars, and of course, Chan himself. But the real highlight here is the on-set production footage.

Next are the Deleted Scenes, which give you the choice to view them with or without commentary from the director. All but one of the eight scenes included are brief and offer alternate cuts or extensions of scenes that are in the final film. Among this excised footage,
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there's a bit more of Rob Schneider and John Cleese, plus some oddly suggestive moments (and a bold "where are the nipples?" shot). Along with a goofy introduction from the director, these scenes run 7 minutes with the "Play All" feature. They're presented in non-anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Surround and look pretty good. (Several deleted scenes are mentioned in the commentary, and not all of them are available, as the director claims.)

Finally, there's the music video (3:10) for the end credits theme "Everybody All Over the World (Join the Celebration" performed by Dave Stewart and the Sylvia Young Theater School Choir. The video for this upbeat pop song scores points for its original (and occassionally weird) look and way of incorporating the film's themes, and the tune isn't bad.

Sneak Peeks play at the disc start for National Treasure, America's Heart & Soul, The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement, and Where the Red Fern Grows. The Sneak Peeks menu adds a preview for The Young Black Stallion. And you can expect these trailers won't turn up on the DVDs of their respective films. Of course, this DVD is missing Around the World's theatrical trailer which featured some Sugar Ray music.

The 16x9 menus offer some nice, well-done mildly elaborate animation. As with all other promotion from the film (from the original poster to this DVD cover), the menus readily feature art from the climax. Each menu plays music, and the Main Menu displays a montage of scenes in the background.

Passepartout, Phileas Fogg, and Monique go up in a hot air balloon. And we ride off into the sunset.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Disney's Around the World in 80 Days is a large-scale production which largely does not work. Merging Jules Verne's technology-conscious adventure novel with Jackie Chan's stunt-filled action produces an uneven and unimpressive blend. This DVD presentation offers flawless picture and sound, and Disney has put together a pretty nice collection of bonus features. Following its disastrous run at the summer box office, Around the World may find more of an audience on DVD. But if the disc is up to par, the film is not.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com / Buy the Book by Jules Verne

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Related Reviews:
Starring Jackie Chan: The Spy Next Door • Rush Hour 3 • Kung Fu Panda | Jackie Chan Music Video: Mulan
Journey to the Center of the Earth • 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea • The Island at the Top of the World • Sherlock Holmes
2004 Disney Movies: America's Heart & Soul • Miracle • The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement • Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (Gift Set) • King Arthur (Director's Cut)
Freaky Friday (2003) • The Haunted Mansion • Valiant • The Princess Diaries (Special Edition) • Holes
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Disney Learning Adventures: Mickey's Around the World in 80 Days

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Reviewed October 29, 2004