Following the success of back-to-back hits Forest Gump and Apollo 13, Tom Hanks wanted to shake things up. His project of choice? Writing and directing his first feature film.
The result was That Thing You Do!, a light, enjoyable comedy about a 60’s pop band that makes it big on the strength of one hit song. Barely together a few weeks, The Oneders (pronounced “Wonders”) win a small-town talent contest, which lands them their first gig, playing at a local bar. Before they can adjust to …heir first taste of success, they land a touring deal with Play-Tone, a record label. Just like that, they’re on a whirlwind tour that echoes the success of The Beatles. But can they handle the big-time, or will fame tear them apart?
That’s about all the story you need to know. So what’s good about the film? For starters, it has a solid cast, featuring writer-director Tom Hanks as the band’s Play-Tone manager, Tom Everett Scott (Boiler Room) as our protagonist and the band’s drummer backbone, and a hilarious Steve Zahn (Happy Texas) as the band’s clownish lead guitarist. Holding their own with these three are Liv Tyler (Armageddon), Johnathon Schaech (Finding Graceland), Ethan Embry (Can’t Hardly Wait) and Oscar-winner Charlize Theron (Monster). Altogether, they’re a smart ensemble with great chemistry.
But how does Hanks do behind the camera? Quite well, actually. From his own career, Hanks obviously has intimate experience with meteoric success, and you can tell he injected a lot of himself in the screenplay. His vision for the story isn’t perfect, but he gets it right many, many times throughout the film. My particular favourite sequence is when the band first hears its song playing on the radio – it’s carefully constructed, and it works the audience into a groovy, happy feeling that dwindles later but never fades away.
In fact, happy is the perfect descriptor for That Thing You Do! While I’d almost forgotten about this film in the 10 years since its theatrical release, something felt very familiar about the warm, happy feeling it left me with the second time around.
But wait – this DVD release features an extended cut of the film with 30 minutes of additional footage. Is it an improvement? Yes, and no. On one hand, the story seems more fleshed out, but the film also dallies with sideline gags when it should be skipping along. I’d say big fans should go for the new cut, but regular Joes might want to stick with the theatrical version.
So That Thing You Do! is an exuberant, happy film. How’s the DVD?
That Thing You Do! – Tom Hanks Extended Cut is presented on two discs, with the feature film on disc one in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. You can watch either the original theatrical version or the new extended cut. Both look ok, but not great. For a film that’s barely a decade old, this one looks prematurely aged, with too much grain in the picture. The DVD transfer seems solid, but a lack of restoration on the original film source hampers this one a fair bit.
Menus are animated and scored.
In the audio department, That Thing You Do! – Tom Hanks Extended Cut offers up an English Dolby Digital 5.0 track. It sounds better than the film looks, as I had no real complaints about the audio. Dialogue is always clear, and the all-important musical numbers are lively and full across the front sound stage. Don’t be looking for much action on the surround channels, but this isn’t really a film that needs to envelope you in the experience.
Audio is also available in French and Spanish in Dolby 2.0, while subtitles are offered in English and Spanish.
That Thing You Do! – Tom Hanks Extended Cut does ok with the encores, but the absence of anything new from Tom Hanks holds it back. What’s here is decent, but where’s the Tom Hanks commentary? Here’s what we do get:
- The Wonders: Big in Japan! Short but amusing, this featurette shows how “the band” members and Tom Hanks toured Japan a la an actual rock group, to promote the film.
- Making That Thing You Do! runs about 13 minutes, and presents a quick behind-the-scenes look at the film. It appears to have been assembled entirely from material created back in the mid-90’s.
- The Story of The Wonders has more meat to it, and more – again older – material from Tom Hanks. Here we get the scoop on Hanks’ development of the concept, the band and ultimately the story of the film.
- That Thing You Do! Reunion shows footage of a recent chat with some of the actors, including Tom Everett Scott, Steve Zahn, Charlize Theron, Ethan Embry and Johnathon Schaech. Again, no Tom Hanks, and their reminiscing is not very interesting.
- HBO First Look: The Making of That Thing You Do! This one’s the true fluff, as HBO’s behind-the-scenes material tends to spend way too much time telling you what the movie’s about. Of course, that’s what this piece was created to do, but still.
- Trailers and TV Spot This stuff is self-explanatory, and while I’m happy to see it included, it doesn’t distract from Hanks’ glaring absence.
Tom Hanks did a job with That Thing You Do!, and a decade later this extended cut brings back the happy feeling I remember from the original. The DVD is hit-and-miss, but good enough to recommend for fans of the film.
Special Features List
- The Wonders: Big in Japan!
- Making That Thing You Do!
- The Story of The Wonders
- That Thing You Do! Reunion
- HBO First Look: The Making of That Thing You Do!
- Trailers and TV Spot