I, Tonya Rocks (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Look, folks, I'm right there with ya.  If you told me to name the last film I'd ever want to see, a bio pic of Tonya Harding would be right at the top of my list.  But, man oh man, this movie is so good!  I'd say "believe the hype," but the hype doesn't even do this movie justice.  I've heard I, Tonya described as Goodfellas on ice, and yeah man, that really nails the feel of this movie.  It's both ingeniously entertaining and yet runs deeper than you'd ever have thought possible of the source material.  When I first heard of it, I was happily going to pass over this movie.  But I read enough good things from people whose opinions I respect that I decided, fine, I'd check it out online.  Half way through, I had to pause and look up release dates, because I knew I needed this movie in my collection.  And this week, it's finally landed: a pretty strong blu-ray/ DVD combo pack edition from Universal.  And I loved it even more the second time!
You don't need to give a single crap about The Olympics or ice skating, or even the famous scandal to get into this movie.  It's just a terrific crime flick.  It's a genuine human drama that's too whip smart not to also double as a hilarious comedy.  And don't worry, you're not being asked to like Tonya Harding.  But while this film may not be a perfect factual account of events - it's based on contradictory testimony of the people involved, and we're even given full-screen first person interviews to the camera (inspired by The Thin Blue Line) where characters deny events we see onscreen - you'll definitely come away with a deeper understanding of her and why everything they turned out the way it did.
I, Tonya (the title of which I assume is a riff on I, Claudius) gave me something to root for at The Oscars, which often feels like we're just weighing nine different sacks of Hollywood pap against each other.  Allison Janney absolutely deserved her win for supporting actress, and while it's nice that Margot Robbie got nominated for her role, too; everything shook out the way it was supposed to.  I'm really glad this film showed clips of the actual footage of the real people this is based on in the closing credits, because some of the supporting cast could be perceived as going over the top, or playing for comic effect; but we see they really nailed it.  We saw the same kind of thing in other films, like Disaster Artist, but I don't think I've ever seen it have as much impact as it does here/
But it's not just the acting and clever writing.  This film is invested with so much style, that's really where the Goodfellas comparisons come in.  Stylish shots, impressive long takes and camera moves, big soundtrack drops.  I, Tonya is definitely one of those rare movies that can be described as "firing on all cylinders."  Like if Mad Max: Fury Road was also a tragically relatable Boys Don't Cry-like examination of the plight of modern American girls.  It certainly doesn't softball any of the story's heavier issues.  I've seen most of the work of both writer Steven Rogers and director Craig Gillespie, and I can't say I've ever been terribly impressed with either of them.  ...To the point where I'd almost write them off as just bad filmmakers.  But they have both really risen far above their stations here and brought out new heights in each other's work.  I don't know if they'll ever be able to follow this up, or if they just caught lightning in a bottle this once, but I have newfound respect for them now, so I'll be checking in on them again for sure.
Universal 2018 DVD on top; Universal 2018 blu-ray beneath.
This film was shot on 35mm film, and then delivered digitally because of the extensive CGI effects.  And that urns out great on this blu, with a distinctly classic grainy look beautifully blended with not only the effects but CG color timing and other work they've surely done to the film.  Compare this to the recently released Wonder Wheel, which looks beautiful; but up close, I, Tonya looks more like a "movie."  The film is presented in a very wide 2.39:1, and naturally the DVD matches the blu, except for a softer lack of fine detail.  The blu-ray's a beaut, and given a powerful 5.1 mix in DTS-HD along with optional English subs.
And while this release falls a little short of a packed special edition - what can you expect from the big studios these days? - we actually get some decent extra stuff here.  First and foremost we get an informative but low energy audio commentary from the director.  Ha delves into the technicalities and covers various aspects of the film.  Then there are five featureless, which get increasingly interesting.  They start out as pretty disposable, standard fare promos, essentially trailers for the film with interview soundbites interjected.  It's nice to hear Robbie speaking with her natural accent as a comparison and stuff, but basically it's just fluff.  Then they start to get more specifically into the director and the true story behind the film, which is more interesting but all too brief to really sunk your teeth into.  But finally the fifth featurette is still short, but cuts all the repetitious promo clips from the film and just takes a serious look at the special effects work that went into getting some of the seemingly impossible skating shots.  Robbie getting her head scanned inside a giant ball of lights looks like something out of 2001!
There's also a nice collection of deleted scenes, some of which make nice little additions to the bigger picture or provide additional laughs.  The last one is actually a long, unedited collection of takes of Paul Hauser recreating one of Shawn Eckhardt's infamous television interviews.  Again, while it's unquestionably enjoyable and works for the film, you might be tempted to dismiss the portrayal as too silly, like something out of Mallrats, until you've seen the actual footage of the real guy.  So, anyway, you get all that, plus a couple trailers for the film; plus it comes in a nice, embossed slipcover.  So it's heartening to see that Universal took a little extra time to do this one right.  Sure, there's no eight-hour Lord Of the Rings-style appendix documentary, but it's pretty well kitted out.
So, if you can't tell, I highly recommend the film and am quite happy with Universal's release.  Sure, there's room to expand if Criterion decides to release a fancy 4k signature edition ten years down the line.  But what we've got now is already better than what the major studios give most of their new releases these days.  In short, it's all good news.

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