Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jared Hess|
by Jared Hess
|Music by||John Swihart|
|Edited by||Jeremy Coon|
Napoleon Dynamite is a 2004 comedy film written by Jared and Jerusha Hess and directed by Jared. The film stars Jon Heder in the role of the title character, for which he was paid just $1,000. After the film's runaway success, Heder re-negotiated his compensation and received a cut of the profits. The film was Jared Hess' first full-length feature and is partially adapted from his earlier short film, Peluca.
Napoleon Dynamite was acquired at the Sundance Film Festival by Fox Searchlight Pictures and Paramount Pictures, in association with MTV Films. It was filmed in and near Franklin County, Idaho in the summer of 2003. It debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2004, and in June 2004 was released on a limited basis. Its widespread release followed in August. The film's total worldwide gross revenue was $46,140,956. The film has acquired a cult following.
Napoleon Dynamite is a socially awkward high school student from Preston, Idaho who lives with his older brother Kip, their grandmother, and their pet llama, Tina. Kip, 32, is unemployed and boasts of spending hours in Internet chat rooms with "babes" and aspiring to be a cage fighter; their grandmother leads a secret life involving mysterious boyfriends and quad-biking in the desert. Napoleon daydreams his way through school, doodling ligers and fantasy creatures, and reluctantly deals with the various bullies who torment him, particularly the obnoxious sports jock Don and the selfish, out-of-shape Randy. Napoleon likes to make up stories about himself whilst assuming a sullen and aloof attitude.
Napoleon's grandmother breaks her coccyx in a quad-bike accident and asks their Uncle Rico to look after the boys while she recovers. Rico, a middle-aged and flirtatious former athlete who lives in a campervan, uses the opportunity to team up with Kip in a get-rich-quick scheme to sell numerous items door-to-door. Kip wants money to visit his Internet girlfriend LaFawnduh, while Rico believes riches will help him get over his failed dreams of NFL stardom and the loss of his girlfriend.
Napoleon becomes friends with two students at his school: Deb, a shy girl who runs various small businesses to raise money for college; and Pedro, a quiet transfer student from Ciudad Juárez. A friendship soon develops between the three outcasts. During this time, preparations begin for the high school dance. Pedro asks Deb to be his partner, which she accepts, with Napoleon choosing and attempting to persuade a reluctant classmate called Trisha. Inspired by a poster at the dance, Pedro decides to run for class president, pitting him against Summer Wheatley, a popular and snobby girl at the school. The two factions put up flyers and give out accessories to the students to attract voters. Kip, meanwhile, is head-over-heels in love since LaFawnduh has come to visit him from Detroit. She gives Kip an urban makeover, outfitting him in hip hop regalia.
Rico and Kip's ongoing scheme causes friction with Napoleon when Rico begins spreading embarrassing rumors about him, to evoke sympathy from his prospective customers. Rico later tries to sell Deb a breast-enhancement product, claiming it was Napoleon's suggestion, which causes her to break off their friendship. His scheme ends when he visits the wife of the town's martial arts instructor, Rex, to try and sell her the breast enhancements, but Rex walks in and beats him up after witnessing Rico's demonstration.
On the day of the class president elections, Summer gives a speech before the student body, and then presents a dance skit with a school club. Pedro and Napoleon then discover that a skit was also required from them, and a despondent Pedro gives an unimpressive speech. Napoleon then gives the sound engineer a music tape he received from LaFawnduh, and performs an elaborate dance routine to "Canned Heat" by Jamiroquai. The routine receives a standing ovation from everyone except for Summer and her boyfriend Don.
The film concludes with Pedro becoming the class president, LaFawnduh leaving with Kip on a bus for Michigan, Rico reuniting with his estranged girlfriend, Grandma returning from the hospital, and Napoleon and Deb making up and playing tetherball.
In a post-credits scene, Kip and LaFawnduh are married in an outdoor ceremony in Preston. Napoleon, absent for the vows, arrives riding a horse, claiming that it is a "wild honeymoon stallion" that he has tamed himself. Kip flicks an accessory of LaFawnduh's dress as a "keepsake" towards Napoleon, Rico and Pedro, before he and LaFawnduh ride off across the fields.
- Jon Heder as Napoleon Dynamite
- Efren Ramirez as Pedro Sánchez
- Tina Majorino as Deb Bradshaw
- Aaron Ruell as Kip Dynamite
- Jon Gries as Rico Dynamite
- Haylie Duff as Summer Wheatley
- Emily Kennard as Trisha Jenner
- Shondrella Avery as LaFawnduh
- Sandy Martin as Grandma
- Diedrich Bader as Rex
- Trevor Snarr as Don
Preston is a real town in Southeastern Idaho, located near the Utah border. Since the release of Napoleon Dynamite, it has become a tourist attraction of sorts, with the high school being a main feature. Preston held a Napoleon Dynamite Festival every summer from 2004 through 2008 to celebrate the filming of Napoleon Dynamite in Preston and nearby towns. Napoleon Dynamite was shot in the towns of Preston, Idaho and Richmond, Utah.
The film was originally made without opening titles; audiences at test screenings were confused about when the film was set. Eight months after the film was completed, the title sequence was filmed in the cinematographer's basement. Aaron Ruell, who played Kip, suggested the idea of the title sequence. The sequence shows a pair of hands placing and removing several objects on a table. Objects like plates of food had the credits written in condiments, while other objects like a Lemonheads box or a tube of ChapStick had the credits printed on them. Hess explains:
We actually had Jon Heder placing all the objects in and out [of frame], and then showed it to Searchlight who really liked it and thought it was great, but some lady over there was like "There are some hangnails, or something — the hands look kinda gross! It's really bothering me, can we re-shoot some of those? We'll send you guys a hand model." We were like "WHAT?!". This, of course, was my first interaction with a studio at all, so they flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder. So we reshot, but they're now intermixed, so if you look there are like three different dudes' hands (our producer's are in there too). It all worked out great, though, and was a lot of fun.
Origin of the name "Napoleon Dynamite"
Upon the film's release, it was noted that the name "Napoleon Dynamite" had originally been used by musician Elvis Costello, most visibly on his 1986 album Blood & Chocolate, although he had used the pseudonym on a single B-side as early as 1982. Filmmaker Jared Hess claims that he was not aware of Costello's use of the name until two days before the end of shooting, when he was informed by a teenage extra. He later said, "Had I known that name was used by anybody else prior to shooting the whole film, it definitely would have been changed ... I listen to hip-hop, dude. It's a pretty embarrassing coincidence." Hess claims that "Napoleon Dynamite" was the name of a man he met around 2000 on the streets of Cicero, Illinois, while doing missionary work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Costello believes that Hess got the name from him, whether directly or indirectly. Costello said, "The guy just denies completely that I made the name up ... but I invented it. Maybe somebody told him the name and he truly feels that he came about it by chance. But it's two words that you're never going to hear together." Costello has taken no legal action against the film.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics; Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a 71% "fresh" approval rating based on 163 reviews with an average score of 6.3 out of 10. Rolling Stone magazine complimented the film, saying "Hess and his terrific cast — Heder is geek perfection — make their own kind of deadpan hilarity. You'll laugh till it hurts. Sweet." The Christian Science Monitor called the film "a refreshing new take on the overused teen-comedy genre" and said that the film "may not make you laugh out loud - it's too sly and subtle for that - but it will have you smiling every minute, and often grinning widely at its weirded-out charm." Michael Atkinson of The Village Voice praised the film as "an epic, magisterially observed pastiche on all-American geekhood, flooring the competition with a petulant shove." In a mixed review, The New York Times praised Heder's performance and the "film's most interesting quality, which is its stubborn, confident, altogether weird individuality," while criticizing the film's resolution that comes "too easily." Prominent film critic Roger Ebert gave the film one-and-a-half stars, noting that he felt that "the movie makes no attempt to make [Napoleon] likable" and that it contained "a kind of studied stupidity that sometimes passes as humor". At the time, Entertainment Weekly gave the film a C-.
Entertainment Weekly later ranked Napoleon #88 on its 2010 list of The 100 Greatest Characters of the Last 20 Years, saying "A high school misfit found a sweet spot, tapping into our inner dork." The film was on several year-end lists. Rolling Stone's placed it at number 22 of the 25 Top DVDs of 2004.
The term "The Napoleon Dynamite Problem" has been used to describe the phenomenon where "quirky" films such as Napoleon Dynamite, Lost in Translation, and I Heart Huckabees prove difficult for researchers to create algorithms that are able to predict whether or not a particular viewer will like the film based on their ratings of previously viewed films.
Despite some mixed reviews and a very limited initial release, Napoleon Dynamite was a commercial success. It was filmed on an estimated budget of a mere $400,000, and less than a year after its release, it had grossed $44,940,956. It also spawned a slew of merchandise, from refrigerator magnets to T-shirts to Halloween costumes. Probably the biggest boost was obtained from the "Vote for Pedro" t-shirts that coincided with the popularity of pitcher Pedro Martinez in 2004.
Several Mormon references appear in the film. Napoleon wears a "Ricks College" T-shirt. Ricks College is a Mormon school now known as Brigham Young University - Idaho. Napoleon shops at "Deseret Industries", or "DI" which is a chain store operated by the Mormon Church. Napoleon talks about attending scout camp. The Boy Scouts of America is run almost exclusively by the Mormon (LDS) Church in the western U.S.
- Best Feature Film at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival the same year. The film's budget was only $400,000. When the film rights were sold to a major distributor, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Fox supplied additional funds for the post-credits scene.
- In 2005, the film — itself an MTV Films production — won three MTV Movie Awards, for Breakthrough Male Performance, Best Musical Performance, and Best Movie. The film is #14 on Bravo's "100 Funniest Movies".
- It won the 2005 Golden Trailer Awards for Best Comedy.
- It won the 2005 Golden Satellite Award for Best Original Score (John Swihart).
- Four awards at the Teen Choice Awards. Best Movie Breakout Performance - Female for Haylie Duff, Best Movie Dance Scene, Best Movie Hissy Fit for Jon Heder, and Best Comedy.
- The 2004 Film Discovery Jury Award for Best Feature
- April 2005, the Idaho Legislature approved a resolution commending the filmmakers for producing Napoleon Dynamite, specifically enumerating the benefits the movie has brought to Idaho, as well as for showcasing various aspects of Idaho's culture and economy.
In April 2010, Fox announced that an animated series was in development. It was also revealed that the entire original cast would return to reprise their roles. The series debuted on Sunday, January 15, 2012. Director Jared Hess, his co-screenwriter wife Jerusha, and Mike Scully are the producers of the show, in association with 20th Century Fox Television. On May 14, 2012, It was announced that Fox had canceled the series.
On August 30, 2011, Napoleon Pictures filed a lawsuit against Fox Searchlight for $10 million for underreporting royalties and taking improper revenue deductions. In its term sheet, Fox agreed to pay 31.66 percent of net profits on home video. The lawsuit says that a 2008 audit revealed that Fox was only paying net royalties on home videos at a 9.66 percent rate, and there were underreported royalties and improper deductions.
Napoleon Pictures also alleges that Fox has breached the agreement in multiple other respects, including underreporting pay television license fees, failing to report electronic sell-through revenue, charging residuals on home video sales, as well as overcharging residuals on home video sales, deducting a number of costs and charges Fox has no right to deduct and/or for which there is no supporting documentation.
In May 2012, Fox went to trial after failing to win a summary judgment on the case. The trial began on June 19, 2012. On November 28, 2012, a 74 page decision sided with Fox on 9 of the 11 issues. Napoleon Pictures was awarded $150,000 based on Fox accounting irregularities.
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- "Jon Heder's dynamite career". Stuff.co.nz. 16 April 2010. Retrieved 18 July 2013.
- "Napoleon Dynamite - Box Office Data, DVD Sales, Movie News, Cast Information". The Numbers. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- "'Napoleon Dynamite' Town in Utah Cashes In on Movie Popularity". Fox News. Retrieved 24 March 2014.
- "A Q&A with director Jared Hess.". Art of the Title Sequence. Retrieved 2010-09-03.
- "Blood And Chocolate (reissue) - Elvis Costello And The Attractions". The Elvis Costello Home Page.
- "The Elvis Costello Home Page". Elviscostello.info. 1982-07-23. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- Stereogum article: "Napoleon Dynamite Vs. Elvis Costello".
- Willman, Chris (July 16, 2004). "Did Napoleon Dynamite Borrow Elvis' Alias?". Entertainment Weekly.
- "In 'Napoleon Dynamite,' Nerdity Without Shame". Washington Post. June 20, 2004.
- Contact Music article: "Costello Adamant Napoleon Dynamite Was His Idea".
- "Napoleon Dynamite". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster.
- Travers, Peter (June 24, 2004), "Napoleon Dynamite (Film)". Rolling Stone. (951):186
- Sterritt, David (June 11, 2004), "Revenge of the (Idaho) nerd in 'Napoleon Dynamite'". Christian Science Monitor. 96 (138)
- Michael Atkinson (June 1, 2004). "Deadpan Walking. Welcome to the droll house: American geek hood finds a new icon in a clueless Idaho teen". Village Voice.
- SCOTT, A. O. (June 11, 2004), "FILM REVIEW; A Nerdy Nobody of a Hero Who Proves to Be Napoleonic." New York Times. :15
- "Reviews :: Napoleon Dynamite". rogerebert.com (Chicago Sun Times).
- Schwarzbaum, Lisa (June 18, 2004), "NAPOLEON DYNAMITE (Film)". Entertainment Weekly. (770):60-63
- (June 4, 2010), "88. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE". Entertainment Weekly. (1105/1106):90
- (November 25, 2004), "Napoleon Dynamite (Film)". Rolling Stone (962):82
- Thompson, Chris (21 November 2008). "If You Liked This, You’re Sure to Love That". New York Times.
- Idaho's resolution commending Jared and Jerusha Hess at the Wayback Machine (archived January 1, 2006)
- "Fox Developing Napoleon Dynamite Animated Television Series". /Film.
- Gorman, Bill (October 17, 2010). "Fox Announces Animated Comedies ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ & ‘Allen Gregory’ For Next Season". The Futon Critic. Retrieved October 17, 2010.
- "‘Napoleon Dynamite’ Canceled, ‘Bob’s Burgers’ Renewed By Fox - Ratings | TVbytheNumbers". Tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com. 2012-05-14. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- 11 MOS (2011-01-09). "'Napoleon Dynamite' Producers Sue Fox Searchlight for $10 Million in Profits". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- 2 MOS (2012-06-19). "Fox Stands Trial in $10 Million 'Napoleon Dynamite' Case". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 2012-08-11.
- "'Napoleon Dynamite' Lawsuit: Fox Wins Major Ruling". Hollywoodreporter.com. 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2013-08-08.
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