As many of you may already know, on March 28th Will Ferrell made a surprise appearance on Conan in character as Ron Burgundy to announce that, just hours before, Universal Studios and DreamWorks finally greenlit the much anticipated sequel to Anchorman. This is kind of a big deal. For those of you who haven’t seen Anchorman yet there may be something wrong with your Netflix que and your perception of comedy is greatly in question. To those who are fans of Anchorman already, congratulations, you’re part of the Channel 4 News Team. However more than likely you’ve barely breached the surface of the mythology of this beloved comedy work.
On Saturday Night Live, Will Ferrell was something of a Michael Caine of comedy. No matter how wretched a skit may be or how thin a joke was stretched, Will Ferrell would emerge completely untarnished. Whether he was playing straight-man to an Olsen twin impersonation or tap dancing next to Katie Holmes, Ferrell always gave the show his all. His voice truly showed in the characters of his creation: Robert Goulet, Harry Caray, cowbell playing’ Gene Frankel, etc. His career gained a huge following with his supporting roles in Zoolander, Old School and Starsky and Hutch and Ferrell left the show to become the biggest box office SNL alumn since Adam Sandler.
His first starring feature would be Jon Favreau’s 2003 Christmas comedy Elf, but the first of what would soon become known as a “true” Will Ferrell vehicle was the dream project of Ferrell and SNL writing partner Adam McKay, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy. McKay and Ferrell envisioned a ridiculously over-the-top comedy set in the world of self-centered 70s era newscasters and found themselves unable to turn off the creativity machine. An early design of the plot had a plane of newscasters crashing in the jungle and the survivors banding together to fight off a group of knife-wielding monkeys. Once the cast (made up of Ferrell and McKay’s closest comedy friends including Steve Carell hot off The Daily Show, newcomer David Koechner and underrated character actor Paul Rudd) was assembled, a foursome of pitch-perfect characters were born. Through an endless series of auditions, script reads and rehearsals not one…but two movies were born.
The theatrical film chronicles the epic tale of Channel 4 News anchor Ron Burgundy and his all-male team of reporters in a time when newsmen were treated like kings or airline pilots. Their male dominated work environment is rocked when the network adds a little diversity to the show in the form of beautiful and liberated Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate). Along the way the team competes for the love of Corningstone, fights the rival TV stations in a Gangs of New York-style alley brawl and Burgundy finds his career hanging in the balance. The movie is madcap genius; from Ron Burgundy screaming from a phone booth “I’m in a glass case of emotion” to the gang breaking out into a rendition of Starland Vocal Band’s “Afternoon Delight”.
Now for what you probably haven’t seen.
The day Anchorman was released on DVD the film came as a Walmart Exclusive two pack that features a DVD titled Wake Up, Ron Burgundy – The Lost Movie. I’ve yet to meet anyone else who owns this and I lend it to anyone I know who’s an Anchorman fan and hasn’t seen it. The “lost movie” is a 90 minute film made up of alternate takes and deleted scenes, all fully restored, and edited into a narrative feature.
A reprisal of the narrator from the theatrical film tells us this takes place after the first film and attempts to cover any of the obviously repeated scenes from the first film. For example the film opens with an alternate version of Burgundy’s first meeting with Veronica (this time they great each other by climbing on top of each other and screaming “let’s make a baby!”) but the narration tells us this is the first time Ron and Veronica have seen each other in awhile. We also see the same first date from the theatrical film but this time with a hilarious extended sequence in which Burgundy drives Veronica around on their date, staring at her and not the road.
After about 20 minutes of alternate takes from the 1st act of Anchorman the feature becomes an entirely different beast. An actual full fledged plot is unleashed and its even better than the theatrical. The film version features the team covering the birth of a baby panda and the climax is held in a pen full of bears. The lost movie instead has the team investigating a series of armed robberies by a terrorist group called The Alarm Clock. The gang channels the radical terrorist group of the classic 1976 film Network and is made up of Maya Rudolph, rapper Chuck D and Kevin Corrigan who spends the feature trying to write the gang’s manifesto. There’s a hilarious robbery sequence where the gang is denied the bank’s funds by a stubborn bankteller (played by a scene-stealing Amy Poehler). Meanwhile, Ron steals Corningstone’s evidence that will lead her to the terrorist group and attempts to expose the culprits on his new special report called “Blow The Lid Off It!”.
It is in this feature that a real mythology to the characters is born. In a stunning turn, Brick Tamland snaps into military mode and plots a stealth attack on the terrorist group and refers to Ron, Champ Kind and Brian Fantana as Corporal or Sergeant. After he gives his orders, Ron chimes “Looks like the Captain’s back”. Suggesting for the first time that Burgundy and the team could have served together (probably in Nam) and that imbecile Brick could really just be shell-shocked. We meet Ron Burgundy’s mentor Jess Moondragon (played by TV star Chad Everett of the 1970s series Medical Center) who enjoys nude nature walks. We finally meet Ed Harkin’s “youngest” played by none other than Justin Long. And an awkward 10 minute sequence shows Champ Kind confessing his love to Ron yet again and the rest of the team trying their hardest just to ignore it.
You see, many people seem to be concerned at the idea of a sequel to Anchorman. Like it would just be a replay of the first film or that there’s not much more that you could do with it. Oh how quite the opposite. This film alone shows there’s a lot of untapped potential to the Anchorman franchise. A few years ago the plan for the sequel was a 1980s set Broadway musical. I can’t wait to see what the great Ferrell, McKay, Carell, Rudd, Koechner and the like can come up with. I’m pullin for more Justin Long as Ed Harkin’s son and a jazz-flute showdown against Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson. Perhaps the addition of John C. Reilly is in order too. Stay Classy!