At some point in the future, someone in your life (a friend, family member, some random person you meet at a party) will corner you and tell you that The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (out now on Blu-ray and DVD) is their favorite movie of all time. The movie, based on (or "inspired by") a famous James Thurber story published in The New Yorker in 1939, was a long-time passion project for director and star Ben Stiller and he apparently had to use all his movie-star leverage to get this one made.
Ben Stiller plays Walter Mitty, a mild-mannered guy who manages the photo negatives for Life magazine. He spends a lot of his time daydreaming about an adventurous life and those daydreams are rendered in some expensive effects-laden sequences at the beginning of the movie. While he tries to start a relationship with a co-worker played by Kristin Wiig, word comes that the magazine is getting shut down and Walter can't locate a missing negative from Life's star photographer Sean O'Connell (played by Sean Penn) and eventually sets out on a dangerous mission (with stops in Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan) to track down the photographer and find the missing negative.
No amount of star power or marketing was able to convince audiences to check out a big-budget movie based on a story written before 99% of the active moviegoing audience was even born (and at least 90% of the moviegoing audience wasn't born when the 1947 movie version starring Danny Kaye came out). And it's rated PG. How many Hollywood movies rated PG make money these days?
Stiller has to be hoping that Mitty turns out to be one of those movies that gets discovered by TV, home video and cable audiences and sees its reputation grow over time: It's a Wonderful Life and The Shawshank Redemption are just two examples of movies that were considered flops after their initial theatrical releases.
There's spectacular footage from the remote locations that will definitely appeal to a lot of outdoors types who won't normally sit still for a Hollywood movie. There's a definite plot and a character arc for Walter: he goes from being the misunderstood dreamer at work to a man whose commitment to action connects him to the world around him, something that puts the movie at odds with the kinds of comedies that make money this days. Movies like Anchorman, The Hangover or We're the Millers have just enough of a plot to get a series of chaotic set pieces to hold together and Ben Stiller made a movie that insists the humor in the movie is there to serve the character and the plot.
There's a great soundtrack that highlights the Swedish/Argentinian singer-songwriter José Gonzalez, whose contributions should appeal to fans of both the Arcade Fire and Sigur Rós.
If you need explosions or broad humor in your movies, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty is not for you. If those kinds of movies make your head hurt and you're never going to watch anything in black & white or that has subtitles, Ben Still has made a movie that you just might love.