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That Thing You Do!

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 103 mins . G . PAL


Go on, admit it! While not everybody may have gone to the extremes some of us did when growing up – singing into hairbrushes, practicing that first Countdown Award acceptance speech, even learning an instrument and subsequently learning you’re crap – we’ve all harboured thoughts of pop stardom at some point in our lives.

That Thing You Do! is the tale of a bunch of guys with similar ambitions (although at least they actually possess some talent). There’s singer/songwriter Jimmy (Johnathon Schaech), guitarist Lenny (Steve Zahn) and, of course, the bass player, credited simply as ‘The Bass Player’ (Ethan Embry).

Set in 1964, at the height of Beatlemania in the States, the first hurdle they aim to conquer is a local talent show. When their drummer (Giovanni Ribisi) has a rather klutzy moment and breaks his arm on the day of the gig however, a replacement is needed – cue local beatnik noodle jazz aficionado Guy Patterson, who’s stuck working in his parents’ appliance store. Christening themselves ‘The Oneders’ (as in one-ders, not o-need-ers), they launch into their song at the show – launch being the operative word as Guy the timekeeper decides to pep what was a ballad, That Thing You Do, up a notch or four. The songwriter, the ever so serious Jimmy, may not be too happy – but the crowd absolutely love it – and it leads to them landing a gig at a local restaurant.

"You know, you guys are way better than anything!"

Word on The Oneders soon spreads, they gather quite the following and press up copies of their song with some help from Guy’s Uncle Bob (a brief cameo from Chris Isaak). Soon a manager is waving a contract in their face, which leads to radio exposure (just try to remain stony-faced during the scene where they hear their song played for the first time) and eventual interest from Play-Tone Records representative Mr White (Hanks), their “facilitator”.

The band are quickly rechristened with the somewhat more sensible name of ‘The Wonders’, handed snazzy suits and find themselves on Play-Tone’s ‘Galaxy of Stars’ road show tour across the States, rubbing shoulders with many of their heroes and attracting screaming fans, and with Jimmy’s girlfriend Faye (Liv Tyler) along for the ride. Their record takes off and it all looks onward and upward for the group – but it may not necessarily all go so swimmingly with their clashing personalities, different priorities and, of course, those beasties that are never too far away from musos - monster egos.

A pet project of Tom Hanks, who wrote and also directed the film, That Thing You Do! is one of those rare treats that is simply “nice” in all the best possible ways. It is delightfully paced as we get to ride the coattails of The Wonders on their trip up the charts, and we actually get to care about what happens to them – not least because of some wonder-ful (sorry!) performances from all the leads.

More knowledgeable fans of The Beatles will spot a few natty little references to the Fab Four in the often more-clever-than-it-looks-on-the-surface script, plus cameo-spotters may notice the aforementioned Chris Isaak, director Jonathan Demme and also Charlize Theron in one of her first movie appearances.


By now I have learned a simple lesson – when viewing pre-DVD era films in the format, especially those you have quite an affinity for, don’t expect too much visually. Pleasingly, regardless of a couple of niggles, the transfer afforded That Thing You Do! actually came as quite the pleasant surprise.

Brought home in its original cinematic ratio of 1.85:1, and anamorphically enhanced, the pastel pop colours of the film are all rendered rather splendidly without heading into over-saturation land and black levels are uniformly good – leading to more than adequate shadow detail in most instances. Grain is only a minor problem in a few scenes, there are a couple of inconsequential examples of aliasing and really the only issue other than small, rare and occasional specks and flecks is a tendency towards a bit of soft'n'fuzziness in the image at times. This tends to crop up only in certain scenes, and hence makes me wonder whether it was an attempt at some form of artiness during filming (the scene where a limb is damaged is one example where it appears to be deliberate) that may not necessarily work so well on the small screen? This aside, generally all is pretty good, and the layer change while noticeable, due to the sound disappearing momentarily, is reasonably well placed and quickly navigated.


Although this is a Dolby Digital 5.0 mix, there is quite some oomphy bass at times that will be sent to your subwoofwoof if your receiver supports such things. Even without it, though, things sound great, with a surprising amount of surround action enveloping the viewer at times and giving a real “being there” experience, especially when it comes to many of the live performance sections. Dialogue is well synched at all times, however those who harbour some respect for their neighbours may be a little alarmed at the level balancing between music and dialogue on occasions, as much of the latter is quite quiet.

What score-type stuff is present comes courtesy of Mr Howard Shore, however not surprisingly it is the actual songs that make That Thing You Do!. All original compositions, many were penned by one Thomas Hanks himself, however the primo catchy ones – including the film’s title track (and it’s something to be incredibly thankful for that it’s so good – you get to hear it quite a few times) – come courtesy of Adam Schlesinger, a member of both fabulous indie darlings Ivy and Fountains of Wayne (and if you think that name is rather tragic, they nearly called themselves “Three Men Who When Standing Side By Side Have A Wing Span Of Over Twelve Feet”! If you have never had the pleasure, I implore you to at least check out their masterpiece of perfect pop Radiation Vibe, which can be found on their first, self-titled, album.


Pleasingly, after marvelling at the static, but musically enhanced, menu for three seconds there are a few more interesting bits and pieces to play with here...

Theatrical trailers: Hmm, this is intriguing. The English teaser and release trailers are both included, and both are in a 16x9 enhanced ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital stereo sound. A bit of checking showed that these are actually cropped compared to the finished film, which hit the cinemas in 1.85:1. The teaser just lets the film clips speak for themselves, while the post-release one has a typical American voiceover. Both feature small snippets that don’t show up in the final film. Also included are the release trailer in Italian and Spanish – both at an anamorphically enhanced ratio of 1.78:1, plus a slightly different trailer in the same format only in Italian and Spanish. Quality is merely alright in all of them.

The Making of That Thing You Do! (12:31): In full frame and with standard 2.0 sound, this brief effort is presented by Martha Quinn, one of MTV America’s original “Veejays”. Featuring interview snippets with all the lead cast, plus a brief appearance by Jonathan Demme, this “backstage tour” is worth a quick peek, if only to learn of how the originally musical talent-bereft actors actually had intensive rehearsals to learn how to play the songs they perform in the film.

Music videos: Two are included, That Thing You Do and Dance With Me Tonight. Both are in non-anamorphic 1.85:1 with Dolby Digital stereo sound, and both include some footage not seen in the main feature. Visual quality is nowhere near as good as the main programme.


If like most of us you never managed to realise your dreams of pop stardom, at least this film gives you a wonderful opportunity to experience many of the highs and lows that go with the territory, even if it does have an element of fairytale-ness to it (which isn’t always a bad thing). A story of the way the pop industry worked in the 1960s, which isn’t necessarily that far removed from how it is today – chew them up, spit them out, stomp on them a little bit just for the hell of it and wheel in the next big thing, That Thing You Do! is a simply enchanting film that’s full of heart, and one of those rare flicks you can watch over and over again and still get something out of. The DVD presentation is pretty good – the video isn’t perfect, but still much better than many other releases of its vintage, sound is fabulous and extras, well - there aren’t many, but still more than many “older” releases.

Now, if only I could learn how NOT to sing in the key of ‘H’...

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      And I quote...
    "A simply enchanting pop fairytale that’s full of heart - and just a little bit of jazz..."
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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