Mean Girls (2004): 20th Anniversary (4K UHD Review)

  • Reviewed by: Stephen Bjork
  • Review Date: Jun 27, 2024
  • Format: 4K Ultra HD
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Mean Girls (2004): 20th Anniversary (4K UHD Review)


Mark Waters

Release Date(s)

2004 (April 30, 2024)


Broadway Video (Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment)
  • Film/Program Grade: B-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B+

Mean Girls (4K UHD)

Buy it Here!


In 1989, Daniel Waters contributed the script to Heathers, a film that flopped at the box office but quickly achieved cult movie glory, with savvy critics and fans alike recognizing it as the definitive satire of the all-too savage high school social scene. Fifteen years later, his brother Mark stepped behind the cameras to assay similar territory with Mean Girls, although the script in this case was written by Tina Fey. While Daniel Waters had drawn indirect inspiration from Rene Daalder’s incendiary 1976 exploitation classic Massacre at Central High, Fey was influenced instead by Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 self-help book Queen Bees and Wannabes. The difference between the two source materials is the key to understanding the difference between Heathers and Mean Girls. Daalder’s film was a revolutionary political parable that warned about the dangers of the oppressed becoming oppressors of their own once the tables were turned. In contrast, Wiseman’s book was a sincere attempt to help teenage girls navigate the perilous waters of high school social life. Fey took that to heart, and while there’s plenty of blackly comic shenanigans in Mean Girls, she was careful to offer solutions to the problems that she presents. It’s a kinder, gentler form of satire than what Daniel Waters had in mind.

Still, the superficial similarities are undeniable. Heathers centered around an outsider named Veronica, who tried to worm her way into an exclusive clique nicknamed The Heathers only to find herself in conflict with them as the story progressed (thanks in no small part to the influence of her boyfriend J.D., a true outsider’s outsider). In comparison, Mean Girls features a literal outsider named Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan), a 16-year-old girl who had previously been home schooled by her zoologist parents while they were on a research assignment in Africa. Cady serves as the narrator for the film, and Mark Waters frequently visualizes her point-of-view by showing us what she’s thinking. She’s quick to explain that her homeschool experience wasn’t weirdly religious, so Waters cuts to a group of five inbred-looking children as a counter-example, the eldest of whom pontificates:

“And on the third day, God created the Remington bolt-action rifle, so that man could fight the dinosaurs... and the homosexuals. Amen.”

At the age of 16, Cady is having her first day of real school, and she’s completely unprepared for the experience. It’s a cloistered world, so she has a hard time fitting in, although she ends up befriending two of the school’s misfits, Janis Ian (Lizzy Caplan) and Damian (Daniel Franzese). The exclusive clique at North Shore High School is The Plastics, led by Regina George (Rachel McAdams), with Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen (Amanda Seyfried) as her dimwitted but loyal followers. When Regina unexpectedly invites Cady to join her club, Janis sees it as an opportunity to wreak revenge on them for their mistreatment of her. While Cady does have a tenuous relationship with Aaron (Jonathan Bennett), Janis Ian is the real J.D. figure in Mean Girls, and so Cady goes ahead and joins The Plastics with the secret goal of undercutting Regina at every opportunity. Events naturally spiral out of control, and soon every girl in the school is at each other’s throats, causing the ineffectual Principal Duvall (Tim Meadows) to throw up his bandaged hands in despair. Yet help comes from the most unlikely of sources, with the hapless math teacher Ms. Norbury (Fey) finally saving the day by figuring out a way to bring everyone back together again.

While Heathers was released at the tail end of the Eighties, in many ways it’s a spiritual heir to the no-holds-barred nature of Seventies filmmaking (no real surprise there, considering its inspirations), with only a slightly softened ending to mark it as a child of the following decade. Mean Girls, on the other hand, may have been released in the 21st century, but it feels like the Eighties answer to Heathers, with all of the rough edges sanded off and a substantially more hopeful ending. Yet there’s no denying that it’s had a significant cultural impact of its own, and younger generations that may never even have heard of Heathers can still quote dialogue verbatim from Mean Girls (and in mixed company, too, given its more family-friendly nature). The legacy of Mean Girls has been somewhat broader as well, with it taking the circuitous Little Shop of Horrors path by being adapted first into a successful Broadway musical in 2017 and then into a feature film adaptation of the musical adaptation in 2024. (While Heathers did receive its own off-Broadway musical, thankfully that has yet to make the journey back to the big screen). Mean Girls may lack the caustic edge of Heathers, but it has still proven itself as the gift that keeps on giving for legions of its own fans and admirers.

Cinematographer Daryn Okada shot Mean Girls on 35mm film using Arriflex 435, Panavision Panaflex Millennium, Panaflex Platinum, and Panaflex Gold cameras, all with Panavision Primo spherical lenses. Everything was finished on film, framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release. There’s not much information available about this 4K master, but it appears to be based on a scan of the original camera negative, digitally cleaned up and graded for High Dynamic Range in both Dolby Vision and HDR10. Paramount’s recent 4K releases have ranged from problematic to exceptional, and on the Paramount Sliding Scale, this one falls above the average even if it’s still not quite top-tier. Part of that is inherent to the fairly simple nature of the original cinematography, so this was never going to be the sharpest and most vibrant 4K presentation. It seems reasonably accurate, however, and that’s the most important thing.

Mean Girls was released before the Digital Intermediate era took over, so the opening titles and any transitions like dissolves or fades were created on an optical printer and had to be sourced from dupe elements instead. The opening titles are indeed a bit soft, but once they’re over, the image is sharp and reasonably detailed, with facial textures and clothing offering a decent amount of fine detail. Transitions and on-screen text announce themselves with another drop in sharpness, but it’s only noticeable if you’re looking for it. The grain has been reduced to barely perceptible levels, but it’s still there, and not too much was sacrificed in the process. The HDR grade resists the temptation to exaggerate the colors and contrast beyond what was originally intended—it’s bright and colorful, but not that bright and colorful. Still, while this may not be the most vivid of 4K experiences, the differentiation between the amazing array of pinks on display in the film is rendered perfectly. It’s hardly demo material, but fans of Mean Girls should find little to complain about here.

Primary audio is offered in the same English 5.1 Dolby TrueHD that was on the previous Blu-rays from Paramount. It’s a solid if unexceptional track, with everything focused primarily on the front soundstage and just some basic ambient effects in the surrounds. The music is given plenty of space to breathe, with some kick in the low end to help keep the beat, and the pithy dialogue is always prioritized in the mix, clear as an azure sky of deepest summer. You can rely on this track.

Additional audio options include German, Spanish (Spain), French, French (Canada), and Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital; plus Japanese 2.0 Dolby Digital. Subtitle options include English, English SDH, Danish, German, Spanish (Spain), French, French (Canada), Italian, Japanese, Dutch, Norwegian, Finnish, and Swedish.

Mean Girls (4K UHD)

Paramount’s 4K Ultra HD release of Mean Girls is UHD only, with no Blu-ray included, but there is a Digital Code on a paper insert tucked inside. It’s housed in a pink Amaray case (natch) with modified theatrical poster artwork on the insert, and it also includes a pink slipcover with faux “Burn Book” artwork on it. The following extras are included:

  • Audio Commentary by Mark Waters, Tina Fey, and Lorne Michaels
  • Mean Girls: Class of ’04 (HD – 8:09)
  • Featurettes:
    • Only the Strong Survive (Upscaled SD – 24:50)
    • The Politics of Girl World (Upscaled SD – 10:32)
    • Plastic Fashion (Upscaled SD – 10:23)
  • Word Vomit (Upscaled SD – 5:42)
  • So Fetch – Deleted Scenes:
    • Damian Rigs Table (Upscaled SD – :31)
    • 112, Excellent! (Upscaled SD – 1:11)
    • Mom’s Underwear (Upscaled SD – :40)
    • Shoe Shopping (Upscaled SD – :29)
    • Tonight I’ll Like It (Upscaled SD – :22)
    • Eaten by Cannibals (Upscaled SD – :44)
    • Regina in Bed (Upscaled SD – :49)
    • Norbury’s Car Explodes (Upscaled SD – :32)
    • Cady and Regina in the Bathroom (Upscaled SD – 1:35)
  • Interstitials:
    • Frenemies (Upscaled SD – :32)
    • New Girl (Upscaled SD – :32)
    • PSA (Upscaled SD – :31)
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:32)

There’s just one new extra here, the forgettable Mean Girls: Class of ’04. As the title implies, it’s really a thinly-veiled promotional featurette on behalf of the 2024 revamp, with the cast and crew of the new film looking back at the old one. The rest of the extras were all originally produced for the 2004 DVD release of Mean Girls. The group commentary features Waters, Fey, and producer Lorne Michaels (yes, there’s a reason why so many SNL vets are involved with the film). It’s not so much a commentary as it is a reaction track, with the three of them spending a lot of time just watching the film and pointing out things that they like. There’s a lot of “Oh, I love this part” sprinkled throughout, although they do make a few jokes as well, and occasionally offer some solid information on the making of the film. They explain what dialogue and ideas were lifted directly from the book; note the changes that were made during the production (among other things, Seyfried had originally auditioned for the part of Regina); and they also bemoan the battles that they had with the MPAA to get their desired PG-13 rating. Hardcore Mean Girls fans will enjoy this track, but it’s easily skippable for everyone else.

The three different featurettes mix interviews with clips from the film and behind-the-scenes footage. Only the Strong Survive is essentially the making-of extra, providing an overview of the story and characters, and it includes interviews with Tina Fey, Rachel McAdams. Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, Lindsay Lohan, Mark Waters, Lorne Michaels, Jonathan Bennett, Lizzy Caplan, and Daniel Franzese. The Politics of Girl World is an interview with author Rosalind Wiseman, who discusses her book, the way that it was adapted into the film, and the precarious nature of social interactions for teenage girls. Plastic Fashion is an interview with costume designer Mary Jane Fort, who explains the thought processes behind one of the most important elements in bringing the world of Mean Girls to life: the wardrobe.

Word Vomit is something that you don’t see very much these days: an actual honest-to-goodness collection of outtakes, not just a brief gag reel filled with people mugging for the camera. While none of them are hilarious, they’re still worth watching all the way through. The Deleted Scenes can be played with or without optional commentary by Mark Waters and Tina Fey, and there’s also a helpful “Play All” option. In the main commentary track on the film itself, Waters repeatedly encourages viewers to watch the deleted scenes, but they’re mostly disposable. Still, there are a few interesting moments here, like when Cady and her mother argue in a shoe store and Waters added subtitles to show what they’re really thinking. (It also proves that Cady’s father isn’t actually thinking much of anything at all.) Finally, in addition to the standard theatrical trailer, the brief Interstitials contain in-character footage of the cast that’s not from the film, so they’re also worth checking out.

That’s all of the previously available extras minus some trailers for other Paramount titles that were on the original Mean Girls DVD (but that’s no major loss). The one new extra may not be that interesting, but it’s something, and at least Paramount isn’t following the Warner Bros. path of dropping old extras from new 4K releases. The picture quality offers minor but noticeable improvements over the Blu-ray, so this is definitely a worthwhile upgrade for fans of Mean Girls. In this case, Paramount succeeded in making fetch happen, so feel free to add it to your collection.

- Stephen Bjork

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