Studio:The Criterion Collection Year: 2001 Cast: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Seymour Cassel, Kumar Pallana, Grant Rosenmeyer, Jonah Meyerson, Aram Aslanian-Persico, Irene Gorovaia, Amedeo Turturro, Stephen Lea Sheppard, James Fitzgerald, Larry Pine, Alec Baldwin Director: Wes Anderson Release Date: August 14, 2012 Rating: R for for some language, sexuality/nudity and drug content Run Time: 01h:49m:55s Genre(s): drama/comedy
"All memory of the brilliance of the young Tenenbaums had been erased by two decades of betrayal, failure and disaster." - Narrator (Alec Baldwin)
It doesn't matter to me one bit that this Criterion Blu-Ray of Wes Anderson's colorfully brilliant The Royal Tenenbaums has the same extras as their 2002 SD release because the new director-approved transfer is quite simply: stunning.
Highly recommended - and one of the best Blu-Rays of 2012.
Movie Grade: A-
DVD Grade: A-
Wes Anderson (Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Life Aquatic, Moonrise Kingdom) certainly qualifies as being "that" guy, the sort of deliberate writer/director with a penchant for cinematic quirk that either annoys or entertains, depending on which camp you're in. There seems to be very little middle ground - though I will admit Rushmore didn't wow me on first viewing - and with his 2001 release The Royal Tenenbaums Anderson elevated family dysfunctionalism to great heights. And to really help sell the quirk Criterion's new Blu-Ray contains what could be one of 2012's best transfers, resulting in a vividly detailed presentation of a film that clearly adores color and set dressing as much as it does the cast performances, transforming this into a real thing of beauty.
Anderson opens with an Alec Baldwin-narrated prologue that sets up the dysfunctionalism, with a snapshot of the Tenenbaum family, from the individual successes - and eventual failures - of prodigies Margot, Chas and Richie as well as the disintegration of the family unit as a whole. It's the type of scene that Anderson has made his trademark, a tightly edited and highly stylized montage that is so visually striking you almost need to watch it a couple of times to absorb it all.
Patriarch and self-described "asshole" Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) leaves wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston), choosing to live alone for decades in a fancy hotel. When he falls on hard times he attempts to return home - using a phony terminal illness as a wedge - coincidentally at a time when all three adrift adult children (Gwyneth Paltrow, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson) move back in. That's the stripped-down synopsis, but the rest of this very dark comedy dovetails an assortment of deadpan oddballness into a complexly unconventional tapestry of anger, regret, self-discovery and love.
All of the performances in this sprawling ensemble are well-played, but Hackman's conniving Royal is the film's centerpiece. He's a self-centered ass, the kind of thoughtless cad who, when asked what he thought of then 9-year-old Margot's play (in which all we see are three children dressed as animals, taking a bow) responds: "didn't seem believable to me." It's tough to like Hackman's Royal, but there is no denying the way he invigorates the film and the other characters when he is onscreen, and his moments with faithful sidekick Pagoda (Kumar Pallana) are some of the funniest sequences here.
There is always a purposeful eccentricity to a Wes Anderson film, and in The Royal Tenenbaums it is all that and more. The character foibles may be somewhat one-note - teetering precariously into near absurdity - but to soften that the personal ups and downs are presented in some of the most compelling visual work Anderson has done, though much of the credit certainly goes to cinematographer Robert Yeoman. Marry that with the soundtrack (The Clash, Ramones, Nico), which meshes so well with the use of a fanciful color palette, to become a significant primary force in the storytelling where nearly every scene is deceptively elaborate, full of broad reds, blues and yellows.
The pristine AVC-encoded 1080p 2.40:1 transfer is reason enough to upgrade if you own the 2002 set, because I don't think this film has ever looked more vibrant. Anderson's use of reds, golds, yellows, greens and blues really takes the visual forefront here, with color reproduction completely spot-on. Image clarity and texture details - especially on closeups - are equally impressive, but is the rendering of color that pushes this presentation so far forward. Wow.
A single lossless audio track is presented in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Surround channel usage is minimal, yet voice quality is always clear; the biggest improvement is in the way that the music (Nico's forlorn version of These Days in particular) or the Mark Mothersbaugh score resonates so fully.
All of the extras have been transported over from the two-disc 2002 SD Criterion, and include a foldout insert with the article Faded Glories - which refers to Wes Anderson as "the most original presence in American film comedy since Preston Sturgess" - written by author/film critic Kent Jones. A colorful foldout map of the Tenenbaum house, full of intricate notes and observations, is also here.
A commentary from Wes Anderson never quite gels into the in-depth analysis I would have hoped for, but he does dole out some nice insight on the production and the distinctive look of the film. With The Filmmaker (27m:04s) is a behind-the-scenes Independent Film Channel production directed by none other than Albert Maysles and Interviews features an assortment short comments from Gene Hackman (03m:14s), Anjelica Huston (03m:22s), Ben Stiller (03m:17s), Gwyneth Paltrow (02m:21s), Luke Wilson (06m:02s), Owen Wilson (02m:08s), Bill Murray (03m:57s) and Danny Glover (02m:32s). A pair of anamorphic Cut Scenes (01m:48s) - aka deleted scenes - don't amount to much, other than the opportunity to see another side of Eli Cash's personal life. The mockumentary The Peter Bradley Show (26m:25s) has Larry Pine recreating his talk show character seen briefly in The Royal Tenenbaums, here interviewing a number of Wes Anderson supporting players. At nearly a half-hour the gag runs a little long, but I would be curious to wonder how many people might think this was actually real. A well-stuffed Scrapbook section contains stills galleries, storyboards, murals, covers, Margot art and an explanation of those wonderfully bizarre paintings in Eli's apartment. Two trailers - running 04m:22 in total - for The Royal Tenenbaums round out the content.