Discs Are Rated
Being John Malkovich
review by Eric Dahl
Studio: USA Films/Universal
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener,
and John Malkovich
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Written by Charlie Kaufman
Directed by Spike Jonze
Retail Price: $24.99
Features: Theatrical Trailer, TV Spots, Full "7 Floor
Orientation" and "American Arts & Culture Presents. . .
John Horatio Malkovich, Dance of Despair and
Disillusionment" Videos Shown in the Film, Featurette "An
Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering", Featurette
"An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Background Driving", An
Interview with Director Spike Jonze, Spike's Photo Album,
Cast & Crew Biographies & Filmographies, and "A Page
with Nothing on It".
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen Transfer, English
Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Captions,
French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, and Chapter Search (32
"There's a tiny door in that empty office. It's a portal,
Maxine. It takes you inside John Malkovich. You see the
world through John Malkovich's eyes, then, after about
fifteen minutes, you're spit out into a ditch on the side of
The New Jersey Turnpike" Spike Jonze has had more success in
the short time he has been a director than most feature film
directors garner in their whole careers, and boy does he
deserve it. Having a large history in the field of
commercials and music videos, most notably the video for
Weezer's "Buddy Holly" which had the band electronically
edited into an episode of "Happy Days", Jonze could have
taken the road of Kinka Usher, whose commercial ridden
history led him to make the visually amazing, but otherwise
extremely lacking "Mystery Men".
Instead, he waited for a great script to match the
stunning visuals that would engulf the film, and fate would
have it that writer Charlie Kaufman's debut effort was the
film that Jonze was looking for. "Being John Malkovich", the
result, is a film that might make the contradiction "debut
masterpiece" not a contradiction anymore.
"Being John Malkovich" tells the story of Craig Schwartz
(John Cusack), a puppeteer who's very talented but not very
successful at his art. After a violent run-in with a parent
who didn't feel Schwartz's act was appropriate for his
daughter, Craig's wife, Lotte (a practically unrecognizable
Cameron Diaz), convinces him to find a real job. Craig finds
and acquires a job as a filing clerk on the 7 floor of a
tall skyscraper (don't ask, it's a long story) and one day,
accidentally finds a two-foot-tall door which leads directly
into actor John Malkovich's head. Fifteen minutes later,
poof, he falls from the sky right next to the New Jersey
turnpike. Schwartz's crush and co-worker Maxine (Catherine
Keener) believes they can milk this for every penny it's
worth and eventually sells tickets into Malkovich's head.
And that's only the first 45 minutes! What follows are some
of the most imaginative plot twists, most memorable
characters, and one of the most thought-provoking endings
ever stricken onto celluloid.
On many critics' 10 best lists, and currently high on the
Internet Movie Database's top 250 movies of all time, and my
all-time absolute favorite movie, "Being John Malkovich" is
a quirky, highly original, perfectly cast, cinematic
tour-de-force which marks the beginning of the film career
of auteur Spike Jonze, the man who might just become the
next Steven Spielberg.
The 16:9 1.85:1 transfer is very good, but due to the
indoor nature of the movie, you won't want this as a picture
reference disc. The picture is sharp, and the blacks are
solid and never wavering. While the rest of the movie is
primarily dimly lit, the ending scenes, however, in broad
daylight near a swimming pool, are colorfully and visually
amazing. The swimsuits, hair, skin, and water are brilliant
and colorful, but not at all oversaturated. All in all, the
anamorphic picture is pretty dark, very well done, and
unfortunately is never really amazing until the closing
The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is one of the best that I've
ever heard. While this is mostly a dialogue driven film, the
5.1 is used extremely well whenever the score is present or
we're inside Malkovich's head. Carter Burwell's score, which
has touches of his equally masterful score to the Coen
Brothers' "Fargo", is perfectly fitting to the film, being
slightly haunting and memorable. The score never really
tells us exactly how we're supposed to feel for the
characters, but perfectly accompanies the action such as the
chase through Malkovich's subconscious and the before
mentioned thought-provoking final scene. The 5.1 mix when
we're inside Malkovich's head perfectly mimics being inside
a human head. Chewing and talking come from the center
channel, and things we hear through Malkovich are placed
exactly where they would be heard in real life.
I'm somewhat disppointed that Spike Jonze didn't do a
commentary for the DVD, however, I believe this is also an
example of why Paul Thomas Anderson said he didn't do a
commentary for the DVD of his sophomore effort "Magnolia",
the film stands by itself just fine. On the contrary, the
eatures included are plentiful and even with my
disappointment with the ack of a commentary, I'm quite
content with what Universal/USA provided on the disc.
First, I'll tackle the Theatrical Trailer and TV Spots.
The theatrical trailer, while it only showcases some of the
funniest lines and scenes in the movie, has a great piece of
mambo music keeping the fast pace, is intriguing, and made
me absolutely want to see the movie when I first saw it. The
TV spots are even quirkier than the Trailer: the first one
"JM Inc."is an infomercial promoting "JM Inc." (The
"company" in the movie which sells tickets into Malkovich's
head) and takes the whole idea very seriously, directing
viewers to www.jmincorporated.com, a web-site which also
takes the idea of being John Malkovich completely
straight-faced, offering testimonials, how the whole process
works, and a sign-up form. The second TV spot "Tunnel", the
only one to show footage from the movie, is composed of
scenes from of movie of people looking through and climbing
through the doorway into Malkovich's head, and then the door
closing abruply. The third TV spot, "Spithead", simply shows
an escalator filled with people rising into the back of a
silhouette of John Malkovich's head, and Malkovich pushing
them out his mouth using his tongue. The fourth, and final,
"Vesselis Humanus" tells the process of becoming someone
else using an electronic monotonous voice while diagrams
flash on the screen. All of these are really imaginitive and
I wouldn't doubt if they were all Spike Jonze's creations.
Second, the "7 Floor Orientation" and "American Arts
& Culture Presents...
John Horatio Malkovich, Dance of Despair and
Both of these were shown in the film, and were put here
as a nice extra touch (ala the Televangelist Featurette on
"The Silence of the Lambs" Criterion Collection and "The
Frank T.J. Mackey Seminar" on "Magnolia").
Third, the "An Intimate Portrait of the Art of
Puppeteering", is a short segment on the real story behind
puppeteers and how they reacted to this film.
Fourth, "An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Background
Driving", is a humorous camcorder shot interview with one of
the extras hired to drive by the camera in the New Jersey
Turnpike scenes (while she's driving).
Fifth, "An Interview With Director Spike Jonze", the
highlight of the extras, is a camcorder shot interview with
Spike Jonze while he's driving. I don't want to give away
how it ends, but the climax of the interview has got to be
the most hilarious extra on the whole disc.
Sixth, "Spike's Photo Album", if I counted right is 31
pictures, mixed black and white, taken on the set of the
film. They're definitely worth checking out.
Seventh, the "Cast & Crew Biographies &
Filmographies", are pretty standard, but a welcome addition
to the disc.
The last extra, "A Page With Nothing On It", is a quirky,
pretty self-explanatory extra.
"Being John Malkovich" and its DVD can be summed up in
one word, brilliant. The film is a worthy addition to
anyone's collection, with an excellent story that is far
from the typical Hollywood garbage that gets pumped out
every year. With all the extras included, this is pretty
much an absolutely perfect DVD.
(5/5, NOT included in
NOT an average)