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Special Collector's Edition

review by Zach B.



MPAA Rating: R

Running Time: 130 minutes

Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Hillerman, Perry Lopez, Burt Young and John Huston

Written by: Robert Towne

Directed by: Roman Polanski 


Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $19.99

Features: Chinatown: The Beginning and The End, Chinatown: Filming, Chinatown: The Legacy, Theatrical Trailer

Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Restored Mono, French Mono, Spanish Mono, Portuguese Mono, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selection (16 Scenes)

Released: November 6th, 2007


"Chinatown" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and given its age, "Chinatown" looks wonderful. I'll get the bad out of the way first: there are edge halos and some noise that are noticeable, the print has some specks of dirt and debris on it, and at times the image is a bit on the grainy side. Also, some of the scenes that take place at night look a bit washed out.  

Other than those minor instances, there's a lot to behold on this sharp transfer. Detail is very fine, and black levels and shadows look pretty fantastic. There is no edge enhancement, and fleshtones seem spot-on. Color saturation is fine-tuned too, as there is sno smearing and the colors are bold and have a lot of life to them - 1930's Los Angeles really looks alive here. The quality of this transfer definitely matches up to the pedgiree of "Chinatown" the film.

"Chinatown" is given a more modern soundtrack, with an English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Surprisingly, this mix isn't exactly a mono track spread across five channels - nor do the surrounds artificial. I wouldn't call this mix thin by any means, but perhaps not as natural or deep as 5.1 mixes for more recent films who's recording techniques in laying down a soundtrack differ. Still, there are a lot of pleasures to be had in this balanced track: dialogue is quite crisp and very easy to hear, and Jerry Goldsmith's score fills up the speakers in a haunting fashion to help give the film its ambiance. The surround effects, meanwhile, are pretty front-centric - but are more lively and discrete than I anticipated. The sounds of the cars puttering off, gunshots being fired and key sequences involving water are pretty enveloping. 

Also included is an English restored mono track (for you purists), as well as mono tracks in French, Spanish and Portuguese. Subtitles are available in all these languages, and there's also English closed captions.


Thankfully, this new DVD edition of "Chinatown" brings a few extra features to go along with the movie.

Chinatown: Filming lasts 19 minutes and is a very nice featuette about the origins of the film. The talking heads are director Roman Polanski, Jack Nicholson, producer Robert Evans and writer Robert Towne. Polanski discusses his reluctance to return to L.A. after the murder of Sharon Tate, Evans brings up the clout he possessed and Nicholson chimes in a comment here and there about the proceedings. But the real attraction here is Towne, who goes into a lot of detail about what inspired the screenplay - namely its namesake and the plot details that occur within it. He also mentions he wrote for Nicholson specifically, since the two used to be roommates and could write to the actor's strengths. Toward the end of this piece there's a discussion about the film's grand finale, and how Polanski wanted to take it into a darker direction and Towne wasn't so eager. As we all know, Polanski won out (and Towne acknowledges that Polanski's story insticts were better). A lot of this information may not be so new to those familiar with the film's history, but it is still a good watch.

Chinatown: Style runs 25 minutes and is a fantastic overview of a lot of the movie's crucial elements. In this piece Polanski, Evans, Towne and Nicholson discuss the film's visual look, its jabs of humor, Polanski's attention to detail and much more. If anything, this is just a collection of production stories that are divided up by topic, and are all quite entertaining. I only wish it ran a bit longer, and was more in-depth on some areas (such as casting). Hmm, maybe another dip of this movie on DVD will have a more comprehensive documentary?

Lasting nearly 10 minutes is Chinatown: The Legacy. This is really just more stories about the movie, namely the post-production and then its eventual release. Polanski discusses changing the film's musical score, and how Jerry Goldsmith completed a new one in nine days (which was oversaw by Evans, given that Polanski had to direct an opera). From there, Evans discusses how he knew he had a hit on his hand and how Nicholson foresaw that the film would get nominated for many Oscars, but not win many (in fact, it only won one - for Robert Towne's screenplay). In all, everyone is quite proud of their work on the movie - even though Polanski admits "Chinatown" is only his second favorite of his work (the first being "The Pianist," but then again, that was a very personal film for him). 

Finally, there's the Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen.

"Chinatown" is a classic, and it's great that Paramount has given this movie a long overdue re-release (now with supplements). The three featurettes are well put together (but doesn't the movie deserve even more?), and the film. Even if you own the original release, this is a must own for any DVD collection.