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The Criterion Collection
Rating: R (Some Language, Sexuality/Nudity and Drug Content)
Running Time: 110 minutes
Starring: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Luke Wilson
Written by: Wes Anderson and Owen Wilson
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Retail Price: $29.95
Specs: 2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Chapters (12 Chapters), Two-Disc Set
Released: July 9th, 2002
"Is it dark?"
"Of course it's dark. It's a suicide note."
With only three feature films under his belt, Wes Anderson has far exceeded expectations as a filmmaker. From his debut comedy caper "Bottle Rocket" to his critically praised, audience snubbed "Rushmore" (this reviewer's favorite film of all time), there is no denying that Anderson is truly a unique and exciting voice when it comes to a new generation of filmmakers. Forget special effects and big budgets, Anderson knows how to tell a great, funny story that somehow touches our souls and make us think. And while all of Anderson's projects have been distributed by big studios, they remain independent at heart.
Anderson's films always have had quirky plotlines, and "The Royal Tenenbaums" is no exception. Co-written with long-time collaborator (and now big-time Hollywood actor) Owen Wilson, the film is played out like it is an adaption of an actual book. Our story begins on Archer Avenue, where Royal and Etheline Tenenbaum raise three children that happen to geniuses and excel in select areas. There's Richie, who's a tennis pro; Chas, who's a wall street expert; and finally, adopted daughter Margot who's a widely acclaimed playwright. Unfortunately, Royal is not the greatest Dad or husband. He cheats on his wife and favors Richie over Margot and Chas. Royal and Etheline become separated, and then the family falls from grace.
We then cut to twenty-two years later. Royal is estranged from the family, Etheline has a new love, Margot hasn't written anything in years, Richie is a destroyed tennis champion and Chas struggles to cope with the recent loss of his wife from a plane crash. Due to some interesting circumstances, the Tenenbaum children move back into the old house where their mother still resides. Royal, who is down on his luck, wants back into the clan. He says that he has an illness and moves back into the house. From there, skeletons in the closet and other events happen as Royal tries to regain the respect from the family he once betrayed and regain his place as father. I wish I could go deeper into the plot "The Royal Tenenabums," yet there is too much to cover and I wouldn't want to ruin any surprises the movie holds. This is a great film as Anderson and company have essentially created a modern family drama masterpiece.
Anderson's directing skills are top notch here as we can clearly he has grown even more as a director as he perfectly weaves the story with enough hilarity and heartbreak. As in "Bottle Rocket" and "Rushmore," Anderson wastes no time setting the characters and elements up, and he does that here flawlessly. Throughout the film we get a strong sense of each of the characters as well as the variety of settings. He knows how to set up a wonderful, illustrious shots that brim with detail. Just look at that shot after the crash at the wedding. How the camera goes in, moves around and focuses in on each character doing something, getting help or trying to do some part, and how a lot of it gets wrapped around. How this scene works, moves in, moves out and keeps a wondrous continuous feel... it's really breathtaking. Anderson's visual sense is really magnificent. Anderson also always keeps things moving and sets the film at a good pace, so you're likely not to get bored. I really couldn't believe how fast the film went for me. Each time I saw the film, I didn't look at my watch once (something I admit I do quite often during movies).
The production aspects of the movie are also pretty extraordinary. While it appears to take place in New York City, Anderson has described the setting as his own unique city (which is not named), sorta like a Fairy Tale New York City. We can clearly see this, as much of the items, costumes, settings and designs of the film seem to be a mix of stuff from the 1960s, the 1970s and the 1980s. Things can be quite eclectic, and I found all the production aspects to make the film stand out even more and giving it quite an interesting feel that is truly all its own. Anderson knows how to do that and is quite the perfectionist, and that is not a bad thing at all. The color palette, the era combinations, the backdrops, sets and the style of the shots gave me that warm feeling inside I know is his. It's the same exact feeling I got from watching "Rushmore" each and every time (and I'm sure I'll feel that way each and every time upon viewing "Tenenbaums"). It's simply beyond original and unique... how Anderson knows what he wants and how to accomplish it boggles my mind, and he pulls it all off to give off such a rich, lush feeling that again, is all his and you know it's an Anderson film. Everything is just a perfect fit. It's something you've never seen before, but you just feel like you know it like the back of your hand. It's a little hard to describe for me... it's something that isn't so natural, but you just feel is (to me, at least). Wes Anderson is a true visionary when it comes to these things and making a film. There's a lot to admire here.
Anderson has also put together an all-star ensemble cast that truly shine with the material. Gene Hackman, who won many awards for the role, was truly Oscar-worthy as Royal Tenenbaum (he didn't even get a nod, as many felt his role was in-between supporting and lead. I personally think that's BS... I've seen Best Actor winners with short screen time in really long movies). Even though Royal is not such a nice guy, I found myself growing a sense of affection for him despite how much of a jerk he is and how hard he tries to get his place back in the family. Hackman has impeccable comic timing and makes the character believable as well. His demanding tone, his mannerisms and the whole overbearing as well as cocky style he gives the character. Danny Glover is perfect as Henry Sherman with his sense of sweetness, while Anjelica Houston is also wonderful as the somewhat oppressed yet very caring Etheline Tenenbaum. Gwyneth Paltrow is eerily effective as Margot while Luke Wilson (brother of Owen) is pitch-perfect as Richie, who has some issues to work out.. Owen Wilson is hilarious as drug addict Eli Cash, the guy "who always wanted to be a Tenenbaum" and funnyman Ben Stiller is incredibly good as Chas, who shows he has more range as an actor since his role is far more dramatic and serious than the rest of the cast, let alone much of Stiller's own work. To top it off, Alec Baldwin brings a nice, soothing and strong voice as the story's narrator.
Another interesting thing to note about Wes Anderson are his music choices for his films. While "Rushmore" played as a homage to the 60s new wave invasion, the selections for "The Royal Tenenbaums" are a bit more broader, yet fit the film perfectly. Back on board for the rapid, catchy and often somber instrumental score is Mark Mothersbaugh (formerly of the band DeVo), while songs from The Clash, Nico, Velvet Underground and The Ramones help light up the movie. Anderson sure knows good music, and knows where to put good music in a good film.
While all of this is great, unfortunately, I found Anderson and Wilson's screenplay to be a tiny bit flawed. The premise is very original and it starts off great, however, I found it to dwindle here and there. I felt there could have been a little bit more to the main story and a lot more to some of the subplots that are featured throughout the film. I felt some of these subplots needed to be expanded on more to get a greater sense of the characters themselves and their true motives. All of the characters are three-dimensional and I found them to be believable, as I am sure audiences will be able to pick out some who they can relate to. Each of them are also bizarrely different to set them apart, yet most of them are connected by mutual feelings. I did find that Anderson alumni Bill Murray was greatly underused for the film as well. However, what puzzled me the most were some of the relationships. We do not get any sense of a relationship between Chas and Margot, and I felt the children's relationships with Etheline, while showed a bit briefly at the start of the film, needed just a little bit more to them. Also, the downfall of the Tenenbaum clan... there really needed to be more of that. Yes we learn why Richie choked, yes we can see why Margot is depressed in some aspects... but Chas. Did he really have a downfall besides the thing with his wife? In the film, he appears successful and he does offer a good deal resentment toward Royal. Why I didn't mind so much and I feel the film works great as is, I just felt there was some things missing in key relationships to tie it all together.
Still, the strongest aspects of "The Royal Tenenbaums" is not Anderson's style, the acting or the characters. It is the themes of family that the movie conveys that I am sure many will be able to relate to. I suppose it is about how important family can be in our lives and how it is important to be in one that is unified. Yet as much as we love our families, we sure know there are members we reject, resent and ones we can't stand sometimes. The film has a load of funny moments that work really well, but deep down, it's truly a drama about family, mistakes and how things can walk into our lives and effect them greatly. Anderson and Wilson's script creates three-dimensional characters that are heartbreaking, highly original and beautiful. Their story is almost like a fine piece of literature (then again, the movie is set up like a book) with its themes, emotional conflicts and deep symbolic nature. Each layer of human element, story, characters, comedy and drama is carefully stacked and can be cut down in so many ways to reach the core that holds it all together. There is so much beauty and wonder to their screenplay, complete with depth and insight.
I must admit the first time I saw "The Royal Tenenbaums" I was pretty disappointed. I didn't get my hopes up despite the raves I was hearing from the New York Film Festival (I read quite a few reviews as many felt the film was superior to "Rushmore"). Despite not getting my hopes up, I still walked out disappointed. Being the Anderson fan I am, it somewhat angered me. It was a let down of sorts. But let's face it: "Rushmore" is my favorite film in my opinion and this movie was not being hyped to death, so it didn't have to live up to any hype. It was just the buzz from critics and fans that truly appreciated Anderson's work, so maybe that was the hype for me (even though I try to never buy into hype... whenever I do I become really disappointed usually as when something is hyped so much, it just can't live up to it). But upon seeing the film a second time, I enjoyed it more and got a lot more out of it. In fact, a lot of my opinions changed. I liked the film a lot the first time, but I came to love it a lot more while realizing a lot of new things. I didn't analyze it to death as I did originally, I went in trying to see it a different way... a bit more natural. And I did see the film a bit differently when I saw it for the second time. I realized I was not disappointed with the film at all, and I really loved it. The film was a work of art and a work of pure genius. I suppose the movie was better for me the second time around since I got over the initial disappointments I had the first time I saw it. I took the film for what it was, and found a lot more in it than the first go-around. There was so much joy and drama in the film. So much to smile at and so much to be moved at. I realized that the flaws I originally saw and felt ruined the movie for me weren't much or nothing and all. I also saw that the story arc was spectacular and had a tremendous flow to it, where I originally thought it was a bit uneven. There really is a lot to notice and a lot to discuss.
Originally, I probably would have given "The Royal Tenenbaums" a 4.5/5. Now that I have seen the film several times, it truly deserves a 5/5. I think the film can be best appreciated if the viewer sees it more than once. There is so much to take in and there are so many layers to the movie, it's nearly impossible for anyone to truly get every single thing the first time around. The first viewing should have one in a sense of awe and wonder, and from the second on, one should start to understand the context as far as the humor and drama. Every single time I have seen the film, I've found something new in it, and I believe every time I will watch it, I will always find something new to marvel at. Some films get better with repeated viewings, and I truly think "The Royal Tenenbaums" is one of them since there is so much to the story and characters. Unfortunately, I think some people will not like "The Royal Tenenbaums," all because they will never understand the dimensions the film offers.
I also realized I should not compare "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums" since they really are totally different films (but my preference is still "Rushmore" slightly). Despite some little instances, "The Royal Tenenbaums" does work really well and is worth seeing thanks to Anderson's keen direction, finely tuned characters, sharp dialogue, incredible performances and highly worthwhile and satisfying premise and story. Anderson's latest works on so many levels and is surely impressive, and there's no doubt that this will be remembered as one of the first great film classics of the 21st century (it surely was my favorite film of 2001).
Wes Anderson sure loves using wide ratios, and I am one to believe that they only enhance his films and given them that fine, warm and complete quality to them. "The Royal Tenenbaums" is presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer, supervised by Anderson himself (just as he did on Criterion's Rushmore), is very good, though I must admit I am slightly disappointed. The main problem with the first chapter is that the contrast in whole is way too high, giving off a somewhat slippery look with a lot of noise and some shimmering. It gradually clears up to get better and better after that first chapter, but noise in some form is present throughout the rest of the movie, and there is some very slight shimmering in other scenes. Also noticeable is some halo edges (I'm a stickler about that) at times, but there isn't too much of that thankfully. There is also some very slight edge enhancement, which is noticeable too.
Despite those flaws and the occasional print mark (those are quite rare actually, this is one of the cleanest prints of a DVD I've watched in a very long time), there is a lot to love about this transfer. The feelings Anderson gives off in the film and through his visionary style are nicely reflected in this transfer. Working once again with cinematographer Robert Yeoman, this transfer keeps up well with the varying moods, the different rooms, the unique scenery and vast locations that the film offers. Black levels are very good, while background details stand out and go well with everything else. Fleshtones are also good, while color saturation is bold, solid and very well done. The colors do give off a crisp and vibrant tone. The image is also pretty sharp, and there isn't much grain either. I was pretty impressed with the lack of grain, and that whatever grain there is, it's pretty hard to notice.
In the end though, the transfer gave off what I was hoping for: that warm, colorful and storybook feeling that I got when I watched the movie twice in theaters. Though the flaws are pretty minor, they are constant and end up adding up. Nonetheless, this is still one fantastic image to behold that reflects the film very well.
Criterion has not only provided a 5.1 Dolby Digital English track for the film, but an English 5.1 DTS track as well. I love DTS, so the added track has made me quite happy, especially since they seem to support it only here and there (then again, age of the film does matter). Anywho, each track is very solid and do provide very enveloping experiences. All the elements have a very solid balance to one another. Anderson's song selections and the beautiful Mark Mothersbaugh score are integrated well throughout the channels. You become entrapped in the music, and they do sound quite refreshing, especially with some thumping bass. Dialogue is very clear and soothing; it's easy to hear and doesn't become boggled down within the sound elements.
Still, it's the effective surround use which makes both of these tracks impressive. Subtle surround use through effects are very well done. Be it the rippling of the water when Margot is in the bathtub, cars pulling up to the curb of a street, running, thunder and the whole wedding sequence toward the end, this movie does employ a lot of surround use and in a very superb, stylish manner. I was pretty taken back how great the surrounds were used, let alone how natural it all felt. All the sounds here, be it the music, the sound effects or the dialogue really get you into the movie. It gets you right into Wes Anderson's world and each sound mix does a fantastic job of doing that if I say so myself.
Like in most cases, the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 tracks are neck and neck. However, I did prefer the DTS ever so slightly. It felt that some surrounds had a bit more depth than ones in the Dolby Digital track, it felt a bit more natural in some cases and had better imaging. Overall, I felt it was more satisfying and pleasing to the ears and worked better for me, feeling a tad more full. Still, no matter which track you take, you're in for a great listening experience that really encompasses the Tenenbaum family. Also included is an English Dolby Surround track, as well as English subtitles.
Let me just say this: wow. It may not be the most featured packed and extensive special edition out there, but you can tell the good people at Criterion and Wes Anderson love giving the most definitive DVD experience possible, and that they really love their work. Right from the packaging, the lovely drawings from Eric Anderson (Wes' brother), the menus and the whole atmosphere this package brings, I was instantly and happily sucked into the world of "The Royal Tenenbaums." This two-disc set does not disappoint, and simply drips with quality and depth.
Before I look into the supplements, I'd like to congratulate Criterion and Disney for teaming up and bringing out this package so quickly. You see, last November (2001) I was fortunate enough to attend a chat with Wes Anderson at New York City's Walter Reade Theater, hosted by the Film Society of Lincoln Square. In addition to seeing the original "Bottle Rocket" short and a screening of "The Royal Tenenbaums," Anderson talked about his work and answered questions from the audience. Anderson spoke candidly about DVD releases, saying how he wanted to create Criterion editions of "Bottle Rocket" and "The Royal Tenenbaums." I thought to myself that "The Royal Tenenbaums" would have a better chance of being released first, given that Disney licensed "Rushmore" to Criterion for a release, but would still be a bit off. I assumed Disney would release their own version and then Criterion would release their special edition, just like "Rushmore" (and it'd be worth the wait).
Alas, that's what seemed to have happened at first. Disney released box art for their own edition and a street date, and a few weeks later, it was announced that Disney and Criterion (this meant a Criterion edition was finally official and no longer a rumor) would be teaming up for one edition that would still street in time (July 9th). This made be very happy, as that Criterion edition I couldn't wait for would be coming out much sooner than I thought. And yes, this was good news for DVD consumers, as there wouldn't be a situation of buying one edition, only to realize a special edition would later come out. So, kudos to them and that nice story. Also a big kudos goes out to Anderson as well, who's really into creating special editions and putting his own time and great contributions to them. Like "Rushmore" before it, this Criterion edition of "The Royal Tenenbaums" just shows his love of sharing his work and the elements that put it together.
Starting on disc one, we have an Audio Commentary with Co-Writer/Director Wes Anderson. I'm sure some of you will be disappointed that co-writer Owen Wilson isn't present to offer his thoughts (didn't he do that on the official Tenenbaums website anyway?), but while I guess I would have liked to hear his comments, I think Anderson is the brains behind it all, seeing how he was the one running the show, has had the vision and has brought tons of things to the work. I enjoyed Anderson's comments that were spliced for the Criterion edition of "Rushmore," and he does another great job here. Right from the start, Anderson is incredibly talkative. He talks of his ideas for the movie, production stories, inspirations that helped create the movie, finding the child actors, his own personal experiences that went into the movie and much more. Anderson seems incredibly attentive to what's on screen, and knows exactly what he wants to say. His impeccable eye and love of detail, cultural knowledge and more can truly be felt by listening to what he says. I really loved this commentary, perhaps moreso than his excellent commentary on "Rushmore." Anderson has immense passion for his work and despite this being a rather informative and serious track, he does have some funny stuff to say. Anderson also remembers a lot and knows a lot, which did impress me, seeing how I've listened to many commentaries, and some directors and production remembers can't remember names and details and all. All of this track made me quite happy.
On disc two, the setup of the extras consists of portraits on a Tenenbaum household wall, played against the music of Mark Mothersbaugh from the movie. There is a large and nicely laid out Scrapbook. Hundreds of stills are included, and are a blast to look at. First up is "Stills" and is photographs from on set photographer James Hamilton, where photos from the set and publicity shots are presented (beware though, if you haven't seen the movie, some of these shots ruin major parts). "Storyboards" has just that - storyboards. We see a whole shot of the images at first, and then we get a closer look. Portraits used in the movie by Miguel Calderon are featured, and there is a Radio 360/Public Radio International segment on the man and his work in the movie that you can listen to while viewing a painting featured in the movie, plus you can look at Calderon stills separately and learn more about them with accompanying text before the paintings and some biographical information on Calderon after. The radio program has a female narrator, music from the movie, Calderon speaking, information about the movie and Wes Anderson talking about Calderon's work. Very cool. "Murals" showcases the bedroom murals in Richie Tenenbaum's bedroom, done by Eric Chase Anderson. Most of these pictures can be seen in the inserts, except here you can view them up close. "Covers" shows off all the book covers used in the movie, while "Paintings" show off the various Margot paintings of her reading that are in the movie. All in all, a lot to look at.
With The Filmmaker is a documentary by Albert Maysles, and was shown on cable's Independent Film Channel. This documentary is presented in full frame, and is even divided up into chapters. This documentary offers a wide range of footage from the production of the movie, and is edited quite nicely. There isn't a set narrative to this documentary (I do tend to enjoy the more loose documentaries than typical studio promotional ones or the ones with a set tone), and as a result, we get many glimpses of the creation of "The Royal Tenenbaums." The interior creation of the Tenenbaum household, training the hawk, Anderson shooting some scenes, editing, his collaboration with his brother, the artwork and much more. Now and then Anderson is interviewed in a more casual set-up about films and the movie, and offers some very interesting comments. Overall, this is one of the best making-of movie documentaries I've seen in a long while, and one of the best I have ever seen in fact. Great stuff here. My only complaint? I wish it was longer than twenty-seven minutes!
The Peter Bradley Show is a fourteen minute piece, that is sorta a faux Charlie Rose kind-of show. This show is featured in the film itself actually, where Peter Bradley interviews Eli Cash. Anywho, five participants are interviewed (there are supposed to be six, but one never shows up). Each participant you die-hard Anderson fans may be familiar with: each are friends with the writer/director, and have small parts and/or walk-on roles in all of his films. This is really funny, as it's supposed to be serious, but given the idea of actors with small roles and talking about their preparation, work and whatnot, it comes off very tongue in cheek and obviously, quite funny. I don't know if this was made especially for the DVD or whatnot, but it's a very nice treat that is really worth watching. "Is it 'Bottle Rocket' or 'Bottle Rockets'?"
Interviews has individual interviews with the cast members, that were filmed on set and are mixed with behind the scenes footage. I believe some of these interviews were used for a promotional making-of special that Disney aired on television through syndication and on Bravo. Each interview only lasts a few minutes, but each actor offers different perspectives on the film, Wes Anderson, the craft of acting and their characters. Interviews with Gene Hackman, Bill Murray (his interview is pretty funny), Gwyneth Paltrow, Danny Glover, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, Luke Wilson and Anjelica Huston. All of them are worth watching, and run from two to six minutes.
Under Cut Scenes, we are treated to two deleted scenes from the movie, adding up to around two minutes. No reason is given why they were cut, but they neither help nor hurt the movie. I suppose Anderson's reasons for leaving them out is perspective. One brief scene features Eli Cash's family (including "Rushmore" alumnus Olivia Williams as his wife - I heard she and the children were digitally removed from other scenes), while the other scene offers an awkward dinner between Etheline and Henry. They're nice, and presented in anamorphic widescreen and two channel sound. The picture quality is good, but not up to the level of the feature. The scenes are short, so they are must sees... especially for you fans of the movie.
Also included are two Theatrical Trailers in two channel sound and anamorphic widescreen (I love those trailers... I've definitely seen the first one a dozen times). There are also some pretty easy to find Easter Eggs including Kumar showcasing an entertaining act, a pretty funny outtake involving fire and a personal welcome message from Ben Stiller (It had to be shot during the film's production... I'm assuming Anderson wanted to do a Criterion for the film all along).
Though perhaps I have saved the best for last. First up, the packaging is magnificent. Fitting right in with the film's various books is the packaging. The outer cardboard case is meant to look like a book with it's sweet cast photo, worn edges and page views at the top and the bottom. However, removing this, you get the actual DVD case, featuring Eric Chase Anderson's nifty artwork. The disc art itself is also in the vein of the "Rushmore" Criterion DVD, this time making use of paper letter send outs used on the ship Richie sailed on. Sweet. The menus for the first disc fit perfectly in with the whole book theme and are very, very nice.
Inside the case itself, we are treated to two Inserts. The first one is a wonderful essay about the movie and key themes in Anderson's work by Kent Jones. Jones, who writes for the magazine Film Comment (that very magazine did major promotion for the film), provides one of the best, if not the best, essay and critique for a movie I have ever read. His piece is quite lengthy, but literally nails every major point that "The Royal Tenenbaums" offers, let alone common themes that bond the characters in all of Anderson's films. The diction that Jones uses in this essay is very nice and pleasing, but his insights are truly amazing and are quite impressive. How he links Wes Anderson's movies with the world itself, makes comparisons and offers so many details, I actually gained some new ideas and thoughts about Anderson's work. I sincerely hope that everyone who buys this DVD set reads this essay. If one ignores this detailed written commentary, it would be a crime. And yes, it's really that damn good. This insert also offers cast and crew listings, chapter names, special thanks and a few technical notes.
The second insert is a series of drawings by Eric Anderson (Wes Anderson's brother), with a written introduced by Wes. Wes talks about how his brother's work was used as blueprints for the production design team, among other things. Basically, if you're familiar with the great map of Rushmore, an insert on the Criterion Rushmore DVD, think that... but times it by twenty. Anderson's drawings offer the characters, details on objects (Gypsy Cab car, anyone), and major designs of the Tenenbaum household, pinpointing each and every little thing for where all the scenes take place. This insert is a perfect compliment to the film itself: it's beautiful, it's original, it's gorgeous and highly detailed. Judging from this and Eric's other work, I believe that both Anderson brothers are artistic geniuses. I'm also assuming the other Anderson brother is some kind of genius too.
"The Royal Tenenbaums" is a pure work of genius (no pun intended!) and can be characterized as a film about the simplicities of life and most complex situations of the human heart. Wes Anderson has once again created a stunning world that is quite magical, yet at the same time, realistic with the unique characters and themes that tend to open our own hearts. My favorite film of 2001 is now what will probably be one of my favorite DVD releases of 2002. Criterion, Disney and Anderson have blessed fans of the film with an amazing two-disc set. The supplements are incredible and have depth, making you want to watch them over and over again instead of once, the 5.1 sound mixes in Dolby Digital and DTS bring Anderson's mythical version of New York to life and the picture clearly represents the many tones and wonders the film features. Quite simply, "The Royal Tenenbaums" is a must see movie, and this is one of Criterion's best efforts. Whatever you do, don't miss this!