Blu-ray Review – The Royal Tenenbaums
I would not describe myself as a Wes Anderson fan. I find his films to be clever, but they don’t generally resonate with me, because they tend to be very similar stylistically (Fantastic Mr. Fox being the one very pleasant exception). But if it is any indicator of the power of Criterion, I was excited to check out the Blu-ray release of arguably Anderson’s most popular film, The Royal Tenenbaums (2001).
The story follows Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) as he attempts to reunite with his family twenty years after separating from his wife, Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Houston), and abandoning his kids (Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson). After re-watching the movie, my feelings about the story haven’t changed all that much. But this Criterion edition has done an excellent job of highlighting how much of an artist Anderson truly is, and how much craftsmanship his films really do require, despite feeling so similar.
The HD transfer looked beautiful. I had seen the film originally when it was released in theaters, and I found the colors to be much more vibrant than I had remembered. There are a few cut scenes included on this release, and you can see how much work has been done to restore the images and for color correction. The 2k transfer didn’t simply transfer over what existed, but also restored it and removed any flaws that had developed over time. The color palette might not be the most diverse, but the subtle differences are beautifully highlighted.
More important than in a lot of movies, audio plays a big part in Wes Anderson’s films. If you listen to the commentary track for the movie, you get a sense of how much audio plays into Anderson’s story creation process, and it plays a huge part of the experience of watching the movie itself. The audio was re-mastered digitally in 24 bit, so thankfully it sounds quite crisp.
All of the special features return from the original 2002 Criterion release of the film, but this is purely a Blu-ray bump up, so there is nothing new. If you own the previous edition, there isn’t anything here to compel you to purchase the film again, but if you are a fan and haven’t bought it yet, then there is a lot of stuff here to keep you occupied. (Unfortunately, like all Criterion releases, there are no digital downloads available.)
*Audio commentary by Anderson (from 2002 edition):
Probably the highlight of the special features is Anderson’s commentary track. Granted, it is not new, but it is incredibly insightful in getting a perspective of a director who is a perfectionist and borderline obsessive-compulsive in terms of making sure every detail of the film is right.
The big absence, though, is Owen Wilson on the commentary track. It would’ve been fascinating to hear them discuss their partnership/friendship/history and how it influenced their past projects, as well as this film. Despite Wilson’s absence, Anderson tries to discuss the subject a bit.
*With the Filmmaker: Portraits by Albert Maysles, featuring Anderson:
As with the commentary track, this is a unique portrait of a man who is a true auteur in the world of filmmaking. It is amazing to see Wes Anderson fuss over the smallest details of the film, even though they probably would never be noticed by a viewing audience.
*Interviews with and behind-the-scenes footage of the actors:
All of the major actors in the release are featured, which is nice, but they aren’t given more than a few minutes apiece and it is all shot in standard definition. Not particularly insightful, but it adds a little extra behind-the-scenes footage, which is cool.
The Peter Bradley Show, featuring interviews with additional cast members:
An additional episode of the mock interview show featured in the movie, this time the guests are some of the extras from the film, most of whom have relationships dating back to college or before with Anderson. This really doesn’t add anything to the release and frankly isn’t even that funny. Safe to skip it.
*Studio 360 radio segment on painter Miguel Calderon:
This is a fascinating news segment that not only gives new perspective to some of the art briefly featured in the movie, but also gives new perspective to the artist. Hearing the story makes the art that much more powerful and disturbing, as well as giving a new spin to the concept of what it means to be a painter.
*Scrapbook featuring young Richie’s murals and paintings and more, and Insert with Eric Anderson’s drawings of the Tenenbaum house:
Some of the amazing details in the film that can be easily overlooked are from Eric Anderson, Wes’s brother, who was responsible for all of the artwork done by the character Richie (Luke Wilson). As part of the booklet for the release, they have collected all the images, which detail a lot of the history of the Tenenbaum family. This adds a lot of humor and backstory that is quickly glossed over in the film.
Overall Release Grade: B+