Release Date(s)2014 (April 28, 2020)
Studio(s)Fox Searchlight Pictures/20th Century Fox (Criterion – Spine #1025)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilization left in this barbaric slaughterhouse that was once known as humanity. Indeed that’s what we provide in our own modest, humble, insignificant... eh, fuck it.”
The Grand Budapest Hotel stars a multitude of acting talent and features a story about a concierge named Gustave H. and his lobby boy Zero, and their chaotic adventures across the continent together. In an odd twist of events, they steal a priceless Renaissance painting from the family of a recently deceased older woman that Monsieur Gustave was secretly having an affair with. The story is recounted by an older version of Zero to another interested party.
Wes Anderson’s pastiche of Stefan Zweig stories, European political and cultural upheaval, and a murder mystery plot presented him with a set of new challenges as to how to depict and structure a story using four different time periods and changing aspect ratios. Anderson, known primarily for his meticulously-crafted, anamorphic canvases, squeezed the center of the film—a story about two people from different walks of life coming together as one working unit—into his own brand of comically light, beautifully-rendered, and heartfelt storytelling.
As expected, the entire cast shines, delivering terrific and funny performances. Ralph Fiennes steals the show as Monsieur Gustave, a man with questionable morals taking unorthodox measures. Yet despite that, he always appears charming and relatable, making his performance feel almost effortless. As such, Tony Revolori as Zero does much of the heavy lifting, at times reactionary, and others non-reactionary, to Gustave’s aristocratic monologues and outrageous actions. The bond between them grows steadily as we follow the two of them on their adventures, witnessing them getting into one bad predicament after another. All of the old Wes Anderson favorites are on hand as well, including Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Adrien Brody, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, and Jason Schwartzman, as well as newcomers to the Wes Anderson fold Saoirse Ronan, Harvey Keitel, Jude Law, and F. Murray Abraham.
The structure of the film is a story within a story within a story within a story, which sounds confusing and could wind up being convoluted in nature, but it’s nothing more than a framework, jibing with Anderson’s boxes within boxes approach to narrative. The story itself is told in a fairly straightforward fashion, with Gustave and Zero jumping from one escapade to the next with little to no notice. Things heat up occasionally due to the backdrop of war as it creeps its ways into the proceedings, but never at the expense of the film’s tone. At best, The Grand Budapest Hotel is unmitigated dark humor with a spot of charm, and it remains consistently entertaining.
Six years after the film’s initial home video release, Criterion finally lays their hands on The Grand Budapest Hotel. This release continues to present the film in its varying aspect ratios (1.37:1, 1.85:1, and 2.40:1) from a 2K digital transfer of the original 35mm camera negative with the supervision and final approval of Wes Anderson himself. 20th Century Fox’s Blu-ray release was nothing to sniff at as it contained a beautiful presentation of the film. Criterion appears to have utilized that same transfer as there is no obvious difference between the two. Both feature high levels of detail, lush color palettes, deep blacks, perfect brightness and contrast, and the exact same framing. The primary distinction between the two can be found in their encode. While the Fox release features sporadic compression that regulates somewhere in the mid-20s (in terms of gigabytes), the Criterion release steadies out around the mid-30s. Most viewers won’t notice the difference, but the darker portions of the frame reveal the very minor discrepancies. Technically, it’s superior, but those with larger screens will notice more than others.
The audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD with optional subtitles in English SDH. Like the video, the 5.1 presentation sounds exactly the same. Criterion states in the accompanying booklet that the soundtrack has been remastered, but there are no appreciable differences. It isn’t overly aggressive, but it does feature an abundance of surround and ambient activity. Dialogue is always clean and clear and both score and sound effects sound fantastic.
The following extras are also included, all in HD:
- Audio Commentary with Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jeff Goldblum, and Kent Jones
- The Special Effects and Design of The Grand Budapest Hotel (25:21)
- Music (5:24)
- The Models and Miniatures of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2:10)
- The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel (21:28)
- Storyboard Animatics: Hotel Intro (5:18)
- Storyboard Animatics: Washer Woman (1:00)
- Storyboard Animatics: Killing of Kovacs (2:37)
- Storyboard Animatics: Prison Escape (3:07)
- Storyboard Animatics: Gabelmeister’s Peak (7:27)
- Storyboard Animatics: Hotel Show-Down (6:10)
- Wes Anderson Takes the 4:3 Challenge (23:23)
- The Wes Anderson Collection: The Grand Budapest Hotel (16:08)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – Part 1: The Story (4:36)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – Part 2: The Society of the Crossed Keys (4:02)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – Part 3: Creating the Hotel (4:28)
- The Grand Budapest Hotel – Part 4: Creating a World (4:57)
- Wes Anderson (3:49)
- Cast (3:22)
- Bill Murray Tours Gorlitz (4:16)
- Kuntsmuseum Zubrowka Lecture (2:52)
- The Society of the Crossed Keys (2:55)
- How to Make Mendel’s Courtesans au chocolat (3:21)
- Theatrical Trailer (2:26)
The audio commentary featuring Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jeff Goldblum, and critic Kent Jones is delightful as the four discuss the film while they watch it. Anderson does most of the talking, but everyone contributes a variety of subjects. Kent Jones occasionally asks questions, but for the most part, it’s a pleasant, free-flowing conversation. The Special Effects and Design featurette speaks to Jeremy Dawson and Adam Stockhausen about how Anderson uses practical and computer generated effects as tools, and how many of the film’s various facets were created. In Music, the film’s music supervisor, Randall Poster, introduces us to random footage of the film’s score being recorded, with Wes Anderson present to throw out ideas. Models and Miniatures is a montage of the film’s various sets being created. The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a mostly fly-on-the-wall look at the film in production, with various on-set interviews scattered throughout. The Storyboard Animatics present an assortment of scenes as originally conceived. In Wes Anderson Takes the 4:3 Challenge, David Bordwell examines the film’s use of varying styles to tell its story. In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Matt Zoller Seitz explores the film more fully, including its characters and its story. The rest of the material consists of short promotional featurettes, interviewing many members of the film’s cast and crew during production.
Included within the packaging is a 38-page booklet containing a chapter listing, cast and credits information, Wes Anderson’s Artistic Manifesto, Stefan Zweig, and a Longing for the Past by Richard Brody, The Portier by Mark Twain, various stills and character illustrations, and transfer information. Also included is a Romantic Poetry: Vol. I booklet recreation, but containing various props, newspaper clippings, photos, and other pieces of ephemera seen in the film. Last, but not least, is a double-sided, fold-out poster with new artwork on each side. It’s worth noting that almost al of the promotional material from the previous Blu-ray release has been carried over, aside from a still gallery. A couple of extra short promotional pieces, as well as the film’s TV spots, are absent as well.
Criterion, unsurprisingly, manages to one-up the 20th Century Fox Blu-ray of The Grand Budapest Hotel by featuring a superior presentation (though only slightly so) and adding additional extras, including a great commentary with Wes Anderson and company. It’s an excellent release and deserves a spot on your wall, right next to your box of Mendl’s and your copy of Boy with Apple. Highly recommended!
– Tim Salmons