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Royal Tenenbaums, The
Release Date(s)2001 (August 14, 2012)
Studio(s)American Empirical/Touchstone (Criterion - Spine #157)
I’ve said this many times before and I’ll say it over and over again with future films that I get to review: I love Wes Anderson’s work. There’s a section of film fans that despise it, and for the life of me, I can’t understand why. He’s one of the strongest visual and heartfelt storytellers in the business today and every new film from him is always a love letter to all things cinema. I do admit that his particular style is easily noticed from film to film, but it’s what makes his films his own. And that style stems largely from The Royal Tenenbaums.
After the commercial failure of Bottle Rocket and the runaway critical success of Rushmore, Wes Anderson decided to tell the story of a large family torn asunder by personal hang-ups, grudges, and mistrustfulness with sweet, but comedic elements. The Royal Tenenbaums also featured a large cast of characters with big name stars, larger than any cast Anderson had worked with previously. Alec Baldwin narrates the story of a broken family who must come together when they discover that the head of the family, Royal Tenenbaum, has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Strained relationships become even more strained as members of the family deal with the situation in their own ways, while at the same time reconnecting with each other in some surprising ways. If you haven’t seen the film, this probably sounds like pretentious tripe, but fortunately, Wes Anderson knows how to make this material compelling.
The all-star cast includes Gene Hackman (with a performance that earned him a Golden Globe), Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller, and Danny Glover. The entire ensemble shines well because of the strong direction taken by Anderson. Even Ben Stiller, who I’ve never been a fan of, turns in a surprisingly good performance. With a slightly higher budget, Anderson is also using his cast to his benefit, giving the story a larger scope in which to view it. As I said previously, this is really where his distinct visual style came into full fruition, and has been a staple of every film that he made afterwards. If I had to give the film a complaint, I would have to say that it has a bit too much style. The story is relatively simple and there were moments when Anderson could really have pulled on the reins a bit. The overall look of the film is terrific, of course, but the style tends to override it during some key moments. However, this is by no means a harsh criticism, and shouldn’t be taken as such.
Even if you didn’t like them film, you’d have to agree that The Royal Tenenbaums is a major blueprint for Anderson’s future work. It’s also very funny, affectionate, and an entertaining film in its own right. Anderson would continue with the idea of families being torn asunder through unusual circumstances in The Darjeeling Limited, as well as turning the sweetness knob up to eleven with Moonrise Kingdom later on, but The Royal Tenenbaums is a virtually perfect blend of style and substance that only gets better with age.
Like the film itself, the Blu-ray of The Royal Tenenbaums tinkers on perfect so closely that you just assume that it is, indeed, perfect. The images are stable, grain is distributed evenly and beautifully, colors are lush and reproduced perfectly, skin tones are accurate, blacks are deep, both contrast and brightness are at acceptable levels, leftover film artifacts are non-existent, and no discernible anomalies can be found anywhere in the transfer. It’s sheer perfection, and was supervised by Wes Anderson himself, so you know you’re getting exactly what he prefers in the best possibly quality. The soundtrack contains much of the same quality on a single English 5.1 DTS-HD track. Although this isn’t a soundtrack that demands heavy speaker activity, you’ll find everything well-prioritized with some surprising speaker-to-speaker activity. Dialogue is always clean and clear, mixed in well with the sound effects, music, and score. There are even some surprising LFE moments sprinkled in here and there. Directionality doesn’t play a major role, but when it does, it’s effective. All in all, this is a perfect presentation, which also contains subtitles in English for those who might need them.
For the extras selection, everything has been carried over from Criterion’s earlier DVD release of the film. There’s an audio commentary with Wes Anderson; the With the Filmmaker: A Portrait by Albert Maysles documentary about the film; separate interviews with Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Danny Glover; two deleted scenes; an episode of The Peter Bradley Show featuring a round-table discussion with a few actors that Anderson has worked with; a Scrapbook section, with various stills and paintings divided into six sections (Stills, Miguel Calderón – which is presented with a segment from the Public Radio International show “Studio 360,” Margo, Storyboards, Murals, Covers); the film’s two theatrical trailers; a fold-out insert booklet with an essay on the film by film critic Kent Jones; and finally, an additional fold-out insert booklet with drawings of the film’s sets by illustrator Eric Anderson with a personal note from Wes Anderson.
I think I’ve said this before, but having to pick a favorite Wes Anderson film is like picking a favorite child. They’re all special in their own way and you can’t really sit one above the others. On some days, my favorite is The Darjeeling Limited; on others, it’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; and then on others, it’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. The truth is, I don’t really have a favorite... they’re all my favorites, and The Royal Tenenbaums falls right in line with that, especially with such a top-notch Blu-ray presentation. This one should be impossible for anyone to pass up. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons