It’s been two weeks since my last column, and although I welcomed the opportunity to catch up on some other work instead, believe me when I say that this isn’t going to become a habit. In fact, the main reason that I failed to write a column last week was because the studios didn’t send out any Blu-rays in time for review. This week’s line-up didn’t exactly make it very easy to get back on track, as it marks the start of what looks to be a slow and lackluster April, but there are still a few noteworthy releases to discuss.
It’s pretty hard to believe that Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown” almost went home empty-handed at the 1975 Academy Awards (it ended up winning Best Original Screenplay), because it’s not only one of the best film noirs ever made, but it’s an American classic. Then again, when you take into account that it was going up against “The Godfather: Part II” in almost every category, it doesn’t sound so blasphemous, even if both movies lost major awards to other competition. Perhaps even stranger than its lack of Oscar love, however, is how long it took for “Chinatown” to finally be released on Blu-ray. The movie has hardly aged at all, and it’s only that much more evident while watching the new high-def transfer, which looks absolutely gorgeous. Though it’s hard to discuss the movie without sounding like a broken record, “Chinatown” remains one of Polanski’s finest films and features arguably the best performance of Jack Nicholson’s impressive career. There’s not much more to say. When you’re right, you’re right. And I’m right.
Blu-ray Highlight: Paramount hasn’t included any new bonus material on the Blu-ray release, but when the extras from the previous DVDs are already this good, there’s no need. Though it’s hard to choose just one, the retrospective featurette “Chinatown: An Appreciation” is an engrossing discussion about the movie by industry vets like Steven Soderbergh, Kimberly Pierce, Roger Deakins and James Newton Howard on everything from the script, to Polanski’s shooting method, to its memorable score and much more.
Based on the children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo and the Tony Award-winning play of the same name, “War Horse” is like a movie from another era – an old-fashioned, Golden Age-style epic in the vein of “Gone with the Wind.” That could be the reason why it didn’t resonate with audiences as much as expected, but it likely has more to do with the fact that, despite having the makings of a real tearjerker, the movie lacks emotional punch. Though the various segments depicting Joey’s journey through war-torn Europe are enjoyable (particularly one involving enemy soldiers who must work together to free the horse from an entanglement of barbed wire), the core relationship between Joey and farmhand Albert is handled so poorly that you never really care about their fates. The movie will probably age a lot better than many of last year’s other Best Picture nominees, but I still fear that “War Horse” was made about 50 years too late.
Blu-ray Highlight: I didn’t receive a review copy in time, but after doing some digging around online, it sounds like the Blu-ray release has a number of good extras, including an hour-long making-of featurette that spans from pre-production to the wrap party.