Weekend (Not Exactly a) Cinema Listomania (Special Portrait of the Critic as a Young Weasel Edition)

on December 10, 2010 by Steve Simels
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Inception.jpgVideo Event of the Week: Might the Criterion Collection's magificent new Blu-ray special edition of Ingmar Bergman's metaphysical Swedish meatball The Magician be what we're talking about? Could Shout! Factory's latest Roger Corman exhumation -- a double bill of the Angie Dickinson gangster classics Big Bad Mama and Big Bad Mama II -- conceivably make the grade? Or is it remotely possible that Acorn Media's new four disc set of the first season of Man in a Suitcase, the stylish and unjustly forgotten late 60s British spy series, is -- against the odds -- actually The One?

All worthy to be sure, especially that Angie double feature (costarring William Shatner. 'Nuff said.) But for my money it's got to be Warner Home Video's DVD of Inception, the latest brain-teaser from The Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan. Oh, and that DiCaprio kid is in there somewhere, too.

But seriously, folks, when I first wrote about Inception back in July, I noted that it is, essentially, a metaphysical Mission Impossible flick, which is to say a meditation on the nature of reality passing as a high-tech spy thriller. I also noted that it's a little overlong (not terribly surprising coming from the auteur who padded out the otherwise estimable Dark Knight with a totally superfluous 4th act), and had a little snarky fun at the expense of its ad campaign. Specifically, with the poster below, used in just about all the film's print ads,  which appears to show Inception's principal players on a rooftop, watching as the world comes to an end and the space/time continuum folds in upon itself.

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The problem, of course, is that here's no comparable shot in the film itself; the poster's utterly striking imagery is apparently the product of some agency art director who collaged (if that's an actual verb) it together from various other moments that actually are on screen.

That said, however, and having watched the film again in WHV's quite spectacular video transfer, I feel constrained to add that it works on just about every level -- the who's-zooming-who? thriller stuff is flawless, up to and including the ambiguous ending -- and that the imagery Nolan has conjured up throughout (albeit without the specific vista above) has more surrealist poetry and terror than any commercial American film I can think of in the last two or three decades. I should also note that one of the film's biggest set pieces -- you'll know it when you see it -- would have been obnoxiously oppressive had Nolan shot it in 3D, as the studio doubtless hoped he would, and the thanks of a grateful nation etc. Bonuses with the DVD include the usual making-of docs and directorial ruminations; they're all relatively interesting, but Inception is one of those magician's tricks of a movie that (IMHO) is somewhat diminished when you know how the sleight-of-hand was accomplished.

In any case, you can -- and very definitely should -- order it here posthaste.

And with that out of the way, I must apologize for bailing on today's Listomania (not to worry -- the List will return next week, word of honor) in order to finally update my comments from last time about Disney's new Blu-ray/DVD package of the original (1940) Fantasia. Which -- as you may recall -- I initially declared to be something of a letdown. Okay, if truth be told the word I used to describe it was "unwatchable." In any case, I felt I owed it to all concerned to give the package another look-see.

Which I have now done, and let me begin my reassessment with three words: Mea culpa, Mickey.

A few pertinent clarifications at the outset. The actual source material for both the DVD and Blu-ray versions in the set is a stem-to-stern restoration Disney released theatrically in 2000; the high-def transfers here are new, but nothing has been significantly altered in terms of the original elements from that version. Which means what's on display here includes a quite astonishing 7.1 Surround remix of the 1940 Leopold Stokowski music tracks and a few scenes trimmed of material Disney deems offensive to contemporary tastes. More controversially, the narration by radio musicologist Deems Taylor has been newly overdubbed by a contemporary voice actor; this seems to rankle people, but the fact is the original audio tracks had been so badly damaged over the years that they were unusable. In any case, the new narration is seamlessly integrated; let's just say that if you weren't troubled by Anthony Hopkins dubbing a few lines for the late Laurence Olivier in the 1991 Spartacus restoration, you shouldn't have a problem.

So what in fact was my problem with the package initially? To be honest, all I can think is I must have been having a bad night, for whatever reason. In terms of the music tracks, I was probably thrown by how clean and contemporary they sounded (which initially led me to believe that Stokowski had been replaced by the Irwin Kostal re-recording Disney used for one of its 80s reissues); a closer listen (at a higher volume) has made it quite clear that as impressive as the experimental 40s multi-track recording was and is, the dynamic range is seriously limited compared to modern hi-fi. As for the visuals, like I said, either I must have been having a bad night or my monitor needed adjustment, because with one teeny exception everything here looks both magnificent and completely faithful to the film's analog hand-painted original ambience, with flawless color and detail, as you can plainly see from this monitor shot photographed from the Blu-ray.

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That teeny exception, I should add, is in the Dance of the Hours sequence, where the reds and greens (most notably when the still hilarious dancing crocodiles make their entrance) seem overly bright, to the point where I was thinking "Ooh -- colorization." But the rest of the film -- and particularly the two most famous and memorable sections, i.e. Mickey's turn in The Sorceror's Apprentice and the still quite scary take on A Night On Bald Mountain -- has been gorgeously served in both the DVD and Blu-ray versions; frankly, I wouldn't part with this new set for the world.

Also for the record, the combo-pack includes Fantasia 2000, the sort of impressive sort of sequel, and a lot of (in this case) fascinating bonus historical stuff. Here's a clip from the real eye-opener -- a documentary on the it-was-not-ultimately-to-be collaboration between Walt Disney and the great Salvador Dali.

The mind, as they say, wobbles. Meanwhile, you can, and obviously should, order the new Fantasia here.

Have I mentioned that Listomania will return next week?

 

Tags: Fantasia, Walt Disney, Deems Taylor, Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception
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