Casino Royale (2006) – Film & DVD Review

Whether or not this is the Bond film the world was waiting for, it definitely is the film that Bond fans were waiting for: a tense, gripping thriller mercifully free of the baggage of the previous Bond flicks, CASINO ROYALE takes the essentials of Ian Fleming’s novel and updates them for the 21st century, seamlessly adding the requisite big screen action set pieces in the process.
The lame one-liners and jokey tone have been jettisoned, freeing the film from the moribund formula and allowing it to stand on its own, not as the umpteenth entry in a franchise. Or, to put it bluntly, this time out the filmmakers tried to make a good film, not just a fun 007 outing, with credibility laced throughout the characters and the storyline.
And they had the nerve to do it without falling back on the crutches that held them up before and compromised previous attempts at making a more mature Bond. This is the movie they should have made when they brought Timothy Dalton on board, but Daniel Craig fills the tuxedo very nicely; in fact, he is damn near perfect, capturing the grim, lethal quality of Fleming’s literary creation. He’s a younger, untried Bond, finding his way in his new 00-status, and he makes you believe in the character as a human being, not a walking icon.


The result may not be for everyone’s taste. The script retains the nasty torture sequence, with Bond strapped naked to a chair with the seat cut out, so that the villain Le Chiffre (a wonderfully convincing Mads Mikkelsen, leaping to the top of Bond’s best adversaries) can whack his testicles repeatedly with a heavy, knotted rope. There’s a fairly grim denouement, somewhat akin to ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. And Bond learns to deliver his trademark quips and his famous self-introduction “Bond – James Bond”) toward the end.
Beyond that, the film is not perfect. Some of the editing seems jumbled. At one point, Bond cleans up in his hotel room’s lavatory after a nearly fatal poisoning, goes to play poker downstairs, then returns to the hotel room to find his female partner Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) slumped in the shower, fully clothed and freaked out from all the action. Has she been there for hours while he was playing? And why didn’t he notice her when he was in the bathroom before?
Also, there’s at least one dangling thread: several times, the camera emphasizes a breath inhaler used by Le Chiffre, and at one point Bond inserts a tiny metal a tracking unit inside it. The “pay-off” is that Bond can track Le Chifree’s movements. But Bond already knows Le Chiffre is in the Casino Royale hotel, playing a high-stakes poker game to retrieve money he lost, and we have no idea why 007 would want or need to follow him back to his hotel room. The whole episode seems a contrived way to get Bond nearby when some unsavory characters show up and demand the Le Chiffre return the money he lost, leading to a fight scene apparently intended to liven up the middle section of the film, which consists mostly of the poker showdown between Bond and Le Chiffre.
That said, the movie works almost from start to finish. There have been some critical complaints about the extended coda, but to a discerning viewer this section of the film is handled quite well, the too idyllic tone of the scenes perfectly inducing a sense of anticipation that something awful was going to happen.
The clever screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis serves up the usual elements but mixes them into a brand new dry martini, shaken – not stirred – to near perfection. Not only is Bond carefully characterized (an arrogant, cold-hearted man whose mistakes cost him dearly); there is also some really sparkling dialogue for his leading ladies (especially Vesper Lynd), who emerge more as human beings than boy-toy fantasy figures. (Think of Tracy Bond in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE.)
Director Martin Campbell handles the action with gritty expertise, beginning with a nifty, low-kye prologue in black-and-white that resembles a French noir thriller (imagine if John Pierre Melville had directed a Bond film) before shifting into a colorful, high-octane thriller. The truly amazing thing is that, under Campbell’s direction, CASINO ROYALE provides the requisite over-the-top action without ever losing credibility as a tense, believable thriller. This is no frothy summer flick; it’s lean and mean, even when characters are leaping through the air and scaling buildings like something out of a Hong Kong fantasy film.
The film ends on a clever note, with 007 finally making his trademark declaration of self, “I’m Bond – James Bond,” and the famous Monty Norman theme music blaring out, in its full glory, for the first time during the closing credits. Thus the movie neatly announces itself as a rebirth that will launch a new, invigorated franchise. Now that the character has undergone his “trial by fire” and proved himself in the line of duty, it will will be hard to sustain the dramatic intensity in future installments. But we are eager to see the filmmakers try.

TRIVIA

CASINO ROYALE is the 21st entry in the official James Bond film film franchise, which includes those titles produced by Albert R. Broccoli and his heirs, Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli (but not NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN or the previous adaptations of CASINO ROYALE).
The screenplay is based on the first if Ian Fleming’s many novels about British superspy James Bond, whose 007 number indicates his license to kill in the service of the crown. The novel is about Bond’s mission to bring down a mysterious character known as Le Chiffre (“The Cypher”), who handles money for  murderous communist spies. Le Chiffre has been dipping into the till, and he needs to win a substantial amount at the gambling tables before his comrades discover his indiscretion. Bond is sent to beat him at baccarat, which he does successfully (with the help of a fortuitous loan from CIA agent Felix Lighter). In retaliation, Le Chiffre kidnaps and tortures Bond; ironically, the secret agent’s life is saved when a communist assassin shows up and kills Le Chiffre for his financial improprieties. Faced with the immoral savagery of the enemy, Bond (who had been doubting his mission in life) finds a new enthusiasm for his work defending England and the West against the communist menace.
The film updates the action to the post-9/11 world, with Le Chiffre in the service of terrorists rather than communists. CASINO ROYALE also introduces a new actor in the role of Bond, the blonde Daniel Craig. The script jumpstarts the film franchise by treating Bond as a young character who has only recently earned his 007 license.

The novel of CASINO ROYALE was originally adapted for a live, one-hour television drama starring Barry Nelson as “American” agent James Bond. This was long before producer Albert R. Broccoli acquired the film rights to Ian Fleming’s character.

In 1967, a rival producer obtained the rights to the novel and shot a feature film version of CASINO ROYALE starring David Niven as James Bond. Essentially a madcap spoof, this version was shot by several different directors, working with different actors playing variations on James Bond (such as Woody Allen as Bond’s nephew Jimmy), so it’s no surprise that it’s a sloppy collage of mismatched pieces.
In the film, Bond delivers his recipe for a dry martini, which he eventually names after Vesper: three measures Gordon’s gin, one measure Vodka, one-half measure Kina Lillet; shake well with ice, and serve with a long slice of lemon peel. The recipe is taken almost word for word from Fleming’s novel (where Bond specifies that grain vodka is preferable to potato vodka). This creates an anachronism: Kina Lillet, a French Aperitif wine, shortened its name to simply “Lillet” decades ago. Also, there are now two versions of the wine, Rouge and Blanc (the Blanc being closer to the original). Since Bond does not specific which kind of Lillet he wants in his wine, he could easily have gotten something a bit different from what Fleming intended when he created the recipe.

Eva Green, Daniel Craig, Catarino Murino

DVD DETAILS

CASINO ROYALE was originally released to disc in four forms: a two-disc widescreen edition, a two-disc full screen edition, a Blu-Ray edition, and UMD for PSP. Although the Amazon.Com listings for the first two identifies the DVDs as “special editions,” there is no such designation on the actual box art. This is appropriate: although the discs contain a few nice features, they fall somewhat short of being truly “special.”
The widescreen DVD offers the film on Disc One with audio and subtitle options for English, French, and Spanish. The menu divides the film into twenty-eight chapter stops, which are laid out like cards on a gaming table. Unfortunately, you cannot skip directly ahead to the later chapters; you have to step through them in groups of four. Both the video and sound transfer more than do justice to the film, even on a large-screen television.
As is too often the case these days, the disc automatically starts by showing trailers for unrelated coming attractions; fortunately, you can skip through these with the chapter advance button or use the menu button to go immediately to the main menu.
Disc Two also contains the coming attractions trailers, but they are separated as a “bonus feature” and do not play automatically. The actual bonus features consist of “Becoming Bond,” “James Bond for Real,” “Bond Girls Are Forever,” and a music video of Chris Cornell performing the theme song, “You Know My Name.”
“Becoming Bond” takes a look at the creative process behind casting a new actor as 007 and updating the character for the 21st century. It consists mostly of interviews with producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, director Martin Campbell, screenwriters Neal Purvis and Rupert Wade and Paul Haggis, and of course Daniel Craig, intercut with some behind-the-scenes footage, promotional clips, and scenes from the film.
Since there is no audio commentary on Disc One, this featurette has to fill in all the background details about making the film. It does an adequate job addressing the negative fan reaction that erupted in response to Craig’s casting. However, it also perpetuates the myth that Ian Fleming’s novel features a young, untested Bond who comes of age during the novel, when in fact the coming-of-age story exists only in the film. Yes, Bond is younger in the CASINO ROYALE novel, but that’s only because it’s the first book; the literary character is at least in his 30s, and there is little if any suggestion that he lacks experience.
“James Bond for Real” examines the film’s attempt to stay true to the tradition of great stunt work in the 007 films, relying on live-action instead of computer-generated imagery. This featurette is a bit slow and bogged down in details until the end when it addresses the world-record-breaking roll of the Aston Martin. The crash is so spectacular in the film that even casual viewers will enjoy learning how it was achieved.
“Bond Girls Are Forever” features actress Maryam D’abo (LICENSE TO KILL) interviewing a bevy of other actress who starred in 007 movies, both before and after her. This feature seems to have been produced not for the DVD but for television (it includes several breaks where commercials can be inserted), and it is easily the high-light of CASINO ROYALE’s second disc. Of course, it is impossible to do complete justice to the topic, and several notable Bond girls are skipped over with barely a mention (most obviously, Diana Rigg’s Tracy Bond, the woman Bond married in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE). However, there are so many entertaining interviews (Ursusla Andress, Honor Blackman, Maud Adams, Lois Chiles, Carey Lowell, Michelle Yeoh, Halle Berry, and more) that it would be churlish to complain.
One amusing note is the consistent tone struck by many of the actresses: almost everyone insists that her character (unlike the previous girls, who are assumed to be bimbos) was actually a strong woman and a worthy match for Bond. Only Maryam D’abo (who played a cellist) admits to being more or less a helpless damsel in distress.
Finally, the music video portrays singer Chris Cornell (who co-wrote the song with the film’s composer David Arnold) lip-synching and acting out some short vignettes that parallel clips from the film. The impression given is that Cornell is imagining himself as Bond, in pursuit of an enigmatic brunette. The video is a nice showcase for the best Bond theme song in years (one the captures the full-blooded glory of classics like “Goldfinger”), but on the DVD it is almost a tad redundant: the film’s opening credits, under which the song plays, are essentially a music video in and of themselves. Still, this is a good excuse to listen to the song again.

CASINO ROYALE (2006).  Directed by Martin Campbell. Screenplay by Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Paul Haggis, based on the novel by Ian Fleming. Cast: Daniel Craig, Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Judi Dench, Jeffrey Wright, Giancarlo Giannini, Caterina Murino, Simon Abkanian, Issach De Bankole, Jesper Christensen.

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The Grudge 2 (2006) – Film & DVD Review

Though not nearly so ridiculous as THE HERETIC: THE EXORCIST II, nor quite so badly misguided as BABE: PIG IN THE CITY, this stands as one of the most disappointing sequels to a major blockbuster success ever made . The spooky stylization that worked so well in THE GRUDGE is carelessly recycled, chained to a pointless plot that twists together several story-lines without weaving them into a coherent thread, let alone a seamless tapestry. With no new interesting story to tell, few if any worthwhile revelations, and only a handful of decent scary moments, THE GRUDGE 2 is dull affair that, perversely, seems deliberately designed to take a successful formula and reduce it to the level of a direct-to-video franchise knock-off.
Amber Tamblyn takes the lead role of Aubrey Davis, who is the sister of Karen, the character played by Sarah Michelle Gellar in the first previous film. Her mother (Joanna Cassidy) sends Aubrey to Japan to track down Karen, but the family reunion is brief, ending with Karen’s fall off the top of a hospital building. Aubrey tries to unravel the mystery of what drove Karen to her death. Meanwhile the film intercuts other seemingly unrelated stories: one about another girl who encounters the lethal “grudge,” the other showing a famiy back in the U.S. that seems to be haunted by the “Grudge” at a later date. Read More

Constantine (2005) – Film & DVD Review

This film combines elements of comic book fantasy with horror to create an enjoyable brew – sort of a film noir version of THE EXORCIST, crossbred with the stylization of THE MATRIX. Keanu Reeves is excellent in the title role, a sort of self-interested superhero, battling the forces of Evil (and sometimes the forces of Good, too).
The story, based on the Hellblazer comic books, maintains suspense by imagining a Manichean world evenly divided between Good and Evil, which are portrayed as opposing forces locked in an eternal war that follows its own set of rules, regardless of the collateral damage on either side. Our cynical hero seems to see little difference between them; at least, he joins the forces of good not out of any altruism but to advance his own personal agenda.
Most of the special effects and supernatural manifestations are of the entertaining “aint-it-cool” variety, but a few segue into the genuinely horrific (such as an early exorcism scene). The film runs through a stack of familiar cliches (for example, Constantine has a young helper who wants to get off the sidelines and prove himself), but the writing and performances make them work; on a few occasions, they are even genuinely moving.
Overall, this is an imaginative effort — one of the better comic book adaptations of recent years, even better than the recent HELLBOY, which covered somewhat similar terrain.

TRIVIA

The film’s plot bears some remarkable siimlarities to the 1995 film THE PROPHECY. In both cases, the war between Good and Evil is portrayed as a take-no-prisoners battle in which even angels are soldiers who may inflict collateral damage. In both cases, the angel Gabriel turns out to be the true villain, and in both films Satan makes a third act appearance that aids hero (not out of the goodness of his heart but because it serves his own interests).
According to the Internet Movie Database, Alan Moore created the character of John Constantine at the behest of artists Stephen Bissette and John Totleben, who wanted to draw a character resembling Sting. Unhappy with the film adaptations of his other works (FROM HELL and LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN), Moore swore off Hollywood and declined a “created by” credit on CONSTANTINE.

DVD DETAILS

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The two-disc collector’s set includes numerous bonus features and a collectible Hellblazer comic book, featuring a reprint of issue #41, plus a Hellblazer short story. DISC ONE: the feature film, with audio commentary from director Francis Lawrence, producer Akiva Goldsman, and screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello; a Perfect Circle music video titled “Passive”; and two theatrical trailers. DISC TWO: 18 minutes of deleted scenes, including an alternate ending; “Conjuring Constantine”; “Production from Hell” documentary gallery; ‘”Imagining the Underworld” documentary gallery; “Constantine Cosmology”; “Foresight: the Power of Previzualization.”
The audio commentary alternates between two different discussions: one between director Lawrence and producer Goldsman; one between screenwriters Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello. Even with four voices, the commentary is not enough to fill the whole film, leaving gaps during certain scenes. Both conversations end as the credits start to roll, leaving the post-credits epilogue with commentary
The commentary is somewhat informative, but as often happens, it repeats information available in the other supplemental features. It is also frequently dull, merely explaining scenes to us. Goldsman tends to be jokey, interrupting Lawrence to say things like “This scene bugs me!” (during the Vermin Man sequence, of course). Brodbin and Cappello wander off into generalities instead of focusing on specific scenes.
We do learn a few interesting things, such as that Brodbin was working on the script back in 1996. Also, a few story points are clarified that are left vague in the film (for instance, it is Gabriel, not Mammon, who “dusts off” the remains of Balthazar after he has served his purpose – something you could probably figure out if you sat down and reasoned it through, but which the film itself never states).
The music video is of minor interest; outside of the footage from CONSTANTINE itself, there is little worth watching, and the song is merely okay. The two trailers are labeled “teaser” and “theatrical,” but the teaser trailer is basically a shorter earlier version of the later, complete with footage from the film (which is often not the case in teaser trailers, which are usually put together early to “tease” the audience before the film is completed).
Disc Two is loaded with features that are filled with interesting information. Many of the interviews were conducted on-set of specifically for the DVD, so this is a bit more than the talking-head “press junket” stuuf that often ends up as supplemental material.
“Conjuring Constantine” takes a look at the history of the comic book character and how he came to the big screen, which involved a change of nationality from English to American.
Production from Hell offers three short documentaries. “Director’s Confessional” looks at Lawrence’s transition from music video to feature film. “Collision with evil” takes us behind the scenes of the spectacular car wreck near the beginning. And “Holy Relics” examines the effort to create realistic looking props.


Imagining the Underworld also offers several vignettes, this time related to special effects. “Hellscape” reveals that Hell was intended to look like a Los Angeles freeay, the idea being that wherever you were on Earth, there was a parallel version in Hell. “Visualizing Vermin” takes a look at the creation of the Vermin Man sequence, in which a demon appears in the form of a multitude of bugs (curiously, the live-action suit used for reference looks better in someways, than the CGi that ended up in the film). “Warrior Wings” tells us that Lawerence wanted darker wings (inspired by classical paintings) for the Angel Gabriel, not traditional white ones; the special effects people created them in the computer, modeled after a bird of prey, like a hawk. “Unholy Abduction” shows us how the character of Angela was dragged kicking and screaming through the walls of a building, using mostly miniature and greenscreen effects.
“Constantine Cosmology” offers up an analysis of the mythic underpinnings of the film, but it is not particularly insightful.
“Foresight: The Power of Pre-Vizualization” offers up a handful of animatics that were used to pre-visualize scenes, to help with camera placement and special effects. The computer-generated versions run below the finished versions from the film, for comparison and contrast; there are also three scenes that were not film. An optional commentary from director Lawrence explains why changes were made or scenes abandoned.

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The Deleted Scenes are mostly transitional stuff and additional exposition that are not particularly enlightening. We do see the shorter version of the Vermin Man sequence (which originally had only eight effects shots due to budget restraints). And we see Constantine in bed with Ellie, the half-breed demon who was cut out of the film. None of the scenes is essential, and all were wisely deleted, improving the film.
CONSTANTINE (2005). Directed by Francis Lawrence. Screenplay by Kevin Brodbin and Frank Cappello, story by Brodbin, based on the Hellblazer comic books by Jamie Delano & Garth Ennis. Cast: Keanu Reeves, Rachel Weisz, Shia LaBeouf, Djimon Hounsou, Max Baker, Gavin Rossdale, Tilda Swinton, Peter Stormare

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) – Film & DVD Review

The concept hardly sounds auspicious – making a feature film based upon a ride at Disneyland – but PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN turns out to be a Hollywood blockbuster in the best sense of the word: a glorious piece of large-scale entertainment that uses its budget to grand effect, filling the screen with action, stunts, swordplay, costumes, sets and special effects, without ever losing sight of the story and characters.
Working from a clever script by Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, director Gore Verbinski does a fine job of navigating a perilous journey that jumps from one tone to the other, incorporating comedy, romance, melodrama, fantasy, and even some outright horror, creating that often touted but seldom achieved commodity, a “film for the whole family.”
The rousing score by Klaus Badelt captures the wind-swept vigor of old-fashioned pirate movies without ever feeling embalmed in nostalgia. The same can be said for the cannon fire and swordplay, which is handled with all the visual excellence that modern technology can achieve. The result is a film that lives up to its cinematic forebears without ever being a slave to their established formulae. Read More

Perfect Blue (1998) – Film & DVD Review

Click to purchase PERFECT BLUEWhen reviewing disreputable genres, it is not uncommon to extoll the virtues of little known films in the hope of starting a buzz that will attract attention to films that might otherwise be obscured by more high-profile projects. To some extent, this happened with PERFECT BLUE, the anime psycho-thriller that received an art house theatrical release in 1999. In a year that saw some excellent animated films – ranging from PRINCESS MONONOKE to SOUTH PARK to TOY STORY 2 – PERFECT BLUE received some of the best critical notices; it turned up on a few year-end “best of” lists, and one or two critics even ranked it higher than Hayao Miyazaki’s PRINCESS MONONOKE. Is this the Little Movie That Could? Or is it another instance of well-meaning critics hyping a small movie because it is small? The answer is: a little of both, actually. PERFECT BLUE does not completely deserve the accolades it received, but its virtues are more than apparent enough to explain why critics would want to give it a boost: general audiences in the U.S. are not eager to give anime a chance; and whatever its flaws, PERFECT BLUE offers much that is intriguing.

The film has style and then some—maybe too much, in fact, but the visual interest always remains high, and the storyline is intriguing. Under pressure from her managers, Mima, a semi-successful pop singing idol, leaves her band to pursue a career as an actress in a psycho-thriller TV show called Double Blind (which seems to be a rip-off of Silence of the Lambs). The writer of the show can’t figure out what to do with her character until he comes up with a brutal rape scene that has less to do with drama that with destroying her innocent image (tellingly, she wears the same costume during the scene that she used to wear on stage). Unfortunately for Mima, an irate fan is outraged by this new tarnished image, and sets out to save the “real” Mima from this tarnished “imposter.”


The film does a great job of establishing identification with Mima, and the suspense sequences are handled with aplomb. The violence packs a punch, but so do the quieter moments, as when Mima logs onto a fan website devoted to her, and realizes that whoever is running it knows far more about her private life than anyone possibly could, without spying on her. There are also numerous satirical jabs at the entertainment business and at the world of fandom. (Besides the mad stalker, there is also a contingent of cynics, who comment periodically on the Mima phenomenon—sort of the equivalent of “Trekkers” who look down on “Trekkies.”).
What damages this otherwise excellent effort is two things: one plot oriented, the other stylistic. The script resorts to the kind of lamebrain thinking that affects many thrillers, in which the characters do stupid things in order to keep themselves vulnerable. In this case, the story nearly destroys audience credibility early on, when a fan letter addressed to Mima explodes in her manager’s hands, badly lacerating them—and then no one calls the police! Even if we assume that Mima’s managers don’t care about her personally, they should care about the welfare of their meal ticket.
The film’s second fault lies with a certain stylistic excess in terms of playing self-reflexive games with the audience. In order to portray Mima’s mental deterioration under the duress of being stalked, the events of her “real” life story begin to mimic the events of her “reel” story on the TV show. This would no be confusing in and of itself, but the film takes another step, during a prolonged sequence midway through, wherein Mima repeatedly goes back and forth between “real” and “reel” life—and then wakes up as if from a dream, leaving us to wonder whether any of what we have seen actually happened. This all leads to a revelation at the end that leaves at least one question wide open, and also relies on a rather high degree of coincidence. (The killer’s psychosis rather too neatly dovetails with Mima’s delusions, in order to continue the visual imagery of Mima struggling with her phantom alter ego long past the point when she is actually struggling with a flesh-and-blood opponent.)
These stylistic quirks, however, are part of what makes the film interesting, and if occasionally they lead to artistic dead-ends, more often they bring the film to life. The milieu is effectively displayed, and the struggle of Mima to make the transition from a kind of semi-stardom to an actual acting career is involving. Audience identification with the character is effectively achieved, making her more than just an objectified victim. The televised rape scene is particularly interesting in this respect, with the cameras stopping at a crucial moment, necessitating that the cast hold their awkward positions. The actor’s whispered “I’m so sorry” to Mima somehow rings true, making the scene more believable than is safe for comfortable viewing. In fact, the whole sequence seems like a commentary on anime’s predilection for stripping its heroines down and subjecting them to all sorts of graphic sexual violence. (It’s just a little too bad that, once filming resumes, the scene goes on way past making it dramatic point and ends up becoming the very thing it seeks to criticize.)

DVD DETAILS

The great thing about Manga Video’s DVD (originally released on May 2, 2000) is that it allows you to go back and appreciate what you liked about the film, while what you disliked gradually fades in significance. PERFECT BLUE rewards on subsequent viewings, and anime fans (not to mention fans of thrillers in general) should not be deterred by critical comments regarding flaws that are outweighed by virtues. The disc presents the film with good Dolby stereo sound (also in Dolby 5.1, if you have the equipment to access it) and a clear, widescreen print (of the unrated director`s cut) that captures the visual beauty of the backgrounds and leaves de rigueur sex and violence intact. (Despite Roger Corman`s quote, much used in the press materials, that PERFECT BLUE resembles a combo of Walt Disney and Alfred Hitchcock, the real stylistic reference point seems to be Dario Argento; the film even recreates the broken-shard-of-glass-in-the windowsill-impaled-through-the-abdomen, as seen in Argento`s Deep Red.)
Even better, for the purists among us, the disc contains both the English-dubbing and the original Japanese-language soundtrack, with the option for English subtitles. The print itself is from the American theatrical release of the dubbed version, so the credits are in English and include the names of the American voice actors, even when you’re listening to the Japanese dialogue—a surreal experience, to be sure.
The disc also includes numerous extras. In a real stroke of genius, the supplements are gathered in a menu area called “Mima’s Room,” designed to look like the fan website seen in the film itself, run by the stalked known only as “Mr. Me-Mania.” A behind-the-scenes video shows three Japanese singers recording the vocal tracks for the band’s signature song. If you’ve watched the Japanese version and found the subtitles insufficient for following the lyrics, you can access the English-language version from the extras menu without having to sit through the film again. (By the time you’re through, you’ll be hearing the song in your sleep, believe me!) There are interviews with the American voice actors, who mostly answer abstract questions on how they identify with their characters, what they think of pop stardom, and things like that. Most amusing is the voice of Mr. Me-Mania, who admits he has no idea how his character hooked up with the conspirator who supplied him with all the inside info he put up on his site.
There are also interviews with the Japanese voice actress, who talks a bit more specifically about getting the role of Mima and working with the director, Satoshi Kon. Kon himself answers several questions about the making of the film, but finds it hard to explain specifics when asked to analyze the meaning. He does insist that some confusion on the part of the audience was inherent in the storytelling, but adds that he did not go out of the way to emphasize that.
Finally, there is a photo gallery of images from the film, set to music; lists of other Manga DVD and video releases; and a page of web links you can access if you have a DVD-Rom drive on your computer. Beware, however, if you’re looking for the film’s trailer: it’s not identified in “Mima’s Room”; you access it by clicking on the apparent web link for the Perfect Blue site while the disc is in your DVD player instead of in a DVD-Rom drive. Other web links will take you to trailer-type collages of scenes from other Manga releases. (Presumably, this was done so that you could still get something by clicking on these points even if you don’t have a computer with DVD-Rom capabilities.)
Overall, Perfect Blueis an intriguing film that has a powerful visceral impact while also inviting a certain amount of thought on the part of viewers. It warrants the kind of special treatment given by Manga on this DVD, and the supplemental materials do enhance the viewing experience. If the film itself is not without its flaws, the strengths are more memorable, and this disc brings them to the forefront.
PERFECT BLUE (Manga Entertainment, 1998). Directed by Satoshi Kon. Screenplay by Sadayuki Murai, from the novel by Yoshikazu Takeuchi. Japanese Voices: Junko Iwao, Rica Matsumoto, Shinpachi Tsuiji, Masaaki Okura. English Voices: Bridget Hoffman, Bob Marx, Wendee Lee, Barry Stigler.
[NOTE: The DVD portion of this review is based on the original 2000 DVD from Manga Video (available below). The film was subsequently released on DVD as part of the “Essence of Anime” series, pictured at top.]