Chinatown appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though decent, this transfer showed its age.
Sharpness seemed erratic. Much of the movie showed decent delineation, but parts could appear a bit soft and fuzzy. The definition was acceptable most of the time, though. Some minor instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and I noticed a bit of edge enhancement. Source flaws also created distractions via some specks, marks and blotches. These weren’t heavy, but they cropped up on a fairly consistent basis.
Chinatown featured a restricted palette and preferred to use a rather sepia-tone impression. As such, colors were never terribly bright or bold, but they fit within the design well. A few times reds looked very clear and accurate, and the rest of the hues matched the overall scheme. In any case, I found no problems with the colors and thought they looked pleasing.
Black levels generally appeared adequately deep and dense, and shadow detail also was usually clear and without excessive darkness. However, a few scenes did seem overly dim and I felt that I lost some nuance in those instances. Some of these difficulties resulted from "day for night" photography, but others were simply too dark without any similar explanation. In the end, I thought this was a mediocre transfer.
I was more impressed with the film's remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Happily, the sound designers didn't go overboard with their creation and they kept the scope of the track within sensible limits. This means that while the mix opened up the spectrum well, it didn't provide lots of distracting auditory excessiveness. The forward channels spread out the audio well, as lots of solid ambient effects emanate from those speakers. They also offered the score with excellent stereo separation that made it livelier.
The surrounds generally did little more than lightly bolster the ambiance and music, but on a few occasions those channels provided some engaging audio. For example, look at the scene where Jake got carried away by rushing water; the sound filled the listening environment with this effect and even branched into some convincing split surround usage as the water flowed to the rear left. It was a surprisingly convincing moment, and a few others worked similarly well.
Audio quality seemed solid. Dialogue occasionally betrayed mild edginess for louder lines, but the speech usually held up well. I thought most of the dialogue was pretty natural. Effects sounded clean and fairly deep for the most part. Only a little distortion came along with way, and the bits were fairly well reproduced. Jerry Goldsmith's score came across as bright and lively, and it also showed some decent dynamic range at times. Chinatown's 5.1 soundtrack offered the best of both worlds; it seemed to retain the "feel" of the original mix but it added depth and breadth to the audio that helped bring it to life. (Note: for those who'd like to hear it, the DVD also contains the "restored" original monaural soundtrack.)
Chinatown features a smattering of supplements. Most significant are the Retrospective Interviews with producer Robert Evans, director Roman Polanski and writer Robert Towne. This segment lasts for 13 minutes and 25 seconds and provides a nice but brief look at the project. The interviews are from the 1990s and they cover some general topics in an interesting and informative manner. Really, they're quite compelling, but the piece is too short; we could have used a lot more detail.
Finally, the DVD also includes the film's theatrical trailer. It's not an extensive collection of supplements, but the material included is pretty good nonetheless.
As is the movie itself. Actually, Chinatown qualifies as a
great movie, and one that deserves its status as a classic. The DVD provides mediocre picture and good audio plus a couple of minor extras. Though not a stellar DVD, Chinatown is a terrific film that definitely warrants your attention.
To rate this film, visit the Special Collector's Edition review of CHINATOWN