Chinatown appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a fine transfer.
Sharpness appeared clear and concise. On occasion some shots looked slightly soft or hazy, but these instances did not occur frequently, and I suspect they reflected the source photography. Instead, the majority of the film was crisp and detailed. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement was minimal at worst. Source flaws stayed delightfully absent. This was a clean image without any noticeable print defects.
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 bold and dynamic, and the rest of the hues matched the overall scheme. In any case, I found no problems with the colors and thought they were pleasing.
Black levels appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail also was usually clear and without excessive darkness. A few “day for night” shots presented slightly dense tones, but those examples were inevitable. I thought low-light shots were usually solid. Really, I found almost nothing about which to complain here, as this transfer made Chinatown look splendid.
I also was impressed with the film's remixed Dolby TrueHD 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 disc also contains the "restored" original monaural soundtrack.)
How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2007 Special Collector’s Edition DVD? Audio was a little peppier, and visuals showed the expected improvements in terms of accuracy and clarity. While I liked the DVD, the Blu-ray gave us a more impressive experience.
The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. In the “new” domain comes an audio commentary from screenwriter Robert Towne and filmmaker David Fincher. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story and characters, themes and interpretation, locations, cast and performances, music, and a few other areas.
If you expect to learn a ton about the film’s production, this commentary probably won’t satisfy you, for we don’t get a lot about filmmaking areas. However, we do find a nice examination of the movie’s construction.
Fincher does most of the talking and comes across like an educated fan; he gushes a bit too much, but he backs this up with solid thoughts about what the movie does and how it does it. Towne contributes just enough insight to merit his inclusion. I’d still like to learn a bit more about the actual production, but this proves to be an informative, enjoyable track nonetheless.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we find three featurettes from the prior DVD. Chinatown: The Beginning and the End goes for 19 minutes, 28 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Towne, director Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans, and actor Jack Nicholson. “End” looks at the development of the project and script, the decision to get Polanski to direct and his influence on the screenplay, and other changes along the way. “End” offers a pretty intriguing glimpse of the film’s pre-production. It digs into the story elements nicely and acts as a good intro to the making of the flick.
Next comes the 25-minute and 35-second Chinatown: Filming. It involves Polanski, Evans, Nicholson, and Towne. This one looks at locations and sets, period details and visual choices, cast, characters, and performances, and notes from the shoot. Various stories offer the best parts of “Filming”, as it includes a number of amusing anecdotes. We also learn a fair amount about the production in this useful program.
Finally, we locate Chinatown: The Legacy. This nine-minute and 37-second piece includes notes from Polanski, Nicholson, Evans and Towne. We learn a bit about the movie’s score as well as its reception. This one proves less informative than its predecessors, but it still includes a mix of nice details. It’s worth a look.
Two new pieces pop up here. Water and Power goes for one hour, 17 minutes, and 50 seconds as it provides info from Towne, LA Department of Water and Power waterworks engineer Fred Barker,
The program looks at the history of water in LA as well as conservation and controversies. While we learn a lot of interesting info here, “Water” probably runs a bit too long. I enjoyed the piece but probably would’ve been happier if it’d been shorter.