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Roman Polanski
Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd, Roy Jenson, Roman Polanski
Writing Credits:
Robert Towne

Landmark movie in the film noir tradition, Roman Polanski's Chinatown stands as a true screen classic. Jack Nicholson is private eye Jake Gittes, living off the murky moral climate of sunbaked, pre-war Southern California. Hired by a beautiful socialite (Faye Dunaway) to investigate her husband's extra-marital affair, Gittes is swept into a maelstrom of double dealings and deadly deceits, uncovering a web of personal and political scandals that come crashing together for one, unforgettable night in ... Chinatown. Co-starring film legend John Huston and featuring an Academy Award®-winning script by Robert Towne, Chinatown captures a lost era in a masterfully woven movie that remains a timeless gem.

Box Office:
$6 million.
Domestic Gross
$30.000 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
French Monaural
Spanish Monaural
Portuguese Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $14.99
Release Date: 11/6/2007

• “Chinatown: The Beginning and the End” Featurette
• “Chinatown: Filming” Featurette
• “Chinatown: The Legacy” Featurette
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Chinatown: Special Collector's Edition (1974)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (October 24, 2007)

Some regard the early to mid-Seventies as a renaissance for motion pictures, and when you look at a roster of movies from that era, it can be hard to disagree. Although I'm a notorious whiner about the choices made for the Academy Awards, I find it hard to strongly quibble with most of the Best Picture Oscars given in that time frame. Sure, I'd pick The Exorcist over The Sting in 1973, and I prefer Jaws to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but all of the winners are exceptionally solid efforts. There aren't any bloated duds like Rain Man or Gandhi to clutter up the affair.

Although the winners show some of the best movies of the period, it's the also-rans that demonstrate the depth of the era. Check any of the years 1970 through 1976 and you'll find a certified classic that didn't win, from M*A*S*H through Taxi Driver. 1974's most accomplished runner-up has to be Chinatown. It didn't deserve to beat The Godfather Part II for Best Picture, but it sure gave it a run for its money.

Chinatown is a fine film that used the traditional film noir techniques to excellent effect. The movie follows private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) after a wife hires him to confirm that her husband is cheating on her. Jake snaps a few photos of the apparent cad while he dallies with a young lovely, and that, it would appear, is that.

But that isn't that; that is something entirely different. And that's all I'm going to say about it. Chinatown possesses so many various plot developments and it all unfolds at such a perfect pace that I don't want to provide too much information. Movies like this work very well even when you know what's going to happen - the craftsmanship remains excellent and the entire piece is strong enough to withstand additional viewings – but I don't think I should even partially disturb the freshness of the piece for you. A pleasure like this should be experienced without much foreknowledge.

Suffice it to say that although the plot easily could have become muddled and obtuse, it never does. The storyline is quite complicated, and a lot of little pieces fly at you, but they all proceed logically and make perfect sense. As with something such as The Usual Suspect, you definitely need to pay attention as you watch Chinatown, but if you do so, you should have no difficulty comprehending and keeping up with the plot and all its machinations.

In addition to a well-crafted story that is told clearly and elegantly by director Roman Polanski, Chinatown benefits from some solid performances. Nicholson has rarely been better - and more subdued - than as Jake. He creates a believable and rich personality with a lot of depth and complexity; this isn't some cliched gumshoe we witness. Also very strong is John Huston as a wealthy industrialist; he adds a lot of gruff power to the role.

When I initially saw Chinatown in my early twenties, I didn't understand the fuss; it seemed like a fairly ordinary little mystery. Perhaps age does help develop wisdom, as I now can observe what a fine piece of work the movie truly is. This is a solid piece of noir that kept me interested and engrossed virtually from beginning to end.

The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

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. This transfer did the film justice.

Sharpness appeared clear and concise. On occasion some shots looked slightly soft or hazy, but these instances did not occur frequently. 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 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.)

How did the picture and audio of this 2007 “Special Collector’s Edition” compare to those of the original 1999 DVD? I thought both offered similar audio but the 2007 disc presented superior visuals. The new transfer appeared cleaner, tighter and more vivid. The old disc looked decent but the new one provided a substantial improvement.

A few supplements flesh out the set. In addition to the film’s trailer, we find three featurettes. Chinatown: The Beginning and the End goes for 19 minutes, 30 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from director Roman Polanski, screenwriter Robert Towne, 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 36-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 40-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.

This “Special Collector’s Edition” loses the main supplement from the prior DVD. That release offered about 13 minutes of “retrospective interviews”. However, the new featurettes pretty well encompass the information from that set, so I don’t miss the interviews.

As is the movie itself. Actually, Chinatown qualifies as a great movie, and one that deserves its status as a classic. The DVD provides pretty terrific picture and sound plus some interesting featurettes. Chinatown is a terrific film that definitely warrants your attention.

That statement goes for those who already own the original Chinatown DVD. This is an easy recommendation for folks who don’t have the old release but I think it’s very worthwhile as a double-dip as well. The new extras are pretty interesting and the picture quality marks a good upgrade. Since Paramount priced the DVD at a dirt-cheap $14.99, this is a no brainer; go ahead and grab this one ASAP.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.9117 Stars Number of Votes: 68
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