The King of Marvin Gardens appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. I thought the transfer replicated the source material accurately.
Which meant the movie usually looked somewhat drab, as that fit with the story and the film stocks of the era. Sharpness was generally good, though it became the weakest link. Most of the movie exhibited positive delineation, though wide shots could be a bit soft.
I noticed no issues with jaggies, shimmering, or edge haloes, and I saw no problems with digital noise reduction; the film maintained an appropriate layer of grain. Don’t worry about source flaws, as the flick came free from specks, marks or blemishes.
With its gloomy winter Atlantic City setting, the film went with a pretty restrained palette. A few lively tones materialized, but the majority of the flick stayed subdued. Within the design parameters, the hues appeared solid; they displayed appropriate clarity. Blacks were deep and firm, while shadows offered fairly nice delineation; a few slightly murky shots emerged, but those remained in the minority. Overall, this was a good presentation of the film.
King came with a perfectly mediocre monaural soundtrack. Speech appeared a bit loose and occasionally sibilant; the lines were never especially natural. Still, they remained easily intelligible and lacked prominent problems.
Very little music showed up here, and none of arrived as score. All of the music came from recordings or live performances in the film, so those elements really became effects. Both the music and the actual effects didn’t have much to do here; they remained background components much of the time. At no point did they appear especially warm or lively, but they also lacked distortion or other flaws, so they seemed acceptable. That remained true for the track as a whole; it was adequate and that’s about it.
When we launch into the disc’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from director Bob Rafelson. He provides a “selected-scene” track, so his notes cover only part of the movie; all together, Rafelson’s chat lasts one hour, one minute and 13 seconds. The director discusses the film’s opening, story and development, cast and performances, various visual design choices, influences, locations, the lack of music, and a few other production areas.
I would guess that Rafelson sat through the whole movie but spoke semi-infrequently. If that’s the case, I’m happy Criterion chose to edit out the gaps rather than make us sit through them. This doesn’t mean Rafelson yaks constantly, though; even with the cuts, we still find occasional dead air.
Despite those gaps, Rafelson manages to give us a lot of useful content. He mixes good insights with various anecdotes to turn this into a generally positive piece. It’s too bad the director can deliver enough info to cover the entire movie, but at least he makes the most of his 61 minutes.
Two featurettes follow. Reflections of a Philosopher King goes for nine minutes, 47 seconds, and provides notes from Rafelson and actor Ellen Burstyn. The show looks at the opening monologue, locations, camerawork, performances and circumstances on the set. Despite the billing, “King” focuses almost entirely on Rafelson’s remarks; Burstyn speaks for no more than a minute, if that. Some of the material repeats from the commentary, but we still find a fair amount of fresh info in this engaging little piece.
Afterthoughts lasts 11 minutes, one second, and features Rafelson, director of photography László Kovács and actor Bruce Dern. The program looks at the opening sequence, locations and photography, casting and performances. Do we really need to hear about the monologue and the bird outside the hotel window again? No, but at least Kovács and Dern offer some new perspectives. They help make this a decent program.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a text component entitled About Bob Rafelson. It uses four stillframe screens to give us a quick biography/filmography. It’s decent but not especially detailed.
A big old 112-page booklet covers all seven films in the “America Lost and Found” boxed set. It includes essays on five of the seven flicks: Head, Easy Rider, The King of Marvin Gardens, Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show. It also delivers an essay about BBS, credits and photos. Criterion usually produce excellent booklets, and this one delivers another terrific companion to the movies.
I didn't dislike The King Of Marvin Gardens but I thought it was a fairly bland and pointless character piece. The Blu-ray provides pretty good picture, average sound and a few interesting supplements. While there are worse films you could see, I think this one's for die-hard Nicholson fans only.
Note that as of November 2010, this Blu-ray version of King of Marvin Gardens can be found only in a seven-movie boxed set called “America Lost and Found: The BBS Story”. This package also includes Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Head, The Last Picture Show, Drive, He Said and A Safe Place.