The Royal Tenenbaums appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. No notable issues arose in this excellent transfer.
Sharpness seemed crisp and well defined. Even wide shots showed nice clarity and accuracy, as virtually no softness marred the presentation. Jagged edges created no problems, but I did discern a little shimmering in shots of Royal’s houndstooth coat. No edge haloes appeared, and print flaws remained absent.
Colors provided one of the film’s strongest aspects. The tones always remained solid, and the hues often seemed absolutely brilliant. The movie featured a wide array of vivid and lively colors that the DVD replicated with excellent richness. Black levels also appeared deep and dense, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy but not overly opaque. From start to finish, this was a fine image.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundfield maintained a heavy emphasis on the forward speakers. Within that spectrum, music demonstrated positive stereo imaging. Otherwise, the effects showed some general sense of atmosphere but little else. The surrounds contributed almost no noticeable effects or music, and the front domain remained nearly monaural except for the songs. I didn’t regard this as a negative since the movie didn’t require audio fireworks.
Sound quality seemed fine. Dialogue appeared natural and distinct. A few shouted lines displayed some slight edginess, but that only happened a couple of times, and the speech always appeared easily intelligible. Effects were a minor factor, but they seemed accurate and clean. Music presented a more substantial element, and those elements appeared reasonably vivid and bright, with decent low-end response. In the end, The Royal Tenenbaums offered a quiet and subdued soundtrack that worked well for the material.
How does this Blu-Ray compare with the Criterion DVD from 2002? Audio seems a bit more robust, but the visuals demonstrate the more obvious improvements. The Blu-ray offered significant improvements in definition and color reproduction, so it delivered a big step up in picture quality.
The Blu-ray duplicates most of the DVD’s extras. We get an audio commentary with director Wes Anderson, who offers a pretty good running, screen-specific affair. On the negative side, a few too many empty spaces occur, and occasionally Anderson simply tells us what we see on-screen or offers a laundry list of influences; at times, I started to wonder if any part of Tenenbaums was original.
However, it’s interesting to hear that information, and Anderson gives us a lot of other fine facts. He discusses the cast and how they worked, various technical aspects of the production, story notes and alterations that occurred along the way, and many other pieces. Criterion creates some excellent audio commentaries, and this one doesn’t quite live up to that legacy.
Nonetheless, I think it works well for the most part, and I enjoyed it. Hey, at least Anderson acknowledges that he altered the tracklisting of Between the Buttons, though I feel disappointed he never states why Eli listens to the Clash so much; he mentions this fact but doesn’t elaborate.
The Cut Scenes area includes two deleted sequences. One lasts 35 seconds and shows Eli’s family - which features a cameo from Rushmore’s Olivia Williams - while the other runs one minute, 13 seconds and depicts a little more of the courtship between Henry and Ethel. Neither does much for me.
Within the Interviews domain, we get a collection of videotaped comments from the actors. We hear from Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray and Danny Glover. The segments run a total of 27 minutes and provide discussions of topics such as working with Wes Anderson, how they got cast, and their thoughts on their characters. The material seems reasonably compelling and perceptive at times, but it doesn’t provide any terrific depth.
Similar issues regard With the Filmmaker, an Albert Maysles documentary about the production. Obviously, the 27-minute, four-second program focuses on director Anderson. He provides some interview comments, but mostly we watch footage from the set. We see Anderson deal with topics like the sets, the paintings done by “Richie”, the falcon, camerawork, editing, and some other areas. The show offers a decent look at Anderson’s job but fails to provide a great deal of insight.
Under the Scrapbook domain, we get a collection of materials. “Covers” shows eight books/magazines related to the characters, while “Murals” shows 90 images of the art done by “Richie”. Also, if you click on “Margot”, you’ll find 11 more pieces of “Richie” art.
”Storyboards” gives us eight examples of that form – presented in Anderson’s annotated script - and “Stills” offers 60 production photos. Lastly, the “Scrapbook” concludes with a piece about artist Miguel Calderon. This allows us to access a four-minute, 33-second Studio 360/Public Radio segment about Calderon. While the piece runs, it shows one example of his work. You can also access nine separate frames that cover four of his paintings.
The Peter Bradley Show offers an unusual experience. This fake talk show - which uses the same host who interviews Eli in the movie - features chats between “Bradley” (Larry Pine) and some of the lesser-known actors from Tenenbaums. We hear from Stephan Dignan, Sanjay Matthew, Kumar Pallana, Dipak Pallana, and Brian Tenenbaum. (Allegedly, Andrew Wilson - brother to Owen and Luke - will appear, but he doesn’t arrive.) The program lasts 26 minutes, 25 seconds and essentially parodies The Charlie Rose Show. It’s silly but vaguely entertaining.
In addition to two trailers, we get two booklets. A more standard booklet includes chapter listings, film and disc credits as well as an essay from film critic Kent Jones. I can’t say I cared for this gushing text. From comments like “Anderson’s attunement to his actors as individuals is fairly breathtaking” to his arrogant and self-congratulatory discussion about how he “gets” Anderson’s work and can’t comprehend why some others don’t, Jones comes across as pretentious and condescending.
Called “The Tenenbaum House”, the second booklet offers an introductory note from Wes Anderson. The rest of the material shows the cartoonish but detailed drawings used to depict the details of the Tenenbaum home. It’s a nice little piece that demonstrates the extreme amount of work put into the production design.
As with Wes Anderson’s prior film Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums brought a quirky but ultimately sweet fable that sporadically worked well. The movie seemed a little too self-consciously eccentric at times, but the terrific cast helped make the material work. The Blu-ray provides excellent visuals as well as good audio and supplements. This isn’t a film for everyone, but it fares nicely for the most part, and the Blu-ray brings it home better than ever.
To rate this film visit the Criterion Collection review of THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS