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Darjeeling Limited, The
Release Date(s)2007 (October 12, 2010)
Studio(s)20th Century Fox (Criterion - Spine #540)
Not unlike this film's overall thematic direction, you're either on board the Wes Anderson train or you're not, and you‘re being left behind. Personally, I've been riding that train since I first caught a glimpse of Rushmore many years ago. I've continued riding that train, even through films like the much-misunderstood The Darjeeling Limited, and its opening short, The Hotel Chevalier.
It's perhaps the most undervalued Wes Anderson film in his entire catalogue of work. During its original release, most people wrote it off as nothing special; neither good nor bad. Others just seemed to want to hate on it. To his credit, Anderson's work is nothing if not character-driven and somewhat whimsical, and for some that's a sign of pretense, but for others like myself, it's refreshing to see a movie get down and dirty with its characters in that way, even if they‘re not the greatest people in the world. The Darjeeling Limited is just that kind of movie. While most people complain that the film feels disjointed and directionless at times, in a strange way, it reflects its characters who are on a journey of their own, spiritual or otherwise. The story is about three brothers, who are slightly estranged from each other by way of a broken family, come together again to try to reconnect and visit their bizarre mother in the high mountains of India. It sounds like a set-up for many independent darlings, but thankfully, never goes over the line with the sentimentality. It's there, but it's just enough to get the point across. These characters probably wouldn't respond well to any sort of forced sentimentality anyway. It also sounds like it could be very boring and trite, filled with haphazard themes and storylines that try way too hard to go for that aforementioned independent feel, but The Darjeeling Limited never, ever goes that far, to its credit. It feels more genuine and purposeful, without any unneeded heavy emotion weighing it down. You never feel the sentiment or the comedy so much as you do the reality of it, which comes off as odd at first.
The characters don't come off as real people, and you can feel the emotions boiling up inside them throughout the film. They don't need to burst out into tears or go into fits of searing anger for you to understand that they're just sort of lost, which is what the film's structure, unknowingly or not, plays into. This detachment is to its benefit, and you're not really made to feel strongly for any of them, but like all journeys, the more you stick to them, the more you discover. It may feel a little clichéd because of this, but oh well. I just think it's mostly misunderstood. On the one hand it's certainly not grasping for a particularly unneeded sentimentality, but on the other hand it winds up being a journey between three people who become more adjusted and they're better off for it. They're not entirely changed by the end of the film, but they do learn things and, hopefully, the ride there is just as important as the destination. In this case it is. It doesn't ever go off the rails or crash head-first into nonsense. It's a journey, filled with a series of turns of events. Then again, perhaps I'm just wrong, and the film's tone and structure aren't perfect, but for the film's characters' states of mind and where they‘re headed, it is.
It's also a bit of a surprise that the film's most interesting scene isn't even in the final film, but acts as a sort of introduction to it instead. The Hotel Chevalier, considered Part One of The Darjeeling Limited, tells the tale of one of the brother's troubles with an ex-girlfriend. You're not really required to see this short film before watching the main film, but it does give you some background on this character and several things about him before seeing it. I would compare it to having the opportunity to view the brushes that Leonardo Da Vinci used to paint "The Last Supper". Nothing vital to viewing the painting itself, but fascinating nonetheless. The interplay between the two characters is marvelous, and probably the reason why it was left out of the film. It gets a little too deep and doesn't feel totally a part of what's going on in the main feature. In other words, it feels like a peek behind the character's curtain. It's still engaging nonetheless, but whether or not you feel that it's necessary to get to know a character beforehand is up to you. It certainly doesn't do any harm by doing so.
For a Wes Anderson Criterion Blu-ray release, the video quality is about what you would expect. In a word, I would describe it as crisp. It looks flawless and really showcases the cinematography quite superbly. It's also a step up from the original bare bones 20th Century Fox DVD release in terms of contrast and brightness. Both are kicked up a notch in this release and the images are much sharper. The color palette is very rich also, with lots of deep reds, blues, greens and tans. There are very little instances of black backgrounds, but when there are, they're nice and solid. The film's multitude of hues might throw one off at times, particularly with skin tones. However, it's a stylistic choice and for my money, the skin tones look quite good without being entirely natural. As for signs of any digital enhancement, I found none. This transfer was both supervised and approved by Anderson himself, so you're getting exactly what he intended you to see, and it should leave next to nothing to be desired.
The sound quality is equally pleasing. There really isn't much in the way of soundscapes when it comes to this film. It's basically a wry comedy, so don't expect much in the way of atmospherics. The dialogue and the music are the stars of the show here; the former sticking to the front and center with the latter sticking to the rear. At times I felt that the dialogue was a bit uneven in terms of volume when compared to the music, but they're mostly separate from each other so it can be overlooked in this case. Whenever the three brothers make stops in towns along their journey, there certainly are some nice ambient crowd and cityscape moments to perk up your ears. It's nothing that stands out, but it does the job it's supposed to do. Overall, I'd say that the surround soundtrack is very good, but at the same time not leaping out at you. It's good, but it never does more than it needs to, and in the case of this movie, that's all that's required of it.
Fans who were bummed out by the previous bare bones DVD release from 20th Century Fox should be more than delighted with the nice little bounty of extras included with this release. Things begin with the option to view the short film, the film, or both. Next is an audio commentary featuring Wes Anderson and the film's co-writers Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman; a bird's eye view behind-the-scenes in a Documentary by Barry Braverman; a Conversation with James Ivory and Wes Anderson about the film's music; Wes Anderson's American Express Commercial, featuring actors and locations from the film; Sriharsh's Audition, featuring footage of the young actor; an Essay by Matt Zoller Seitz; Oakley Friedberg/Packer Speech, which is home movie footage of the young man on stage at Packer Collegiate Institute speaking about his experiences in India; a deleted scene and two alternate takes of scenes; Sketch by Roman Coppola, a sequence of video and images taken during the period of the writing of the film; Waris' Diary, a selection of 11 different short video subjects by actor Waris Ahluwala; Trophy Case, a short video on two awards that the film later won; a set of still galleries; the film's theatrical trailer; and, finally, a fold-out insert booklet featuring an essay by critic Richard Brody and illustrations by Eric Chase Anderson.
At 91 minutes (plus the extra 13 minutes from the opening short film), The Darjeeling Limited is more so than most Wes Anderson's quirkiest and most far-reaching film (as of this writing). It may not have the one-two comedic punch of Rushmore, the multitude of personalities of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou or The Royal Tenenbaums, or the instant charm of his follow-up film Fantastic Mr. Fox, but The Darjeeling Limited is something unto itself. It's an odd look into the lives of three brothers without total emotional investment. Mostly under appreciated, it works for what it is, and for that, I'm thankful. And fans should be more than satisfied with this top-notch Blu-ray release from The Criterion Collection. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons