Release Date(s)2001 (November 27, 2018)
Studio(s)USA Films/Entertainment Film Distributors/Universal Pictures (Arrow Academy)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Robert Altman’s output since he began working in film in 1957 has been steadily but surely changing directions. His unique takes on each genre mixed with his down and dirty but controlled style of filmed chaos has managed to bring out the detractors, whether it was the studios that financed him or the critics who judged him. However, the moniker “Altman-esque” has become a permanent staple of cinematic description, meaning that his work has influenced a number of filmmakers, with some even finding box office success. One of his more unusual endeavors came in 2001 with Gosford Park, an early twentieth century murder mystery that, like his previous work, turns the genre popularized so well by Agatha Christie completely on its head.
While the hugely popular TV show Downton Abbey may have been an off-shoot of Gosford Park, the two wound up having little in common other than delving into the relationships between upper class citizens and the people who serve them. As per usual, Altman focused more of his energies on fleshing out characters in various situations, and the story, while not exactly an afterthought, wasn’t the driving force. In a more traditional film, the murder mystery plot would be given much more attention, meaning that everyone is a potential suspect and it’s up to a sleuthing detective type to discover who is behind it. In Altman’s film, the detective is mostly ineffective, more interested in simple explanations than complicated ones and dismissing minor details that might actually be of higher import than he realizes.
Meanwhile, we have a large group of people having dinner parties and hunting expeditions together in and around a vast landscape with a large mansion at the center. These aristocratic members of society, who are mostly concerned with their money, also show some occasional shade. They’re far from one-dimensional, at least some of them. Meanwhile, there’s the cooks, the butlers, and the maids who are much more interesting characters by default. Their comings and goings, their interactions with each other, their discussions about their personal lives, and their exchanges with their employers are constantly being examined.
Then there’s the cast, which I would venture is one the finest for any Britain-based film. Richard E. Grant, Michael Gambon, Kristin Scott Thomas, Charles Dance, Maggie Smith, Ryan Phillippe, Clive Owen, Kelly Macdonald, Helen Mirren, Jeremy Northam, Bob Balaban, Emily Watson, Alan Bates, and Stephen Fry, among many others. There are plenty of layers and textures to all of their performances, and with Altman’s direction and Julian Fellowes’ screenplay, it’s a dynamite combination that only gets better with each viewing. Gosford Park may have been Altman's last truly great work, but because of its setting and subject matter, it’s effortlessly timeless.
Arrow Academy presents Gosford Park with a new 4K restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. As expected, it’s an entirely film-like presentation, and a major upgrade over the previous (and hard to find) Blu-ray release. It’s a somewhat soft-looking film, but there’s plenty of texture and detail on display here, more than ever before. There aren’t a huge variety of colors to choose from either, but those that are present are quite strong. Everything appears bright and clean with deep blacks, excellent skin tones, and terrific contrast. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD and English 2.0 LPCM, with optional subtitles in English SDH. The 5.1 track definitely adds a bit more of an immersive quality, which suits many scenes throughout the film, including the various party moments, the hunting sequence, and even the quieter sections when even the slightest of background activities can be heard. Dialogue is always clean and clear and everything sounds well-separated. The 2.0 track offers a similarly crisp experience, but without the surrounding ambient activity, obviously.
The supplemental section also includes some nice material, including three audio commentaries: a new one with critic Geoff Andrew and author David Thompson, another with Robert Altman, Stephen Altman, and David Levy, and another with writer/producer Julian Fellowes. Also included are 2 new cast and crew interviews: Executive Service, a new 21-minute interview with executive producer Jane Barclay, and Acting Upper Class, an 11-minute interview with actress Natasha Wightman. Carried over are a set of archival featurettes (The Making of Gosford Park, The Authenticity of Gosford Park, and a cast and filmmaker Q&A session); 20 minutes of deleted scenes with optional audio commentary by Robert Altman; the film’s trailer in HD; and a 44-page insert booklet with the essay Gosford Park by Shelia O’Malley, an excerpt from the book Altman on Altman by David Thompson on the film, a set of productions notes, and restoration details.
Robert Altman seemed to have an uncanny ability to make at least one film per decade (not counting the 1970s when his output was mostly solid) that seemed to wow critics and sometimes audiences. If anything, Gosford Park proved that not only could he still make good films at his age, but that he wasn’t done toying with genre mechanics and traditions. While seemingly creating a murder mystery and pulling the rug out from under it, he also simultaneously made one of the more memorable entries into that milieu. Arrow Academy has managed to bring this darkly comic masterpiece to Blu-ray in an edition worthy of the format. With a gorgeous presentation and a nice set of supplements, it’s a no-brainer. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons