Edition - 1999 (2000) - Gramercy/Universal/USA Films
by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras):
Specs and Features
113 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced,
single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 48:43, at the start
of chapter 16), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailer, 4 TV
spots, 2 video featurettes produced for film (7
1/2 Floor Orientation, American
Arts & Culture Presents... John Horatio Malkovich, Dance of
Despair and Disillusionment), 2 behind-the-scenes
featurettes (An Intimate Portrait of the
Art of Puppeteering and An
Intimate Portrait of the Art of Background Driving), a
page with nothing on it, an interview with Spike Jonze, cast &
crew bios, a photo gallery, animated film-themed menu screens with
music (several soundtrack cuts, including Bjork's Amphibian),
scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0
Surround), subtitles: English, French & Spanish, Closed
"What happens when a man goes through his own portal?"
Maxine: "We'll see...!"
Being John Malkovich was, in
my mind at least, the best, most interesting and original film of
1999. The film's story is simple, in principal. John Cusack plays
Craig Schwartz, a down on his luck puppeteer. Craig struggles
unsuccessfully to make a living at his chosen craft, until his wife
Lotte (Cameron Diaz) suggests he get a real job. So Craig answers an
employment ad that leads him to the Murton Flemmer building, and the
7 1/2 floor offices of LesterCorp. A brief and bizarre interview
later, Craig's a newly-hired file clerk. And in his office, Craig
finds a surprise... a hidden portal, that leads into the head of
actor John Malkovich. It works like this - you simply crawl down a
dark tunnel, and suddenly find yourself inside the head of
Malkovich, experiencing his life for fifteen minutes... after which
time you get dumped out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.
Craig shares his discovery with a woman he's met on the 7 1/2
floor, Maxine (played by Catherine Keener, in a performance that won
her a Best Supporting Actress nomination). Craig is bored with his
life, and he's hot for Maxine, so he's happy to go along when she
suggests that they make a buck or two off the discovery. Together,
they form JM, Inc. and they charge $200 a pop for people to
experience the thrill that is Malkovich. But there are problems.
First of all, when Lotte finds out and she tries the portal, she
can't get enough of the experience. And she also falls for Maxine,
who wants her back... but only when she's inside Malkovich. What's a
jealous Craig to do? And what does John Malkovich have to say about
all this? Plenty... and that's just scratching the surface of this
bizarre and funny film.
It's really hard to believe that Being
John Malkovich is actor-turned-director Spike Jonze's
first film (you may know Spike better for his role as the hick
American soldier in Three Kings).
This is a really amazing piece of work, and it should be interesting
to see what he follows it up with. The story by screenwriter Charlie
Kaufman is well written and completely original. The film features
some great performances by Cusack, Keener and Cameron Diaz. I have
to give Diaz credit - her appearance in this film is surprisingly
good, and she was brave to take the role (take one look at her in
this film and you'll understand what I mean). And naturally, John
Malkovich steals the show. The answer to the question posed in the
quote at the top of this review is worth plenty of laughs. And
Malkovich's puppet show/dance, in which he flails around wildly, is
worth the price of this disc alone.
So how is the DVD? Pretty cool - it definitely gets my early vote
for the Most Interesting DVD of 2000. The anamorphic widescreen
video is solid, with accurate (if very muted) colors, deep blacks
and excellent shadow detail. This isn't reference quality, but it
looks very good overall. The audio is about equal to the video - the
Dolby Digital 5.1 track doesn't put your system to the test, given
that this is a dialogue driven film, but it's plenty good. It
created a good ambience and dialogue is clean and clear.
Now... let's talk extras. What you get on this disc seems like a
lot, and I suppose it is. But it has got to be the most bizarre set
of bonus materials to be included on DVD to date. To start with, you
get the film's theatrical trailer and 4 of the most unusual TV spots
I've ever seen for any film. You also get a pair of really great
short videos, which were produced for use on camera during the film.
The first is the orientation on the 7 1/2 floor that Craig is made
to watch after he gets hired at LesterCorp ("at least there
will be one place on God's green Earth where you and yer cursed kind
can live in peace..."). The second short is the fake
documentary on Malkovich which is seen late in the film, featuring
his second career as a puppeteer (and a funny cameo by Brad Pitt).
In addition, there are a pair of "behind-the-scenes"
videos. One focuses on the art of puppeteering and the other is an
interview with someone who was hired to drive her car back and forth
in the background of the New Jersey Turnpike scenes. Are you
scratching your head yet? How about this - you also get a page with
nothing on it (literally) and an interview with director Spike Jonze
where he... well, he gets sick and pukes on the side of the road.
Rounding things out are a gallery of production photos and an
unadvertised feature that can't quite be called an Easter egg - as
you skip from menu to menu, you'll get to listen to 5 or 6 complete
tracks from the film's soundtrack in the background, including the
film version of Bjork's Amphibian.
Just skip around to find them all, and then don't touch anything if
you want to listen - the entire track will play.
I have only one complaint with this DVD, but it's a BIG one.
Where's the commentary track? A film this unique and interesting
absolutely screams for a director's track, but you won't find one
here. I also would have loved to hear Malkovich talking about this
film. I wonder what he thought when he first got this script, with
his name on the cover? The lack of a commentary is really
disappointing. But that, again, is my only real complaint.
Being John Malkovich is as
off-beat a film as you will ever see, and see it you must. If you
missed this one in theaters, you really owe it to yourself to catch
it on disc. And while the DVD isn't the best you'll ever see, it's
almost perfectly matched to the spirit of this film. Almost. In any
case, it's absolutely a must-spin (and for serious film fans, a
must-own as well).