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reviews added: 6/4/02



Memento

reviews by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Memento: Limited Edition

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Encoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround
Memento
Limited Edition - 2001 (2002) - Newmarket Films (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A+/A-*

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A/A

*F+ for the way you have to find the extras

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
113 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, custom tri-fold packaging in slipcase, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:33:52 in chapter 14), audio commentary with writer/director Christopher Nolan, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (16 chapters), languages: English (DTS 5.1 and DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
Anatomy of a Scene Sundance Channel featurette, Director's Shooting Script (uses angle feature), 2 theatrical trailers, Memento Mori short story by Jonathan Nolan, gallery of international art campaigns, production stills and sketches, Easter eggs (including Chronological edit of the film, journal, props gallery, concept art gallery, and God knows what else), animated film-themed menu screens with sound


Memento (original release)

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs
Memento
2001 (2001) - Newmarket Films (Columbia TriStar)

Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/A/C

Specs and Features

113 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:02:37 in chapter 11), Memento website archive (Leonard's file and notes excerpts), tattoo gallery (illustrations and film stills), short story Memento Mori by Jonathan Nolan, IFC Independent Focus interview with writer/director Christopher Nolan, 2 theatrical trailers (for Memento and Following), TV spot, animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (19 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish , Closed Captioned


"I guess I've already told you about my condition?"

For several years now, Terry Gilliam has spoken of a film he wants to make called The Defective Detective. If Gilliam hadn't grabbed it first, that would also be a completely appropriate title for Memento. Released early in 2001, critics immediately embraced this innovative film noir as one of the best movies of the year and rightly so. Memento is one of those movies, like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense, where immediately after seeing it, you want to watch it again to see if the filmmakers played fair with the audience. Amazingly, Memento not only holds up after repeated viewings, it improves every single time.

The movie follows Leonard Shelby, a man hellbent on taking revenge on the man who raped and murdered his wife. There's one hitch, though. Leonard suffers from short-term memory loss, so everything he experiences since the assault fades away. To get through life, Leonard relies on a complex system of notes, Polaroids and, for the truly vital information, tattoos. These remind him what he's doing, where he's going and who he's met. As we first meet Leonard, he's shooting somebody in the head. This is Teddy and Leonard's Polaroid tells him "Don't believe his lies." From here, the movie works its way back, explaining how we got to this point. It's a terrific idea, reminiscent of the classic film noir D.O.A., which begins with Edmond O'Brien reporting his own murder to the police. Memento is D.O.A. taken to the next level.

One of the reasons the movie works so well is the central performance of Guy Pearce. This would be an extremely difficult role for any actor, but Pearce makes it look easy, conveying the constant newness of the world to Leonard through subtle body language and eye movements. He's supported by terrific performances from Joe Pantoliano as Teddy and Carrie-Anne Moss as Natalie. The depths of these characters are revealed with subsequent viewings of the movie; both Moss and Pantoliano keep you guessing as to how much they know and when they know it. Often, when you see an intricately constructed puzzle of a movie like this, repeated viewings will betray contradictory behavior in the performances in order to deliberately mislead the audience. Not so here. Moss and Pantoliano stay true to the chronology and characters throughout.

Amazingly enough, no major studio wanted to distribute Memento after it premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2001, apparently assuming the movie went way over the heads of the mass market. Newmarket Films chose to distribute the picture themselves and proceeded to make a fortune. This did not go unnoticed by Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment, who are now trying to make their own fortune by releasing Memento twice on DVD, the most recent of these being a two-disc Limited Edition set with a new DTS audio track, a remastered picture and a ton of extras not available on the original release.

I thought Memento looked pretty darn good when I first watched the original, single-disc version some months back, so before checking out the new version, I rewatched the first few scenes of the original release. As I thought, it looked and sounded terrific, so I was a little dubious about the Limited Edition's boast that the film had been "remastered in high definition". It didn't take long for me to see the difference. The new Memento is noticeably better. Colors are more well-defined. The whites are whiter, the flesh tones are richer and the shadows are deeper. The details are extremely crisp. This difference is very noticeable during the movie's many extreme close-ups of Guy Pearce's tattooed body. Every hair pops out and the differences in the tattoos are clear. The picture on the limited edition is virtually flawless, an improvement over an already very good transfer. As for the sound, the limited edition may be slightly better but the difference is much subtler. If you have a preference for DTS, then you'll be very pleased by this track. But the original Dolby Digital track was already excellent. I honestly couldn't tell if the DD track had been altered between releases.

Then come the extras. You'll know what you're getting yourself into with the Limited Edition as soon as you open the packaging, designed to look like a psychiatric report on Leonard Shelby, complete with loose pages affixed by a paper clip. For starters, I had a really hard time just prying the damn thing out of the slipcase. Once I got it out and picked up those loose papers that went flying everywhere, I was disappointed to see Columbia TriStar still using the annoying "tri-fold" design from their Close Encounters disc. I genuinely hate these things. You need three hands just to hold the thing and take out a disc. Why Columbia doesn't just use a standard, fold out design like Fox did on Fight Club, I'll never understand.

Once you've mastered the art of manipulating the package itself, you're ready to try to tackle the menus. The menus of both discs are designed as psych tests, with intricate multiple choice questions. Disc One isn't so difficult. Assuming you have a TV large enough to read the main menu without straining your eyes, you'll be able to see a few words that make sense. Selecting "Listen" takes you to the audio set-up. "Read" takes you to the subtitle set-up. "Comments" lets you turn writer/director Christopher Nolan's audio commentary on or off. "Chapters" and "Watch" are pretty self-explanatory. Nolan's commentary is not going to be for all tastes. It's somewhat dry and Nolan's speaking voice is very subdued. But he does call attention to subtleties in the cinematography, editing and performances that you may have noticed but didn't really realize you were noticing. There aren't a lot of production stories or wacky anecdotes here, but the commentary does deepen your appreciation of the film and, in my opinion, that's what a good commentary should do.

If you're watching the movie with the commentary on, you might notice that after Chapter 13, there's a pause and the chapters reset themselves to 1. That's the first of about a zillion Easter eggs on this thing. There are four slightly different commentary tracks for the last three chapters of the movie. They're encoded on different titles on the disc. I'd never even noticed the title button on my remote before this, but there they are. A word of warning, though - you need to REALLY love this movie to sit through all the different commentary conclusions. The differences are not huge and you end up hearing a lot of the same information over and over again.

Disc Two is an entirely different kettle of fish. If you hate hunt-and-peck, interactive bonus discs like Warner's Harry Potter and The Nightmare Encyclopedia from New Line's Nightmare on Elm Street box, you're gonna despise this thing. Once you find them, the extras are substantial. But you'd best set aside several hours to hunt them out. There is a menu to get you to most of the big, advertised features, but even that's something you need to discover. (To get to the Supplement Menu, select the clock from the main menu. Then answer "C" on the next two questions. After that, you'll be asked to respond to the statement, "The best jigsaw puzzles are the ones missing a couple pieces." Select "E"… strongly agree. Now you're at the Supplement Menu. And hopefully, you haven't thrown anything too valuable at your TV yet.) The most annoying thing about this, is that once you've finished viewing something off this menu, it does not take you back to it. You get kicked out to another question, from which you can either keep wandering aimlessly or try to get back to the main menu and go to the Supplement Menu again. Yeesh.

From the Supplement Menu, you can view the international and domestic trailers for the movie, watch the 25-minute Sundance Channel Anatomy of a Scene episode spotlighting Memento, view a gallery of production stills and sketches and a separate gallery of international ad campaigns, or choose the director's shooting script. The script is a multiple angle feature that allows you to toggle between the movie and the script. What I liked about this is that, unlike most DVD presentations of the script, this one actually shows you the director's physical script, complete with handwritten notes, passages crossed out and drawings in the margin. It treats the script more like an artifact than a piece of literature. I've read plenty of screenplays and I almost always wonder why I bothered when I'm through. They're rarely very interesting except from a purely technical and academic perspective. But it's pretty neat being able to view Nolan's actual physical script and see how things progressed on set. The only advertised feature you're not able to access through the Supplement Menu is Jonathan Nolan's original short story, Memento Mori. This was on the original DVD as well and it's a very interesting companion to the movie.

The second disc also contains a gaggle of Easter eggs, most interesting of which is the "Chronological" edit of the movie. This presents the feature in completely chronological order, starting with the credits running backwards and ending with the first scene of the movie, also run backwards (which, in this case, means you actually see it frontwards… this is much less confusing than it sounds, I swear). It's a testament to the movie's success that it actually holds up this way. If all Memento had going for it was its gimmick, this would be a complete waste of time. The movie is better when you watch it as intended, of course. But the "Chronological" version proves that the structure is airtight. Other Easter eggs include a props gallery, unused poster art, cover art from what looks like a Japanese bootleg… there might even be whole other movies on this thing for all I know. After awhile, I got fed up with trying to uncover bits and pieces and I was a lot more patient than the average moviegoer's probably going to be. Don't get me wrong - the interface on this disc is extremely clever and it's obvious that a lot of time and effort went into it. On a rainy day with nothing else to do, I'll bet it's great fun to kill the entire day getting lost in Disc Two. But if all you want to do is look at the script or the German advertising art, forget it. Help is available, of course. After screwing around with the disc on my own for about an hour and a half, I cheated and went online. The best source of Memento info I found is by a guy named Douglas Bailey. He's compiled a lot of the stuff and created a downloadable booklet in Adobe Acrobat format. You can track down this handy guide at this link.

Now if you don't want to get this involved, the single disc Memento (for Dummies) is still available and it has enough going for it that you won't feel totally ripped off if you get it instead. Besides the short story and the theatrical trailer, the single disc version has a number of features that don't seem to be on the Limited Edition (but maybe they're buried on there someplace). The single disc version has an interview with Christopher Nolan from the Independent Film Channel, perhaps eliminated from the Limited Edition because IFC and Sundance Channel are direct competitors to each other. This disc also boasts a TV spot missing from the new set, cast and crew bios, a trailer for Nolan's first movie, Following and a tattoo gallery. The tattoo gallery seems likeliest to be hidden on the Limited Edition somewhere, with photos and concept drawings of Leonard's many tattoos, but it beats me where it might be. Finally, the single disc contains the Memento website (otnemem.com) as a DVD feature, not DVD-ROM. This is another feature I'm surprised isn't on the Limited Edition. Picture and sound quality are quite good and the animated menus on the single disc are simple and elegant.

As one of the few movies that rewards both initial attention and revisiting, Memento belongs in every DVD library. It's a movie that you can pull off the shelf and introduce to people who have never seen it and, while they're seeing it for the first time, you can find something new. If you're a die-hard fan, the extras on the Limited Edition make it worth getting... even if you have to wait until you're sick in bed before you get a chance to look at them. If you're not that into the movie or you're prone to becoming easily frustrated, do yourself a favor and stick to the single disc edition. Otherwise, you might find yourself taking a battery of psychiatric tests for real.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Memento: Limited Edition


Memento (original)


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