The Royal Tenenbaums - Criterion Review
Wes Anderson is perhaps one of the most unique auteurs working within the modern film industry. Yes, I did just throw out the A-word there, and while auteur as a term is not as favourably looked upon as it once was in critical circles, it seems to fit within Anderson’s carefully controlled and constructed aesthetic. While his first two features, Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, held certain stylistic and thematic similarities that continue into his later films, it is with his third feature The Royal Tenenbaums, a film that is finally getting a Blu-Ray release through the good folks at Criterion in December, that Anderson’s pastel, storybook style took form and demonstrated his talent as one of his generation's leading directors.
The Royal Tenenbaums follow the Tenenbaums, a New York family consisting of Father, Royal (Gene Hackman), Mother, Etheline (Anjelica Housten), and the three children Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Richie (Luke Wilson). After twenty two years apart Etheline is set to marry Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), but Royal plans to prevent that by pretending to be dying in order to reenter his estranged family's life. Over the film we see relationships formed and tested to the very limit as this absurd and dysfunctional family seek to better each other and themselves.
As already mentioned, The Royal Tenenbaums is the film where Wes Anderson cemented his signature style. The highly staged framing, the dolly and track shots, the use of slightly stilted motion and action from actors that appear in Anderson's films, all come together in the style that Anderson would go on to perfect in Moonrise Kingdom, Fantastic Mr Fox and The Grand Budapest Hotel. Each shot in The Royal Tenenbaums is framed beautifully, and each shot is layered with a level of detail that speaks volumes about the characters, story or emotion. Shot by Robert Yeoman, who has worked with Anderson on all of his films apart from Fantastic Mr Fox, each frame of film is entertaining, engaging and humorous.
A comment must also be made of the movie's production design that leaves a timeless quality to the film. The use of colour and material leaves the film with a tangible texture so palpable that you can almost reach out and touch it like one of Margot Tenenbaum's model sets. All this adds Anderson's hyperreal constructed sensibility.
However, a film is nothing without its cast which is filled with a veritable galaxy of stars that all provide their own unique take on the Anderson style of acting, a combination of deadpan emotional declarations, sudden outburst of violent action and offbeat ticks. It is on their shoulders that Anderson places the responsibility of balancing the drama and the bizarre comedy of the film, and each actor delivers an incredible performance, with standouts being Gene Hackman as the loveable rouge Royal Tenenbaum, and Ben Stiller as the uptight widower Chas Tenenbaum.
It, however, feels wrong to single out specific elements of an Anderson film as all of it feeds into the other parts, creating a very obviously constructed world that can only be attributed to the single authorial vision of Wes Anderson. The Royal Tenenbaums is perhaps the first most obvious example of his style and it is definitly one of his best films.
Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ration the restored digital transfer is a good one, there are no visual problems and the 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio also presented no problems while I was watching it. This Criterion release contains an easy to understand menu system that is simple to operate and navigate.
Blu-Ray is perhaps where Wes Anderson movies belong; each frame is packed with tiny little details that pop in high definition, as well as the meticulous colour and production design. The soundtrack as well with its blend of classical chamber music and 1960’s pop music is beautiful to hear in High-Definition. The dialogue similarly is easy to understand, and there are no digital faults in either picture or sound, evidence of a high-quality disk.
Like all good supplements the extras included on the disk provide further background into how the film was made, and the experience of actors and crew during the process of bringing The Royal Tenenbaums to life. The disk contains an excellent commentary, Wes Anderson who talks about his influences and the choices that he made while dressing the elaborate sets with art and scoring the film. The documentary on Anderson by Albert Maysles provides a perfect companion to the commentary as it allows the audience to glimpse on-set video. Each extra contributes to the world of the Tenenbaums in a way that makes it entirely necessary for anyone who is a fan of the film or Anderson’s work in general to invest in the Blu-Ray release.