HD DVD Title: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1
First theatrical release: 19 March 2004
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Multiple Widescreen and Fullscreen DVD releases
Director: Michel Gondry
Starring: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslet, Kirsten Dunst, Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood
Sound Formats: English, French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 46 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
Veteran Music Video director Michel Gondrey brings Scriptwriter Charlie Kaufman’s musing about memory, attraction, love and regret to life in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (which is part of a quote from Alexander Pope, essentially praising how wonderful it would be to not have bad memories). By casting leads Joel (Carrey) and Clementine (Winslet) completely against their ‘type’, Gondrey attempts to get viewers to forget about the tabloid trash and Hollywood glam and focus on the intriguing and complex story. By fusing a European sensibility to a very independent movie vibe, mixing in some amazing in-camera visual effects, and a mind blowing surround mix that puts viewers inside Joel’s head, he mostly succeeds.
When introvert Joel learns that impulsive Clementine has had all memories of their relationship erased, he tailspins and in desperate depression, decides to have the process applied to himself. During the procedure, as memories are sequentially removed, Joel’s subconscious comes alive and remembers all of the good times and realizes he is still deeply in love with Clem. Desperate to salvage what he can, he manipulates his memories through a series of surreal jumps, bringing Clem through recollections where should shouldn’t fit in. Because of the complex structure of the film, viewers are constantly guessing what is real and what is imagined, and wondering if Joel can pull it off in the end.
Ultimately, while the innovative use of practical effects and a plot that kept me guessing were interesting, as a whole I felt ambivalent about this film in the end. Joel and Clementine just never felt all that real or interesting to me, and while the ‘relationship seen in reverse’ was a fresh idea, I just couldn’t get into it deeply. I definitely appreciate specific things like the way fading memories are handled and Mark Ruffalo and Kirsten Dunst’s homage to Dick Shawn’s dance scene in the 1968 version of The Producers had me cracking up, overall it was just decent but not great.
Sound Quality: 4.5/5
While this might seem to be an unusual film to garner such a high score for sound quality, the soundtrack is a vitally important component of what makes this movie work. First, the haunting accompanying music by Jon Brion is well suited in every respect, and adds to the very arty and intellectual vibe. Brion also masterfully incorporates orchestra ‘noise’ in many instances that is very reminiscent of what can be found in Alfred Hitchcock’s bag of tricks. Overall the music is deep, somber and soulful, plus well balanced into all corners via the 5.1 mix.
Sound effects are likewise extraordinary, particularly in the cramped confines of Joel’s subconscious. Conversations flow around the sleeping body of Joel and viewers hear it from his perspective in 3D space. This is a completely convincing effect and is done sparingly so as to not ruin it when it happens, which adds to its power.
Visual Quality: 4/5
Visually ESOTSM looked great as well, again maintaining that very artsy feel but also being technically good looking with fine sharpness and a lot of pop. While there were never any scenes that completely blew me away with their brilliance, this is a very good looking transfer with absolutely zero edge enhancement, pops or tears, or other artifacts that distract. Color does come alive in the outdoor scenes but this is, for the most part a movie that uses fog and darkness to illustrate Joel’s cloudy memories. For that reason there is a lot of low contrast and a muted feel, all of which this transfer captures in detail.
The highlights visually are the in-camera effects that Gondry and crew are able to pull off, which is something of a lost art these days with all of the CGI that is available. While there are some computer enhanced scenes, the vast majority of the effects are completed using the types of tricks that have been around since the dawn of cinema and that grew throughout its history and are slowly being abandoned. This HD transfer loses none of the magic that the film was able to achieve using these subtle manipulations.
Extra Features: 4.5/5
This disk is actually pretty well populated with extras, although it is not a ‘flipper’ having a DVD complement on the other side. To start off with there is a commentary track with Gondrey and Kaufman, an infomercial for the company that did the memory wiping, and the music video for The Polyphonic Spree’s Light & Day which uses an interesting trick to get the singer’s mouth integrated into the faces of scenes from the movie, which is pretty slick. Next up are two ‘Conversations with’ segments talking first with Carrie and Gondrey where Carrie comes off really down to earth, and then with Gondrey and Winslet where she does not come off so well. Also included are about 10 minutes of deleted scenes which show how much lee-way the cast and crew had to bring Kaufman’s script to life and how Gondrey gave the cast opportunity to experiment. Finally there is an in depth behind the scenes look at both one specific scene (Saratoga Avenue, where 3 separate shots were merged together) and about the entire movie, interviewing cast and crew.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
While I wasn’t absolutely crazy over this film there is a lot that I do find really interesting, particularly the way Gondry used the camera to achieve the overall look and the special effects, the innovative use of surround sound while inside Joel’s head, and the detailed behind the scenes information that is found on the extras. Because I wasn’t hooked on the story I can’t bring myself to tag this as one of my recommended disks, but for those who do find the story appealing this HD version is sure to be a winner.