Directed by Wes Anderson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 91 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: November 25, 2008
Review Date: December 8, 2008
Wes Anderson’s sweet, soulful ode to simpletons in Bottle Rocket has a restless kind of shambling charm, but spending ninety minutes with such clueless losers quickly on the road to nowhere wears out its welcome a bit before the film finally ends. Featuring some promising actors early in their careers with an assist from an Oscar-nominated star in a small cameo role, Bottle Rocket is a mildly pleasurable experience. Had the characters shown some growth after their caper-filled adventures, however, it might have made the journey seem more worth the effort.
Three innocents who have been friends for years, Dignan (Owen Wilson), Anthony (Luke Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave), have a yearning for adventure. They want to pull off a caper of some kind; in fact, their lives seem to revolve around plans, capers, and having their own gang. After a dry run burglarizing Anthony’s home (just a few selected items) and getting away without being caught (it helped that Anthony knew when everyone would be gone from home), the three “geniuses” pull off a real heist of a local bookstore at closing time. On the lam to escape capture, they hide out in a motel where Anthony flips for one of the housekeepers (Lumi Cavazos). But the gang gets restless in hiding and break up only to be lured later into another job masterminded by local hood Mr. Henry (James Caan). Can they get away with it a second time?
The script by director Wes Anderson and star Owen Wilson is based on a short feature they made and presented to great success at Sundance. (The short is one of the bonus features in the set, and it’s infinitely more entertaining than the feature.) The opening up of the story to provide additional capers and a romance for Anthony certainly does pad out the running time but not for any greater impact and result. Sure, the romance between Anthony and Inez the maid is simple and sweet (she needs a translator since she speaks little English), but the second robbery is so badly and farcically bungled that what starts out hilarious becomes tedious before it’s over. And the men show no growth or learning over the course of their experiences. Even when you’re not the sharpest stick in the pile, you should eventually learn to roll away before someone shows up with a lighted match.
After years of seeing Owen Wilson perform this same flakey character in many films, his performance here isn’t much of a revelation though it must have seemed fresh and oddly appealing at the time. Luke Wilson’s performance is more interesting as he seems to be yearning to break free of these dead-end childhood attachments. Keeping it in the family, Andrew Wilson amusingly plays Bob’s brother (nicknamed “Future Man”) who always gives the slackers a hard time, while Robert Musgrave’s put-upon Bob is one of the film’s more promising inventions: it would have been more interesting to see this character’s career path. James Caan’s brief role certainly doesn’t tax any of his performing muscles, but he's a steady, sturdy presence amid a sea of witless wonders.
Bottle Rocket has its own peculiar world view and likely one not shared by the masses. Cultists have elevated the film to a lofty comedy status, a vision I don’t happen to share, but I can see the tenderness and devotion the makers of the film have for these naïve waifs struggling to define life on their own quirky terms.
The film is framed at 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. Reds bloom just a bit in this transfer, but otherwise, color is solid and flesh tones are really excellent. There is some slight shimmer occasionally in tight line structures and a bit of pixilation, too, but most of the encode is solid and artifact free. The film has been divided into 15 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix most definitely favors the front channels leaving almost nothing but occasional music to drift to the rears. The subwoofer can also take the night off as there are no LFE in the movie.
The audio commentary features director-writer Wes Anderson and star-writer Owen Wilson. The two have an easy relationship that carries over well in the commentary, and while there are a few quiet passages and the men haven’t seen the movie in a long time, they find plenty of things to talk about making for an interesting but unremarkable reminiscence.
The majority of the bonus features are on disc two in the set.
“The Making of Bottle Rocket” is a 25 ¾-minute documentary on the film’s rocky road to production featuring memories of the movie’s producers (including Oscar-winner James L. Brooks), several of the actors, the director, the film’s composer, production designer, and director of photography. It’s presented in anamorphic video.
The Bottle Rocket short film which formed the basis for the screenplay for this feature is framed in 4:3 and runs 13 ½ minutes.
There are eleven deleted scenes presented in anamorphic video. There is a “play all” menu choice or the viewer can choose to watch each one separately.
An anamorphic test scene is available for viewing, shot when the producers were considering shooting the film in Panavision. The actors seem to be improvising dialogue in a scene that does not appear in the finished film. It runs 2 ½ minutes.
The Wilson brothers’ mother Laura shot forty pictures during the production of the short film and the feature and their premieres, all presented here in a step-through gallery.
Wes Anderson’s storyboards for the movie are provided in another step-through gallery.
“The Shafrazi Lectures No. 1: Bottle Rocket” finds a film school teacher/enthusiast watching and commenting on various scenes in the film with great enthusiasm. This mix of 4:3 and anamorphic widescreen runs 10 ½ minutes.
“Murita Cycles” is a bittersweet 1978 biographical short film by Barry Braverman in 4:3 detailing the somewhat sad and delusional old age of his father, a bicycle repairman/junk dealer coping with life as best he can. Influential in the construction of the tone for Bottle Rocket, this short runs 27 minutes.
The enclosed 23-page booklet, done in the style of Dignan’s notebook for a fifty-year living plan, contains cast and crew lists, a brief celebratory essay on the movie by Martin Scorsese, and producer James L. Brooks’ comments on the film.
Whimsical, innocent, and slim in content, Bottle Rocket was a stepping stone for some of Hollywood’s most successful careers. The Criterion DVD of the film is a fine looking and sounding disc for fans of the film.