Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums is a kind of eccentric family saga that makes it this new millennium’s answer to You Can’t Take It With You. Über-precious with a droll sense of comedy and an extremely dry style, The Royal Tenenbaums, like all of Wes Anderson’s work, is for a moviegoer who values unconventional behavior and oddness for the sake of oddness rather than for a captivating, labyrinthine plot or dynamic action.
The Royal Tenenbaums (Blu-ray)
Directed by Wes Anderson
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 110 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Review Date: August 12, 2012
Having abandoned his family more than two decades ago, Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) finds himself broke and thrown out of the hotel where he’s been living for twenty-two years. With nowhere else to go, he works up an elaborate ruse to pretend to be dying of stomach cancer so he can move back home with wife Etheline (Anjelica Huston). She has recently seen the return to the family home of her three genius children, all of whom have been going through rocky personal problems and seek the solace of the familiar. Scientist and financial wizard Chas (Ben Stiller) has just lost his wife and has returned with his two young sons. Playwright daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a faltering marriage to Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray) and a secret affair going with best selling author and drug addict Eli Cash (Owen Wilson). Tennis wunderkind Richie (Luke Wilson), secretly in love with his adopted sister Margot, lost interest in sports and life when she married Raleigh. So once Royal sees his family teetering on the brink of an emotional abyss, he hopes he can keep up his cancer masquerade long enough to finally become a parent involved in his children’s lives.
The script by Wes Anderson and co-star Owen Wilson is sparse of plot, and the characters, apart from Hackman’s Royal, the most deadpanned lot you’ve ever seen, are monotonously morose and pathetic. They generate a fair degree of interest and empathy due to the masterful playing by an extremely talented cast of actors, but comic invention is limited to a couple of spirited outings with grandpa Royal (sequences where Anderson’s direction is finally freed from the straight-on, constipated style adopted for most of the movie). The tone is twee and a bit too satisfied with its own pokerfaced approach to storytelling, but those looking for the unique will certainly find it here. The film, of course, morphs into a rather touching drama in its last third as the climax of each character’s journey is reached, and, once again, the acting is what keeps interest alive as the approach to storytelling has otherwise kept the audience at arm’s length for much of the movie.
Gene Hackman’s performance is clearly the lynchpin of the film, a breath of fresh air amid the claustrophobic stuffiness of the house he returns to. Of the three children, Luke Wilson gives the most achingly poignant performance as the conflicted Richie, his love for his sister while not technically incest as they’re not blood related consuming him without mercy. Gwyneth Paltrow and Ben Stiller are more one-note and only show additional colors near the end of the movie. Anjelica Huston has one or two decent opportunities to show her stuff as the family matriarch while Danny Glover as her longtime suitor is appealing and deserving of a more fully fleshed-out role. That could also apply to Bill Murray’s Raleigh St. Clair who has far less interesting things to do here than he did in Anderson’s previous film Rushmore. Both Seymour Cassel and Kumar Pallana as Royal’s partners-in-crime get to do some entertaining small bits.
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 is faithfully presented in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness is superb throughout, and color saturation levels are rich but controlled. There are occasions where skin tones take on either an orangey or rosy complexion (the color timing seems a bit orange overall in the early going), but most of the time the skin of the various characters looks realistic. Mostly the film looks as if it had been released yesterday. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does not put much of the ambiance into the rear channels apart from the music, a selection of pop hits from the likes of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones among others, which does spill into the rears. The spread across the front, however, is quite nice and makes for fine listening. The dialogue has been superbly recorded and has been placed in the center channel.
The audio commentary is by director/co-writer Wes Anderson. He matter of factly narrates his memories of making the movie from the two year preparation to filming with a group of actor friends and others with whom he had wanted to work. Not a riveting commentary but one fans of the film will look forward to hearing.
All of the video bonus material is presented in 1080i.
“With the Filmmaker” is a 27-minute documentary produced for the Independent Film Channel by Albert Maysles capturing Wes Anderson during the course of making the movie. We see him inspecting the sets during construction, talking about the story, working on the murals with his brother, planning shots with his cameraman, watching rushes, and shooting scenes with different takes.
There are 27 minutes of interviews with the top-billed stars of the movie. They may be watched separately, or there is a “play all” feature. The actors participating are Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson (the most interesting and illuminating of the interviews), Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Danny Glover.
There are two deleted scenes which are presented together in one 1 ¾-minute montage.
The Peter Bradley Show is a tongue-in-cheek 26 ½-minute interview show featuring five of the minor players (Kumar Pallana is the most important of the actors in this piece) being asked a series of silly questions to gauge their reactions. At one point, the interviewer tells them just to talk about anything they want!
A scrapbook section of the bonus features offers the following material:
- Color stills showing behind the scenes shots of the cast and crew at work
- A 4 ½-minute NPR audio featurette on artist Miguel Calderon with samples of his paintings and a step gallery of other work
- A series of Eric Anderson artwork showing the character of Margot through the movie
- Storyboards drawn on script pages
- Eric Anderson murals
- Covers of books and magazines which appear in the film
There are two theatrical trailers presented in montage fashion which run a total of 4 ¼ minutes.
The set includes two inserts: a folded pamphlet which contains the chapter listings, cast and crew lists, and critic Kent Jones’ write-up on the career of Wes Anderson with a focus on his first three features and a second folded pamphlet which contains a detailed map/layout and artwork of the Tenenbaum characters and home by artist Eric Anderson.
The Criterion Blu-rays include a maneuvering tool called “Timeline” which can be pulled up from the menu or by pushing the red button on the remote. It shows you your progress on the disc, the title of the chapter you’re now in, and index markers for the commentary that goes along with the film, all of which can be switched on the fly. Additionally, two other buttons on the remote can place or remove bookmarks if you decide to stop viewing before reaching the end of the film or want to mark specific places for later reference.
4/5 (not an average)
Wes Anderson’s goofy but rather touching saga of a family torn apart and revitalizing itself gets a first-rate transition to Blu-ray via this Criterion release of The Royal Tenenbaums. Picture and sound are excellent, and the bonus material carried over from the previous DVD release makes valuable supplementary information for the feature film. Recommended!