The Illusionist (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Neil Burger
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 109 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 English, French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: June 8, 2010
Review Date: June 9, 2010
A cinematic conjuring trick, Neil Burger’s The Illusionist plays a very entertaining game with its audience, almost defying it to figure out its bag of tricks before its climactic revelations. The fact that I did in no way lessened its very real entertainment quotient, and the film makes for arresting drama whether one plays along or simply relaxes into its house of cards set-up and lets it play itself out. Either way, the viewer is the winner.
In 1900 Vienna, audiences are simply amazed by Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton), a stage magician whose dazzling tricks and mind games bring in big crowds of people. One night, Sophie (Jessica Biel), who everyone seems to think is the fiancé of Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), volunteers to take part in one of Eisenheim’s illusions when he instantly recognizes her as the young girl he had had a crush on as a young teen and who was cruelly removed from his presence due to the differences in their social stations. Leopold notices the instant attraction as well and sets Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) to find out how the tricks are being accomplished and then becomes so frustrated by the illusionist’s crafty maneuvers that he decides to have him arrested or at the very least discredited.
Writer-director Neil Burger based the script on a short story by Steven Millhauser, but he’s added the love interest for the film as well as the character of Inspector Uhl, both inspired additions. The eerie world of Eisenheim’s illusions is very nicely developed and sustained throughout the movie, and while we know that what we’re seeing is a mixture of movie special effects along with some real life legerdemain, it doesn’t prevent the atmosphere in that theater and its environs from being prickly and somewhat foreboding. Sure, there’s some dramatic license taken with a potion (similar to the one used by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet), but otherwise, the film plays fairer than most of its type, and the ride is always fun if just the slightest bit anticlimactic during the montage of revelations on which the film ends.
Edward Norton does a conjuring trick of his own, once again obscuring his persona inside this unique and fascinating enigma and giving a very interesting, unshowy performance. Jessica Biel doesn’t have to do much but look lovely and fetching which she does effortlessly. More expansive and emotive are Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell as the policeman and the prince respectively. Sewell’s growing anxiety and annoyance at this commoner who’s getting the best of him makes for the film’s most entertaining performance. As the younger version of Eisenheim, Aaron Johnson does a fine job with the slight of hand tricks.
The film is framed at 1.78:1 (the liner notes state 1.85:1, but I saw no black bars at all on my display) and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The picture is clean and sharpness is overall very nicely delivered. To represent the period, the director has added a light gold tint to most of the images (and the flashbacks flicker as well to suggest an even earlier era) which makes flesh tones take on some odd hues, all deliberate but not always consistently delivered. Much of the action happens at night, so the deep black levels take on great importance and are most effective. Shadow detail is generally good but it, too, varies somewhat throughout. The film has been divided into 21 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does a beautiful job with Philip Glass’ continually murmuring underscore spreading it through the soundstage with wonderful depth and effectiveness. There are some excellent uses of the rear channels with rustling winds and effective panning through the soundfield with carriages rumbling by or with galloping horses making a terrific impression. And there is one sudden, surprising crack of a gun which will sit you up firmly in your seat, all handled beautifully in this lossless encode.
There are no bonus features at all on the Blu-ray disc. In fact, there isn’t even a menu page present. The film loads immediately and pressing the [Top Menu] button will bring up the only choices available, those for the audio tracks.
The second disc in the set is the DVD version of the film. On it, one will find a nicely delivered audio commentary by the director who discusses the original short story and the changes he made in adapting it as well as facts on location shooting and experiences with the actors.
All of the bonus features are delivered in full frame on the DVD.
Also present is “The Making of The Illusionist,” a 3-minute EPK vignette with the stars discussing their roles in the movie.
Some of the interview with Jessica Biel is also present in the next featurette, “Jessica Biel on The Illusionist.” It runs 1 ½ minutes.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs 2 ½ minutes and is in nonanamorphic letterbox.
3.5/5 (not an average)
The Illusionist makes for a good looking and good sounding Blu-ray disc. You’ll have to go to the enclosed DVD to get any bonus features, but if that’s too burdensome, the film itself is a quality piece of goods that deserves to be seen. Recommended.