Playtime Studio: The Criterion Collection #112 Rated: Not rated Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16x9 displays Audio: English DD stereo Subtitles: English Time: 124 minutes Disc Format: 1 DVD-9 Case Style: Cardboard slipcase and tri-fold digipack. Theatrical Release Date: 1967 DVD Release Date: September 5, 2006 While a “movie” in the strictest sense of the word, Jacques Tati’s Playtime is a combination of moving images and sounds that play off and enhance one another to provide the viewer with ideas. What’s missing is a traditional narrative that makes it a story; instead, you have “characters” (or characterizations) that interact with other “characters” and the environment they live in. The only defined character is Monsieur Hulot, he of other Tati pictures such as M. Hulot’s Holiday and Mon Oncle (both previously released from Criterion) who bounces around the architecture in search of… what have you. He tries to get work, meets some old friends and visits the area. Tati takes us on a tour of then modern day Paris, with its titanic steel and glass encrusted buildings, its concrete and pavement roads, and its noisy and ever-present traffic. At times, he leaves us outside buildings so we may voyeuristically peer in the oversized windows and see “the characters” interacting with one another, meanwhile, the traffic proceeds around you. I was left more with the questions and ideas raised, so this may be a better way to explain the picture: What fascinates us? What do we want? Is human interaction just an afterthought to construction? By technologizing, are we dehumanizing? Life pops up occasionally to remind us of our past. The colors are colorful. Plants are hazy memories meant to remind us of where we were and they ride in the back of the bus. In reflections we see others, but not ourselves. Lead us, tell us what bus, what hotel, which way. Language is universal, you only need subtitles sometimes. Think for me. If you plug me in, I will work. Watch. Stare. Learn. Come and go, all in a day’s time. Tati took advantage of the 65mm format with this picture and it comes across fairly well here. While I enjoyed watching the images on my 92” screen, I believe it may lose some of the impact on displays less than 50”. The scene where we watch the occupants of the apartments with the large windows is meant to give you a “you are there” feel, so the bigger your screen, the more you will enjoy this scene. Tati also shoots numerous long shots to give you very wide stages of action; based on this, it’s surprising he didn’t shoot in a wider aspect ratio. He also constructed almost all of the sets since he had such a specific environment in mind. It’s truly a bold experiment to watch. Video: The picture is correctly framed at 1.85:1 and it is an anamorphic transfer. Criterion is good enough to provide us with more information about the transfer itself, so I will pass this along: “This new, high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from the 35mm reduction internegative, made from the restored 65mm interpositive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were removed using the MTI Digital Restoration System.” I challenged the dirt and debris statement since in the first couple minutes of the picture during the opening credits over the blue sky, there are numerous instances of dirt and a two nice big pieces of garbage on the bottom edge of the picture as it transitions into the feature. Other than that, it’s a very clean picture! The picture is solid with deep blacks and nice de-saturation in the flesh tones to match the surroundings. Overall colors are good when they are present and they tend to really stand out among the prevalent blues and grays. Detail is good, but it seems to suffer from a little too much compression as the picture looks too much like video for my tastes. Unfortunately, edge enhancement was very noticeable, almost to the point of distraction. There are some instances of video noise too. I recently sold my original copy of this picture, so I was unable to compare the two versions. Audio: I watched the disc with the Dolby Digital stereo International track engaged. You have the option of watching it with the original French soundtrack, or with this International version Tati created for other markets. It’s an interesting blend of languages that make up this track, and some of the English lines have subtitles, and the German, French and others do not. But with Playtime, what is being said just isn’t too important, as the dialogue becomes nothing more really than another set dressing. Criterion tells us, “The soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original stereo audio stems, and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle.” The audio is quite clear and sharp, with a nice balance between the stereo channels which provides a very encompassing front sound field. LFE’s were minimal. ADR was noticed and in the International track, there is dubbing. Bonus Material: I was able to do a little online research to find the original Criterion release only had the Jones intro and the short film, Cours du Soir. Therefore, everything else is new to this edition. Introduction by Terry Jones: Jones does about a five minute intro to the film to discuss what he likes about the picture. It comes off like a “Masterpiece Theater” clip, but it’s still a good introduction for the newbie Tati viewer. Selected scene commentary with film historian Phillip Kemp: You can choose from seven scenes and Kemp comments on aspects of the story, the shoot and Tati’s life. These pieces were recorded for the British Film Institute. Au-delà de Playtime (6:25): a short documentary featuring archival behind-the-scenes footage from the set, with a script by Tati scholar Stephane Goudet. This is a great behind the scenes look at the set construction for the picture. Tati Story (20:37): a short biographical film about Tati. In French, with subtitles. Jacques Tati in Monsieur Hulot’s Work, (49:26): a 1976 BBC Omnibus program featuring Tati. Gavin Miller and Tati tour the sites where the Hulot pictures were filmed, including the Hotel De La Plage. This is a rather lengthy and extensive interview with Tati peppered with clips from his films Rare audio interview with Tati from the U.S. debut of Playtime at the 1972 San Francisco International Film Festival (17:04): This is an audio only interview with Tati moderated by Albert Johnson. Tati talks about moviemaking, 70mm, and M. Hulot. Cours du Soir: (27:41) a 1967 short film written by and starring Tati, and directed by Nicolas Rybowski. Tati plays an instructor of a mime class. 4x3, in color, with English subtitles. Video interview with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot (12:11): Baudrot worked with Tati on three pictures including this one. Whereas the Tati interviews tend to focus on the greater idea of filmmaking, Baudrot talks about the details of the actual shoot. Also included in the package is a new essay by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Conclusions: A fascinating combination of sights and sounds make Playtime a great show, and Criterion continues its current run of re-issues by adding in a nice batch of extras that enhance your appreciation of the picture. This, coupled with a fine new HD transfer, makes for a winning release.