Plot: What’s it about?
The Royal Tenenbaums is the third in a series that has been directed by Wes Anderson and written by Owen Wilson. Most all of us know who Wilson is, but its Anderson who deserves some credit here as well. Starting out with their first film, Bottle Rocket (which I happened to come across on cable about five years ago and couldn’t stop watching it) they then progressed to Rushmore. Rushmore was critically acclaimed and had a larger cast in Bill Murray and Olivia Williams. By then, the team had arrived and their third effort was nothing short of spectacular. By far the biggest budget and cast yet, The Royal Tenenbaums concentrates on the central family (the Tenenbaums) and all of the different people around them who have somehow affected their lives. I can only think of one other movie, though it’s the complete opposite, that rivals this and it’s Magnolia. Yes, you read that right. Though the two vary in mood from night to day, they both essentially have the same plot. Think about that for a while. The cast itself is impressive with the likes of Gene Hackman, Angelica Huston, Bill Murray, Danny Glover, Ben Stiller and Gwyneth Paltrow just to name a few (Alec Baldwin serves as the narrator of the film as well). So let’s dive right in and try to peel some of the layers off what is known as The Royal Tenenbaums.
We meet Chas (Ben Stiller), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) and Richie (Luke Wilson) as kids. They are only youths for a short time before their adult actors take the reins. All three are gifted as Chas has discovered how to breed “Dalmatian Mice” and sells them to a local pet store at a high markup, he then proceeds to become a very successful businessman. Margot is the adopted daughter of the bunch and is always introduced that way by her father (Gene Hackman). She’s been a smoker since she was twelve years old, has a wooden finger and at a very young age, has become a noted playwright. This leaves us with Richie…he’s a star tennis player who has won his share of championships, but has just recently had a meltdown (on the tennis court, no less). Their father, Royal, has left them and has just recently come into their lives again as he has found out that he’s dying. The mother (Angelica Huston) is currently seeing a long time friend of the family, Henry Sherman (Danny Glover). Royal is the only one with a problem with the color of his skin. The neighbor across the street has always longed to be a part of this family, but has always been kept outside the circle because he just didn’t fit in. Eli (Owen Wilson) has recently come into his own as an author, though, and still has hopes for being a part of the family. This, of course, is just the surface as to what exactly is going on.
Now for the problems. Everyone’s got a problem. Chas has lost his wife and his obsessive/compulsive behavior has caused him to move back with this mother. He and his two kids (who are all dressed in red Adidas jumpsuits the entire movie) are trying to get over the loss of their loved one. Margot is unhappy and is trying to cope with the fact that her adopted brother, Richie, is and has been in love with her for as long as she’s known. This leads us to Richie as he is trying to put his life back together after his meltdown. When he hears of his father’s illness, he completes the circle as the entire family is back in town. I did neglect to mention Raleigh St. Clair (Bill Murray). Raleigh is a doctor currently studying a very unique child, Dudley. He provides most of the humor in the film, but look around and you’ll find it everywhere.
The plot is rather loose and non-linear and that essentially gives every angle the chance to explain what little section of the family they are and it gives us an opportunity to laugh. Unlike Magnolia, which has a much darker viewpoint, this explains in both humor and drama the inner-workings of a family. Wes Anderson has arrived (again) and I’d be lying if I said I was the only one waiting for his next collaboration with writer/actor Owen Wilson. The film has its highs and lows, but it’s fluid and is a movie that you’ll probably have to watch a few times to catch all of the jokes.
Video: How does it look?
I’ve been waiting for quite some time for Criterion to issue this film on Blu-ray and that wait is now, finally, over. I remember watching the standard DVD of this film time and time again (it ranks as my favorite film of the last decade) and being continually impressed with the visual look of the film. The Blu-ray simply improves where the standard DVD fell short. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image has been supervised by director Wes Anderson and everything seems a little more in tune. Colors seem a bit brighter, detail a bit more well-defined and the film seems to have a more gloss to it. While it’s not the night and day difference that some films have on Blu-ray, this wasn’t really one that needed much improvement to begin with. Still, it took its place in my collection (right between Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, of course).
Audio: How does it sound?
Admittedly, this film isn’t really made for audio but that’s not to say it doesn’t sound amazing. The film, as are all of Wes Anderson’s movies, is dialogue-driven. The large cast gives way to a variety of ways in which this dialogue is presented, from Alec Baldwin’s powerful narration to Hackman’s grizzled vocals. Surrounds are used sparingly but effectively, though the front speakers take the burden of the sound. There are some key sequences that really stand out for me like Paul Simon’s “Me and Julio” in which all speakers are fully engaged, making for a truly enjoyable experience.
Supplements: What are the extras?
As is the case with so many of Criterion’s titles, there are no new to Blu-ray features here which is somewhat disappointing, though Criterion usually gets it right the first time so what’s on this Blu-ray is more than enough. As mentioned before, Criterion has done this right the first time. We start out with an audio commentary by Director Wes Anderson. Unlike the plethora of cast members in the film itself, Anderson does this one solo and does a pretty good job at it. Personally I would have liked to hear Owen Wilson with him, but I suppose he had other obligations. Anderson is very articulate during the track, but he has several points and we learn all the odds and ends of the movie. It’s a good track, I’d like to hear another! There is a 25 documentary entitled “With the Filmmaker” in which we see how the actual process took place to get the physical house (the center of the film’s attention) to look and feel the way it was supposed to be. Everything from how the falcon should land to the color of the walls is discussed here and it’s a treat to see this on the disc. Next up are some interviews with the cast. Interviewed are Gene Hackman, Bill Murray, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke and Owen Wilson and Danny Glover.
The Peter Bradley Show is also included. Bradley had a small part in the film interviewing Wilson’s character of Eli Cash (Cash eventually ended up spacing out and getting up and leaving the show). This runs almost twenty minutes and has five of the very minor characters from the movie. A sixth is scheduled to show up, but never does. I’m not sure what to make of it, but it’s entertaining and funny and we do learn about the film even more. There are some hilarious outtakes (as you might imagine) as well. We can see a Scrapbook that contains everything from Richie’s drawings (murals) to the very odd art of Miguel Calderon (for some reason, staring at those paintings during the movie had me laughing so hard that I had to pause it). There’s also some magazine covers, book covers and so on, all of which were used in the movie. It’s very comprehensive. The theatrical trailers are also included.