I should open this review by mentioning that Wes Anderson is my favorite film director. When I wrote my first novel it was dedicated to him and my favorite actor, Bill Murray. When I publish my second novel it will also be dedicated to them. To my sensibilities, no director (aside from Coppolla, Kubrick, and Melville) appeals to me more in their film work, and I consider Anderson to be even more consistent in his output than any of them. Each one of his films have come out at the right time in my life to maximize my enjoyment of his art. I use the word art, because his films are so meticulously well thought and imagined that they resemble story books and Norman Rockwell paintings come to life. His use of color reminds me of Jacques Demy and his DIY approach reminds me of Godard and Truffaut. If I was only able to take a few films with me to a dessert island, his would make up the majority. Rushmore, my personal favorite, came out in the theaters when I was thirteen, and for Christmas I received a VHS copy of the film. This was one of the most important gifts I received as a child. It not only helped shape my idea of what I found funny, but also helped to shape my taste in music. When Royal Tenenbaums came out I was sixteen, and it could not have been more fitting to my mood and ideologies. We saw it as a family on Christmas Day and it remains a favorite moment of my youth. Moonrise Kingdom is another fantastic entry by Wes Anderson, and different thematically from those films while still in his recognizable visual style.
Moonrise Kingdom is about two children that escape from their somewhat dreary existences to seek out adventure together. Sam (Jared Gilman,) a Khaki Scout (similar to Boy Scouts in appearance,) is an orphan. Sam has traveled across New Penzance Island to meet up with Suzy Bishop (Kara Hayward,) a mildly depressed girl dealing with dysfunctional parents that practice law. The parents are played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. As Sam and Suzy begin their adventure in the woods of the island, Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton) enlists his troop and Police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) to track down the two missing teens. As Sam and Suzy develop their relationship we also watch as Mrs. Bishop and the Captain’s affair falls apart, and Scout Master Ward begins to lose control of his troop. At the same time a massive storm is barreling towards the small island.
Moonrise Kingdom is essentially a fantasy of romance for young adults. It is the first live action film after Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox and the two films are similar in their pursuit of youthful innocence, and both films are at the end of the day children’s films with adult themes. All of the usual reasons for loving Wes Anderson films are present: witty banter, disillusioned parents, precise mise en scene, Jason Schwartzman, and Bill Murray. The acting by the two children stars is shockingly on point. The collaboration between Anderson and his principal cinematographer Bob Yeoman continues to amaze. The soundtrack is classic. I can’t think of any reason why someone would not find themselves in love with the film. Jason Scwartzman’s cameo as Cousin Ben should be enough to recommend the film. Rushmore remains my personal favorite, but if any other director had made this film it would be their personal best. Anderson is just that good, and so is Moonrise Kingdom. I can not recommend it enough.
Video: How’s it look?
There are no failures whatsoever in Criterion’s new transfer of the film. The delightful cinematography of Bob Yeoman comes across perfectly on Blu-ray. The film was shot on 16MM so it will never be quite as detailed as a P.T.Anderson 70MM film, but it looks glorious anyway. Compared to the previous Sony Blu-ray, the new Criterion release looks very similar. This transfer is fantastic, but is not reason enough to upgrade from the already incredible previous transfer. Both transfers look fantastic.
Audio: How’s it sound?
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0 surround track features reference quality surround. The music in particular sounds great, featuring songs by Benjamin Britten, Hank Williams, Alexandre Desplat, and Francoise Hardy. The surrounds don’t come into much play until the last third of the film as the island is engulfed in a storm. The last third of the film uses all the range extremely well. Dialogue throughout the film is crystal clear. Another fantastic transfer!
Supplements: What are the extras?
Trailer – original trailer for Moonrise Kingdom. In English, not subtitled. (2 min, 1080p).
The Making of Moonrise Kingdom – there are four different features to peruse through here.
Exploring the Set – This is the most interesting of the features, showing a good deal of Anderson’s process. A very rewarding feature. In French and English, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (18 min, 1080p).
Storyboard Animatics and Narrator Tests – in English, not subtitled. These are only somewhat interesting to me. Does give a good glimpse into the process of pre production. (9 min, 1080p).
– Opening Sequence
– Church Flashback
– The Island of New Penzance
– The Island of St. Jack Wood
Auditions – screen tests with some of the kids in the film. In English, not subtitled. (5 min, 1080p).
Miniatures – a look at the special effects that are used during the flooding sequence. (2 min, 1080p).
Welcome to New Penzance – worth your time (Originally on the Sony release)In English, not subtitled. (4 min, 1080p).
Set Tour with Bill Murray – Bill Murray being Bill Murray, Rhode Island. (Originally on the Sony release) In English, not subtitled. (3 min, 1080p).
Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde” – proof that “Noye’s Fludde” was a real play. (2 min, 1080p).
Eleven iPhone Videos by Edward Norton – These are somewhat hit or miss, but the footage of Bruce Willis hanging upside down is pretty solid. In English, not subtitled. (21 min, 1080i).
Animated Books – Bob Balaban introduces six short clips from Suzy’s favorite books. In English, not subtitled. (5 min, 1080p).
Cousin Ben – Cousin Ben selling movie tickets. In English, not subtitled. (2 min, 1080p).
Audio Commentary – This commentary is the real star of the show featuring Anderson, Roman Coppolla, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, and The commentary was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2015.
Booklet – 20-page illustrated booklet featuring an essay by critic Geoffrey O’Brien, plus a map of New Penzance Island and a picture of the cast and a flyer for “Noyee’s Fludde.” This is some of the best packaging by Criterion in recent years.
The Bottom Line
Moonrise Kingdom is an absolutely fantastic film and this is the version to own. At the end of the day, the Sony release featured nearly identical video and audio, although the Criterion version may be slightly superior. Where this disk delivers is in the supplements. Criterion provided their normal due diligence with some fascinating features about the film. If you are just interested in the film, the Sony version should suffice. If you are as big a fan of Wes Anderson as I am this is pretty much a no brainer. Go out there and get yours!
(Note: there is one scene in the film that involves prepubescent sexuality. This scene undoubtedly gained the film a PG-13 rating. As awkward as the scene was, I did not find it overly objectionable. In fact, aside from this one scene about an hour into the film, I allowed my five year old son to enjoy the film with me.)