This movie is quite simply one of the best ever made.
For this Special Collector's Edition they sure seem to have skimped on a lot of things.
"Forget it Jake, it's Chinatown."
Such is the last line of the film Chinatown a movie directed by Roman Polanski and starring Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes and Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulray. This 130 minute film is a long, expansive noir set in Los Angeles in the early to mid-portion of the 20th Century. We follow Gittes as a detective who is given the task of investigating a cheating husband. The only problem with this is that Gittes ends up discovering that he isn't investigating who he thinks he is, and rather than walk away he digs deeper into a water scandal and ends up in a whole pit of trouble when he crosses paths with Noah Cross (John Huston) who is also Mulray's father.
Taking it's own sweet time to get where it wants to go, Chinatown's is one of those films that is a mix of character information, plot information and good, old fashioned dialogue. Robert Towne has crafted a script that examines Los Angeles and has people like Nicholson and Dunaway, who exemplify the stars of the 1970s. Also hanging over this film is the sense of foreboding that Roman Polanski injects into it, mainly because of the tragedy his wife Sharon Tate suffered at the hands of the Manson Family in 1969.
The Chinatown DVD has 4 very well made featurettes on it. They are:
- Chinatown: The Beginning and the End!
- Chinatown: Style
- Acting Chinatown
- Chinatown: The Classic
I watched through portions of these featurettes and I can say that I was pretty impressed. I didn't expect Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski, Robert Towne and Robert Evans to be so prevalent in these things. I loved hearing about the making of this movie, how its look was achieved, how the actors worked on their performances and also the life of the film after it was made. The fact that the Chinatown shoot can best be described as "World War III" (by Robert Evans himself), really shows that sometimes a tempestuous set can prove to be really productive. That this movie still seems untouched in the detective genre (sorry L.A. Confidential), only further enhances it's already strong cachet.
Widescreen Version Enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The brilliance of the look that Roman Polanski and the inimitable cinematographer John A. Alonzo has achieved, is that this movie was shot in the 1970s, yet it looks like an old Technicolor detective story. All of the colors play off of one another really nicely, and it is amazing how undated this movie looks. Also, as I often talk about, DVD compression has gotten to the point (at least in the Standard format), that there doesn't seem to be anything those systems cannot handle.
Dolby Digital English 5.1 Surround / English Restored Mono / French Mono / Spanish Mono / Portuguese Mono. Subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. I turned the audio about halfway up and everything sounded fine. The tricky thing about Chinatown is that we are given so much information it is hard to keep up with it all. I heard that when Robert Towne initially turned in the screenplay it was the size of a "phonebook." It truly seems like regardless of his trim job, this movie would have been thick and rich no matter what.
This front cover looks like a design from a deck of cards. There is a shot of Gittes and Mulray with water splashing up around them. The back cover features three shots from the movie, a small description (which is probably good because anything too long might turn new viewers off), Special Features, Technical Specs and a cast list.
The thing I love about this release is the fact that the movie is called Chinatown but this film isn't set in that part of Los Angeles. Some years ago I too wrote a script titled Orange County, CA. Some friends read it and they were baffled mainly because the screenplay really didn't have anything to do with that place. Well, my reason for calling it that was because everyone thinks of this OC as squeaky clean, yet there is an underbelly of drugs, gangs and other things that nobody would ever think could exist here. However, that was precisely why I wanted to call the script that. I wanted to tap into the idea that this is what Orange County, CA really is.
Now, my script certainly wasn't on the level of Robert Towne's but I appreciated when people asked him what Chinatown about (as it was nowhere in the script), Towne merely responded that it was Jake Gitte's state of mind. I love that. I think it perfectly sums up Chinatown and I love that they devoted a portion of one of the Chinatown featurettes to it.
If you have never seen this movie you are missing out on one of the most important pieces of film history that cinema has to offer.