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Feature


Steven Spielberg’s double feature years are always interesting. The first time he pulled this trick was in 1989 when he directed both Always and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The lead-up to ’89 saw the notoriously sentimental Spielberg testing less kid-friendly waters with 1985’s The Color Purple and 1987’s Empire of the Sun (which is occasionally described as a wind-up for the definitively R-rated events of Schindler’s List and Saving Private). Both films are generally regarded as successful forays into more ‘adult’ arenas while reactions to the ’89 two-fer were more mixed. Always was sappy a remake of Victor Fleming’s A Guy Named Joe and may be the single worst, or at least most irredeemable film of his entire career. It’s a lifeless, boring picture, despite an impressive cast and it’s easy to forgive most people for forgetting it exists altogether. The Last Crusade, on the other hand, was a mostly welcome adultification, or at least mellowing of the Indiana Jones brand. The film has always had its share of detractors, but is generally warmly remembered.

Catch Me If You Can
Following his second worst movie, Hook (perhaps tied with 1941), Spielberg had his second double feature year in 1993. Arguably, 1993 ended up being the director’s biggest single year. First up was Jurassic Park. Based on a blockbuster best-selling book, Jurassic Park was a no-brainer, slam-dunk kind of hit – the kind of thing Spielberg could rest his hat on if his bigger gamble, Schindler’s List, which was released later in the year for awards recognition. Jurassic Park ended up being exactly the kind of runaway hit everyone assumed it would be and was also a landmark for digital effects technology, but Schindler’s List, a black and white, three-plus hour Holocaust drama ended up being the bigger victory. Schindler’s List took in $320 million, despite its heady subject matter, and won Spielberg his first Best Director Oscar, along with his only Best Picture statuette to date.

Spielberg then took three years off from the director’s chair. When he returned in 1997, he was clearly still high on the double-prong accomplishment of the ‘one blockbuster bait/one Oscar bait’ formula. He tried to recreate this success with a Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, and Amistad, a slavery melodrama. This time, the formula backfired. The Lost World was uninspired and not well-received by critics. This was partially due to the director’s treatment of the material – Spielberg shot roughly and quickly enough to add about 30 minutes of effects-heavy coda and still came in under time and budget. With the director disenfranchised (no pun intended), the whole production turned into an excuse to goof around with millions of dollars, which was okay, since the Jurassic Park brand was still popular enough to pull in a huge profit. The Lost World, which was released in May, survived not being particularly good, but Amistad, which was released in December (again, in hopes of awards consideration), failed to find much of an audience and was also met with lukewarm reviews. Needless to say, it didn’t win any Oscars, though it was nominated for Best Supporting Actor (Anthony Hopkins), score, cinematographer, and costume design (the ultimate ‘nice try, but no cigar’ Oscar nomination for so-called prestige projects).

Catch Me If You Can
After dusting himself off and making Saving Private Ryan – a great film that was a critical, commercial, and creative victory (that was released only 7 months after Amistad) – Spielberg took his time with A.I., a project he’d picked up from his friend Stanley Kubrick before he died. Following A.I.’s modest success (it took me years to put together exactly how good the film is), Spielberg switched up his double feature formula in 2002 for Minority Report and the real subject of this particular review, Catch Me If You Can. Minority Report was a dark, maturely slanted sci-fi/action spectacular that took a particularly intellectual approach to its thrills, unlike Jurassic Park or The Lost World, which were constructed for pure, mainstream enjoyment. Catch Me If You Can was the more awards-friendly picture of the two. Nothing says Oscar-bait like a bio-pic, except maybe a holocaust flick. Or a slavery flick. Anyway, Catch Me If You Can turned away from expectations and crafted a light and friendly crowd-pleaser, free of the Spielberg brand of excessive sentimentality and maudlin melodrama.

Catch Me If You Can practically defines the word ‘buoyant’ and is largely unlike anything else in Spielberg’s filmography. The closest things in his canon to this brand of poppy, animated filmmaking are sections of Raiders of the Lost Ark and perhaps his Catch Me If You Can follow-up, The Terminal (perhaps I was too hasty in marking Hook as his second worst film…). For years, Spielberg’s lighter films aped the Frank Capra formula ( especially in the case of The Terminal), but Catch Me If You Can is more sarcastic and biting, like a Howard Hawks or Billy Wilder movie. It seems appropriate that both a post- Fight Club David Fincher and a pre- Pirates of the Caribbean Gore Verbinski were attached to the project before Spielberg (Spielberg happily claims Leonardo DiCaprio hired him and not the other way around), but I’m not sure either director, both of whom are known for their baroque filming styles, would’ve embraced the pop-culture look of the early ‘60s in the same light, ostentatious manner. The popularity of Mad Men and X-Men: First Class has brought ‘60s modernism and French La Nouvelle Vague back into vogue recently, but, at the time, Catch Me If You Can was the proverbial breath of fresh air. It’s also one of the only genuinely funny (love the juxtapositions of Frank and Carl’s lives) and sexy films in the director’s collection. The only real issue here is the film’s 141-minute runtime, which feels a bit excessive.

2002 was a double feature year for Leonardo DiCaprio, too, which makes the overlap here particularly amusing. Even more amusing, DiCaprio’s two films, Catch Me If You Can and Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, were released within five days of each other. The compare/contrast of the two characters he plays in the two films somewhat mirror the differences in Spielberg’s two films, but is more interesting in terms of a win/loss ratio. Scorsese miscast DiCaprio as a rough and tumble nineteenth century street punk. This role not only required the audience to believe the former child star and teen heartthrob could be a tough guy, but it also set him against an out-of-retirement Daniel Day-Lewis firing on all cylinders. The poor little guy was simply slaughtered, metaphorically speaking. Spielberg, on the other hand, gave DiCaprio a perfect character for a guy trying to make the leap to respectable, adult roles in Hollywood – a guy that starts the film in his teens, spends most of the film pretending to be an adult, and finally ends the film an actual adult. Spielberg also sets DiCaprio up against two warm father figures, Christopher Walken and Tom Hanks, both of whom sit well within the ‘supporting’ part of their ‘supporting cast’ job description.

Catch Me If You Can

Video


I swore up and down when this disc came to my house that Catch Me If You Can had already been released on Blu-ray, but, apparently, this marks the film’s first US, HD home release. It didn’t get the press E.T. got, but any good Spielberg movie on Blu-ray is cause for celebration. This 1.85:1, full 1080p transfer isn’t going to blow any minds, but it will certainly please fans saddled with standard definition releases. Spielberg and long-time collaborating director of photography Janusz Kaminski don’t stray too far from the basic look they developed sometime around A.I., meaning Catch Me If You Can is a generally soft film and features a diffused glow to most of its lighting schemes. The palette in this case alternates between blue/aqua and brown bases (not unlike War Horse). The blues tend to bleed into some of the otherwise deep black levels, but the solid whites remain clean and warm skin tones are pure and nicely separated. The look is an interesting contrast to Minority Report, which was caked in blue all around (except the last act, which is orange/yellow to signify…well, this isn’t a review of that film) and brimming with thick grain. The grain levels on Catch Me If You Can alternate a bit and do occasionally approach something near Minority Report levels, but this is less consistently ‘excessive.’ At worst, the 35mm look does produce some mushy backgrounds and minor edge enhancement, but even these inconsistencies work for the film’s intended look. The detail levels are occasionally softened by the diffused look and grain (not to mention the fact that utter clarity isn’t a major goal here, outside of the occasional extreme close-ups), but there’s no questioning the upgrade over DVD in terms of fine textures and complex patterns.

Catch Me If You Can

Audio


Spielberg’s films always feature impressive audio design, even his more low-key features like this one are busy with plenty of ambient noise throughout the stereo and surround channels. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is plenty crisp when it needs to be, but it’s a more of a fluid and naturalistic experience, overall. There’s not a lot of standout directional work, but there’s always something going on beneath the generally dialogue-based sequences and, quite often, this stuff leaks effectively beyond the center channel. The music gets the broadest treatment, though, outside of the dialogue. John Williams was able to break away from his usual Spielberg-brand super-theatrical, broad, boisterous clashes and melodramatic tear-jerkers to create something with a George Gershwin/Benny Goodman twist. Occasionally, Williams dabbles in chimes and harps, but, at its best, this is a delightfully jazzy score. The music is presented with incredible warmth on this track, as if we’re listening to a top-notch vinyl record alongside the digital and crisp dialogue and effects track. The instrumentations are widely spaced, furthering the aural illusion to almost convince the viewer that the limited orchestra is seated in the viewing room. Rhythmic instruments in particular feature a sizable, multi-channel echo effect. The period-appropriate pop music selections are also given an effective and natural treatment.

Catch Me If You Can

Extras


The extras on this new release match those of the special edition DVD release, which is alright, considering the overall quality of those extras, along with the fact that Spielberg doesn’t really like doing extras, anyway. Things start with Catch Me If You Can: Behind the Camera (17:10, SD), a decent, if not brief, behind the scenes featurette concerning the film’s pre-production history and basic design/filming process with Spielberg, the real Frank Abagnale, screenwriter Jeff Nathanson, producer Alter F. Parkes, production designer Jeannine Oppewall, prop master Steven Melton, costume designer Mary Zophres, cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, Hanks, and DiCaprio. Catch Me If You Can: The Casting of the Film is divided into bite-sized pieces (with no ‘play all’ option), including Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, Jr. (6:00, SD), Tom Hanks as Carl Hanratty (6:20, SD), Frank’s Parents: Christopher Walken and Nathalie Baye (7:20, SD), The Strong Family: Martin Sheen and Amy Adams (5:30, SD), and Jennifer Garner as Cheryl Ann (3:20, SD). Scoring: Catch Me If You Can (5:20, SD) briefly covers Williams’ music with the man himself, along with Spielberg, who discusses the period’s pop music choices. Frank Abagnale: Between Reality and Fiction, a featurette about the character’s true story, is also divided into parts, including Meet Frank Abagnale (5:20, SD), Frank Becomes a Pilot (4:10, SD), Frank’s Careers (2:00, SD), Frank Gets Caught and Turns His Life Around (3:40, SD). The FBI Perspective (7:10, SD) follows the on-set jobs of former FBI Special Agent William Rehder, who acted as the production’s technical advisor. The extras come to an end with Catch Me If You Can: In Closing (5:00, SD) and three image galleries.

Catch Me If You Can

Overall


(continued from the ‘Feature’ section) Following the success of his 2002 double feature, Spielberg took a break, made another Tom Hanks film ( The Terminal) in 2004 in a wind-up for his 2005 summer and awards season releases – a remake of Byron Haskin & George Pal’s War of the Worlds and Munich, a dramatic interpretation of Israel’s retaliation following the 1972 Olympic hostage crisis. This marked the first (and, as yet, only) time both films in a Spielberg double feature shared a thematic subtext, that of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. War of the Worlds buried the theme in horrifying, destructive imagery and stands as the darkest of his blockbuster effects films (despite a fumbled ending). Munich approached the historical subject of vengeful Mossad agents from a relatively direct route, but also infused a sort of ‘prequel to a tragedy’ status beneath the surface. Munich is Spielberg’s most mature film since Schindler’s List and his likely his only exploration of true moral ambiguity. After half-heartedly directing an unneeded fourth Indiana Jones movie, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, he made his latest double feature in 2011, including The Adventures of Tintin, his first fully animated feature (in development since 1984), and War Horse – a return to period-pieces, war, and sentimentality. Though both films were successful on their own merits, their place in his canon is still up for debate, as far as I’m concerned.

Back on the subject of Catch Me If You Can – this cool breeze of a film looks and sounds great on this, its first Blu-ray release. Some viewers may be bothered by the inconsistent grain levels on the transfer, but those viewers need to understand that this was the intended look, as it is on many of Spielberg’s films from the first decade of the new millennium. The extras don’t feature anything new, but they fill in the basics of the production process. I personally plan on doing my own double feature someday with this disc and Glenn Ficarra & John Requa’s I Love You Phillip Morris.

* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.


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