Grand Budapest Hotel, The (US - BD RA)
Gabe checks in to the most adorable hotel in the Republic of Zubrowka...
The adventures of legendary concierge Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes) and Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend, involve the theft of a priceless painting; a raging battle for an enormous family fortune; and a desperate chase on motorcycles, trains, sleds, and skis – all against the backdrop of a suddenly and dramatically changing continent. (From Fox’s official synopsis)
It seems that it is my duty to introduce each of my Wes Anderson movie reviews by reminding readers that I am annoyed with the writer/director’s refusal to grow as an artist. My patience with his idiosyncratic obsessions ran out quite abruptly when I saw The Darjeeling Limited and I assumed that I was done admiring his brand of entertainment. But, then, he made The Fantastic Mr. Fox and I had to re-examine my lack of patience, because it was truly the most Wes Andersony movie ever made. I ended up hanging my affection for that film on the change of venue (animation over live-action) and the fact that The Fantastic Mr. Fox was an adaptation of a Roald Dahl story. And then there was Moonrise Kingdom – a return to live-action that was the new most Wes Andersony movie ever made. Moonrise Kingdom made me reexamine my assumptions, because it still featured all the essential elements of Anderson’s tired formula. I realized he wasn’t so much refusing to grow, but refining the things that made his voice such an original one and that it was the tone of The Darjeeling Limited that had bothered me so much. Moonrise Kingdom felt much more introspective, like a distillation of the trademarks. It could even be read as a critique of these familiar themes, all without being too overtly intellectualized.
This brings us to his latest movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel – the new new most Wes Andersony Wes Anderson movie ever made. If Moonrise Kingdom was his MTV Unplugged-style all-acoustic live album, then Grand Budapest Hotel is a meticulously produced studio album – a remix of his greatest hits with an all-star back-up band. Nothing is held back. To experience this film is to peer into the whimsical obsessions of Anderson’s purist id. Every ‘Andersonism’ is accounted for in kind – habitual technical practices, attention to the adorableness of mechanical things, children that are wise beyond their years, casual extramarital affairs, and, of course, dead parents and replacement surrogate fathers with immature tendencies. On top of this, Grand Budapest Hotel is overflowing with fetishistic imagery, including an astounding toy-like artificiality that produced in part by his use of miniatures and animated inserts, but better defined by the obsessively colour-coded sets and locations (something Anderson has experimented with since The Royal Tenenbaums). The director’s nostalgia soaks the film right down to the negative as he alternates between aspect ratios – 1.37:1 for the 1930s scenes, 2.40:1 for the 1960s scenes, and 1.85:1 for a couple of 1985 bookends. The preciousness is intensified with the compulsive use of Kubrickian one-point perspectives, which magnifies the uncanny neatness of the frame.
The fractured fairytale spirit of Fantastic Mr. Fox have also endured in Anderson and artist/co-writer Hugo Guinness’ (who helped write the story the screenplay was based on) screenplay, which is at once habitual and unpredictable. Anderson’s most magical trick is that he maintains this fantastical and mischievous tone without compromising the story’s basic humanity. Grand Budapest Hotel has the highest stakes of any of his films, but, like any good bedtime story, the audience is rarely genuinely fearful about the outcome. Our emotions aren’t manipulated by suspense – they are charmed by nostalgia. Following the heavy-handedly sentimental tweaks of Life Aquatic and Darjeeling Limited, Anderson started embracing poignant simplicity over cheap shots. Moonrise Kingdom aside, he (and his associates) tend to write movies about characters and build plots around the things that will change them from selfish to (somewhat) more enlightened people. The quirky stuff is usually inserted for flavour, rather than narrative purposes. Grand Budapest Hotel is a change in his narrative process that splits the focus between two central protagonists; one of which, Gustave, fits the Anderson mould because he is predominately selfish. His underlying decency and charm are given a chance to shine, based on the plot’s quirky whims (it’s almost as if he’s being assaulted by the whims of a Wes Anderson film), but he doesn’t really change as a person. Of course, Gustave is dry-witted enough to hold his composure, because dignity and equilibrium are also among the director’s ongoing obsessions. This sea of straight-laced personalities waiting to burst is perfectly contrasted against the cartoonish extremes of the film’s physical environments and the source of many of the biggest laughs.
The cast is too full-bodied for anyone outside of the leads to make too big of a mark, but I love the way the supporting players have all been cast for type. Their previous baggage as performers is loaded into gloriously brief introductions that elicit a giggle out of simple recognition (when I saw the film in theaters, almost every introduction of a recognizable actor – Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Harvey Keitel, et cetera – was greeted with a rumble of laughter). Tony Revolori and Saoirse Ronan achieve a lot in the more ancillary lead roles, but, in terms of performance, the movie really does belong to Ralph Fiennes. The role of Gustave was reportedly written specifically for Fiennes by Anderson and plays to his strengths, specifically his friendly disposition and inclination to turn on a dime when dramatically appropriate. In a way, Gustave is a bit of a spoof of the actor’s more serious roles and, to my mind, the funniest, most delightfully engaging thing he’s ever done (at least on purpose – I’ve always found his portrayal of Voldemort inadvertently hilarious). Also note that all of the actors speak in their natural accents, despite their characters’ origins.
As I mentioned in the feature section, Anderson and longtime collaborator, cinematographer Robert Yeoman, shot The Grand Budapest Hotel in three different aspect ratios. The majority of the film takes place in the ‘30s and is framed at 1.37:1 Academy standard, while the 1960s scenes that frame the narrative are 2.40:1 and the brief 1985 bookends are 1.85:1. This 1080p transfer is framed the same as the digital projection I saw in theaters – with the 1.85:1 scenes surrounded by black bars on all sides and the other two aspect ratios stretched to fit the edges of the screen (in preparation for confusion, the disc comes with a warning to viewers to make sure their monitors are set to 16x9). According to interviews, Yeoman shot using the same 35mm stock for all three aspect ratios, but an effort was made to further differentiate the time periods with lighting rigs, chemical and digital processes, and lens types. All the sections come with their own special artefacts. The ‘30s scenes are plush and honeyed, including some bleeding hot-spot colours (the reds of the hotel’s elevator, in particular). The colour qualities here are otherwise incredibly impressive and every bit as vivid as they were in theaters. The ‘60s scenes are warmer with slightly over-sharpened details and anamorphic lens distortions. The ’85 scenes are slightly more natural and higher contrast. Grain levels are fine and relatively consistent throughout the entire film. The 1.37:1 scenes are rich with sharp and deep-set details, though limited by Anderson and Yeoman’s use of natural lighting sources. This creates a challenge for this HD transfer, but the image remains clear enough to differentiate elements, even during the darkest sequences. Black levels are often influenced by the cooler hues without appearing muddy or flat. I didn’t notice any compression problems aside from some slight edge haloes during the 2.40:1 scenes.
Grand Budapest Hotel is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. Like Anderson’s other films, the sound design is delicately crafted into many intervening layers, but is rarely all that aggressive. The incidental effects and uniquely eloquent dialogues are natural, warm, and very often centered with stereo and surround influences sparingly used to create a general sense of depth (echoes and objects/people moving in from off-screen). The more immersive sounds are dry and subtle with a couple of obvious exceptions – one, the big, slushy, stereo-infused ski/bobsled chase, and two, the awkward, directionally-enhanced, climatic shootout. Still, though, even these scenes are more heavily supported by the music, which has a solid LFE influence, thanks to kettledrums and deep organ keys. Grand Budapest Hotel also marks Anderson’s third collaboration with composer Alexandre Desplat. Desplat’s score is a proper continuation of the stuff he did for The Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom and is fitted with Hungarian influences. Stay tuned through the end credits, not only for more of this delightful music, but to see a cute little Hungarian cartoon man do a dance in the corner of the screen.
- Bill Murray Tours The Town (4:20, HD) – Murray tours of sets appear to be a regular event on Anderson’s Blu-rays/DVDs. This one is expectedly cute.
- Kunstmuseum Zubrowka Lecture (3:00, HD) – Footage of Tom Wilkinson lecturing in character over a series of slides from the ‘30s. Not quite a deleted scene – more of a brief companion piece.
- The Society of the Crossed Keys (3:00, HD) – A faux-serious expose/history of the film’s secret concierge society.
- Mendl’s Secret Recipe (3:20, HD) – A how-to guide that teaches the viewer to make some of the sweets seen in the film.
- Promotional Featurettes –
- The Making of the Grand Budapest Hotel – A four-part EPK, including cast and crew interviews.
- Part 1 – The Story (4:40, HD) – Concerning casting, characters, and story.
- Part 2 – The Society of the Crossed Keys (4:00, HD) – This is a more fact-based look on the historical precedent of concierging.
- Part 3 – Creating The Hotel (4:30, HD) – On the sets and locations.
- Part 4 – Creating A World (5:00, HD) – A look at the obsessive production design.
- A casting featurette (3:20, HD)
- A featurette on Wes Anderson (3:50, HD)
- The Making of the Grand Budapest Hotel – A four-part EPK, including cast and crew interviews.
- Still gallery
- Theatrical trailer and trailers for other MGM/Fox releases
The Grand Budapest Hotel might not be Wes Anderson’s best movie (I’m not sure what that would be), but it might be his new standard in terms of decorative whimsy and tonal juggling. As a fan – one who isn’t sure if his opinion on the subject ‘counts’ anymore – I am pleasantly surprised to know that Grand Budapest Hotel is, far and away, the director’s most successful film at the box office. I’m not sure if it was advertising, casting, or a better release window, but, whatever the reasoning, it really seems to have resonated with mainstream audiences. I’m not sure if this success can secure Anderson any more freedom as a filmmaker (he already makes the movies he wants to make without any notable producer interference) and fear that it will solidify his anti-growth as a filmmaker, but am intrigued by the possibility of renewed studio interest in his career. I’m not sure if it would be a good thing or a bad thing. Anyway, Fox’s Blu-ray looks and sounds basically perfect, but includes only a handful of brief extras. I assume they’re saving stuff for the inevitable Criterion version.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 17th June 2014
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French and Russian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Turkish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Latvian, Mandarin (Simplified), Polish, Romanian, Russian, Slovenian, Turkish, Ukrainia
Extras: Bill Murray Tours The Town, Kunstmuseum Zubrowka Lecture, The Society of the Crossed Keys, Mendl’s Secret Recipe, The Making of the Grand Budapest Hotel, The Cast, Wes Anderson, Still Gallery, Trailers, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Ralph Fiennes, F. Murray Abraham, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Saoirse Ronan, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Léa Seydoux, Jeff Goldblum, Jason Schwartzman, Jude Law, Tilda Swinton, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson, Bill Murray
Genre: Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Fantasy and War
Length: 99 minutes
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