Memento: 10th Anniversary Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe revisits Chris Nolan's tightest and most entertaining film in high definition..
Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) remembers everything up until the night his wife was brutally raped and murdered. Since that fateful evening, he has suffered from short-term memory loss and cannot recall places, people, and events just minutes after he has been exposed to them. Determined to uncover why his wife was killed, Leonard uses a unique system of tattoos, notes and Polaroids to store vital clues about the identity of her killer. Leonard is aided in his quest by a number of people who profess friendship, but can a man with no memory really ever trust anyone? (Stolen from Chris’ review)
I find myself particularly critical of Christopher Nolan’s work, probably because he’s become so popular in the last decade, and my antiestablishment tendencies still get the better of me in my more mature age. I haven’t watched the director’s first studio work, Memento, in some time, and upon this revisitation I’ve come to the conclusion that it comes closer to perfection than any of his other projects. Nolan’s two Batman movies, and his dueling magicians movie The Prestige are swimming with great moments and concepts stitched together by unsubstantial threads. The scripts, which Nolan tends to write along with his brother Jonathan Nolan (and occasional input from, sigh, David Goyer), feature wonderful, novel concepts, but the dialogue is mostly stiff and the characters rigid, and often too dependant on the actors’ performances. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight are mind blowing in parts, but the former feels a lot like two unrelated narratives, while the latter is brimming with uneven highs and lows, as if Nolan used up all his extra film during the first act. The thing is – I doubt that I’d be nearly as nit-picky about these short comings had it not been for the fact that I was introduced to Nolan via Memento, which defies nearly every complaint I’ve ever had concerning the rest of his career (it’s been so long since I saw Following or Insomnia that I’ve decided not to pick at them, not to mention that Insomnia is based around another filmmaker’s characters and story structure).
(Since Dark Knight Nolan did manage to birth Inception, which despite needing another pass through the Avid, is actually a strong follow up to his first brush with greatness, but that goes against my chosen narrative, so, you know, I’m going to mostly focus on the negative in making these comparisons. Thanks for bearing with me. Winking smiley face.)
The real perfection here lies in the script and the editing. The concept of producing a backwards moving story is a massive challenge in itself, and a quick way to confuse the living hell out of an audience. One false motion and the whole house of cards would come crashing down, and God forgive you if you flub your structure in the first act, and leave the audience to sit through nearly two hours of nonsense. Nolan’s direction is solid, as is his cast (this is the first time I’ve really meditated on how difficult the actors’ jobs were), but there’s nothing particularly outstanding in either realm. Without the mathematical attention to the storytelling I doubt anyone would remember Memento as more than that ‘one backwards movie’ they never bothered to see again. It’s possible to pick apart isolated aspects of the narrative, specifically the wildly inconsistent timing of Leonard’s memory loss, and the convenience of his ability to condition himself, but as in the case of Inception, it’s easy to forgive these minor inconsistencies in favour of enjoying the plot’s novelty. This is a case where too much logic and exposition would really hurt the film (which is exactly the problem I had with Inception, for the record). The editing reaches near perfection through maintaining the complex structure without losing the narrative momentum. The addition of a forward moving series of black and white scenes would’ve increased confusion in lesser hands, but by intercutting them with the backward moving colour scenes they actually end up giving the audience a good place to anchor themselves, and offer Nolan a clever chance to rip through some exposition.
Critics have accused Memento of being a gimmick based motion picture, because it is based around a gimmick, and falls well within the realms of a ‘high concept’ movie. Both aspects can lead to a clever film with an empty core, but neither are an automatic negative (much like when the term ‘exploitation’ is used to dismiss a movie). Nolan is smart enough (and had enough to prove) to not rest on the gimmick (based on his brother Jonathan’s short story), and creates a compelling mystery truly worthy of the classic Noir tradition. Minus the backwards gimmick, we’d still have a pretty solid story of a man with memory problems. For extra credit Nolan even includes a sizable twist ending, er, beginning, and characters brimming with wit, vitality, and personality. Each of these characters fit into the main story, and their actions hint at histories that open up Leonard’s otherwise tiny universe. Best of all Nolan doesn’t forget to include a sense of humour. The deathly serious tone of pretty much every film Nolan has made since Memento has been a major point of contention for me over the years. Sure, he remembers to makes jokes, but the ratio is pretty high in favour of drama, whereas Memento balances around 70/30, and many of the jokes are genuine howlers. Even the Joker didn’t earn much more than a few good snickers.
This marks Memento’s second 1080p US home video release, and though there’s some room for improvement, this transfer is obviously superior to both the original DVD release, and the special edition re-release. I unfortunately have never seen the original Sony Blu-ray, so I can’t compare it to this release. There is a sticker on the box that notes that this is a director approved transfer, and it’s a 50G disc rather than a 25G, and this leads me to assume there’s been some improvement. Nolan uses a whole lot of close-ups, and Blu-ray’s increased definition effectively sharpens all the skin textures, fine hairs and wardrobe stitching. You can even see the tattoo dye bleeding into Guy Pierce’s skin on the big close-ups. Colours are vibrant, warm, and though Nolan doesn’t go for a lot of stylized or unrealistic palettes, there are still plenty of contrasting and popping hues. Some of the edges are softer than I assume were intended, some of the deeper blacks absorb the hues around them, and some of the sharper contrasting elements produce minor halo effects, but the colour sections of the film are uniformly clean, and mostly artefact free. It’s harder to evaluate the black and white sequences because they’re meant to look a bit raw and ragged. These sections are extremely grainy, and occasionally a little mushy looking. I don’t think any DNR has been used, however, since Nolan himself apparently supervised the transfer, and that kind of thing seems beneath him.
There isn’t a lot to this 5.1 surround sound mix, though the uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is nice, warm and punchy during those odd aggressive moments (the Sony Blu-ray featured a PCM 5.1 track). Most of the sound is presented crisply and clearly in the center channel, including the majority of the dialogue and sound effects. Only the music and occasional effects find their way into the stereo channels, while the surrounds remain almost entirely silent aside from some music echo. The only really aggressive, multi-channel attack comes when Leonard has sudden, frightening flashbacks to his wife’s murder. The narrative dialogue is noticeably louder and bassier than the regular on screen dialogue, so there shouldn’t be any problems discerning the difference between spoken dialogue and dialogue rumbling around Leonard’s head.
This release’s extras mostly match Sony’s limited edition DVD release, and this time we don’t have to struggle through a silly puzzle menu to access them. The extras start with Christopher Nolan’s solo commentary track. This is a decent track, and it offers genuine insight into the director’s process, but Nolan spends a little too much time describing obvious motivation and subtext, and his tone is kind of mind numbing. At the very least, Nolan fills the track without repeating himself very much, or allowing stretches of silence. Among the more interesting, hard to consciously notice tricks noted, are Guy Pierce’s flashback clothing fitting him tightly, creating a subconscious sense of order in the character, and a comparison of the Polaroids to a deck of cards Leonard is using to play solitaire against himself. DVDCompare.net notes that Pathe’s UK Blu-ray release, and the original Sony limited edition DVD featured random alternate endings to the track, but I couldn’t figure out any way to access them, and the ending was the same after re-starting the disc three times. I also couldn’t find any way to play the film in chronological order, which is noted as an Easter Egg on several of the releases (which I think is fine since watching the film in chronological order would be a massive waste of time).
The only entirely new extra is ‘Remembering Memento’ (7:40, HD). This interview with Nolan digs into his memories of the project, and ends up covering a lot of ground not touched upon during the already busy commentary track. The director briefly covers the script, the jump from independent to contract filmmaking, and working with actors. ‘Anatomy of a Scene’ (25:20, SD) is a Sundance Channel series that explores the work that goes into a single scene of an independent film. In this case the first three scenes of the film, which set the rhythm of the entire film. Though covered only briefly, discussion of Nolan’s original palette ideas is quite interesting. Next up is an IFC interview with Nolan (24:00, SD), which covers some of the same stuff already covered during the commentary and the shorter interview, and which was available on the original, non-LE DVD. I have no idea how ‘new’ this interview actually is since Nolan’s physical appearance hasn’t changed at all in the last decade, but I think it was filmed shortly after the film’s release.
Extras are completed with a text based presentation of Jonathan Nolan’s original short story ‘Memento Mori’, Leonard’s tattoo designs, pages from Leonard’s diary, and trailers for other Lionsgate releases.
Memento stands up, though I imagine I wouldn’t have been so impressed if it hadn’t been nearly a decade since I’d sat through the whole thing. No viewing can ever be as memorable as that first one, but director Chris Nolan includes enough subtext to make his experiment work the second or twentieth time around. I haven’t seen the older Blu-ray release, so I can’t compare the A/V quality to this new release, but it’s certainly a step above the Limited Edition DVD. The extras match the stuff already available on the LE DVD, save a new brief retrospective interview with Nolan. None of the extras are particularly impressive save Nolan’s commentary track, which is apparently available on the previous Blu-ray.
*Note: The images on this page are taken from the UK Blu-ray and resized for the page. This Blu-ray looks very similar, though is perhaps a bit warmer overall.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 22nd February 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Director Commentary, Remembering Memento, Anatomy of a Scene, IFC Interview with Christopher Nolan, Memento Mori Short Story by Jonathan Nolan, Tattoo Sketches, Leonard's Journal
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christopher Nolan
Cast: Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, Joe Pantoliano, Jorja Fox, Callum Keith Rennie, Stephen Tobolowsky, Harriet Sansom Harris, Mark Boone Junior
Length: 113 minutes
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