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The thriller is one of the oldest genres in Hollywood dating back to the beginning of motion picture films. Over the years there have been many masters of the genre the most notable being Alfred Hitchcock, whose Psycho is considered the definitive film of the genre. There have been many attempts to dethrone that film but while some have been excellent, nothing has come close to the level of the 1960 film. Since the sixties, this genre like every other has changed and evolved in many different directions. Now the word thriller in Hollywood is misused and describes any range of pictures from chase type thrillers like Double Jeopardy (1999) to murder/suspense thrillers like the Bone Collector (1999). At the core of its original meaning, the term thriller described a crime-noir suspenseful movie often dealing with things on a psychological level. While the past decade has seen films of this nature, they have been few and far between, with only a handful of notable films like Bryan Singer's 1995 The Usual Suspects and David Fincher's Seven (1997) with even more going direct to video. It seems that the interests of audiences were straying away from these pictures; box office figures talk and less were made. Now for the first time in many years a new film has come along to breathe new life into the once popular genre.

Memento was released in a staggered fashion during the early spring of 2001 to theaters everywhere beginning with major centers such as New York, Los Angeles and expanding from there. It came to my home city of Vancouver about 3 or 4 weeks after I first heard about it on Ebert and the Movies. Initially it came to the local art house cinema - a theater that I don't often frequent. I was interested in the film but due to my ignorance at the time to patronize that theater, I didn't see the film. I kept hoping for a wider release that would find it playing at my favorite megaplex. An atmosphere I feel far more comfortable in. So when the film indeed hit my favorite complex you would think I'd go running out and catch it. It didn't happen this way, in fact it was playing for a couple weeks before I went and saw it. Admittedly the film didn't have a mainstream appeal and I didn't want to go with a friend because while I knew what to expect, I felt he would hate the film. One day he finally agreed to go after we had seen everything else that was playing at the time. After the film I got his typical childish response which was "That Sucked". I at the time was unsure of my feelings having been taken back a bit at the film. It was around this period of my life that I began reviewing more and more seriously but for whatever reason I just couldn't get my feelings down on paper. In an even rarer occurrence my younger sister who had seen the film prior to me had gone back and seen it twice more. My sister is usually into the more typical Hollywood teen fare and for her to like this film, that much surprised me greatly. So it was with great anticipation that I would revisit Memento as it hits DVD.

Memento (Alliance Atlantis)
Movie
The film takes an interesting approach to its structure by telling the story in various different directions. The film is composed of both black and white sections as well as color sections. The black and white sections of the film are offered up as Leonard tells us about his story and the tale of a man named Sammy Jankis who suffered from a similar medical condition. These sequences play in the traditional forward motion. The color scenes which make up the core of the story and show Leonard on the search for the killer play in reverse order with the so called end of the story happening at the beginning of the film. This however is an oversimplification of how the events transpire and the real mastery of director Christopher Nolan's film can not be explained in a few sentences. Director Nolan is able to tell the 2 stories that make up Memento in two different directions with ease and by doing so, manages to manipulate and confuse even the most astute of movie viewers.  Do the events occur and transpire the way they are presented or have things been altered or changed in order to distort our perception. To discuss or divulge any more information regarding the story or structure of the film would be to do a disservice to my readers as the film works best if you don't know entirely what to expect. However it is safe to say that this is one movie that it's important to pay attention to during its entirety.  So stalk up on the snacks beforehand.

Guy Pearce stars in the role of Leonard and gives an Oscar calibre performance. If he is not nominated for his work in this film it will be a crying shame as this is one of the best performances I've seen in a film in a long time. Pearce plays the multi-leveled Leonard so well that at times the audience can't help but feel sorry for him and at other times feel that he is a huge creep. Pearce adds just the right amount of humor to the role but stays fairly close to reality as how a man in this situation might react. Look for Pearce to be starring in some pretty high profile films as a result of his work here. Carrie Ann Moss from The Matrix is excellent as Natalie and shows a level of depth in her role that she hasn't shown since her breakout role of Trinity. Joe Pantoliano also from The Matrix portrays the character of Teddy just right, adding overtones of a very sleazy character that one would definitely not want to associate with, if they had the choice. In the case of this picture the top notch performances add another level to the amazing film.

Arguably, Memento is not a film for everyone. It's not a mainstream Hollywood picture and to some people it could be considered dark or even depressing. No distributor would distribute the film and the production company eventually had to setup their own distribution arm to handle the film. That fact alone shows that Hollywood studios were skeptical about the film's marketability to mainstream movie goers who typically flock to such drivel as The Mummy Returns or The Animal. Despite this the film did incredibly well racking up a very high on screen average, which unlike the overall box office is a more meaningful stat.  In it's first week it did over $200,000 on only 11 screens. At the height of it's domestic release the film was only shown on 500 screens and captured nearly $2 million dollars during the weekend of June 3rd. The same weekend the low brow comedy The Animal was released on a staggering high 2788 screens earning nearly 20 million dollars.

Director Christopher Nolan has managed to make a complex and thought provoking picture on only his second outing. Memento is not only an excellent thriller but is one of the year's best films.  I eagerly await further movies from Nolan and only hope that they can live up to this effort.

Memento (Alliance Atlantis)
Video
Alliance Atlantis chose to author their own version of Memento on DVD instead of simply repackaging the US release by Columbia Tristar. The US version of the disc is spread out over two layers of a DVD-9, whereas this disc has the feature all on one layer.  Alliance like Columbia Tristar presents Memento in an anamorphically enhanced transfer at 2.35:1. The image quality is not bad considering the low budget origins of the film but it's definitely not on par with what the reviews of the American disc say about the transfer. Inevitably there will be differences in the transfer quality, when the film is crammed on to a single layer as opposed to a dual layered disc where more space can be dedicated to both the audio and video. Black level was a little off for my liking and the image seemed a bit soft, especially during the black and white sequences.  Colors are extremely vibrant and the image does benefit from the widescreen framing. Flaws come in the way of minor dust particles on the print used and some slight pixelation. Overall the image just seems lacking compared to what it could be considering the films age. While I wasn't expecting a reference quality transfer due to the unique look of the film. It was after reading comments on the US disc expecting a better outcome than this. I guess it goes with the territory though, as Alliance often disappoints us Canadians with sub par releases.

Also I feel I should point out that in addition to the lower video quality of this disc when compared to it's US counterpart, there may be an encoding error with the video on this disc. The disc features a little heard of feature known as 4:3 Auto Pan and Scan. From what I can gather, a hand full of discs have this flag that activates a feature that is built into most DVD players. If the disc supports it and your player has the mode enabled it will auto pan and scan (essentially zoom) the feature to a different aspect ratio. In the case of this disc, it zooms the 2.35:1 scope picture to 1.85:1. The Alliance Memento disc was the first I came across to have this 'feature'. I use the word feature lightly because I don't really support this practice. I literally popped the disc in the player and noticed a problem right away. I then proceeded to rack my brain and try the disc out in my other players and my friend's player. I still couldn't get my Panasonic A320 to play the disc correctly. So I hit the web and after a few days (long after the rental was returned), I was told to look for an option for 4:3 P&S or 4:3 LB. I looked for this option under Video Settings where one would expect to find something like this. However it wasn't there so I thought my player didn't support this feature. After an exhaustive search I clicked on "Other Settings" and low and behold there was an option and my player was set to auto P&S. I was shocked to find this as I had never had a problem with over 200 discs I had played before on my player. The problem wasn't isolated to my player either, as I tried the disc on a couple of friends' Panasonic players and they had the same problem. When I played it back the disc in a Pioneer player, the subtitles defaulted to on. There are some problems with the encoding of this disc and I shouldn't have to fight with the disc to get it to play back correctly.  I did learn something through the course of the ordeal and I have now made the switch to 4:3 LB mode and hopefully I won't have this problem again. Still one shouldn't have to worry about their settings from disc to disc and I've heard of problem discs that play back in auto P&S mode even in 4:3 LB mode.  It is for this reason coupled with the below average single layer transfer, that I can't rate the transfer on this disc very highly.

Audio
Alliance Atlantis has a track record of taking US released discs that have 5.1 soundtracks and stripping them down to 2.0 for their Canadian releases. This was a major concern of mine when I found out that there would be a different Memento DVD available in Canada and that Alliance would be handling it. As luck would have the 5.1 mix created for the American disc would be preserved on their disc along with an all new French 5.1 track which will come in handy should I ever decide to learn French. The film's sound design is very effective being soft and gentle at times and loud and explosive at others. Surround usage is varied throughout the movie with the exterior scenes containing more of a natural presence. The haunting score fills the room quite well and dialogue sounds clear and natural. Memento's sound mix doesn't go overboard and over use the various channels, it remains planted in a near real world type sound design and this minimalistic approach works in the film's favour. This is one aspect of the disc Alliance didn't manage to mess up.

Memento (Alliance Atlantis)
Extras
The American version of Memento distributed by Columbia Tristar isn't a special edition (SE) by any means but still contains a small assortment of extras that keep the disc from becoming a total movie only edition. The region 2 release set to come out in a couple of months does contain a few more extras features that could be used on a rumored SE here in region 1. However Alliance has chosen not to follow either of these models, opting to go the movie only route. Alliance in one of there most basic editions yet doesn't even have a Special Features option or menu on this disc. However they have included one such feature as an Easter Egg off the main menu. The main menu contains an option with a line through it called "Reverse" which when selected brings you to a sub menu. This sub menu is a list of chapters that you can select to watch Memento in Chronological order. This is a feature that was heavily requested by fans of the movie. However it's presentation on the disc leaves a lot to be desired. To view this option you have to select the individual chapters.  A better way to use this option would have been to encode the film in the alternate order as a title on the disc then have it be selectable. Legal problems prevented this from happening as to present the film in chronological order would have been considered a new cut of the film and royalties would have had to been paid. The chapter selection option appears to be as good as it's going to get though. Features contained on the US disc that aren't present here include an interview with Christopher Nolan, an animated Photo Gallery, TV/Trailer and text story of which the film was based on.

Sure, having the option to watch the film in the order the events happen is cool but the presentation of this could use some work. The total lack of any other features however will upset many Canadians. I guess when it comes down it, you could import the US version if you want the special features or stick with this disc. Remember the movie itself, it's what's truly important. If deciding which of the two discs is the right one for you, consider this. The US one has loads of special features or Canadian one has the cool chronological scene access. Still since the Canadian disc comes up wanting when compared to the US disc, I'd have to give the edge to the US disc.

Menus
It's rare that I will talk about a disc's menus. In fact this is the first time I've commented on them. Apparently the US Columbia Tristar has film themed animated menus that are really quite stellar. Well, as you guessed, these also didn't make it to the Alliance release as instead we get menus with an animated intro into a fairly basis static image. Although menus are a small and somewhat trivial thing the lack of effort here is just another strike against the Canadian disc.

Overall
Alliance Atlantis has dropped the ball on this release big time. The video suffers from being crammed on to a single layer and having an annoying encoding error. Extras are nonexistent other than the chronological scene access feature which lacks a good user interface. The only things that shine on this disc are the film itself and the audio quality. It's my recommendation to Canadians to hunt down the vastly superior Columbia Tristar disc online. For those who are interested in the chronological scene access feature, it's best to pick up the US disc if you want to watch the best presentation possible. I think that while it might be cool to play with the chronological feature once or twice, in the end it's lack of a user friendly interface will cause the novelty to wear off pretty quickly.  Memento is a film where it's worth the couple extra bucks to import the better version.  I can't with my right mind recommend the Alliance disc.  Not even the movie itself and the audio track can bump this release above the dreaded 50% level.


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