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Set on an island off the coast of New England in the summer of 1965, Moonrise Kingdom follows two 12-year-olds who fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As various authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing offshore – and the peaceful island community is turned upside down in every which way. (From the official Focus Features synopsis)

Moonrise Kingdom
There was a time after the releases of Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums when I called Wes Anderson my favourite working Hollywood director. I even vehemently defended The Life Aquatic when critics and audiences dumped on it and accused Anderson as not growing as a director. Then came The Darjeeling Limited and I, too, found myself sick of Anderson’s refusal to grow as a writer or director. His obsessively detailed, pastel images and twee sensibilities had such a large influence on other filmmakers, specifically other navel-gazing independents, like Jared Hess ( Napoleon Dynamite) and Zach Braff ( Garden State), that The Darjeeling Limited, in all its over-used Wes Andersonism, felt more like a spoof of the writer/director’s work, rather than an extension. Then Anderson moved his stylistic and thematic obsessions into a new arena – that of obsessively detailed stop-motion animation. The change of venue and structural challenges of making a family friendly film appeared to have gotten him back on track at least for the time being.

Which brings us to Moonrise Kingdom, a second family-friendly picture from the neurotic and nebbish little boy that refuses to grow up, this time depicted via live-action to make for a more personal and controlled motion picture experience. Some have called Moonrise Kingdom Anderson’s most stylistically and thematically distilled movie. Like Darjeeling Limited, it could play as a spoof of Anderson’s sensibilities, especially to a detracting critic, but, somehow, this distillation of the exact same stuff we’ve seen in six feature-length movies already feels fresh or at least not tired. The prevalent ‘Andersonian’ themes of habitual technical practices, childhood extracurricular activities, and the adorableness of mechanical things are all accounted for. Popular themes are recycled, including children old beyond their years running away from indifferent, pseudo-intellectual parents, said adults participating in extramarital affairs, and said children threatening each other with brutal violence. Oh, and dead parents. It’s not a Wes Anderson film without dead parents. For good measure Anderson even tosses in a few throwaway jokes that recall other throwaway jokes from previous movies (‘…he fell in a ditch’). Nothing has changed in terms of dialogue, either – The humour is still drier than day-old toast and the children still talk like 50-year-old men.

Moonrise Kingdom
Perhaps the key detail that keeps Moonrise Kingdom from over-extending Anderson’s over-practiced routines is the fact that no one is taking the material too seriously. Unlike Darjeeling Limited or Life Aquatic, where Anderson’s cute malaise was treated as some kind of deep, important life lesson, Moonrise Kingdom is a simple story that makes no attempts to oversell its simplicity. This is also the first period set of Anderson’s films (unless a year is specified in Fantastic Mr. Fox and I don’t know it). All of his films are super-nostalgic, stylistically anachronistic, and might as well be taking place some time between the ‘60s and the ‘70s, but this is the first to verify the era placement. Perhaps this is a symptom of co-writer Roman Coppola’s era obsessions. If so, I welcome further collaboration between the filmmakers, so long as they don’t include Jason Schwartzman anymore, who I’m going to blame for the smelly melodrama of Darjeeling Limited (without any proof, of course). It’s also interesting to note that this is the first of the director’s Peter Pan-obsessed/inspired movies that makes direct thematic and visual references to J. M. Barrie’s story.

Despite the lack of the familiar 2.35:1 framing (which, honestly, looks a little weird given memories of five other films), Anderson’s favourite composition practices are still firmly in place. These include hyper-Baroque set and costume dressings, his use of Kubrick-inspired, fastidiously centered compositions, split screens, montages that compliment each other’s left to right image balance, and playful, smooth tracking and dolly shots. Anderson plays with depth perception and camera movement to create a diorama look for the entire film. He’s always enjoyed playing with the perception of a set’s removable walls, but it seems that shooting an animated film with sets that are small enough to be considered actual dioramas may have inspired Anderson to recreate the precious scale in live action. For whatever reason, this animated quality gives the twee-overload more purpose.

Moonrise Kingdom

Video


I don’t think that Wes Anderson will be jumping on the 3D bandwagon any time soon and suspect that The Fantastic Mr. Fox was only shot digitally because it was easier to control the animation that way, but I also wouldn’t assume that a director so obsessed with bright colours and fine details would step back from 35mm into the grainy recesses of 16mm. Shows what I know. Moonrise Kingdom is presented on Blu-ray in 1080p and is framed in 1.85:1 (the first of Anderson’s live action movie to be presented in anything other than a 2.35:1 since Bottle Rocket). Beyond the increase in film grain, which Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman (who has shot every one of Anderson’s films except for Fantastic Mr. Fox) handle with expected grace, 16mm has detail limits. Close-up detail usually matches larger format footage, but busy backgrounds rarely compare to those of a 35mm or digital HD transfer. Grain levels are heavy and consistent enough to keep even the close-up textures from appearing all that sharp, but the 1080p format always handles the finer qualities of grain with less blobby effects than standard definition. Blu-ray also helps reduce edge-enhancement effects and helps make the duller pattern qualities stand apart as soft rather than blurry. 16mm rarely matches the colour quality of larger format film, specifically in terms of vibrancy. Fortunately, Anderson and Yeoman aim for a more pastel palette, which serves the natural hue balance very well. The image is rarely bright and the filmmakers allow for hue bleeding as part of their natural look. This transfer skews warm. Golds and reds overtake most other hues without overwhelming them, allowing the baby blues and cool greens a bit of pop. Black levels are actually better than expected, though they’re rarely consistent in terms of purity.

Moonrise Kingdom

Audio


Presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, this mix follows the lead set by Anderson’s other films in its natural and largely understated qualities. The bulk of the track is devoted to centered dialogue and soft slices of ambient noise in the stereo and surround channels.  The immersive work mostly revolves around the movement of the camera, rather than the movement of objects around the camera. For example, the sound of a record player, motorbike engine, or sizzling stove come in from off-screen as the camera pans past them, not as they move out of frame. The other major directional effects pertain mostly to the latter storm sequences. This also applies to wide dynamic ranges created by cutting away from more aurally busy shots. Anderson has always adored the effect of blaring noise coming and going with a quick cutaway. The uncompressed nature of the track certainly helps in this regard. After successfully creating a distinctive musical sound with composer Mark Mothersbaugh throughout Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic, it seems that Anderson’s new go-to guy for movie music is Alexandre Desplat. Trading Mothersbaugh for Desplat is kind of like trading in a Cadillac for another Cadillac, but Mothersbaugh’s quirky expectations are not met with this score, marking it as one of Moonrise Kingdom’s rare novelties. This score has the quirk and mirth of a Mothersbaugh score, but often builds instrumentation more upon a repeating rather than progressive melody. The mix plays with recreating the sound of analogue recordings and cheaper ‘60s speaker systems, but also has plenty of the high fidelity, full-blast musical breaks we’ve come to expect from Wes Anderson movies (slow-motion shot, naturally). The only major difference is there are no ‘70s rock interludes this time around. Stay tuned through the end credits, where Sam orally dissects one of Desplat’s main themes.

Moonrise Kingdom

Extras


The sadly brief extras begin with A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom (3:10, HD), an elongated trailer featuring behind the scenes footage and interviews with Bill Murray, Jason Swartzman, Roman Coppola, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, and Bruce Willis. Under Welcome to the Island of New Penzance are four cast/crew profiles (Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton and Wes Anderson), hosted by Balaban (6:10, HD). The extras are completed with a tongue-in-cheek set tour with Murray (3:10, HD) and some other Focus Feature trailers.

Moonrise Kingdom

Overall


Moonrise Kingdom is a fabulous and entertaining experience. It may well be, as the man says, Wes Anderson’s most Wes Andersonesque movie. It’s so fabulous and entertaining I’m willing to continue to forgive Anderson’s allergy to change…for now. Perhaps it’s his tendency to not take himself and his special brand of art too seriously that makes me weak. Perhaps I’ve arrived at a point where I’ve accepted Wes Anderson movies are always going to be an awfully specific brand name and I can enjoy him on the same expectation level as other filmmakers that can’t get over their first film, like Dario Argento, who spent more than half his career remaking The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. Still, it does seem a shame that similarly fetishistic contemporaries like Paul Thomas Anderson, Darren Aronofsky, and Rian Johnson are leaving Anderson behind in terms of genre-skipping ambition. This Blu-ray release features a transfer that gets all the best of the limited 16mm format, and a strong, stylized DTS-HD MA soundtrack, but, like most of Anderson’s home video releases, not a whole lot of extra material.

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


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