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In their youth, the Tenenbaums—an eccentric New York family—were extraordinary. They were all geniuses. Royal Tenenbaum (Gene Hackman) was a successful litigator. His wife Etheline (Angelica Huston) raised their children to be ambitious, entrepreneurial, and creative--then published an acclaimed book about her child-rearing techniques. Adopted daughter Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) was a gifted playwright. Son Chas (Ben Stiller) was a masterful businessman with a taste for real estate. And the other son, Richie (Luke Wilson), was a natural tennis champ. However, when Royal packed up his life and left his wife and his family in a cloud of betrayal, everything fell apart. Twenty years later, the Tenenbaums are a dejected and alienated bunch, each having found that their early successes did not carry over into adulthood. When washed-up Royal learns that his distant wife Etheline, who has become an archaeologist, may remarry, he feigns illness as an excuse to reunite with his estranged family.

From Wes Anderson, director of Rushmore, this film is full of quirky comedy that will have audiences reeling and reflecting simultaneously. The brilliant script is impeccable with choppy, intentionally awkward language delivered with dry wit by the well-appointed (almost too good to be true) cast. Dramatic sets are emphasized by the film's masterful orchestration of scene changes and chapter separations. The photography beautifully captures a faded, vintage 1980s New York. And the eclectic soundtrack features much-loved tunes by Nico, The Velvet Underground, The Clash, and the Vince Guaraldi Trio.


Video


We didn’t receive a retail copy of the film for review purposes, but a little digging revealed that the Blu-ray it is based on a new 2K transfer from the OCN, supervised by Wes Anderson himself. The resultant image is extremely pleasing, retaining a layer of filmic grain and exhibiting impressive levels of detail across the board. It’s also very clean, with little to no artefacts to be seen. The highly stylised palette is also extremely well represented; colours are rich and varied, with warm golden yellows being the prevailing hues. The image is also very 'contrasty', with particularly bright whites and inky deep blacks, but this stylised approach is in keeping with the film's overall look. I didn't spot any particularly noteworthy examples of film or digital artefacts during normal viewing conditions, and compression looks to be solid enough. This is a very fine presentation from Criterion.

Audio


The Royal Tenenbaums features an understated DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track that focuses very much on the dialogue, which is always clear. It's an extremely front-heavy sound-stage, with only minimal use of the surround channels for general ambience and music. There is some movement across the frontal array, but a few short scenes aside the subject matter really doesn't call for anything too engaging. As you might expect there's not a lot of bass either, but dynamic range is good and the track is free from distortion. It's not a terribly immersive or memorable track, but it serves the material well.

Extras


Criterion has assembled a decent selection of bonus material for this release, including a commentary track and a number of interviews. A complete list of everything on the disc can be found below:

  • Audio commentary by Wes Anderson
  • With the Filmmaker: Portraits by Albert Maysles, featuring Wes Anderson
  • Interviews with and behind-the-scenes footage of actors Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Danny Glover
  • Outtakes
  • The Peter Bradley Show, featuring interviews with additional cast members
  • Scrapbook featuring young Richie’s murals and paintings, still photographs by set photographer James Hamilton, book and magazine covers, and storyboards
  • Studio 360 radio segment on painter Miguel Calderón, along with examples of his work
  • Trailers

Overall


The Royal Tenenbaums is a quirky, visually impressive story about familial relationships that bears all of the hallmarks of the director's other works. If you're not an Anderson fan it's hardly likely to change your opinion, but it's a solid feature with strong performances from the ensemble cast. The Blu-ray does an admirable job of recreating the sumptuous palette and the audio track does what's asked of it, even if that's not much. Supplemental features are informative particularly the commentary and interviews. Although I wouldn't call myself a huge Anderson fan (and this isn't my favourite of his features) it's still a good film, justice to which is done by Criterion's release.

* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release 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.

 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The
 Royal Tenenbaums, The


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