The Criterion Collection presents the Before Sunrise—the first film in Richard Linklater’s Before Trilogy and available exclusively in Criterion’s box set—on Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The new 2K restoration comes from a scan of the 35mm interpositive.
Of the three films in the set Before Sunrise may have the weakest looking image but I am still quite thrilled with it. The film has a softer look overall, not entirely unusual for indie films of the 90s, and that maybe holds the overall image back from being an exemplary “high-def” one. The finer details rarely pop but textures still come off really nice on Hawkes’ jacket and the various exteriors of the buildings around the city.
If the film doesn’t have that certain crispness that the other films in the set even have (particularly Before Midnight) it’s clearly no fault of the digital presentation and encode. This still looks incredibly filmic. It’s clean, moves naturally, and clearly renders the film’s grain structure through most of the film. One scene where it does maybe falter a bit is in the nighttime scene where Jess and Celine are lying on the ground in the park. Here grain can get a bit clunky and I found shadow delineation a bit weak. The rest of the film looks great, however, and it delivers the grain, strong black levels, and terrific colour saturation. It looks strong and fans of the film should be more than pleased with the work that has gone into this. 8/10
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterion’s box set The Before Trilogy presents all three of Richard Linklater’s films—Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight—together for the first time. Each film receives their own dual-layer disc and the features are spread across all of them. Though the third film might receive more attention the features otherwise don’t really look at the individual films themselves, instead going over the trilogy as a whole. Because of this the features for the set seem slim and not impressive, especially for what is a fairly big release for Criterion, and they’re even less impressive when you break it down to the individual titles. For this review I am focusing specifically on the features available on the disc for Before Sunrise.
(As a note, if you have not seen any or all of these films previously, it is highly recommended to go through all of the films in the set first before visiting any of the special features as they will contain spoilers.)
There are two significant features here, both of which are interviews. The first, called The Space In Between, is a 44-minute interview between Kent Jones, director Richard Linklater, and actor/cowriter Ethan Hawke. Julie Delpy shows up about midway through “via satellite” to join the discussion (she apparently became stuck in L.A., so I’m guessing she was supposed to be there with the others but got held up). The discussion focuses primarily on the working relationship between the three and how that has grown over the nearly two decades since the first film. Linklater (who based the original Before Sunrise off of a personal experience) did have a script for the first film but even then he had both Hawke and Delpy throw in their own ideas and develop their characters and scenes. Apparently the script even had portions with something along the lines of “Insert Good Idea Here” in place of scenes because Linklater had planned to get input from whomever he cast in the leads. The film became a group project and this atmosphere and openness in creativity carried on to the other films. The first film was always intended as a one-off but they all eventually started playing with the idea of a sequel and that led to Before Sunset and eventually Before Midnight. The three also talk about the various ideas they had for the third film, and though they openly shot down a few I have to admit they actually sounded rather good.
What I enjoyed most about this discussion was just how passionate the three are about the films and the characters, with the participants dumping other bigger projects for this one. Delpy was even fired by her agent because she dropped out of an audition for a part as a “sexy Latina” in Rush Hour 3 to do the second film. It’s also rather funny listening to what ideas came from whom, and I’m ashamed to say I was rather shocked that a lot of the funniest and cruder lines and moments were actually from Delpy (for some reason I attributed some of the cruder moments to Linklater) who was apparently concerned that the wasn’t funny enough. On top of this they talk about the themes that came out of the films (like time and mortality), and how they would revisit the previous film or films as they worked on the next, even tying some things up. It’s a really terrific discussion, quite funny, too (far funnier once Delpy shows up) and it’s one of if not the best feature on the set. It’s a very informative and very breezy 44-minutes.
The next feature is the only scholarly supplement on here (well, not counting the one odd feature by ::kogonada on the Before Sunset disc, but I’ll get to that), featuring writers Dave Johnson and Rob Stone. Called 3 x 2: A Conversation and running about 40-minutes, the two talk about their admiration for the films, how they first discovered them, and then offer their own readings and interpretations. It can get a bit ridiculous in places, especially when the two seem to go down a bit of a fanboy hole asking each other “which character are you!?” or trying to give fan theories about how the films are alternate timelines or whatever (I hurt my optical nerves with the amount of eye-rolling that followed). Thankfully it works really well when they start talking about their different readings of the film from a more grounded level, and I liked their discussion about how the films work one way on their own but then each completely change and morph when taken in the context of the series as a whole. Though it has some of those eye-rolling moments I think there are some genuinely good observations and it also has some funny moments, like Johnson’s reaction to Stone saying the third film is his favourite. But even its worst moments are still far better than what ::kogonada put together on the Sunset disc.
The disc then closes with 6-minutes of behind the scenes footage, which I’m guessing was put together for publicity purposes, with footage from the film edited in (though interestingly it looks like Criterion is using footage from their new restoration). It features Linklater, Hawke and Delpy talking about the film and the meeting between their characters. It doesn’t add a lot to what we already get but it is sort of fun watching all these young’uns talking about the original intentions with the first film, with no idea about any possible follow-ups. Sadly Criterion doesn’t include the film’s theatrical trailer (or the trailer for any of the other films). Watching them on YouTube it’s interesting to see how the marketing morphed with each film and how they each target very different audiences.
At any rate, we at least get two rather solid features here, making this the best set of features in the set. 7/10