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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Video introduction by writer, director and performer Terry Jones
  • Cours du Soir, a 1967 short written by and starring Jacques Tati

Playtime

2001 Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jacques Tati
Starring: Jacques Tati
1967 | 120 Minutes | Licensor: Specta Films

Release Information
DVD | MSRP: $29.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #112 | Out of print
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: March 13, 2001
Review Date: July 12, 2009

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SYNOPSIS

Jacques Tati, the choreographer of the charming, comical ballet that is Playtime, casts the endearingly clumsy Monsieur Hulot as the principal character wandering through modernist Paris. Amid the babble of English, French and German tourists, Hulot tries to reconcile the old-fashioned ways with the confusion of the encroaching age of technology.

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PICTURE

Criterion presents Jaque Tatiís Playtime in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc, enhancing the image for widescreen televisions. This DVD was discontinued and this release itself has been unavailable since, though Criterion did release a 2-disc edition with a new transfer once they were able to again obtain the rights to the film.

I actually havenít seen the new release yet but can only imagine that its new transfer would be a sharp improvement over this one, which is, quite frankly, rather awful. Itís not Criterionís worst offender by far (Salo and The Scarlet Empress are just a couple but not the only ones worse than this) but itís just has a myriad of problems.

While the colour design to the film is rather sterile, and intentionally so, they still donít look saturated correctly and look a bit murky. Skin tones are quite pasty and contrast is quite off, presenting blooming, distracting whites that do not look intentional. The film is quite visual, every scene filled with so much detail and life yet this transfer presents everything in a fuzzy, soft way losing any of the details Tati strived for. Whatís even worse is edge-enhancement is a rather noticeable offender in long shots (which comprises a lot of this film.)

On the good side the print is in very good shape with only a few minor flaws found throughout. But this is of little comfort when the digital transfer itself is so severely lacking. Given, it is a complicated film visually (Tati shot it in 70mm to make it as big as possibleóas a note the DVD notes do state the transfer was taken from a 35mm interpositive) and DVD would have trouble with it. But I know it can be better than this.

(As noted I havenít seen the new 2-disc editionís transfer so I canít comment currently on how big an improvement there is, but Criterion is releasing a Blu-ray edition, which should better help the film.)

5/10

All DVD screen captures are presented in their original size from the source disc. Images have been compressed slightly to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

A French (with a tad of English) Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is included. The sound design to the film is rather complicated but, unlike the vide transfer, it seems to be up to the challenge. Not a perfect track but itís fairly sharp with natural sounding voices and fairly robust sound effects. Not perfect but it does serve the film rather well.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Like the other original Hulot titles Criterion released this edition only featured a couple of supplements.

Yet again we get a Terry Jones introduction, this one running over 6-minutes. He talks about his initial shock at seeing the film was 70mm and just how wonderful the details were. He talks about the ďfaux HulotsĒ (one played by a friend of his) and the grand design of everything, and then again breaks down some gags. He also offers some background on the production (Tati constructed the set, dubbed ďTativilleĒ, making this the most expensive French production at the time) which eventually bankrupted the director, the film being a financial failure, which Jones seems to blame on the film being fairly alienating. Itís a good piece if short and while not as a good as a commentary it makes up somewhat for the lack of one. There is an issue with this feature, though, at least with initial printings (if I recall it was actually corrected on future printings of this disc.) While the feature was shot in 1.33:1 Criterion has mistakenly enhanced it for 16:9 televisions which stretches it out horizontally.

And again we find a short film, this time Cours du Soir, made around the same time as Playtime in 1967 and directed by and starring Jacques Tati, running about 28-minutes. ILike the previous feature Criterion made a mistake by enhancing it for widescreen televisions, despite the aspect ratio being 1.33:1. Despite this flaw though the feature is in decent shape. Of the shorts found over the Hulot discs it may be my least favourite but itís not without its charms. In it Tati teaches a class on the subtleties of physical humour, and some of the humour found in here involves the students not being so good at it. I found it maybe a little too long but it works best as a sort of retrospective of Tatiís career, recalling some of his more popular moments (his postman even making an appearance.)

Whatís missing is more on Tativille and the troubles the film faced during production and its original release. A short essay by Kent Jones found in the insert offers some more information on this, along with a short analysis of the film (even mentioning the film premiered at 151-minutes only to then cut it down to 120-minutes, the 31-minutes still missing) but it seems odd Criterion didnít try to gather more since, production wise, itís the most interesting of Tatiís films.

Itís disappointing considering everything, though thankfully Criterion did revisit it.

4/10

CLOSING

Since there is a new version of this DVD from Criterion this DVD can be looked over. But even if you come across this disc cheap somewhere Iíd recommend not bothering and going with the new one. I havenít seen the new transfer yet but it would have to be better than this, which doesnít look good at all, and it also contains more in the way of supplements. A rather bland release for a visual marvel of a film.


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