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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • French DTS-HD 3.0 Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • Introduction by actor and comedian Terry Jones
  • Three selected-scene commentaries, by film historian Philip Kemp, theater director Je?ro^me Deschamps, and Jacques Tati expert Ste?phane Goudet
  • Like Home, a 2013 visual essay on PlayTime by Goudet
  • "Tativille," a 1967 episode of the British television program Tempo International, featuring an interview with Tati from the set of PlayTime
  • Beyond "PlayTime," a short 2002 documentary featuring behind-the-scenes footage from the production
  • Interview from 2006 with script supervisor Sylvette Baudrot
  • Audio interview with Tati from the U.S. debut of PlayTime at the 1972 San Francisco Film Festival
  • Alternate English-language soundtrack

Playtime

2014 Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Jacques Tati
1967 | 124 Minutes | Licensor: Les Films de Mon Oncle

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $124.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #112
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: October 28, 2014
Review Date: November 6, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

Jacques Tati's gloriously choreographed, nearly wordless comedies about confusion in an age of high technology reached their apotheosis with PlayTime. For this monumental achievement, a nearly three-year-long, bank-breaking production, Tati again thrust the lovably old-fashioned Monsieur Hulot, along with a host of other lost souls, into a baffling modern world, this time Paris. With every inch of its superwide frame crammed with hilarity and inventiveness, PlayTime is a lasting record of a modern era tiptoeing on the edge of oblivion.

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Receiving its second Blu-ray release from Criterion, Jacques Tati’s PlayTime is presented in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 on a dual-layer disc. The film’s 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer is sourced from a new 4K restoration scanned from the original 65mm negative. This disc can only be found, as of this writing, in Criterion’s new box set, The Complete Jacques Tati.

I was admittedly too favourable towards Criterion’s original Blu-ray edition (and I even mentioned I had a fear I may be overselling it), though years later that transfer doesn’t hold up very well. It looked considerably better than the original Criterion DVD, which, even for DVD, was a hot mess, lacking any detail or definition (and 5-minutes’ or so of footage). Getting to see more details in the many long shots wowed me mixed with the fact I was still fairly ignorant as to what the format was capable of I was too ecstatic. Since then Criterion has released stellar transfer after stellar transfer, a lot looking like a projected film, or at least as close to one as possible for the format, and I was also lucky to see a 70mm screening of the film. Going back to the old Blu-ray now it’s now more obvious the transfer comes from a dated master, displaying compression and really lacking those finer details. It’s also a bit darker than what I recall from the screening. Despite being thrilled with the transfer initially I was now quite disappointed with what we got. It’s still better than the previous DVD editions from Criterion (especially that first one, yikes!) and it was still by no means a disaster in and of itself, in fact I’d still say it was pretty good, but it was certainly open to improvement.

Thankfully with this new edition it undoubtedly has been improved upon and then some. Much, much sharper, with better definition and delivery of fine details, this new presentation delivers a more-than-satisfying presentation for the film, and the difference between the two transfers are staggering. A long shot featuring Hulot in the waiting room with the assortment of chairs looks so much crisper here, and the details and expressions on his face come through far more clearer. Edges are crisper and smoother, and the slight edge-enhancement that is now noticeable to me on the old transfer is gone. The image is also not as dark as the old Blu-ray, and seems to match my memory of the screening more (though can’t say it’s exact) and colours, despite the film’s primary “colour” probably being gray, look far better saturated here. There are pops of yellows, greens, and reds throughout, and they look wonderful. Black levels are strong, looking rich and inky, and crushing doesn’t appear to be an issue, while shadow delineation is excellent.

The old transfer presented a far grainier image that unfortunately looks more like noise coming back to it. Grain is present here but it’s very fine so rarely leaps out. It’s rendering is excellent and doesn’t present any unnatural issues or artifacts. The restoration is far more impressive here as well, removing more of the marks and bits of debris found on the old release, with only a few minor fluctuations—possibly the remnants of stains or maybe mold—being the only noticeable problem, and it’s a very minor one.

In all it looks great. I admittedly overpraised the old release so I’m sure my opinion here can be suspect, but the improvement over the old edition is substantial and I doubt anyone will need to make direct comparisons to notice this. It looks fantastic.

10/10

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.

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AUDIO

Criterion presents the film with a 3.0 DTS-HD MA soundtrack, which is focused to the front three speakers. The film’s sound design is certainly unique but isn’t overly showy. Sound is usually focused on one area of the action so other than maybe some street scenes, restaurant scenes, and office scenes (most of which seem to work in the reverse by drowning out the audio of the focused action) the sound isn’t overly expansive. But during the aforementioned street, office, and restaurant scenes the movement between the three speakers is nicely mixed, and audio quality is excellent. There’s no damage or noise to mar it as well. Sound effects do have an enhanced, almost artificial ring to them, but this is intentional on Tati’s part.

Criterion also includes the international track presented in Dolby Digital stereo. This track basically presents more languages than the main track, which is mostly a mix of French and English, making the film more universal. Unfortunately this track doesn’t have anywhere near the same level of quality, lacking in punch, and its mix isn’t as full. Most will probably want to stick with the main track, which is certainly not going to test your system but it’s mixed beautifully and as clean as one could hope.

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Technically speaking everything from the previous Blu-ray edition of PlayTime hasn’t been ported over to this edition, but Criterion has actually spread those missing supplements over the other discs in the box set this title is included in. So despite it looking like half of the features are missing, fear not, as they can be found elsewhere.

First up is a Terry Jones Introduction running 6-minutes. It is the same introduction that has appeared on every incarnation of the title from Criterion. He talks about his initial shock at seeing that the film was 70mm and just how wonderful the details were. He talks about the faux Hulots (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 “Tativille,” 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. It’s a nice intro and I’m glad Criterion has carried it over all of their editions.

Criterion then includes a few “selected scene audio commentaries” (commentaries that only play over certain sections of the film) starting with the same one they used for their previous 2-disc DVD and Blu-ray editions featuring Philip Kemp. It’s an okay track, a little dry. Kemp talks about the troubled production of course and the Hulot character (and a bit about Tati), but throughout he mainly focuses on the look and design of the film, the sets, and describing some of the subtle details found throughout, even breaking down some gags somewhat. He also has gathered some information from various people who worked on the film. I liked it overall but must admit I’m glad it’s actually a fragmented track because Kemp can be a little dry in his presentation. The track has been divided into 7 chapters. (And as I discovered a while ago it is actually just an edit job of a track recorded for the BFI.)

Stéphane Goudet provides a short 13-minute select scene commentary focusing on the cubicle chase and the apartment sequence midway through. Goudet examines the unraveling of the sequences along with the placement and framing. Jerome Deschamps then provides a 13-minute one that plays over four sequences where he also examines a how the scenes are composed and the gags are executed, while also admiring the work of a few of that actors that appear.

”Tativille” presents a 26-minute BBC episode filmed on location during the making of PlayTime. Here we see the famous set and get a better idea of its construction (a lot of the illusion of the city is destroyed once you view this) and also get plenty of behind-the-scenes material featuring Tati directing, and a number of interviews with cast and crew on what it’s like to work with the director. The best part, though, proves to be an engaging 1-on-1 interview with the director during the last third where he talks about his visuals, use of sound, music, his humour, and gauging audience reactions. It’s another solid addition.

Beyond “Playtime” (called Au delà de “Playtime” on the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions) is a short 6-minute film covering the production, using behind-the-scenes footage shot during the making of the film and narrated by Stéphane Goudet, who also reads from notes made by Tati. It’s a shame it’s so short but it manages to cover the troubled production fairly well from inception to its initial failure thanks to the American distributor refusing to handle it (and the film was apparently meant more for the American market) and also provides footage showing the sets as they’re being built (and then destroyed.) Short but to the point.

Also new to this edition is another visual essay by Stéphane Goudet entitled Like Home, which runs 19-minutes. Here he simply looks at the visual structure of the film, the geometry of the setting and how people move through it, as well as the structure of the “story”. He also talks about the general “sameness” that can be found in the sets and possible political statements, like the obvious divide of the classes.

Next is a 12-minute interview with Sylvette Baudrot who reflects on Playtime, talking about Tati’s attention to detail, the hard work that went into many sequences (a scene involving a man walking down a hallway apparently took 3 days to shoot) and the fact that a lot of the metallic walls were actually enlarged photos of metal. It’s brief but it’s a great piece pointing out a lot of things that in all honesty I had just never noticed before. It’s a rather fun interview for this reason.

Also carried over from the previous Blu-ray, Jacques Tati at the San Francisco Film Festival presents audio excerpts from the American premiere of Playtime in 1972 where Tati held a discussion. It’s short, running almost 17-minutes (and divided into 4 chapters) and Tati answers some questions from members of the audience which range from the type of comedy on display in the film to the use of 70mm. Tati also talks about Hulot and his minimal appearance in the film and the film’s acceptance in Europe. While his English is a little rough here he’s still an engaging subject and it’s wonderful actually hearing the man talk about his film.

People comparing this edition to the old Blu-ray will undoubtedly fret that the other features available on the previous edition are now gone, but this is not the case: Criterion has simply moved the missing features over to other discs within the box set. Jacques Tati in M. Hulot’s Work can be found on the Trafic disc, while both Tati Story and the short film Cours du Soir can be found on the seventh disc devoted to Tati’s short film.

Though technically missing a few things, and again there’s little detail about the longer 151-minute version, the supplements still offer a thorough and fairly entertaining examination of the film, its set design, its unfortunate history, and Tati’s style.

9/10

CLOSING

Vastly improving over the previous Blu-ray edition in terms of video presentation, and still delivering a nice roster of new supplements, it’s another fantastic release in Criterion’s impressive box set, The Complete Jacques Tati.


View packaging for this Blu-ray

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