In what is not too big of a surprise since shy of one film—so far—they’ve released all of Wes Anderson’s films, Criterion has released a special edition for The Darjeeling Limited, presenting it in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this dual-layer disc, in 1080p/24hz. The short film, Hotel Chevalier, considered Part I to the main feature, is also presented on the disc in the same aspect ratio and resolution.
When “Play” is selected from the main menu Criterion presents you with three options on how to view the film, either by watching Hotel Chevalier first and then followed by The Darjeeling Limited, or you can watch either film on their own. Watching Hotel Chevalier first was a bit of a shock as the transfer was lacking. I recall both this and Darjeeling Limited looking soft but not this soft. Hotel Chevalier really lacks much in detail, even in close-ups, and despite there being fewer artifacts it didn’t appear to be a significant upgrade over Fox’s DVD presentation. Colours, which are bright and vibrant, looked decent but I detected some blooming in whites and reds that seemed a little harsher than I recall in theaters. Though I’m not sure how much stock can be placed in bitrate (it’s not like this is a fast moving film so this aspect is probably negligible) it is fairly low, hanging in the low twenties.
Thankfully the main feature does come off better and looks closer to how I recall seeing it in theaters. Again, it’s not always the sharpest but this is how it looked on the big screen as well. Long shots present some decent definition but nothing spectacular while close-ups do come off fairly sharp and crisp. Colours are incredibly vibrant, much more impressive than what Fox’s DVD presented, with some striking reds and blues, all beautifully rendered without any artifacts. Flesh tones vary throughout, sometimes significantly, with them coming off quite yellow in spots, but this is also how I recall it looking in theaters. Blacks can look crushed in darker scenes and shadow delineation is weak with details being lost. Darker scenes also contain what could be noticeable film grain in areas but it can actually come off looking more like noise. The rest of the film is pretty clean, with no digital issues coming to attention, and film grain is never all that prominent. And, though this may of no matter, I might as well note that the bitrate is much higher, hanging around the mid-to-high thirties.
I was surprised at how weak Hotel Chevalier came off, remembering it to look similar to how the main feature looked in theaters. Thankfully The Darjeeling Limited itself comes off looking rather lovely, despite some minor issues. In the end it’s a significant upgrade over Fox’s DVD, and it looks closer to how I recall it looking in theaters, with colours possibly being the single most significant improvement. 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 new special edition features a small but enjoyable set of features.
As mentioned in the video portion the disc also includes the short film Hotel Chevalier which can be watched along with or separate from the main feature. It also includes its own audio commentary by Wes Anderson. Here the director primarily explains the purpose of the film, which sounds to have actually started off as its own film separated from The Darjeeling Limited but eventually he decided this character played by Jason Schwartzman should also be in that film. It was shot on the cheap in a quick time period (two and a half days) and he found it a rather wonderful experience, seeing it as his own attempt at a segment for an omnibus film.
The main feature then comes with its own audio commentary, this one featuring Wes Anderson, Jason Schwartzman, and Roman Coppola. Anderson’s commentaries can be hit and miss, with his track for Rushmore probably being the only one I really enjoyed. Unfortunately I found this one to fall under “miss,” though it’s not without its charms, and Anderson, who has the reigns, is a little more involving here. Everyone is recorded together, more or less (it sounds as though Anderson and Coppola are together while Schwartzman is on the phone,) and they talk about various aspects of the production, from their writing it, doing their own trip through India, to actual filming. There are some decent anecdotes from the set, but the track is really technical in nature and unfortunately not always interesting. But he does clear up a couple of things, specifically what he meant by the “baggage drop” at the end of the film, and he mentions influences which range from the films of Satyajit Ray to the films of Merchant Ivory and Jean Renoir’s The River (surprisingly Black Narcissus is not mentioned.) Though Anderson seems to know what he wants to cover I can’t say the other two really seem to know what to say, leading to a few odd moments. Anderson initially tries to set up his own “Criterion Collection” introduction on the track, common in the tracks found on their laserdiscs and early DVDs (not so much now) that ultimately doesn’t happen because Schwartzman seems unsure what is going on, and there are a few moments where someone will be talking about a topic and then waiting for a response only to not get it, or get a “yeah” as a response which comes off more as “we hear you, but don’t know what you’re talking about.” These moments aren’t frequent but do happen a few times. Added to this there are a couple of bizarre moments, including a couple of phone call interruptions. During the track Schwartzman gets a call, which he answers, but explains he’s in the middle of something and hangs up. Odd, but stuff like this has happened in other Criterion tracks (Hunter S. Thompson’s commentary for Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas for example.) But then there’s another phone call, which Schwartzman turns over to the other guys on speakerphone, where someone is calling their production company, American Empirical, hoping to pitch a sitcom idea. We then get to hear the guy pitch the idea passionately. Not sure what that was about, though admittedly it does liven up the track. In the end it’s not as dry as Anderson’s solo Royal Tenenbaums track but it’s still not a completely involving track and does seem a bit wishy-washy.
Moving on to the video supplements we first get A Documentary by Barry Braverman, which is a 41-minute piece made up footage shot on location during filming. Like the docs on Anderson’s other Criterion releases it has a fly-on-the-wall feel, where the camera just sits back and captures everything. Going in the order of events on film, it verifies some of the comments made in the commentary, such as the dolly Bill Murray had to pull behind him during his one scene chasing down the train, and also showing how some of the “moving train” effects were done (basically people running in front of the camera holding tree branches while others shake the train cars up and down.) The most fascinating aspect here is that this pretty much verifies the film was shot on location, including in a moving train. Though it’s talked about in the commentary I must admit (being unfamiliar with the production) I figured most of this was still shot on a studio set, but it appears they really shot it on a moving train, having to work around the schedules of other trains since they were sharing the tracks, sometimes having to stop to let other trains pass. Surprisingly it’s a rather decent and interesting doc.
Conversation with James Ivory may be the most pleasant surprise on here. The 21-minute piece features Wes Anderson talking to director James Ivory about the music in The Darjeeling Limited, lifted from Merchant Ivory films and those of Satayajit Ray. The two talk about the music and where they appear in what films, but Ivory also talks in great detail about meeting Ray and his work, explaining his love for his films. The piece includes a surprising number of clips (including a bit from the unreleased on home video The Guru, which actually looks to have been thoroughly restored) but it’s incredibly engaging and fascinating. My reason for the surprise is that, as some may have gathered elsewhere, I’m not terribly fond of Merchant Ivory films but I actually find Ivory a great interview subject based on this and his contribution to Criterion’s Howards End disc.
Essay by Matt Zoller Seitz is another surprising inclusion, a 12-minute video essay by Seitz basically explaining why he loves The Darjeeling Limited (which also includes Hotel Chevalier.) He offers a rather passionate analysis of the film, its characters growth (or lack thereof,) and the symbolism found throughout. This one was surprising because I’m used to newer films released by Criterion lacking much in the way of film analysis and this one, while brief, is actually a fairly decent piece.
Next up is the full length 2-minute American Express Commercial that Anderson made before The Darjeeling Limited was released. It doesn’t have anything really to do with the film other than the fact it stars Schwartzman and Waris Ahluwalia. It’s of course an Anderson quirk-fest as he walks us through what’s supposed to be a typical day on the set of one of his films but I’ve always liked it and having it here is a rather nice treat.
There is mention in the commentary about the casting of Sriharsh Sharma as one of the young boys in the village and to accompany that Sriharsh’s Audition footage is included here. Almost two-and-a-half minutes, it’s just casting footage, but amusing as the boy breaks out into a Green Day song.
Another odd little feature is Oakley Friedberg/Packer Speech, which is three-and-a-half minutes of home video footage taken at a class presentation by one Oakley Friedberg at Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, New York. Friedberg presents slides showcasing his trip to India while his parents worked on The Darjeeling Limited. Another odd but fascinating little feature, which seems to show the close family nature of the production.
We then get 3-minutes worth of deleted scenes and alternate takes. In actuality we only get one deleted scene (a sequence where Brody’s character plays Cricket with some young boys) while another one is an alternate take for the sequence where the three brothers run down a hill to their train, and then the final sequence is the scene where the three brothers looking to board a plane played with the “live sound” where the actors are just mumbling gibberish (the scene was ultimately drowned out by music in the actual soundtrack.)
Sketch by Roman Coppola is a short 2-and-a-half minute feature made up of footage taken during the writing process for the film, which included a trip to India. A lot of this material was actually covered to some extent in the audio commentary but it’s nice to get some visuals. Basically we get footage of the three (Anderson, Coppola, and Schwartzman) working on the script, and then visiting locations in India that were eventually used in the film. Photographs are also presented, including a shot of Anderson getting frisked by security and a shot of the three in front of the Taj Mahal . I’m not sure if it really adds any value, but I’m glad to have seen it after hearing the three talk about it.
Next up is Waris’ Diary, which is made up of footage shot by actor Waris Ahluwalia during filming. Its presentation is a little obnoxious, dividing the 12-minute segment in 10 separate sections that cannot be viewed all at once. It’s divided into the following sections: “Animals” (presenting footage of the various wildlife they came across while filming, complete with captions,) “Fitness” (showing how cast and crew let loose, and what a pro Waris is at kite flying,) “Life on the Rails” (footage of the cast hanging around on the train, with the revelation that Schwartzman hasn’t washed his hair in eight days,) “Special Effects,” (showing how train movement was faked in some sequences, which israther amusing I must add,) “My Costume” (footage of Waris talking to Anderson about his costume, and then Waris trying it one,) “Fans” (a short clip of locals getting Adrien Brody’s autograph, and then a shot of a newspaper clipping showing Bill Murray running through a crowd,) “Lucky Men” (footage of a clerk talking about how losing hair in a certain way is good luck,) “The Scene” (Anderson talking about the scene with the three brothers arriving at the market,) “Food” (Schwartzman hanging around the kitchen,) and then an amusing short sequence called “Feelings” which has a cute caption. This section then closes with a photo gallery of polaroids that you navigate through using your remote. It has about 50 photos and contains shots taken from the set of Hotel Chevalier, the American Express commercial, and then of course The Darjeeling Limited, made up of a lot of shots of the cast and crew. I actually liked the section as a whole, finding it funny and interesting but I wasn’t big on the presentation and wish you could have viewed at least the video material straight through.
Trophy Case is another cute addition, acknowledging the awards the film won, the first one being the Leoncino d’oro, an award given by local schoolchildren in Venice, Italy, and the second being the AARP award for “best comedy for adults.” We then get quick shots of the awards. The segment runs 41-seconds.
The disc then includes a stills gallery with production photos taken by James Hamilton, and then a few taken by Owen Wilson’s mother, Laura Wilson, and then Adrien Brody’s mother, Sylvia Plachy. The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer.
The insert included then contains an essay by Richard Brody on the film and where it fits in Anderson’s filmography.
I guess when one looks there really isn’t all the much on here, and a couple of the features may not offer much real value or, in the case of the commentary, are uneven, but in the end I rather liked the material presented and enjoyed going through all of it. 7/10