Wes Anderson first illustrated his lovingly detailed, slightly surreal cinematic vision (with cowriter Owen Wilson) in this visually witty and warm portrait of three young misfits. Best friends Anthony (Luke Wilson), Dignan (Owen Wilson), and Bob (Robert Musgrave) stage a wildly complex, mildly successful robbery of a small bookstore, then go “on the lam.” During their adventures, Anthony falls in love with a South American housekeeper, Inez (Lumi Cavazos), and they befriend local thief extraordinaire Mr. Henry (James Caan). Bottle Rocket is a charming, hilarious, affectionate look at the folly of dreamers, shot against radiant southwestern backdrops, and the film that put Anderson and the Wilson brothers on the map.
A title that many fans hoped would make it to The Criterion Collection has finally made it and even marks one of the label’s first Blu-ray releases. Wes Anderson’s first film, Bottle Rocket, is presented here in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this dual-layer disc. The image has been enhanced for widescreen televisions and is presented in 1080p.
The DVD and the Blu-ray technically come from the same digital transfer so they do share a lot of similarities. The Blu-ray presents very strong colours, bright and vibrant, and coming off quite warm. The print looks flawless as far as I can tell, nothing standing out.
The Blu-ray is much sharper, though, presenting far more detail than the DVD. Luke Wilson’s red fleece sweater looks much sharper, close-ups present more details, and grain is also more noticeable. I could detect any artifacts such as noise or edge enhancement. Overall, it’s a sharp, impressive Blu-ray debut from Criterion.
(Screen grabs below have been provided by DVD Beaver. Grabs have been downscaled somewhat but should provide an idea of the image quality.)
The Blu-ray release presents a DTS-HD track, an upgrade from the DVD’s Dolby Digital track. It’s most certainly a much sharper track, but not something that will show off your system. The film sticks mainly to the fronts with only some music and ambient effects making it to the surrounds. But audio quality is quite sharp, presenting more detail and better range than the DVD’s track. Not great but it is still quite sharp and suits the film.
Criterion has put together a nice special edition for this film on both DVD (in a two disc set) and this Blu-ray (a single-disc release) which will make fans happy. The special features across both versions are the same so I am copying from the supplement section of my DVD review, editing where appropriate. The menus do differ, of course, since Criterion uses a pop-out system. As to not waste the multiple menus that appear on the DVD version, the Blu-rays menu is actually made up of a montage of the DVD menus.
First up is an audio commentary featuring director/writer Wes Anderson and actor/co-writer Owen Wilson. I usually like Anderson’s tracks though prefer when he’s with someone else or at least edited in with someone else. I found his solo track for The Royal Tenenbaums a little much where the edited track for Rushmore (which also featured Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman) was much smoother. Here Wilson and Anderson have been recorded together more or less. The menu states they were recorded together through a transcontinental phone call (I gathered Wilson was in Miami but I don’t recall Anderson stating where he was) but they are both working together on the track, watching the film together. A lot of it is devoted to the actual process of writing the script and the many, many, many rewrites that followed, the original script running somewhere around 225 pages. Anderson and Wilson are also both hung up on the initial test screenings (which were not good and required a number of reshoots—the whole opening was a reshoot by the sounds of it) and they come back to those often, even remembering what was written on the comment cards. DVD/Blu-ray producer Susan Arosteguy left them a series of questions to refer to in case they’re unsure on what to talk about but Wes only refers to them a couple of times. They both talk about getting friends for all the roles, and how Wilson wondered if he should even act in it. They also discuss the critical reception (not great) but how excited they were when Scorsese named the film one of his ten favourites of the 90’s. It’s an amusing track with some decent making-of info and fans will most assuredly enjoy it. (As a note, there is brief mention of Wes’ next film, The Fantastic Mr. Fox.
The supplements are found under “Supplements” from the pop-out menu.
First up is a making-of documentary aptly titled The Making of Bottle Rocket. Running about 26-minutes it’s made up primarily of interviews with members of the cast and crew including (but not limited to) James L. Brooks, Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson, Luke Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Andrew Wilson, James Caan, and Kumar Pallana. Spliced in is test footage, deleted sequences, and audition footage. It’s pretty much a talking head documentary but it covers the making of the film pretty thoroughly as it makes its way through the long process of getting the film to the screen. It touches on the short film and the meetings with James L. Brooks, and then Wes, Owen, and Luke making their way to Hollywood, where they spent the next couple of years working on the script. The test screening was a disaster, the film coming off as a long, incredibly slow mess. They had to go back and do a rewrite and reshoot, finally coming up with the film as it is now. A lot of this is actually covered in the commentary, though Anderson and Wilson had trouble recalling some things so getting information from other members of the film gives a better picture about the making of the film. Worth watching.
Storyboards presents a selection of the crude storyboards Anderson made for the film. You navigate through them using the arrows on your remote. While the menu notes say that they are a “selection” they just about cover the whole movie, so I assume not much was left out.
The Bottle Rocket Short is the entire 13-minute short film on which the main feature is based. It’s presented in black-and-white in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. It also looks to have been thoroughly restored. It resembles the first section of the film almost exactly, just compressed down. It’s actually a charming little piece, and I think I actually like it more than the film. Also included with the film is a sub-section called miscellaneous, which is a gallery containing a small collection of photos, storyboards and an invoice. You navigate through it using the arrows on your remote.
Next is a collection of deleted scenes,11 in total, running about 19-minutes. There’s actually some good material here, most of it pretty funny, but I can see why they were cut. Some sequences look to be exact duplicates of scenes from the short that never made it to the longer film, and there’s also an explanation as to why Andrew Wilson’s character is called Future Man (also explained in the commentary.) I assume there was more material, though, since the documentary and commentary allude to a completely different opening and the fact that the film was significantly cut down. The commentary also mentions a scene where Lumi Cavazos’ Inez slaps Dignan, which caught Owen Wilson off guard, but that also seems to be missing. Still, I rather liked these selected scenes on their own and they were worth watching.
Probably the best (and most intriguing) supplement on here is the short film Murita Cycles by Barry Braverman, a collaborator and friend of Wes Anderson and the Wilson family. The 27-minute 1978 short, which apparently served as a heavy influence on Anderson and Owen Wilson, is a portrait of Barry’s father, Murray, an eccentric man who runs a “bicycle shop” in Staten Island (though it’s become sort of a “junk shop” as he collects all sorts of junk and fills his house and even his shop, literally right to the door.) It isn’t exactly a flattering portrait (at one point you hear Braverman’s sister yelling at him for “ridiculing” their father) and it’s not always easy to watch, but this is such an interesting item to add to the DVD and I’m glad Criterion and Anderson felt inclined to include it. I’m sure Sony would have fought to keep something like this off of the DVD if they actually produced a special edition for the film.
I honestly am not 100% sure about the next feature, The Shafrazi Lectures, No. 1: Bottle Rocket. In it Tony Shafrazi, owner of the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York, goes on for 10-minutes about Bottle Rocket, pretty much giving the idea he thinks it’s the second coming, analyzing every little detail about the film’s story and framing. While Tony Shafrazi is a real person I’m not sure if this is some joke feature like the interviews on the Criterion DVDs for The Life Aquatic and The Royal Tenenbaums. If it isn’t then I’m at a loss for words. But with a line like “it’s like watching Breathless… But in colour!” it has to be a joke. Right? It’s bewildering to say the least.
According to the notes for the next supplement, anamorphic test, Anderson and cinematographer Robert Yeoman considered shooting the film in the Panavision widescreen format and here we get that test, which is actually of one of the scenes that was eventually deleted. Anderson’s future films would all be in this aspect ratio but for whatever reason they decided not to make this film in that ratio and stick with the 1.85:1 ratio. At any rate it’s interesting seeing this alternate framing and I think the film would have looked pretty good if they went that route.
And that brings us to the final supplement, a collection of photos by Laura Wilson, mother of the Wilson brothers, which you navigate through using the arrows on your remote. It’s a nice black and white photo journal spanning from 1992 to 1995 as Wes and Owen first work on their short film and then go to Hollywood to work on the longer feature. It includes photos of the two working in the kitchen, shots from the making of the film, the group at Sundance, and then finally in the editing room working on the final film. With all the anecdotes about the making of both films it’s nice to have a sort of visual reference, even if it’s a small one.
The one exclusive feature is one common to all of Criterion’s Blu-ray releases, the Timeline. You can open it from the pop-up menu or by pressing the RED button on your remote. This is a timeline that shows your current position in the film, and like pop-up menus for most Blu-ray releases it appears over the film as it plays. It lists the index chapters for the film and the commentary track, and you can also switch to the commentary track from here. You also have the ability to “bookmark” scenes by pressing the GREEN button and return to them by selecting them on the timeline. You can also delete bookmarks by pressing the BLUE button. This is pretty common on Blu-ray (also common on HD DVD) so it’s nothing new, but I’ve always liked Criterion’s presentation.
And of course we get a booklet. It’s a cute design made to look like Dignan’s notebook for his “75-Year Plan.” The first few pages actually have his complete plans for their 75-year plan. After that there is a 2000 tribute from Martin Scorsese on the film, and then there is an essay by James L. Brooks which details working with the young men (most of which is covered in the commentary and documentary.) He also attributes the film’s mild success (as well as Wes’ and Owen’s) to a rave review from Kenneth Turan at the Los Angeles Times.
And that closes the disc. Was it worth the wait? I’d say for the most part. I’m amazed it’s taken this long for a special edition of the film, considering its cult following, but Anderson and Criterion have put together a nice little package on Blu-ray (and DVD.) The commentary and documentary are both good, though really just above average, but it’s some of the other little touches, like the inclusion of the original short film, Braverman’s short film, the anamorphic test, and the booklet that make it a little more special. Fans who have been waiting for this release should be more than happy.
This release was a long time coming and I’m happy Criterion chose it to be one of their first Blu-ray titles. The supplements are all pretty good (the short film probably being the most fascinating supplement on here) and the transfer is absolutely fantastic. Well worth it and an impressive Blu-ray debut from Criterion.