The Grand Budapest Hotel
Wes Anderson brings his dry wit and visual inventiveness to this exquisite caper set amid the old-world splendor of Europe between the World Wars. At the opulent Grand Budapest Hotel, the concierge M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) and his young protégé Zero (Tony Revolori) forge a steadfast bond as they are swept up in a scheme involving the theft of a priceless Renaissance painting and the battle for an enormous family fortune—while around them, political upheaval consumes the continent. Meticulously designed, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a breathless picaresque and a poignant paean to friendship and the grandeur of a vanished world, performed with panache by an all-star ensemble that includes F. Murray Abraham, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Willem Dafoe, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum, Mathieu Amalric, Tilda Swinton, and Bill Murray.
Continuing their relationship with director Wes Anderson, The Criterion Collection finally gets around to releasing his 2014 film The Grand Budapest Hotel, presenting it with a 1080p/24hz high-definition encode. While the presentation technically has a 1.85:1 base aspect ratio the film makes use of multiple ratios depending on the time period depicted: 1.37:1, 1.85:1, and 2.40:1.
Outside of a missing title card that opened Fox’s Blu-ray (indicating viewers should set their television to a 16x9 setting), I suspect Criterion is using the same master Fox used for their Blu-ray edition, which, according to the notes on the transfer, comes from a 2K scan of the 35mm original camera negative. This means that the film is still framed in the same manner as it was on the Fox disc: there are two different framings for the 1.85:1 ratio, the present day being larger and the 80’s portion being shrunk down so the height is the same as the height of the 2.40:1 ratio, with both being window-boxed with black bars all-around; the 2.40:1 ratio presented as one would expect; and the 1.37:1 ratio with bars on the sides and slim bars at the top and bottom, window-boxing the image. On an included feature with David Bordwell he explains that the film was framed so that it would fit a general 1.85:1 screen at movie theaters to avoid issues.
At any rate, getting past all of that, it’s a wonderful looking presentation but not all that different from Fox’s so anyone looking for an upgrade in this department is out of luck. It’s a bright, vivid, and colourful looking film and all of that translates gorgeously here. The pinks and reds of the hotel look superb, blues look rich and deep, yellows are clean, and the whites of the snowy scenes look great without rubbing out any details (though there can be a blooming effect that looks to be intentional). Blacks are decent but can be a bit mushy and grayer at times, but this is similar to the Fox Blu-ray and more than likely just a product of the photography.
Details are strong, with the finer ones being cleanly rendered (important for an Anderson film), and there are no print flaws to speak of, but considering how new the film is I would have been shocked to find anything in this regard. In the end it’s a nice looking image, just not all that different from Fox’s.
The film comes with the original 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented yet again in DTS-HD MA (like the Fox disc). Dialogue stays focused to the fronts but the music, sound effects, and action are spread out beautifully to the other speakers in a natural way. Everything is sharp and crystal clear, with a wide amount of range. Gun shots during one scene sound a bit flat in comparison to your typical Hollywood gunfire (which is by design) but the sequence envelopes the viewer nicely.
Again, it’s the same as what the Fox edition offered, but it still sounds great.
Supplements, like Criterion’s other Anderson releases, is the area where Criterion’s editions always top the previous studio home video edition, and that’s not only no different here, but it’s also probably one of the better batch of supplements Criterion has put together for one of his films.
As expected Criterion has recorded a new audio commentary, this one featuring critic Kent Jones and director Wes Anderson, along with actor Jeff Goldblum and filmmaker Roman Coppola calling in via some video chat application I’m sure. Despite this aspect it sounds like they’re all in the room together. This may also be my favourite track for one of Anderson’s films. The track for Moonrise Kingdom sounded like a disorganized mess (which was a bit of the charm admittedly), with Anderson even talking about the wrong film at one point. Part of the problem more than likely had to do with some lofty goals: Anderson would call up cast and crew randomly, and he attempted to answer fan questions. Things are kept simple here, with Jones acting as a sort of moderator, keeping things a bit focused and chiming in with questions and his own thoughts on the film. Anderson talks about the film’s influences, which he admits were more Lubitsch than Stefan Zweig, and talks about the grueling process of creating the world in the film, right down to the politics (although the name is never mentioned in the film, Anderson explains here that the fascists in the film were called “Zig Zags”). What I loved about this track, though, is Goldblum. I’m trying to recall if I’ve ever heard him on another commentary, but I found him to be just a delightful addition here. He’s funny and delivers a lot of the track’s laughs, but he also shares some great insights about the film, bringing up other films he feels were an influence (he talks about the obvious Torn Curtain ”homage” in one scene, to which Anderson states it’s more of a rip off). This then leads to conversations about other films and other filmmakers, with Paul Mazursky, Philip Kaufman, and Rainer Werner Fassbinder coming up, amongst others. I also learned random facts from him, like what Miuccia Prada’s favourite film is (it’s a Fassbinder). It was a fun track to listen to and it could be one I’d actually go to listen to again.
Criterion then includes a rich array of video extras, the first batch of which can be found under Visiting “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” First there is a 25-minute look at the design and special effects of the film, featuring interviews with executive producer/former visual effects designer Jeremy Dawson, and production designer Adam Stockhausen. Other short featurettes on here go over these aspects on a more artificial level, but these two get more into the nitty-gritty of pulling off the film’s visual design, explaining the use of models, finding the right location (to keep the budget down they had to find a place that could serve multiple functions, not just as the hotel), and then pulling off some of the more complicated action scenes and effects, like the ski chase. In the last case I always thought the use of models for the chase was just part of the design of the film, but it sounds like it was done more out of necessity, and just added a nice little layer in the end. A lot of the film was also done practically with digital only being applied to clean up seams or merge images (I was surprised by the use of a green-screen yoga ball for one effect shot). I think the biggest surprise was just how low-budget a lot of the visuals and effects were and it all just looks incredible in the end. One of the more fascinating features of its type tha I’ve come across recently.
Also under the “Visiting” section is a 5-minute presentation of the recording session for the film’s music score, showcasing the traditional Russian folk instruments used. There’s also a 2-minute slideshow presenting photos and footage of the miniatures used throughout the film, with an example of how the ski chase worked.
The Making of “The Grand Budapest Hotel” is a 22-minute documentary on the film, which, like other making-of features on Criterion’s Anderson releases, is more observational, watching Anderson and his crew plan out shots and getting some fun little behind-the-scene moments, like Jason Schwartzman commenting on how unbelievably comfortable the socks are for his costume. There are also interviews with some members of the cast (including Abraham, who just seems to be delighted to be working on the film), footage of the crew putting together Mendl’s baked goods, and footage of the final shot of the film. It’s nothing ground-breaking, that’s for sure, but it is actually fun to watch, and I have to appreciate that its kept short and not loaded with filler.
In the commentary and the effects/design interview there is a lot of mention of Anderson’s use of animatics to properly plan the visuals and timing of gags. Criterion presents a sample of them here for six sequences, running 26-minutes, with Anderson doing the voice over. Shockingly there’s not too much of a difference from the finished product (I think a couple of lines differ), with the aspect ratio even being considered. Criterion included these on other Anderson titles, even the entire animatic for Fantastic Mr. Fox as a picture-in-picture extra that played over the film (at least on the Blu-ray), but they’re always fascinating to watch if just to see how Anderson works to translate his sense of humour; the deadpan delivery in a few sequences is all him as showcased here. The whole thing would have been good, but they picked the more interesting scenes at least.
Criterion next includes a couple of video essays. One by Matt Zoller Seitz, running 16-minutes, was created around the time of the release of his book on the film and featured on rogerebert.com. It’s a short adaptation of the material he covers in the book, going over the film’s themes (dealing with loss, memories, storytelling and so forth) and how Anderson tells the film visually. It’s an insightful analysis, but I was actually more fascinated by a 23-minute contribution from David Bordwell, which looks to have been made for this edition. Bordwell talks about Anderson’s visuals throughout his work and then examines how Anderson translates his usual widescreen compositions (which would call for filling the space on the sides with items or even gags) to the “taller” 4:3 ratio that makes up most of this film, meaning he changes how the action takes place. He also talks about what the ratios do for the feel of the film, how they represent the time periods they depict, and so on. Considering that it’s just about Anderson’s framing the look of his films it’s a surprisingly packed and engaging feature, one of the better ones on here.
Following their exclusive content, Criterion then ports over all of the featurettes from the Fox edition, which all range between just-under-3-minutes and just-under-5-minutes. There is a 4 part “making-of,” that actually feels to be more promotional than anything else, covering the general story, the Society of Crossed Keys (the organization in the film), the hotel and sets, and the world that was created. Though fast-paced and note overly insightful, these are still worthwhile just for the footage of the sets and transformation of the hotel (as well as what brief interviews we get with the cast). There is then a feature where the cast talks about Wes Anderson, and then another about the impressive cast.
The remaining featurettes are just fun additions, like one where Bill Murray tours the town of Görlitz (where the film was primarily shot) and has Murray being Murray. There’s also a couple of in-joke videos, like a lecture from the author in the film about the Europe of the period depicted in the film (with Tom Wilkinson in character), and then another about the “Society of Crossed Keys.” Though both are made specifically for the fictional world in the film, there’s a lot of truth in it as it appears to be mostly made up from the research that was dug up around the film (based on comments in the other features). But the best featurette may be the 3-minute video (which admittedly reminds me of this stupid online GIF recipe videos that rarely work) on how to make the signature Mendl’s treat. I’ll try it one day, but I have to do it when my wife’s out of the house since her stress level goes up when I’m making a mess in the kitchen.
The disc then closes with the film’s theatrical trailer.
Criterion then makes this edition more of a collector’s edition with a few more touches. The disc is packaged in a Digipak and then includes a large fold-out showcasing a lot of the props, art, letters, and more that appear in the film (made to look like, when folded, the book of poetry Zero gives Agatha). There is then a 36-page booklet (made to look like the 60’s menu in the film) featuring a reprint of an article from 2014 Richard Brody wrote about the film, followed by Mark Twain’s appendix to “A Tramp Abroad,” “The Portier.” In it Twain explains the European hotel portier (who would be the Fiennes character in the film), the general staff, and even the feel of these hotels, and how American hotels would do well to import some of these things. I suspect this influenced Anderson to a degree, though I don’t recall it being mentioned elsewhere. At the very least I never made a note of it.
I was disappointed with Criterion’s edition of Moonrise Kingdom, where the supplements did feel slapped together in a hurry and were barely any better than a studio release (despite the commentary and Edward Norton’s videos being a bit of fun). I dreaded the same for their edition of The Grand Budapest Hotel, but I’m happy to say that far more effort was put in here. In fact, it’s probably one of the better put together and more satisfying set of features for an Anderson release and it was all fun to go through, even the material carried over from the Fox edition.
Though the audio/video presentation doesn’t offer any sort of improvement over the Fox release, Criterion’s special edition provides a more satisfying batch of supplements that delve far more into the making of the film, the film’s fictional world, and it’s fascinating look (thanks to a couple of academic inclusions). A very easy recommendation for fans.