Until the End of the World
Conceived as the ultimate road movie, this decades-in-the-making science-fiction epic from Wim Wenders follows the restless Claire Tourneur (Solveig Dommartin) across continents as she pursues a mysterious stranger (William Hurt) in possession of a device that can make the blind see and bring dream images to waking life. With an eclectic soundtrack that gathers a host of the director’s favorite musicians, along with gorgeous cinematography by Robby Müller, this breathless adventure in the shadow of Armageddon takes its heroes to the ends of the earth and into the oneiric depths of their own souls. Presented here in its triumphant 287-minute director’s cut, Until the End of the World assumes its rightful place as Wenders’ magnum opus, a cosmic ode to the pleasures and perils of the image and a prescient meditation on cinema’s digital future.
The Criterion Collection presents Wim Wender’s full 287-minute cut of his “ultimate road movie,” Until the End of the World, on Blu-ray in a director approved 2-disc set. The film is presented over the two dual-layer discs in its original aspect ratio of 1.66:1. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a 4K restoration of the film. While dealing with the demands of producers to significantly cut the film down, Wenders had the foresight to make a copy of his original cut and use that copy to cut the film down (to what he calls the “Reader’s Digest” version), hiding the original negatives away. Because of that smart move the negatives were able to be used as the source for this new restoration.
I was curious to see how Criterion would present the film and I’m overjoyed that they decided to spread the film over the two discs after tending to cram lengthy films on one disc (with the special features, because why not). The benefits of breaking up the film are obvious right off the bat just during the opening aerial shots. The details are rich and clear, every detail rendered cleanly, with no noise or artifacts to muck things up, all delivering a wonderful photographic image in the end. Grain is sharp and clean keeping a natural look most of the time, and colours looking vivid and bright. Black levels are also spot on. This all then carries on throughout the rest of the film, details always sharp and clean and the image retaining a nice filmic texture.
That’s not to say there aren’t any issues, though they’re ultimately minor. Some mosquito noise can creep in there in places, and there is some noticeable banding in the sky during some of the film’s day-for-night shots (at the very least, they look day-for-night). These can stick out a bit more simply because the rest of the presentation is so tight. I don’t recall any blemishes of any sort through the film’s runtime, colours are bright and wonderful (there are a lot of bold reds, blues, greens, and so on), and the digital presentation is rock solid otherwise. Even the early high-definition imagery that appears in the film looks pretty damn good.
Because of many wise decisions (from Wenders preserving his original cut to Criterion spreading the film over two discs) we get, outside of a handful of minor issues, a real stunner of a picture, significantly stronger and better than previous home video releases of the shorter cuts.
The film is presented with a 5.1 surround track, delivered in DTS-HD MA. Though it’s a science-fiction film and loaded with a number of frantic sequences, the audio mix isn’t overly aggressive. I still found most everything to sit in the fronts, with some ambient effects and music making it to the rears. The track sounds excellent, though, crystal clear and sharp with great range and fidelity, and the film’s famous music soundtrack sounds incredible here, with stunning range and fidelity.
Criterion spreads all of the features over the two discs, starting things off on the first disc with a new introduction by Wenders, going over (for 14-minutes) the film’s long production, from his initial script to fighting producers on the film’s final cut. Along the way he talks about how certain advancements in real-life technology would further develop the script (the invention of small monitors, for example) and how he feels the film predicted the ease of access to information thanks to computers. I don’t think spoilers are significant but I feel it should be viewed after a first viewing of the film.
Wenders then shows up again for Till the End of the World, a 15-minute discussion about the film’s soundtrack and how he enlisted several artists (including, by pure chance by the sounds of it, U2) to create music for the film. Though disappointing it’s not all that surprising that Criterion was unable to get interviews with most of the artists involved with the soundtrack, but they were, at the very least, able to get David Byrne and Wenders together for an 8-minute companion feature to this feature, with the two talking about Byrne’s contribution specifically (“Sax and Violins”) and the high-definition music video that appears in the film.
To continue on with material on the music, Criterion also digs up an 18-minute 1991 documentary covering the recording of Nick Cave’s and The Bad Seeds’ song “I’ll Love You Till the End of the World,” which is really just raw footage of the 3-day session. Wenders has then created a 31-minute edit of footage created deleted scenes, outtakes, coverage, and the raw footage used for some of the film’s effects, put together with music from the film. I can’t say there is anything all that significant here but I found the raw effects footage interesting to watch without the digital alterations.
Where disc one does focus a lot on the film’s music, with some new material with Wenders, disc two presents archival material around the film’s production and the official release of the longer version. There’s a 31-minute interview with Wenders from 2001, conducted around the time of a more official release of the director’s cut (after it had been making the rounds in underground screenings over the years), Wenders explaining why the film was initially cut down and how he was able to preserve his original vision (he even talks about an upcoming German DVD).
Much more interesting, though, is the 62-minute Japanese documentary Wim Wenders in Japan, which (as the title suggests) follows Wenders around while he worked on the film in Japan. A majority of the material centers around the high-definition material created for the film, which was brand-spanking-new at the time. HD technology is old-hat now but it’s fun looking at the then-new equipment (particularly the HD monitors and HD projector) and the concerns of the people behind the technology over how Wenders was going to use it; Wenders was using the technology to filter and pixelize imagery and there was a fear this would make the technology look unappealing. There’s also some coverage of the high-definition David Byrne music video along with behind-the-scene footage covering the Japanese segments shot for the film, and to top things off nicely there’s a short interview with actor Chishu Ryu. It’s easily my favourite feature on here.
The disc closes off with Up-Down Under Roma—a 6-minute interview with Wenders recalling his trop to Australia and the impact it had on him—and then the original Warner Bros. trailer for the film, looking to be sourced from a video tape. Criterion’s included booklet also proves to be a solid inclusion itself, featuring a nice write-up on the film by Bilge Ebiri, and another on the film’s famous soundtrack, written by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky.
Though not entirely necessary I guess I did hope they would include one of the shorter cuts, whether it be the European one or the North American one. Even a feature specifically about the shorter cuts would have been nice (at the very least Ebiri’s essay gets into this a bit, as does Wenders in his various appearances).
The features are a solid set, though the inclusion of one of the alternate cuts, if only for comparison, would have been a welcome addition. At the very least the presentation is a solid one, aided by the fact Criterion spreads the film over two discs.