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Chinatown (SE)
DVD disk
11.07.2007 By: Quigles
Chinatown (SE) order
Director:
Roman Polanski

Actors:
Jack Nicholson
Faye Dunaway
John Huston

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
A private detective learns his investigation of a seemingly normal adultery case may be a component of something much more sinister.
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Still holding strong today as a cinema classic, and considered by many to be one of the finest movies ever made, Roman Polanski's CHINATOWN is a detective story of the highest caliber. The only entry in the film noir genre that even comes close to capturing the intrigue of its intricately woven story is L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, and that film had the advantage of being released over 20 years later—ample time to improve on any of its flaws. Of course, this length of time would mean more a lot more if CHINATOWN actually had any real flaws worth improving on. While some movies suffer from becoming dated, the noir style presented here instead continues to enhance the picture the more the years pass, solidifying its old school appeal. The film appears to have taken on the characteristics of a fine wine, only getting better with age.

It's a shame this movie only managed to snag one of its 11 Academy Award nominations, but that can be chalked up entirely to timing; THE GODFATHER: PART II was released the very same year. Any other year, CHINATOWN would've cleaned house. The one win it did manage was for Best Original Screenplay, a fully deserved achievement. Writer Robert Towne starts by creating a world that would appear almost conventional to anyone used to watching hard-boiled noir stories, but it's his handling of the characters, dialogue, mystery, and revelation of that mystery that make the film such a masterpiece.

Whereas in most films of this ilk, Jack Nicholson's character would always be one step ahead of the game (and the audience) in figuring out the big charade, here he merely appears to be ahead of the game, until he's knocked back and proven wrong time and time again. Likewise, the audience is knocked back with him, as he's forced to pick back up the pieces and we attempt to solve the case with him once more. Nicholson captures this flawed quality perfectly, delivering the snappy one-liners with sharp-tongued haughtiness, but then quietly questioning himself whenever the pieces don't quite fit.

The handling of Nicholson's character is one of the many film noir clichés turned on its head, and it leads to a picture unlike anything seen from the genre. It's gritty, bleak, intelligent, and a complete class act all the way. Arguably Roman Polanski's best work.
THE EXTRAS
Just the three featurettes, unfortunately.

Chinatown: The Beginning and The End (19:30): Newly recorded interviews with Robert Towne, Roman Polanski, and Jack Nicholson shine a light on the story's conception and how the project came together. There's also a great deal of time spent on the film's ending, and how Polankski and Towne debated over what it should be. Very interesting stuff.

Chinatown: Filming (25:36): A continuation of the first featurette, this extra focuses more on Polanski's stylistic choices and how the film was shot.

Chinatown: The Legacy (9:40): This third featurette rounds out the main extras, and despite there not being a lot, at least what is here is worthwhile. Here we have a look back on the film, its release, the music, the reviews, and so on.

Also included is the film's Theatrical Trailer.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
CHINATOWN is a masterpiece, to be sure, but this DVD is slightly disappointing. While it's definitely an improvement over the previous release in every way (video has been treated, and the special features are better), the lack of additional effort may leave fans with a sour taste in their mouths. Still, for those that don't own the film, it's a hard DVD to pass up.
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