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The Darjeeling Limited DVD Review

The Darjeeling Limited: The Criterion Collection DVD -- click to read our reviewIn 2010, The Criterion Collection released The Darjeeling Limited in a new 2-Disc DVD and Blu-ray.

Click here for our detailed review of that superior DVD edition.
The Darjeeling Limited movie poster The Darjeeling Limited

Theatrical Release: September 29, 2007 / Running Time: 91 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Wes Anderson / Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman

Cast: Owen Wilson (Francis Whitman), Adrien Brody (Peter Whitman), Jason Schwartzman (Jack Whitman), Anjelica Huston (Patricia Whitman), Amara Karan (Rita), Wally Wolodarsky (Brendan), Waris Ahluwalia (The Chief Steward), Irrfan Khan (The Father), Barbet Schroeder (The Mechanic), Camilla Rutherford (Alice), Bill Murray (The Businessman), A.P. Singh (Taxi Driver), Kumar Pallana (Old Man), Natalie Portman (Jack's Ex-Girlfriend)

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Since following up his low-budget debut Bottle Rocket (1996) with the acclaimed Rushmore (1998), Wes Anderson has been directing films like clockwork, guiding a new one to theaters every three years. Adhering to that near-perfectly symmetrical schedule,
last fall gave us The Darjeeling Limited, the fifth feature with Anderson in the director's chair. This latest work from the offbeat 38-year-old auteur was somewhat distinguished by the fact that Fox Searchlight Pictures distributed it, not the Touchstone Pictures division of Walt Disney Studios that had handled his movies for the past decade.

Though the source of the budget and destination of ticket sales was different, there is nothing that suggests any decrease in Anderson's creative control or departure from his unique storytelling sensibilities. The Darjeeling Limited looks, feels, and sounds just like a Wes Anderson film, from its esoteric interests and meticulous design to the familiar faces and unwavering belief in yellow Futura font for on-screen text. Once again, a layer of quirkiness permeates the proceedings of what can easily be labeled another soulful comedy/drama.

The film follows the three Whitman brothers, who, after a year apart, are embarking together on a train ride through India on what is supposed to be a "spiritual journey." Discord abounds for the emotionally constipated siblings, who have their father's death, their mother's estrangement, and an assortment of painful personal problems looming over them.

The Whitman brothers -- Jack (Jason Schwartzman), Francis (Owen Wilson), and Peter (Adrien Brody) -- take in the sights and sounds of an Indian village in "The Darjeeling Limited." Peter, Jack, and Francis discuss their joint spiritual journey, while an Old Man (Wes Anderson legend Kumar Pallana) looks on.

Presumably the eldest of the brood, Francis (Owen Wilson) is covered in head bandages from a recent near-death experience. He arranges the trip with strict itineraries laminated by an alopecic assistant who's supposed to remain unseen. Peter (Adrien Brody), who seems to have been closest to his father, has a wife back home who is into the final weeks of her pregnancy. The mustachioed Jack (Jason Schwartzman), a broody writer who insists his hardly veiled works are fiction, is in that stage of life where he regularly checks his ex-girlfriend's voicemail.

When they're not sharing unkept secrets and local pain remedies, the brothers make stops at sites meant to provide sacred transcendence, all the while bickering over passports, their father's possessions, and the ultimate destination of the trip. Although those latter elements sound about right for a dysfunctional Wes Anderson movie group, the exotic spiritual enlightenment angle seems like it should trigger a pretentiousness alarm. Gladly, that's not the case. The film strikes a smart, low-key tone that respects viewer intelligence while giving us characters who, though amusingly odd, are interesting and developed enough to invest in.

Darjeeling is a movie that those not actively watching might instinctually term aimless, but in fact it has sharp insight, a gentle and appealing sense of humor, and, best of all, expert characterization.

The narrow halls of The Darjeeling Limited are seen from time to time, as in here, when the Whitman Brothers fear a deadly snake is loose. The prologue short "Hotel Chevalier" centers on the complicated feelings between this woman (Natalie Portman) and Jack Whitman (Jason Schwartzman).

As always, music plays a key role for Anderson. We once again get some choice British Invasion tunes effectively married to slow-motion character strolls; The Kinks should be grateful for the potent exposure three of their songs are given, while the Rolling Stones' "Play with Fire" is employed for the film's most affecting sequence, adding to the list of instances where the director and band are in harmony. In lieu of an original Mark Mothersbaugh score, Anderson has licensed music from some of his favorite films of Indian director Satyajit Ray from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s.
This could easily be read as a boast of broader film tastes and as a device even more indulgent than his prior film's penchant for Portuguese David Bowie covers. But, in fact, the instrumentation supports the Eastern flavor and the film's non-traditional emotional palette.

In a move not often taken, Anderson has attempted to turn The Darjeeling Limited into a two-part experience. The first part is Hotel Chevalier, a 13-minute short in which Schwartzman's character Jack Whitman reluctantly welcomes his ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman) into the lush French hotel room where he's been taking refuge from reality. This quirky piece pushes Anderson's tastes for minimalism and minutiae to their very limits. The two characters do and say very little to shed light on what is clearly a pained but unfinished romantic relationship, while Peter Sarstedt's "Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)" plays prominently (and knowingly) off an iPod. After a month of being free to download on iTunes, the short joined the film in theaters in the way it's presented here.

It is subsequently referenced in a few spots in Part 2 (i.e. the full 91-minute Darjeeling), where Portman's blink-and-miss cameo is much shorter than those given by Anderson faves Bill Murray and Anjelica Huston. Hotel adds depth to the youngest Whitman brother, though it is unclear what role the short (copyright dated 2005) had in shaping the film, the screenplay of which credits Schwartzman and his cousin Roman Coppola (of the famous movie family) alongside Anderson. Though its prerequisite status seems a little shaky, the short has given Portman fans cause to celebrate, for her partially nude appearance.

Mustache-grooming, preparing for bandage removal, and a plain old shave: the three Whitman brothers tend to their faces in different ways. With the train temporarily lost, the brothers seize the opportunity to do a spiritual exercise together in their pajamas.

There is a direct connection to every one of Anderson's previous credits in Darjeeling Limited, from the core of a strained family la Royal Tenenbaums to the use of an international setting for intrigue and adventure like The Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou, with starring roles being claimed by the matured young leads of Bottle Rocket and Rushmore. This very nature which makes it so inviting to consider Anderson's filmography as a canon ensures that Darjeeling is instantly comforting for fans of the director.

The downside is that members of the general public may be tempted to write off this and other Anderson films. The mix of appealing, recognizable cast members with an unconventional indie style will lead those expecting something more ordinary to be disappointed. At the same time, those who claim to really "get" Anderson, making him one of those filmmakers whose high IMDb vote count is disproportionate to modest attendance levels, may be overly forgiving.

While that makes for a wide divide in audience reaction (something less reflected in critics' views), it is still easy to take Anderson objectively as a serious maker of wry films. The relevance and excellence of the director's work may not be universally agreed upon, but it would be rather difficult not to notice the skill and care with which he brings witty depictions of human foibles to the big screen.

Buy The Darjeeling Limited on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.40:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: February 26, 2008
Suggested Retail Price: $14.98 (Reduced from $29.99)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)

VIDEO and AUDIO

It practically goes without saying that The Darjeeling Limited is filmed in the 2.40:1 Panavision format of which Anderson and his right-hand cinematographer Robert Yeoman have proven to be fond.
The careful compositions, head-on shots, and frame distortion of Anderson's Touchstone films are again found here, with some seemingly deliberate yellow tinting distinguishing the setting.

Unfortunately, I can't accurately judge the DVD's picture and sound quality since Fox only sent a screener, not final product, which is compressed to a single DVD-R and features studio watermarking from time to time. The odds certainly are in the film's favor that it will look and sound just dandy, but the anamorphic widescreen transfer (occasionally marred by artifacts) and subtle Dolby Digital 5.1 track here aren't indicative of what you'll get. (According to the press release, that includes a pan & scan transfer as well.)

Those wanting to marvel at Anderson's detailed and precise production design in high definition will be disappointed to know that Fox hasn't deemed Darjeeling high-profile enough to warrant a concurrent release on Blu-ray.

Production designer Mark Friedberg points out the significant side of train artwork in the disc's lone featurette, "The Darjeeling Limited Walking Tour." An evocative mixture of textures form the dreamy animated Darjeeling Limited DVD main menu.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

By Wes Anderson standards, The Darjeeling Limited is handed a very anemic slate of supplements, besting only Bottle Rocket until that gets the long-rumored Criterion Collection treatment. Beyond the already discussed Hotel Chevalier, we get the featurette "The Darjeeling Limited Walking Tour" (21:21), which largely avoids talking heads and film clips. Although the fly-on-the-set footage is fairly dull, looks at handmade set decoration and the ways in which the narrow moving train was made more filmable are more interesting.

Gladly, there is also the film's theatrical trailer (2:15), which is as intriguing, well-compiled and musically appealing as any Wes Anderson film preview.

Additional trailers are provided for The Savages, The Onion Movie, Hitman, and Resurrecting the Champ. Though not accessible as bonus features, the disc opens with skippable trailers for Death at a Funeral, Juno, and Feast of Love.

The striking menus convey the film's dreaminess by blending wallpaper designs, sandy landscapes, and character images. All are silent and static, with the exception of the evocative main menu, which rotates images of the central trio while also featuring moving clouds, birds, and the titular train.

Without final product, I can't comment upon packaging, but online representations reveal that, in staying close to the one-sheet design, the cover artwork falls in line with Buena Vista's standard DVD versions of the director's films rather than the Eric Anderson illustrations which liven up the premium versions.

Jack, Francis, and Peter share a motorcycle ride for three, leaving camels and other Indian traffic in their dust. It's not quite a smooth train ride for the three brothers sharing a cabin after not seeing each other for a year.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Darjeeling Limited is not a film that will change how you feel about Wes Anderson movies. The writer-director continues to stick to his guns, giving us more understated humor, awkward pauses, pitch-perfect montage and pathos in another thoughtful story that revels in fractured characters.

Like its predecessors, Darjeeling seems to divide audiences, with as many moviegoers opting to remain blissfully oblivious as those who are left cold and those who are utterly appraising. Predicting which of those three classes you'll fall into is as easy as recounting whether or not you've seen and liked Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and The Life Aquatic. Darjeeling isn't as brilliant as those first three, but it's got enough merit to ensure that the director hasn't lost his touch, provided you agree that he has ever had a touch to lose.

It's tough getting too jazzed about Fox's DVD release, especially from an overly compressed screener disc. I can assume that the final retail version is not similarly marred, but even so the stark supplements menu is bound to dishearten those who have repeatedly admired the many bonuses on Criterion's DVDs of Anderson films. Nevertheless, the film definitely has enough going for it to justify a rental, especially for Anderson fans. They may want to wait to see if Criterion steps in and gives Darjeeling more fulfilling treatment, but doing so could just put them in the same boat as the poor saps who on similar hopes have gone years without Bottle Rocket in their collections.

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Reviewed March 3, 2008.



Text copyright 2008 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2007 Fox Searchlight Pictures, Collage and American Empirical Pictures, 2008 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.
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