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The Imitation Game Blu-ray + Digital HD Review

The Imitation Game (2014) movie poster The Imitation Game

Theatrical Release: December 12, 2014 / Running Time: 114 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Morten Tyldum / Writers: Graham Moore (screenplay), Andrew Hodges (book Alan Turing: The Enigma)

Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear (Detective Robert Nock), Allen Leech (John Cairncross), Matthew Beard (Peter Hilton), Charles Dance (Commander Denniston), Mark Strong (Stewart Menzies), James Northcote (Jack Good), Tom Goodman Hill (Sergeant Staehl), Steven Waddington (Superintendent Smith), Ilan Goodman (Keith Furman), Jack Tarlton (Charles Richards), Alex Lawther (Young Alan Turing), Jack Bannon (Christopher Morcom), Tuppence Middleton (Helen)

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Though it isn't to the extreme of Deep Impact and Armageddon or Antz and A Bug's Life,
The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game do have enough similarities and proximity to demand comparison. Both films are PG-13 biopics about British geniuses who faced adversity in the middle of the 20th century. Both hail from relatively unknown European directors and arthouse studios versed in prestige. Both were expected to compete for major awards from about the moment they were announced. And, despite some reviews that border on lukewarm, both were in contention until the very end for the top honors in filmdom.

Imitation arrived a mere three weeks after Everything's limited opening, which could easily have worked against it. But, despite its title, Imitation is obviously no copycat. It's the better and more interesting of the two movies that were rolled out slowly to build word of mouth.

The name Alan Turing isn't as recognizable as Stephen Hawking, but perhaps it should be. This film will certainly help, as it celebrates the brilliant British mathematician as one of the biggest unsung heroes of World War II. Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, is established in the opening scene, a job interview for a top-secret government position, as a socially awkward man. The learned 27-year-old doesn't recognize a joke when he hears it, much less tell any. He is frank, direct, and though modest about his own intellect, not reluctant to doubt someone else's.

"The Imitation Game" stars Benedict Cumberbatch as gifted World War II cryptanalyst Alan Turing.

Turing is hired to decrypt Nazi Germany's Enigma machine for enciphering and deciphering sensitive, confidential messages. The electro-mechanical device may look simple, even primitive compared to today's technologies. But unlocking its secrets is a massive undertaking, one that would take brilliant minds millions of years of experimenting. Turing devotes himself to the project, hoping to unshroud the Nazi communications that are responsible for loss of Allied life every few minutes. Unliked by his peers, including his immediate supervisor (Matthew Goode), Turing doesn't have any apparent personal life or family, freeing him to work, work, work and crack the code. A letter to Winston Churchill increases his authority to fire those not pulling their weight and to stand up to those questioning him. Turing also gets approval for a 100,000 pound expense to build a machine that tries every possible one of the millions of combinations efficiently each and every day.

This world of brainy British men could really use an intelligent woman. Fortunately, that is just what we get in Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), apparently the only female to respond to a challenging newspaper crossword puzzle used as a recruitment tool. Joan is referred to the receptionist area, as all are shocked that a woman -- a woman! -- could complete a tough crossword quickly. Turing comes to respect Joan as much as any of his colleagues and even proposes to her when her parents' concern over her unmarried status threatens to pull her off the Enigma project.

Alan and Joan are not actually in love in any way. He is secretly homosexual, anyway. In mid-20th Century Britain, that is a crime and one for which Turing is interrogated in a chronology-bending current that runs through the film. Being gay at a time when that is illegal is Alan Turing's motor neuron disease. It doesn't debilitate him, but it does add stress. Turing is depicted as a theoretical homosexual. He is accused of soliciting the company of a male prostitute, but we don't see this or any other display of romance or longing. There doesn't seem to be any room for emotion in Turing's scarce, mechanical personality. He is every bit as rigid and precise as "Christopher", his giant, gear-grinding machine constantly trying to crack Enigma's secrets.

Keira Knightley plays Joan Clarke, the one woman allowed to try cracking Enigma's codes with the boys.

The Imitation Game doesn't concern itself with making sure we understand what Turing is doing. A few figures convey the enormously long odds the project is up against. But, how is it then that if the codes reset daily that Alan's team needs just one big break to crack it indefinitely? You'd think that information would be worth relaying clearly.
For a film that keeps its subplots secondary and fleeting, Imitation gets us involved in the Enigma deciphering without getting us to invest in specifics or intricacies. That's okay, though, because you assume that such a film has to simplify the technical side of Turing's work in order to fit the mold of a crowd-pleasing historical triumph, one The Weinstein Company memorably used four years earlier on The King's Speech.

This film doesn't succeed to the extent that comparable Best Picture winner did, but it is similarly accessible, involving, and fast-moving. Though Turing is humorless, his film absolutely is not. It avoids the melodrama and dryness that British period dramas typically choose between. Cumberbatch made one of each of those in 2011 between War Horse and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Renowned for his work as television's Sherlock Holmes, the actor has seemed primed to make the leap to movie stardom for several years now. Blockbuster villainy in Star Trek Into Darkness and The Hobbit sequel voiceover didn't really do it. Nor, despite much advance hype, did The Fifth Estate, a 2013 movie expected to be for Julian Assange and WikiLeaks what The Social Network was to Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. The blue-tinted Euro thriller struck out with critics and bombed with moviegoers, but Cumberbatch had four other Oscar-nominated films to fall back on that year, including a forgettable brief appearance in Best Picture winner 12 Years a Slave. The Imitation Game may not be anything exceptional, but it was a legitimate Oscar contender and the first "Benedict Cumberbatch movie" to be described as such. Cumberbatch sinks his teeth into this juicy, unusual characterization, convincing you with his stammering confidence.

It helped that the movie had notorious Oscar maestro Harvey Weinstein in its corner. Hardly a year goes by without at least one Weinstein-backed film in the Best Picture race and most acting categories of the Oscars. Though just one of eight films The Weinstein Company actively campaigned for Academy recognition (a count that excludes the highly acclaimed Radius-TWC-branded Snowpiercer), Imitation was always sure to be Harvey's ticket to 2014 awards action.

At one point, Imitation seemed like it could be the film to beat, unearthing a little-known story of historical significance in the form of a watchable period crowd-pleaser, but the film ultimately lagged behind the season's biggest targets: Birdman and Boyhood. Imitation drew a healthy eight Academy Award nominations (in five major and three minor categories), but wound up settling for just a single win -- Adapted Screenplay -- recognizing novice young American scribe Graham Moore.

The Oscar night performance was pretty weak for a Weinstein top contender, but by then, the movie had already won over a much bigger audience: the general public. Grossing $90.5 million domestically and another $125 million outside of North America, The Imitation Game was the only one of the Best Picture nominees besides the behemothic American Sniper to really connect with moviegoers to the point of commercial impact. Its cause was aided by theater count; Imitation opened in 1,500 theaters and expanded to 2,400 after nominations were announced. Aside from Sniper, only Selma expanded nearly as wide and it struggled to inspire as much passion.

Just in time for Easter, The Imitation Game hits Blu-ray and DVD this week from The Weinstein Company and Anchor Bay Entertainment. The Blu-ray edition, reviewed here, also includes Digital HD.

The Imitation Game: Blu-ray + Digital HD combo pack cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Subtitled in English
Release Date: March 31, 2015
Suggested Retail Price: $34.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase in Textured Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as DVD ($29.98 SRP) and Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

It has become easy to take for granted how effectively movies today can recreate past eras. The Imitation Game does an excellent job of that and for it was rewarded with a production design Oscar nomination. The tasteful art direction shines in the Blu-ray's sharp, pristine 2.40:1 widescreen transfer. The film also makes nice use of sound, from Alexandre Desplat's widely-nominated score to mixing different elements from warfare blasts to whirring mechanical gears. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack leaves nothing to be desired.

Behind-the-scenes footage from "The Making of 'The Imitation Game'" shows Benedict Cumberbatch about to ride a bike for the movie cameras. Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear) investigates Alan Turing in the Blu-ray's two deleted scenes.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's extras begin with an audio commentary by director Morten Tyldum and screenwriter Graham Moore. The two provide a spirited screen-specific conversation, addressing things like changing Turing to less resemble Cumberbatch's Sherlock,
stretching a $14-$15 million budget, and the limited first-hand material on Turing they had to guide them. Though no must-hear, this track should satisfy those enamored with the film enough to want to listen to it.

On the video side, where all is encoded in HD, we start with "The Making of The Imitation Game" (22:44), which is in the mold of other recent Weinstein making-of pieces. Generically titled and starting unpromisingly with trailer clips, the featurette comes to have value with its cast and crew comments and behind-the-scenes footage painting a fuller portrait of Turing than the movie does.

Next up come two deleted scenes (3:50), each involving the investigation of Detective Robert Nock (Rory Kinnear). One makes clearer his questionable methods, while another provides a more definitive end to Turing's story.

Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and director Morton Tyldum discover that when you make awards-bait, you've got to talk to awards bloggers, like The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg at the Telluride Film Festival.

Finally, "Q & A with the Filmmakers" (29:11) pulls highlights from three Imitation Game panel discussions. Tyldum and Moore speak at the film's debut at the Telluride Film Festival. Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley,
and Tyldum discuss the movie at the Screen Actors Guild. Finally, producers, the production designer, and a music supervisor go into the technical efforts a little more at the Producers Guild of America event. It isn't hard for the studio to preserve these bits and some good information always emerges from them.

Sadly but characteristically, Weinstein does not include The Imitation Game's theatrical trailer. The disc does, however, open with menu-inaccessible trailers for a couple of the studio's other recent Best Picture contenders: Philomena and The King's Speech.

The generic menu loops a dramatic, scored montage. Naturally and fittingly, the loading icon is Christopher gears whirring. Regrettably, the Blu-ray doesn't support bookmarks or resume unfinished playback, with Weinstein being one of the last distributors not to offer anything like that.

An insert with your code and directions for redeeming the Digital HD UltraViolet presentation of the film included with your purchase and another advertising a source text, Andrew Hodges' book Alan Turing: The Enigma join the disc inside the plain blue keepcase which is topped by a sleek slipcover.

A tormented Alan Turing looks at his machines that would become precursor to the modern computer.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

The Imitation Game fills a familiar mold of inspirational true British biopic, but it fills it well. The story intrigues, the performances convince, and the period production is stately on every technical level. Though it doesn't quite do enough to inspire great passion and love, it is a drama that most viewers will like and very few will dislike.

Weinstein's Blu-ray release befits the film with a good audio commentary and hour of solid, meaty video extras complementing a first-rate presentation of the film. The fine film may not have a world of replay value, but this disc is a great way to see it and, if you are so inclined, revisit it.

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Benedict Cumberbatch: The Fifth Estate August: Osage County Star Trek Into Darkness The Other Boleyn Girl
Keira Knightley: Begin Again Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit Last Night Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

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Reviewed March 30, 2015.



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