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Rushmore: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

Rushmore (1998) movie poster Rushmore

Theatrical Release: December 11, 1998 / Running Time: 93 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: Wes Anderson / Writers: Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson

Cast: Jason Schwartzman (Max Fischer), Bill Murray (Mr. Herman Blume), Olivia Williams (Miss Rosemary Cross), Seymour Cassel (Bert Fischer), Brian Cox (Dr. Nelson Guggenheim), Mason Gamble (Dirk Calloway), Sara Tanaka (Margaret Yang), Stephen McCole (Magnus Buchan), Luke Wilson (Dr. Peter Flynn), Connie Nielsen (Mrs. Calloway), Deepak Pallana (Mr. Adams), Andrew Wilson (Coach Beck), Marietta Marich (Mrs. Guggenheim), Ronnie McCawley (Ronny Blume), Keith McCawley (Donny Blume), Kim Terry (Mrs. Blume), Kumar Pallana (Mr. Littlejeans)

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With his 13-minute short Bottle Rocket, Wes Anderson won notice from some important parties: the Sundance Film Festival premiered it in 1993 and the accomplished James L. Brooks would produce the 1996 feature-length adaptation of the same name. Though that film was mostly a blip on the industry's radar, it was well-reviewed and won Anderson the honor of Best New Filmmaker at the MTV Movie Awards.
It also paved the way for Anderson to write, with fellow Bottle Rocket scribe and current movie star Owen Wilson, and alone direct a bigger film in Rushmore (1998). This $20 million Touchstone Pictures comedy would in turn win wide acclaim and establish its maker as one of the most distinctive voices of his young generation.

Rushmore shows us the first half of sophomore year for Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman), a student at the prestigious Rushmore Academy. Max is a walking contradiction. On the one hand, he loves his prep school, which he attends on scholarship, and relishes partaking in all the extracurricular activities he can. On the other, he is an underachiever academically. Max's subpar grades earn him a warning and probation from Rushmore's headmaster, Dr. Guggenheim (Brian Cox), who has grown weary of the teen's seemingly random activism, like objecting to the school's plans to cancel Latin.

Enthusiastic go-getter in a variety of extracurricular activities Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is introduced in this shot from an inspired dream opening. In a decorated display of career reinvention, Bill Murray plays rich, solemn steel magnate Herman Blume, Max's unlikely friend and rival.

Upon discovering a quote written in a library book, Max takes a sudden interest in Rushmore's first grade teacher Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams). Cross, a British graduate of Harvard University and a recent widow, welcomes Max's help around her classroom, albeit with some caution because the volunteering seems to come with romantic interest. Max's growing fondness of Miss Cross inspires a grand gesture to convert part of the school baseball field into an aquarium. It gets him expelled from Rushmore and relegated to plain old public high school.

A far cry from his favorite institution, Max struggles in his new environment, but at least manages to pursue his greatest passion, writing and directing school plays either directly or largely inspired by movies. He's thrown into a rut when his new friend, Rushmore parent and donor, Vietnam veteran, and self-made multi-millionaire steel magnate Herman Blume (Bill Murray), starts to court Miss Cross as an outlet from his depressing family life. Still determined to win the schoolteacher's hand, Max engages in creative warfare with Herman, getting himself in deeper trouble and prompting him to stop attending Grover Cleveland High.

On the surface, Rushmore might just look like an offbeat indie comedy and one short on laugh-out-loud moments. But there really is a lot going on, from the specter of death and the burdens of social class to adolescent priorities and middle-aged malaise. Much of it is able to strike profoundly on the coming-of-age experience and the human condition at large.

In "Rushmore", pompous sophomore Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) pursues widowed first grade teacher Miss Rosemary Cross (Olivia Williams).

The film is especially rich in characters and dialogue. The thickly bespectacled Max Fischer makes for a compelling protagonist on whom the focus almost always remains, but the colorful cast around him is equally and appealingly layered. Almost every personality given lines makes a lasting impression, from schoolmates, Max's young,
forgiving chapel partner Dirk Calloway (Dennis the Menace's Mason Gamble) and disfigured Scottish bully Magnus Buchan (Stephen McCole), to adults like Max's aged, easygoing father Bert (Seymour Cassel), a barber he identifies as a neurosurgeon, all the way down to the peripheral, mostly quiet, and wildly entertaining groundskeeper Mr. Littlejeans (Anderson staple Kumar Pallana).

There isn't a false note in casting. Schwartzman has impressively managed to sustain a thriving career out of what might only have been an auspicious teenaged debut. (It can't hurt that he comes from Hollywood royalty, as the son of Talia Shire and nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, but then neither of them have had his success in recent years.) This was a career-changing performance for Bill Murray, who reinvented himself as an offbeat indie guy, available for Anderson and Jim Jarmusch but few other directors. He won a number of Supporting Actor awards (including an Independent Spirit) and nominations (including a Golden Globe), earning him critical respect above what his excellent lead turns in crowd-pleasing, clear-cut comedies drew.

The dialogue is written and delivered with precision, every line and pitch sticking with you. The smallest and quirkiest details stand out here, like Mrs. Blume (Kim Terry) being given a choice of sandwich at a parking garage rooftop meeting for Max to disclose her husband's affair. Moments like that one, later echoed in Herman picking between Max's Perfect Attendance and Punctuality pins, wouldn't ordinarily be included in screenplays or kept in a final cut, often being the first thing to go out of deference to pacing and runtime. And yet, they speak volumes about the characters and their world views, all the while strengthening our investment and connection. After all, we may not be able to relate to pining for a teacher or stretching ourselves thin in extracurricular activities, but we know about tuna fish, peanut butter & jelly, and, in a different scene, baby carrots.

The dry, understated humor might fall flat if not so capably presented. Rushmore is the real birth of the Wes Anderson style. The director had done interesting things in Bottle Rocket, a perfectly logical predecessor in tone and execution. But here, Anderson makes the jump to the 2.39:1 aspect ratio he has since preferred and heightens every scene's impact with his deliberate compositions, head-on camera angles, sharp editing, tactful slow motion, and outstanding use of music.

The Max Fischer Players are nothing if not ambitious, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Max's climactic original Vietnam play "Heaven and Hell."

That last element has been one of Anderson's trademarks and this movie gave him the budget to pursue prominent acts from his clearly favorite era of music. In addition to an eclectic score by Mark Mothersbaugh, further solidifying the Devo singer's calling as film composer, Anderson lets music from Cat Stevens, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, John Lennon, and The Faces elevate scenes in sacred marriages. The British Invasion may well be considered a leading character; there isn't a masterful montage or transitional moment you can imagine having as much power with anything but the carefully chosen tunes in place.

Rushmore entered the Criterion Collection in early 2000, six months after Disney's own lackluster non-anamorphic DVD release. Carrying spine number 65, the release was something of a landmark, a rare contemporary selection for the line that back then had primarily tackled classic world cinema from masters like Fellini, Lean, Kurosawa, Hitchcock, and Cocteau. Sure, there was Armageddon, which may still stand as Criterion's least likely subject, but otherwise not many titles that the average American moviegoer would know. Rushmore, like Anderson's subsequent films, is somewhat of a bridge between mainstream and art house, its stylings suitable for both Comedy Central airings and academic scrutiny. Seemingly one of Criterion's best-selling and most-cited DVDs, Rushmore paved the way for other Anderson movies to follow. And all but Fantastic Mr. Fox have, either in partnership with Buena Vista Home Entertainment the first time around or later with other studios' blessings.

Next week, Rushmore becomes the fourth Anderson film to turn up on Blu-ray, and the third to have been given the hi-def treatment from Criterion (following 2008's long-awaited Bottle Rocket and last fall's reissue of The Darjeeling Limited).

Rushmore: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: November 22, 2011
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Clear Keepcase
Still available as Criterion Collection DVD ($24.49 SRP; 2000)
and Buena Vista DVD ($9.99 SRP; 1999)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Rushmore represents my first Criterion-to-Criterion upgrade, so I was able to compare my old DVD to this new Blu-ray. The gains in resolution and reductions in compression are noticeable. Nonetheless, the picture fell a little short of my high expectations. The element is clean and the colors are great (both clearly improved), but I anticipated a tad more sharpness. It seems silly to almost complain about a practically perfect effort from the studio most respectful and director-friendly in their restorations. Still, the transfer was slightly softer and less detailed than I hoped, considering its relative youth and not insignificant studio backing.

I had no such concerns with the strong 5.1 DTS-HD master audio. It is very strong and comes to life nicely, not only in the prominently featured song selections but also in dynamic, engulfing sound design, from a pivotal model airplane flying scene to the finale, Max's explosive "Heaven and Hell" Vietnam War play. There is quite some range in volume levels to the track, but that is definitely something Anderson seems to have intended for this and other movies, as loud music cues contrast with sometimes quiet dialogue.

Jason Schwartzman reads Bill Murray's part in Ronnie and Keith McCawley's audition to play Murray's twin sons. Dirk Calloway (Mason Gamble) channels Jim Carrey in the Max Fischer Players' MTV Movie Awards adaptation of "The Truman Show."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Criterion hangs on to nearly the entire hearty, not quite overwhelming supplemental supply of its single-disc DVD.

The extras begin with an audio commentary by Wes Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and star Jason Schwartzman, each recorded separately in 1999. It's unfortunate that the commentary lacks conversation, but each speaker provides some insight into the film from their unique perspective.
Anderson and Wilson discuss their friendship, their previous film, their considerable cinematic homage, and influential real-life experiences (Wilson was expelled from his Texas high school and his father inspired Murray's character). Schwartzman reveals his "method" chest waxing. There is talk about the film's mix of realism and surrealism planning out the music long in advance, shooting conditions, Francis Ford Coppola's reaction, and a moment inspired by Hakeem Olajuwon. This isn't a must-hear track, but it is well above average.

On the video front, all of which are presented in HD resolution (and most in 1.33:1), things kick off with auditions (8:40) from Schwartzman, Stephen McCole, Ronnie and Keith McCawley, Sara Tanaka, and Mason Gamble. Schwartzman gets a costumed, polished screen test, in addition to the standard, brief blurry tape that he and everyone else has. Both employ the actual dialogue almost verbatim.

The most unique and memorable bonus feature is a series of theatrical adaptations (4:13) that Anderson and his Rushmore cast created as marketing for the 1999 MTV Movie Awards. The Max Fischer Players (including Schwartzman, Gamble, Tanaka, and McCole) briefly, faithfully, and ambitiously put on The Truman Show, Armageddon, and Out of Sight. A great idea and well done, these wonderful shorts are evidently the last time the MTV Movie Awards and Anderson were on each other's social calendars.

About to get a shave and a haircut, Bill Murray lends his two bits to Eric Chase Anderson in "The Making of 'Rushmore'." The montage of Max Fischer extracurricular activities is one of five scenes whose storyboards are shared. Like Bill Murray before him, Wes Anderson graciously chooses not to mention Charlie Rose's misguided Mount Rushmore comment in this 1999 PBS interview.

"The Making of Rushmore" (16:48) is a documentary by Wes' younger brother, Eric Chase Anderson. He interviews the principal cast and crew members, his simple, earnest narration distinguishing this from standard EPK pieces. Dry and candid, it contains good behind-the-scenes footage on everything from stand-ins and sound effects recording to eye-reddening techniques and crew basketball games

A "Film to Storyboard Comparison" (1:55) uses split-screen to display the film's opening scene as is and as envisioned by Anderson's rough drawings. Storyboard galleries with Anderson's notes are supplied for that and four additional scenes, with around 100 viewer-navigated frames in total.

The near-complete January 29, 1999 episode of "Charlie Rose" (54:20) is included, featuring the host's separate interviews with Bill Murray (the first 34 minutes) and Wes Anderson (the remainder). Rose conducts his typically intelligent, substantial chats, although his lack of research becomes apparent, as he refers to "Bottle Rockets" and Max wanting his face to be on Mount Rushmore (what?!). Anderson later took gentle swipes at Rose with the character of Peter Bradley in The Royal Tenenbaums and a Criterion bonus feature.

Rose opens with Murray, gathering thoughts on then-current business matters with Michael Ovitz and his agency, concerns Murray seems to have left behind with his subsequent reclusion and lack of representation. Other topics include Murray's willingness to write a $25,000 check to get a Rushmore shot Disney wouldn't pay for, his post-Ghostbusters hiatus in France (returning for what would become Legal Eagles without him), his experiences on "Saturday Night Live", and Anderson's direction. Anderson explains his fear of Murray and getting him to sign on as he talked about Kurosawa's Red Beard, Anderson and Wilson's writing process, and his directing influences (Mike Nichols and Rosemary's Baby). It's a great inclusion.

This bottom portion of rock album cover artist Guy Peellaert's unused Rushmore poster is the highlight of the abridged "Archiva Graphica." The appealing new animated menu projects slides of Eric Chase Anderson artwork, like this representation of a program for The Max Fischer Players' "Serpico."

Rushmore's fine original theatrical trailer (2:32) is preserved. Featuring a number of the songs from the movie,
it's interesting in a number of ways, from how aged it looks to how it employs a car horn to cover up the word "ass" to how it identifies Max Fischer as belonging to the Class of '01, as the movie never does.

Finally, "Archiva Graphica" is a small gallery of a drawing and a painting from the film plus several looks at poster design by the late legendary rock album cover artist Guy Peellaert. Having just reviewed Criterion's Dazed and Confused, I'd love to have gotten a poster, or even just a postcard, of this seemingly unpublished one-sheet.

Dropped from the DVD are short galleries of photos and props from Max Fischer's Grover Cleveland and Rushmore plays. In addition, the Blu-ray's "Archiva Graphica" is unfortunately abbreviated from the DVD's more varied showcase of behind-the-scenes photos, graphic design, and stills.

The winning menu projects Eric Chase Anderson's childlike drawings of characters, scenes, and bonus features on a classroom screen while a portion of Mothersbaugh's score plays. The disc is superb at resuming playback and also supports bookmarks on the movie, making it easy to forgive its slow loading of extras and the menu afterward.

Inside the clear keepcase, we find the same two items included in Criterion's DVD. First, there is a thin booklet, shrunk down to fit and resultingly expanded to 8 pages. It lists chapters, principal cast and crew, disc credits, and new transfer information, all illustrated with more of Eric Chase Anderson's drawings. On the opposite side, presented like a long scroll, is Dave Kehr's essay "The Play's the Thing", which compares the film to Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, details the autobiographical elements, and sings praises with specific examples. Subsequent Criterion essays have been longer and more florid, but Kehr's lean six paragraphs fulfill their duty as effectively as any of the studio's articles.

The second insert is what folds out to a 14" x 20" Rushmore map depicting "The World of Max Fischer." More Eric Chase Anderson drawings recreate locations and scenes from the movie with quirky details. Unique and fun, the sturdy card stock print is identical to the old one, only with an additional row of folds to fit in the smaller Blu-ray case.

In what has become a Wes Anderson signature, everything comes together in the slow-motion closing shot of "Rushmore."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

As with all other Wes Anderson films, Rushmore gets better on every viewing.
Though many can recognize brilliance in his works at first sight, I find they improve greatly with reflection and revisitation. While I never disliked this movie, my opinion of it continues to rise and I do not hesitate to place it in the stronger half of the director's ridiculously pleasing canon.

Criterion's Blu-ray is a pretty straightforward transfer to high definition, retaining every winning item from the 2000 DVD and adding nothing new. Though the feature presentation isn't quite out of this world, those who consider Rushmore a favorite will find it well worth an upgrade. Those who have yet to see the film are encouraged to do so and this is clearly the best way to do so. Anyone willing to sacrifice extras for a lower-priced Blu-ray will probably be holding out for a long while, seeing as how few catalog titles Disney has released to Blu-ray and all of them more action-driven than this.

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Related Reviews:
Written & Directed by Wes Anderson: Bottle Rocket The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou The Darjeeling Limited Fantastic Mr. Fox
New to Blu-ray: Dazed and Confused (Criterion) Scrooged Planes, Trains & Automobiles The Tree of Life Jackie Brown
Jason Schwartzman: Shopgirl Funny People Scott Pilgrim vs. the World | Olivia Williams: An Education
Bill Murray: Passion Play Caddyshack | Seymour Cassel: The Wendell Baker Story White Fang | Brian Cox: Zodiac (Director's Cut)
1998: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas The Big Lebowski The Thin Red Line The Parent Trap A Night at the Roxbury
Win Win Mama's Boy Cyrus Gentlemen Broncos Juno The Graduate

Rushmore Songs List (in order of use): Creation - "Making Time", Unit 4 + 2 - "Concrete and Clay", Paul Desmond - "Take Ten", The Kinks - "Nothin' in This World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl", Chad & Jeremy - "A Summer Song", Zoot Sims - "Blinuet", Cat Stevens - "Here Comes My Baby", Donovan Leitch - "Jersey Thursday", The Who - "A Quick One While He's Away", The Rolling Stones - "I Am Waiting", Mark Mothersbaugh - "Snowflake Music", Cat Stevens - "The Wind", Yves Montland - "Rue St. Vincent", John Lennon - "Oh Yoko", The Vince Guaraldi Trio - "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing", Django Reinhardt - "Manoir de Mes Reves", The Faces - "Ooh La La"

Rushmore: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack:
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Reviewed November 14, 2011.



Text copyright 2011 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1998 Touchstone Pictures, American Empirical Pictures, and 2011 The Criterion Collection and Touchstone Home Video.
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