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The Royal Tenenbaums: The Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) movie poster The Royal Tenenbaums

Theatrical Release: December 14, 2001 / Running Time: 110 Minutes / Rating: R

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

Cast: Gene Hackman (Royal O'Reilly Tenenbaum), Anjelica Huston (Etheline Tenenbaum), Ben Stiller (Chas Tenenbaum), Gwyneth Paltrow (Margot Tenenbaum), Luke Wilson (Richie Tenenbaum), Owen Wilson (Eli Cash), Bill Murray (Raleigh St. Clair), Danny Glover (Henry Sherman), Seymour Cassel (Dusty), Kumar Pallana (Pagoda), Alec Baldwin (Narrator), Grant Rosenmeyer (Ari Tenenbaum), Jonah Meyerson (Uzi Tenenbaum), Aram Aslanian-Persico (Young Chas Tenenbaum), Irene Gorovaia (Young Margot Tenenbaum), Amedeo Turturro (Young Richie Tenenbaum), Stephen Lea Sheppard (Dudley Heinsbergen), James Fitzgerald (Young Eli Cash), Larry Pine (Peter Bradley), Don McKinnon (Detective), Frank Wood (Hotel Manager), Al Thompson (Walter Sherman), Jennifer Wachtell (Rachael Evans Tenenbaum)

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After making two small independent comedies in Bottle Rocket and Rushmore, writer/director Wes Anderson and his co-writer Owen Wilson set their sights higher for their third feature film. The Royal Tenenbaums gave the duo its largest and most accomplished cast, New York City filming locations, and, ever so slightly, their biggest budget to date.
By all accounts, the expansion was warranted. This 2001 film became the most (and, until the recent Moonrise Kingdom, only) commercially successful one in the director's esteemed career with a fairly remarkable $52 million domestic gross. It earned strong reviews and Anderson's only screenplay Oscar nomination to date.

This ambitious comedy-drama centers on the Tenenbaums, a wealthy, prominent family living in a slightly fairy tale-esque version of New York City. Twenty years ago, the three Tenenbaum children were each heralded as prodigies and geniuses: Richie for his tennis skills, Chas for his business savvy, and Margot for her creative playwriting. Then, the family's thoughtful matriarch Etheline (Anjelica Huston) asked her irresponsible lawyer husband Royal (Gene Hackman) to move out. Though never officially divorced, the couple has remained estranged and Royal's relationships with his kids strained.

Adulthood has found the Tenenbaum brood struggling to live up to its potential. Richie's (Luke Wilson) athletic fame is behind him, his career over and most remembered for a spectacular championship match collapse. Chas (Ben Stiller) is a recent widower whose wife's death by airplane crash has him constantly stressed about the safety of his rigorously-scheduled two young sons. The adopted, secretive Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) is unhappily married to a respected neurologist (Bill Murray), from whom she hides by watching television from the tub of a locked bathroom. Meanwhile, family friend and neighbor Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) has found some success as a novelist.

As children, Margot (Irene Gorovaia), Chas (Aram Aslanian-Persico), and Richie (Amedeo Turturro) each displayed great potential. Winning Etheline (Anjelica Huston) back seems to be a definite part of Royal's (Gene Hackman) plan.

After seven years without talking to one another, Royal one day pops back into Etheline's life with the news that he is dying from stomach cancer. Doctors have given him six weeks to live and he wishes to spend those weeks making amends with the family he acknowledges he's let down. In fact, utterly broke Royal has just been asked to leave the upscale Lindbergh Palace Hotel he's called home for the past 22 years.
With some help from family servant and his quiet confidante Pagoda (Kumar Pallana), hotel elevator operator Dusty (Seymour Cassel), and his still-favorite kid Richie, Royal arranges to move back into Etheline's home, where all three of his kids and both grandkids also happen to be staying for the time being.

Royal makes concerted, genuine efforts to heal old wounds and patch up his relationships with all of his offspring. He also has plans to win back the newly-engaged Etheline, which puts her gentlemanly suitor and longtime accountant Henry Sherman (Danny Glover) on edge, viewing Royal's asymptomatic illness with suspicion.

Despite the large cast and their laundry list of problems, The Royal Tenenbaums makes good following through on the assortment of character faults as well as the various complicated and entangled relationships. The film does a most admirable job of establishing a number of distinct personalities and making the desperate, reformed deadbeat patriarch work for redemption from each and every one of them.

This is absolutely a Wes Anderson film and unmistakably the most unbridled of his first three. That would be a disastrous recipe for a filmmaker who needs guidance, but Anderson proves here he needs nothing of the sort. I've appreciated all seven of Anderson's directorial efforts to a large degree, but I think it's pretty clear that Tenenbaums represents his richest, most complex, and most satisfying work to date. Anderson and Wilson had already revealed themselves to be sharp, witty writers of poignant, eccentric coming-of-age tales. Here, they prove to be master storytellers: devoted to detail, adept with convention, and unwilling to deal with one-dimensional characters.

Each character has specific wounds, a unique relationship with one another, and room for growth and betterment. The many pieces of this whimsical puzzle can seemingly only fit together in one way, a realistically messy way complete with deception, infidelity, depression, betrayal, envy, anger, and insecurity. It is an incredibly mature and sophisticated film, one with an acute awareness of privilege, intellectualism, and untapped genius. It is quite a lot to get from two Texans in their early thirties, undoubtedly cultured by a wide and eclectic range of art, from French New Wave cinema to children's literature to animated Peanuts television specials.

Lately, depressive sister Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow) has been taking refuge watching television in a bathtub. Richie Tenenbaum (Luke Wilson) gives himself a life-altering haircut and shave.

While the Academy only recognized the film's writing (and it lost the Original Screenplay award -- as did Memento, Amélie, and Monster's Ball -- to Gosford Park), Tenenbaums offers profound achievement in directing as well. Anderson and his director of photography Robert Yeoman were just finding their way on Bottle Rocket and fine-tuned their distinct visual style on Rushmore. This third collaboration takes them to lofty new heights, as to their repertoire of head-on angles and precise Panavision compositions they add comfort with exploring large canvases. The climactic sequence is a thing of utter beauty, as the camera takes us around half a block: up, down, across, around ambulance and fire truck, never cutting, and with every actor on their mark, which for some is multiple marks in different locations, doling out savory, pitch-perfect resolution while Mark Mothersbaugh's suitably versatile score swells with children's choir accompaniment. You'd be hard-pressed to find a more effective two and a half minutes of cinema this century.

The film is designed like a storybook, taken out from a library in the opening moments, complete with chapter breaks, illustrations, and appropriately descriptive opening lines. It's an approach that could have easily played pretentiously and yet it somehow works with such elements as straight Alec Baldwin narration, a New York City that stretches at least to the 375th Street YMCA, an unsightly Gypsy Cab company monopoly, an improbably resurfacing pet hawk, and various wry press conferences and engagements. While you might not be able to tell from the praises I'm singing, this also happens to be a very funny movie, filled with those deliciously awkward small moments that can only exist in a Wes Anderson film.

Wes Anderson is not everyone's cup of tea and if you couldn't appreciate his less flavorful first two movies, chances are you haven't taken to any of the ones since. As both writer and director, Anderson's manner is very distinct and impossible to miss. It isn't hard to imitate, but it is hard to master, facts both proved by Rian Johnson's utterly unsatisfying The Brothers Bloom. Anderson has not budged from his quirky style and the results have generally not disappointed, although critical reaction has varied. His latest, Moonrise Kingdom, feels very comparable to some of the brief childhood scenes of Tenenbaums. Somewhat inexplicably, it has become only the director's second hit. One of 2012's best-reviewed films, it seems to have made it acceptable once again to hail Anderson as a filmmaker of rare brilliance.

Chas (Ben Stiller) confronts Royal (Gene Hackman) in a closet filled with the family's many old board games.

As in the director's other films, music is essential to The Royal Tenenbaums' success. Anderson always finds the right tune to set the mood for a scene, whether it's from The Rolling Stones, The Clash, Nico, or the Vince Guaraldi Trio. Other times, Mark Mothersbaugh's score is just what the movie needs. Along with its other achievements, this film established Anderson's eye for production and costume design. Each character and setting has a very specific and iconic look. If anyone outside the industry cared about technical awards, it'd be kind of a travesty that this film was overlooked by them.

Another area where this was unfortunately largely overlooked was in acting. Gene Hackman gives the crowning performance of his long, illustrious career. He deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical, but wasn't even nominated by the Academy.
Hackman made just two films (Runaway Jury and Welcome to Mooseport) after this before announcing his retirement from acting. Hindsight makes it easy to appreciate this marvelous, funny, and uncharacteristic turn.

Other actors offer some of their very best work as well. On the verge of becoming a household name, Luke Wilson is outstanding, making his recent doldrums all the more frustrating. Ben Stiller's film career was just taking off then. No one can blame him for the path he's taken as one of the big screen's biggest comedy stars, but it is a little unfortunate for the pathos he provides here to have been kept in storage ever since (save for Greenberg). Owen Wilson's career took off alongside Stiller, initially as his second fiddle and more recently on his own and with others. I've been mostly pleased with Owen's choices in front of the camera, but I lament the fact that they seem to have put an end to his promising writing partnership with Anderson, who has since collaborated with Noah Baumbach and Roman Coppola (while usually but not lately casting Owen in a prominent role).

The second of Wes Anderson's films to enter The Criterion Collection, this week The Royal Tenenbaums becomes the fourth of those made available on Blu-ray Disc. Those keeping score at home, that leaves only The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou waiting to get a high-definition upgrade and only Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom from getting Criterion treatment at all.

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

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio (English)
Subtitles: English
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.95
Clear Keepcase
Still available as 2-Disc DVD ($19.99 SRP; July 9, 2002) and Amazon Instant Video


The Royal Tenenbaums looks just about perfect on this Blu-ray Disc. The sharp, clean 2.40:1 presentation boasts spectacular detail, excellent color, and nary a noticeable shortcoming. Perfection couldn't have happened to a more visually deserving film!

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is equally commendable, if not as remarkable. The front-driven mix bursts to life on certain musical cues without quite driving you to reach for the remote and adjust volume levels. The crisp and natural dialogue does not get drowned out by the music and, as always, English subtitles are provided on the film, should you need them.

Wes Anderson takes a close look at Mordecai the hawk in the making-of documentary "With the Filmmaker." Bill Murray explains his eagerness to reunite with director Wes Anderson in his cast interview.


As is typically the case on a DVD to Blu-ray upgrade, Criterion hangs onto the many worthwhile bonus features, presenting each in high definition resolution (though varying clarity), without adding anything new (though one supplement is extended). Unlike the DVD, everything here easily fits on one disc.

The extras begin with a Wes Anderson audio commentary, recorded in 2002. The writer-director-producer does a good job of filling the air on his own, citing his many inspirations, sharing stories from production,
identifying filming locations, giving us insight into the characters, and discussing his music choices. For those fond of the film and its maker, this is a strong listen.

Albert Maysles' documentary "With the Filmmaker" (27:04) tags along with Anderson during production, as he deals with some of the endless minutiae that make up a Wes Anderson film (all the way down to "dalmatian" mouse wrangling). He talks about his creative process, but we don't get too many good looks at it, focusing mostly on the setup planning stage and briefly on editing. It's different and good, but this film deserves better.

Short interviews (27:00) are provided with the following actors: Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Ben Stiller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Bill Murray, and Danny Glover. The thoughtful responses to unheard questions are complemented by some behind-the-scenes footage. I'd be willing to guess that Luke Wilson now regrets a comment he makes regarding attempted suicide.

A romantic candlelit dinner in pajamas does not go as well as Henry (Danny Glover) plans in this deleted scene. Larry Pine does an impressive parody of PBS interviewer Charlie Rose in "The Peter Bradley Show."

Two cut scenes (1:48) are provided. One gives Eli an artist wife (played by Olivia Williams) and kids, the other cuts short a romantic candlelit pajama dinner for Henry and Etheline.

"The Peter Bradley Show" (26:25) is an episode of Anderson's parody of the long-running PBS interview series "Charlie Rose", with Larry Pine portraying the host as he does in the film. This episode is devoted to Anderson. Unprepared blowhard Bradley interviews five friends who have held bit parts in Anderson's films: Stephen Dignan, Sanjay Mathew, Kumar Pallana, Dipak Pallana, and Brian Tenenbaum (traffic supposedly makes Andrew Wilson miss his scheduled appearance). To fully appreciate this amusing send-up, one needs to first see the real Charlie Rose's chats about Rushmore with Anderson and Bill Murray and spot Rose's gaffes. Note that this is an extended version of the feature, running nearly twice as long as the DVD's 14:20 edit.

The bizarre Miguel Calderón paintings that decorate Eli's home are given their own gallery and public radio show excerpt. This New York Times-ish Sunday magazine section cover of Eli Cash (Owen Wilson) features in the covers gallery.

A Scrapbook holds stills by set photographer James Hamilton (61 images), the art of Miguel Calderón (5 images) that decorates Eli's home, Eric Chase Anderson's paintings of Margot by Richie (11), pages of Wes Anderson's annotated script with storyboards (8), Eric Chase Anderson's bedroom murals (15), and fake publication covers created for the film (8).

This section also houses a segment from a public radio show called "Studio 360" (4:33) that discusses how Calderón's work ended up in the film with some comments from the Mexican artist and Wes Anderson.

Listed extras come to a close with The Royal Tenenbaums' two fun original theatrical trailers (4:23).

Kumar Pallana shows off his magnificent juggling and plate-spinning skills in one of the disc's Easter eggs. Eric Chase Anderson's portraits of the Tenenbaums feature in the Criterion Collection Blu-ray's menu rotation.

Four short Easter eggs from the DVD are preserved here, though I couldn't tell you how to access them
other than digging through the disc's files on a BD-ROM drive. One features Kumar Pallana juggling and spinning plates. An outtake shows Anjelica Huston's wig catching fire from Margot's birthday cake. Filming his introductory shave, Ben Stiller welcomes you to the Criterion Collection DVD. And Bill Murray speculates on the future of the dalmatian mice.

The menu initially displays a number of Eric Chase Anderson drawings, before settling on a slow alternation between three drawings of characters while a selection of Mark Mothersbaugh's score plays. These are noticeably less detailed about extras than Criterion menus usually are. Ever the king of BD authoring, Criterion equips this disc with both resuming and bookmarking abilities, as well as universal pop-up layovers.

This Blu-ray edition of The Royal Tenenbaums loses the more marketable cast photo of the DVD, giving us only the childlike Eric Chase Anderson illustration below it in line with Criterion's other Wes Anderson releases. Unfortunately, it also loses the very cool slipcover whose spines fittingly made it look like an old, worn hardcover book, upholding the film's design. The "Ship to Shore" and "Shore to Ship" designs of the DVD's discs have been replaced by a stylish rendering of twelve characters crossing two separate crosswalks.

The fun continues inside the clear keepcase, where we find two substantial inserts. The first folds open to fourteen pages. Six of those go to transfer information, film and disc credits, chapters. The remaining eight are claimed by "Faded Glories", Kent Jones' loving 2002 essay on the film and Anderson's body of work through it. Jones lavishes much praise on the director, comparing him to some of the most prolific figures in film history, and provides a detailed and compelling analysis of Tenenbaums.

The other insert, titled "The Tenenbaum House: 111 Archer Avenue", was missing from my old DVD copy, but evidently included in others. It folds open to twelve pages in the dimensions of the other booklet, but is designed with six double-sized pages instead. It consists primarily of Eric Chase Anderson's artwork for the film: his floor plans for the Tenenbaums family's rooms and specific designs for props and decor. It is fit for display, perhaps next to his map of Rushmore locations. A brief note from the director explains his brother's illustrations seen here.

The climax of "The Royal Tenenbaums" brings the family together for an in-house wedding that is not to be.


The best effort to date of one of today's best directors, The Royal Tenenbaums is a special film I encourage all to see. Like Wes Anderson's other work, this is something of an acquired taste, but one that I find gets better with each viewing. Richly-textured, imaginatively designed, and emotionally resonant, this holds up as one of 21st century cinema's greatest offerings.

Criterion's Blu-ray isn't anything unexpected. It's essentially the same fine set that DVD got ten years ago with one newly-extended extra. Some new retrospection would have been nice and appropriate. Still, the gains in picture and sound are easily noticed and this is film worth owning in its best available form.

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Related Reviews:
Directed by Wes Anderson: Bottle RocketRushmoreThe Life Aquatic with Steve ZissouThe Darjeeling LimitedFantastic Mr. Fox
Millennial Criterion Collections: Being John MalkovichTrafficThe Thin Red LineFear and Loathing in Las Vegas
Gene Hackman: The FirmEnemy of the State | Luke Wilson: The Wendell Baker StoryThe Middle Men
Ben Stiller: GreenbergTropic ThunderNight at the Museum | Gwyneth Paltrow: ContagionIron ManProof
Owen Wilson: Midnight in ParisHow Do You KnowDrillbit TaylorThe Big Year | Danny Glover: Angels in the OutfieldDeath at a Funeral
New: MargaretDown by LawGrosse Pointe BlankClueSpaceballsAdventures in Babysitting
2000s Original Screenplay Oscar Nominees: Dirty Pretty ThingsA Serious ManThe IncrediblesThe QueenWALL•ERatatouilleUp

The Royal Tenenbaums Songs List (in order of use): The Mutato Muzika Orchestra - "Hey Jude", Cast - "Happy Birthday to You", "String Quartet in F Major", "Sonata for Cello & Piano in F Minor", John Lennon - "Look at Me", Vince Guaraldi Trio - "Christmas Time Is Here", Nico - "These Days", The Clash - "Police and Thieves", Bob Dylan - "Wigwam", Aldo Ciccolini - "Gymnopedie #1", Emitt Rhodes - "Lullabye", Paul Simon - "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard", Bob Dylan - "Billy - Main Title", The Ramones - "Judy Is a Punk", Elliott Smith - "Needle in the Hay", Nick Drake - "Fly", The Rolling Stones - "She Smiled Sweetly", The Rolling Stones - "Ruby Tuesday", The Velvet Underground - "Stephanie Says", The Clash - "Rock the Casbah", Il Giardino Armonico - "Concerto per Liuto E Mandolino", Nico - "Fairest of the Seasons", Van Morrison - "Everyone"

The Royal Tenenbaums: Original Soundtrack: Buy CD from Amazon.com

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Reviewed August 14, 2012.

Text copyright 2012 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2001 Touchstone Pictures, American Empirical Pictures, and 2002-2012 The Criterion Collection and Touchstone Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.