Blu Reviewed: Inherent Vice

Andrew reviews the technical aspects of this week's blu-ray release, Inherent Vice

"I'm so sad."
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inland Empire, excuse me, adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice is at once a dedicated literary exercise intensely committed to the written word as well as a throwback to the writer-director’s earlier ensemble pieces such as Boogie Nights and Magnolia.  Falling somewhere between the Coens’ The Big Lebowski and Lindsay Anderson’s O Lucky Man!, Anderson’s seventh feature film is determined to make you the viewer wear the sandals and sunglasses of stoner private investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) in that the hazier and more incoherent the situations become, the closer the film is to ascertaining Doc’s foggy perspective.  Unpredictable, confounding, hilarious and largely hallucinatory, this could well be the most difficult and trying literal adaptation of an unfilmable novel by a major director since David Cronenberg took on William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch.  While not as accessible as what’s come before from Anderson, fans of the great director will be enormously pleased and entertained by this surreal and occasionally frustrating odyssey.

The Video

Paul Thomas Anderson’s films are always exciting to look at given his innovation with cinematography as well as cutting directly onto film, giving the images a warmth and texture not unlike the aural warmth of a vinyl record.  After a brief detour with cinematographer Mihai Malaimare for the 70mm footage in the director’s previous film The Master, Anderson reunites with his regular cinematographer Robert Elswit for Inherent Vice.  Going back to 35mm film (though blown up to 70mm theatrical in some states), the heavy grains and saturated colors are rendered beautifully on this Blu-Ray edition.  Much like The Master, Inherent Vice marks the director’s second film to be framed in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1, as opposed to his usual 2.35:1 widescreen panoramas which won his cinematographer an Academy Award for There Will Be Blood.  Having seen Inherent Vice twice theatrically, the Blu-Ray looks exactly as I had remembered it and is pretty flawless across the board.

The Audio

"We're SOOOOO wasted!!!"
While sound is typically as important for Anderson as the vistas, the sonic innovation present in his previous films takes a backseat to the dialogue.  That’s not to say it’s still a terrific listening experience with Jonny Greenwood’s surreal, jazzy score is a perfect counterpoint to the visuals and does a great job giving viewers a sense of Doc’s paranoia and confused fear.  There are some occasions where the sound design does manage to pack a punch, but those expecting the deep bass thuds of a well explosion from There Will Be Blood, the frog rain from Magnolia and the car crash opening Punch-Drunk Love aren’t going to get that kind of an aural workout from their home theaters here.  Overall it’s a pleasing rendering and the songs by Can and Neil Young sound fantastic in DTS-HD 5.1 surround sound.  Just don’t expect this one to be demo material for your systems.

The Extras

As Anderson has moved away completely from doing audio commentaries (Boogie Nights being his last) and refraining from making-of extras, the Blu-Ray of Inherent Vice probably sports the fewest extras since the DVD release of his first film Hard Eight.  Where some footage of Anderson directing would have been nice, as Magnolia provided an in-depth feature-length making-of documentary, we get a few trailers and a reel of deleted shots not unlike the Scopitones included on Punch-Drunk Love.  They’re neat to see but we could have got a lot more supplements included on this disc than we did.  Given just how many cameos and unique character actors show up in Inherent Vice, seeing the cast’s thoughts on the experience of working with Anderson would have been nicer than having to resort to looking up videos on YouTube.  It’s a disappointment but oh well.  At least the BD sleeve has reversible art included.

With Inherent Vice emerges Paul Thomas Anderson’s most divisive work yet, with some finding Doc’s journey as hilarious as it is somber while others find the intensely difficult narrative elusive.  Wherever you stand on this latest work from one of cinema’s modern masters spoken of the same breath as Robert Altman and Stanley Kubrick, you never know what you’re going to get with Anderson’s films or where they’ll take you, which is part of the appeal.  There’s so much hidden in the marijuana smoke covered yellow brick road Anderson and Pynchon have constructed it could take you a lifetime before you can put it all down on paper.  All in all, a wonderful film that isn’t for all but will be more rewarding for those who like their entertainment to pull the rug out from underneath them!  

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-Andrew Kotwicki