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Wes Anderson
Luke Wilson, Owen Wilson, Ned Dowd
Writing Credits:
Wes Anderson, Owen Wilson

Three friends plan to pull off a simple robbery and go on the run.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 91 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/16/2008

• Audio Commentary with Writer/Director Wes Anderson and Writer/Actor Owen Wilson
• “The Making of Bottle Rocket” Featurette
Bottle Rocket Short
• Deleted Scenes
• Anamorphic Test
• Still Photos
• Storyboards
• “The Shafrazi Lectures, No. 1”
Murita Cycles Short
• Booklet


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Bottle Rocket: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1996)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 8, 2021)

Back in 1996, indie darling Wes Anderson made his feature debut with Bottle Rocket. As a bonus, the film marked the cinematic introduction to brothers Owen and Luke Wilson.

A nervous breakdown sent Anthony (Luke Wilson) to a mental hospital. When he gets out, he hangs out with his buddy Dignan (Owen Wilson), a young man whose psychological issues appear even more pronounced.

Dignan comes up with a plan for the pair to rob a bookstore. Partnered with neighbor Bob (Robert Musgrave), the budding criminals head on a road trip to escape the law.

In my largely Internet-free days of 1996, I don’t believe I heard of Rocket. 1998’s Rushmore acted as my formal introduction to the whimsical ways of Anderson, though I’d seen Owen Wilson in the ultra-mainstream Armageddon before Rushmore hit screens. (Luke did a cameo in 1997’s Scream 2, but given he was largely an unknown at the time, this probably counts more as a “bit part” than a fancypants “cameo”.)

My reviews of subsequent Anderson movies show how my view of his films evolved – and largely evolved in a negative way. Always one to lean toward a self-consciously contrived sense of filmmaking, Anderson turned into a parody of himself along the way – one who still made some decent movies, but one who relied too much on the “Wes Anderson Style” and stagnated.

We see the roots of the “Wes Anderson Style” in Rocket, with some cloying humor, eccentric character quirks and a soundtrack heavy on obscure oldies. However, the film really does give us Anderson as a nascent filmmaker, so we only get hints of his future tendencies, as these would need to wait for Rushmore to really bloom.

On one hand, this comes across as the tentative nature of a directorial debut. Anderson seems to be feeling his way around the format, so he doesn’t demonstrate a strong hold on the material.

On the other hand, given how suffocating the Wes Anderson Style would become, this doesn’t feel like a bad thing. Even with some of his quirks on display, Rocket feels warmer and much less contrived than Anderson’s usual distant, chilly movies.

I chalk a lot of that up to the fact Anderson doesn’t intrude on the material as much as usual. For better or for worse, he lets the story and characters unfold without too many self-conscious cinematic choices, so the film feels more natural.

I also give the Wilson brothers a lot of the credit, as they really carry the movie. In truth, Rocket lacks a coherent plot, and the characters don’t receive a ton of exploration either.

Events progress in a loosely linked manner, but most of the tale feels like a collection of vaguely connected segments. The roles – especially Anthony and Dignan – evolve in some ways, but even so, they still feel sketchy and without much depth.

Nonetheless, the Wilsons show such effortless charm that we engage with the film. Unlike the deadpan tendencies of actors in later Anderson movies, Luke and Owen give their roles a sense of realism – sort of.

Both Dignan and Anthony seem like such “rough sketches” that the Wilsons can only do so much, but they still manage to become likable and engaging. Both could become grating – and probably should in the case of the oddball Dignan – but Luke and Owen play them in an ingratiating way to sands off the annoying edges.

Really, that feels like the biggest difference between the Anderson of Rocket and the Anderson of virtually every subsequent film. Starting with Rushmore, most of Anderson’s actors would downplay their characters to a painful degree, and that choice meant we rarely found much convincing emotion, as the performers made their parts expressionless and flat.

By contrast, Dignan and Anthony are allowed to show true feelings and they don’t feel like phony pantomime characters. While I can’t call either truly believable, at least they seem human.

Rocket goes off the rails in its third act, primarily because it seems more interested in a Big Showy Ending than the unassuming tale we’d seen up to that point. This doesn’t ruin the movie, but it disappoints, as the flick works best when it stays small.

Enough of Rocket remains on that level to make it a success, especially during the film’s charming second act. When the crew holes up at a motel and Anthony falls for adorable Paraguayan housekeeper Inez (Lumi Cavazos), the movie reaches its zenith.

As noted, it loses its way after that, and the film never quite feels like anything more than a rough draft. Still, it becomes a likable effort, one that doesn’t compare technically to Anderson’s later films, but one that surpasses most of those in terms of warmth and charm.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

Bottle Rocket appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. While not demo material, the image looked better than expected for a 25-year-old indie affair.

No real problems with sharpness occurred. A couple of minor instances of softness popped up, but they went by quickly and caused no issues. Instead, the movie mostly was accurate and concise.

I saw no concerns with jagged edges or shimmering, and only minor edge enhancement appeared. Print flaws weren’t a distraction. I noticed a couple of small specks but those fell into “blink and you’ll miss them” territory; they remained inconsequential.

Rocket went with a pretty natural palette, though with a slightly ruddy tone at times. The disc replicated the tones well, as the colors were consistently lively and fresh.

Blacks were dense and firm, while shadows seemed concise and well developed. This positive presentation merited a “B”.

The disc’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack also seemed appropriate. Given the film’s budget and scope, I didn’t expect much from the soundfield, and it developed along anticipated lines.

The front speakers dominated, and music played the most important role up there. The film’s score and period songs showed good stereo delineation.

Effects mostly stayed in the realm of general ambience, as they offered a nice feeling of place and setting. Occasionally we got a little more than that, but usually we stayed with modest environmental material. The surrounds supported those elements and that was about it.

Audio quality was fine. Dialogue consistently came across as natural and distinctive, with no signs of edginess or problems connected to intelligibility.

Effects appeared accurate and crisp. They didn’t often tax things, but they were clean.

Music varied dependent on the source. The majority of the tunes appeared well defined, though, and the score offered nice range. Overall, the track wasn’t scintillating but it functioned fine for this style of movie.

As we shift to the disc’s extras, we open with an audio commentary from writer/director Wes Anderson and writer/actor Owen Wilson. Linked via phone, both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at the original short and its adaptation to feature length, story/characters, cast and performances, editing and cut scenes, sets and locations, cinematography, music, and reactions to the movie.

That description makes this sound like a commentary that offers a good look at the flick, but instead, it frustrates. At best, Anderson and Wilson provide some nice insights into the shoot.

However, these seem unfocused at times, and even the presence of some pre-written questions to get them on topic doesn’t always help. They drift off at times – indeed, it sounds like the commentary adds some Anderson remarks from a separate interview to fill the gaps.

Anderson and Wilson also fixate on a disastrous test screening. Years after the fact, they seem to remain traumatized by this event, and they whine about it much more than necessary. We get enough substance here to turn this into a semi-useful chat, but it goes awry too often.

The Making of Bottle Rocket runs 25 minutes, 43 seconds and features notes from Anderson, Wilson, executive producers Richard Sakai and James L. Brooks, producer Polly Platt, composer Mark Mothersbaugh, production designer David Wasco, set decorator Sandy Wasco, director of photography Robert Yeoman, and actors James Caan, Luke Wilson, Andrew Wilson, Robert Musgrave, Temple Nash Jr., and Kumar Pallana.

“Making” mixes behind the scenes footage with the expected array of production insights, as we trace the film’s creation in a mix of ways. This becomes an efficient and informative program.

The inspiration for the feature film, we find the Bottle Rocket Short. Made in 1992, it goes for 13 minutes, 35 seconds and shows Owen and Luke Wilson as the characters they’d play in the feature.

Much of the short would appear almost verbatim in the longer film, though obviously this version keeps details minimal. The short essentially revolves around the heist and doesn’t follow the subsequent events.

Because I watched the feature first, it becomes tough to evaluate the short on its own merits. Nonetheless, I’m glad it’s here, as it offers a cool addition to the set.

Attached to the short, Miscelllaneous we get a still gallery that shows storyboards, photos and different documents connected to the short. It includes 19 frames and becomes a decent collection, if not anything memorable.

11 Deleted Scenes span a total of 18 minutes, 32 seconds. Many of these focus on Bob, so it appears they got the boot because the film concentrated so much more on Anthony and Dignan.

Others offer superfluous character bits, like Dignan’s romp with a cop. Some of the elements seem enjoyable, but virtually all lack real purpose and the film doesn’t miss them.

Because they intended to shoot the movie in a 2.35:1 ratio, Anderson and DP Robert Yeoman conducted an Anamorphic Test. This two-minute, 33-second reel gives us a scene among the three main characters at the motel. It’s a decent curiosity, though it doesn’t tell us why Anderson opted against this framing.

Another still gallery, Photos by Laura Wilson provides 40 pictures as well as captions for these shots. Some look at the production of the short but most relate to the feature film. We get a moderately intriguing compilation.

More stillframes show up under Storyboards. These cover 42 screens. Despite the fact Anderson shows the artistic skills of an eight-year-old, these become fun to see.

The Shafrazi Lectures, No. 1: Bottle Rocket lasts 10 minutes, 32 seconds and provides comments from New York gallery owner Tony Shafrazi. He offers an overwrought, rambling appraisal of the film that seems less insightful than one might expect. It’s pretentious enough that I feel unconvinced it doesn’t exist as a parody.

The disc ends with Murita Cycles, a 27-minute, 12-second short from 1978. As described by text, Anderson/Wilson family pal Barry Braverman created this as a look at his “eccentric Staten Island bicycle shop owner” dad Murray, and the crew used it as an inspiration for the Rocket short.

Murray barely runs his cycle shop at this point, as the hoarder shows mental issues that seem related to unresolved grief over his wife’s death. It doesn’t feel clear how Murita influenced Rocket, as the two boast few obvious similarities, but it becomes an interesting piece in its own right.

As usual, the set includes a booklet. It includes credits, art, and text from filmmakers James L. Brooks and Martin Scorsese. The booklet concludes the package on a positive note.

If I had written this review 25 years ago, I’d call Bottle Rocket a spotty but promising debut from Wes Anderson. While he achieved much greater technical proficiency with subsequent films, Anderson never recaptured the warmth and easy charm of this flick. The Blu-ray comes with surprisingly appealing visuals, appropriate audio and a generally good collection of bonus materials. Rocket probably doesn’t count as Anderson’s best movie but it may offer his most engaging.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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