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Roman Polanski
Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Darrell Zwerling, Diane Ladd, Roy Jenson, Roman Polanski
Writing Credits:
Robert Towne

Jack Nicholson is private eye Jake Gittes, living off the murky moral climate of sunbaked, pre-war Southern California. Hired by a beautiful socialite (Faye Dunaway) to investigate her husband's extra-marital affair, Gittes is swept into a maelstrom of double dealings and deadly deceits, uncovering a web of personal and political scandals that come crashing together for one, unforgettable night in ... Chinatown.

Box Office:
$6 million.
Domestic Gross
$30.000 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby TrueHD Monaural
French Dolby Digital Monaural
Spanish Dolby Digital Monaural
Portuguese Dolby Digital Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 130 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 4/3/2012

• Audio Commentary with Screenwriter Robert Towne and Filmmaker David Fincher
• “Chinatown: The Beginning and the End” Featurette
• “Chinatown: Filming” Featurette
• “Chinatown: The Legacy” Featurette
• “Water and Power” Featurette
• “Chinatown: An Appreciation” Featurette
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Chinatown [Blu-Ray] (1974)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (September 29, 2014)

Although I wouldn’t argue 1974’s Chinatown deserved to beat The Godfather Part II for the Oscar Best Picture, it sure gave it a run for its money. Chinatown is a fine film that used the traditional film noir techniques to excellent effect.

The movie follows private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) after a wife hires him to confirm that her husband is cheating on her. Jake snaps a few photos of the apparent cad while he dallies with a young lovely, and that, it would appear, is that. But that isn't that; that is something entirely different.

And that's all I'm going to say about it. Chinatown possesses so many various plot developments and it all unfolds at such a perfect pace that I don't want to provide too much information. Movies like this work very well even when you know what's going to happen - the craftsmanship remains excellent and the entire piece is strong enough to withstand additional viewings – but I don't think I should even partially disturb the freshness of the piece for new viewers. A pleasure like this should be experienced without much foreknowledge.

Suffice it to say that although the plot easily could become muddled and obtuse, it never does. The storyline is quite complicated, and a lot of little pieces fly at you, but they all proceed logically and make perfect sense. As with something such as The Usual Suspects, you need to pay attention as you watch Chinatown. If you do so, you should have no difficulty comprehending and keeping up with the plot and all its machinations.

In addition to a well-crafted story told clearly and elegantly by director Roman Polanski, Chinatown benefits from solid performances. Nicholson has rarely been better - and more subdued - than as Jake. He creates a believable and rich personality with a lot of depth and complexity; this isn't some cliched gumshoe we witness. Also very strong is John Huston as a wealthy industrialist; he adds a lot of gruff power to the role.

When I initially saw Chinatown in my early twenties, I didn't understand the fuss; it seemed like a fairly ordinary little mystery. Perhaps age does help develop wisdom, as I now can observe what a fine piece of work the movie truly is. This is a solid piece of noir that kept me interested and engrossed virtually from beginning to end.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

Chinatown appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The movie came with a fine transfer.

Sharpness appeared clear and concise. On occasion some shots looked slightly soft or hazy, but these instances did not occur frequently, and I suspect they reflected the source photography. Instead, the majority of the film was crisp and detailed. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and edge enhancement was minimal at worst. Source flaws stayed delightfully absent. This was a clean image without any noticeable print defects.

Chinatown featured a restricted palette and preferred to use a rather sepia-tone impression. As such, colors were never terribly bright or bold, but they fit within the design well. A few times reds looked bold and dynamic, and the rest of the hues matched the overall scheme. In any case, I found no problems with the colors and thought they were pleasing.

Black levels appeared deep and dense, and shadow detail also was usually clear and without excessive darkness. A few “day for night” shots presented slightly dense tones, but those examples were inevitable. I thought low-light shots were usually solid. Really, I found almost nothing about which to complain here, as this transfer made Chinatown look splendid.

I also was impressed with the film's remixed Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Happily, the sound designers didn't go overboard with their creation and they kept the scope of the track within sensible limits. This means that while the mix opened up the spectrum well, it didn't provide lots of distracting auditory excessiveness. The forward channels spread out the audio well, as lots of solid ambient effects emanate from those speakers. They also offered the score with excellent stereo separation that made it livelier.

The surrounds generally did little more than lightly bolster the ambiance and music, but on a few occasions those channels provided some engaging audio. For example, look at the scene where Jake got carried away by rushing water; the sound filled the listening environment with this effect and even branched into some convincing split surround usage as the water flowed to the rear left. It was a surprisingly convincing moment, and a few others worked similarly well.

Audio quality seemed solid. Dialogue occasionally betrayed mild edginess for louder lines, but the speech usually held up well. I thought most of the dialogue was pretty natural. Effects sounded clean and fairly deep for the most part. Only a little distortion came along with way, and the bits were fairly well reproduced.

Jerry Goldsmith's score came across as bright and lively, and it also showed some decent dynamic range at times. Chinatown's 5.1 soundtrack offered the best of both worlds; it seemed to retain the "feel" of the original mix but it added depth and breadth to the audio that helped bring it to life. (Note: for those who'd like to hear it, the disc also contains the "restored" original monaural soundtrack.)

How did the Blu-ray compare to the 2007 Special Collector’s Edition DVD? Audio was a little peppier, and visuals showed the expected improvements in terms of accuracy and clarity. While I liked the DVD, the Blu-ray gave us a more impressive experience.

The Blu-ray mixes old and new extras. In the “new” domain comes an audio commentary from screenwriter Robert Towne and filmmaker David Fincher. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story and characters, themes and interpretation, locations, cast and performances, music, and a few other areas.

If you expect to learn a ton about the film’s production, this commentary probably won’t satisfy you, for we don’t get a lot about filmmaking areas. However, we do find a nice examination of the movie’s construction.

Fincher does most of the talking and comes across like an educated fan; he gushes a bit too much, but he backs this up with solid thoughts about what the movie does and how it does it. Towne contributes just enough insight to merit his inclusion. I’d still like to learn a bit more about the actual production, but this proves to be an informative, enjoyable track nonetheless.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find three featurettes from the prior DVD. Chinatown: The Beginning and the End goes for 19 minutes, 28 seconds as it mixes movie clips, archival elements and interviews. We hear from Towne, director Roman Polanski, producer Robert Evans, and actor Jack Nicholson. “End” looks at the development of the project and script, the decision to get Polanski to direct and his influence on the screenplay, and other changes along the way. “End” offers a pretty intriguing glimpse of the film’s pre-production. It digs into the story elements nicely and acts as a good intro to the making of the flick.

Next comes the 25-minute and 35-second Chinatown: Filming. It involves Polanski, Evans, Nicholson, and Towne. This one looks at locations and sets, period details and visual choices, cast, characters, and performances, and notes from the shoot. Various stories offer the best parts of “Filming”, as it includes a number of amusing anecdotes. We also learn a fair amount about the production in this useful program.

Finally, we locate Chinatown: The Legacy. This nine-minute and 37-second piece includes notes from Polanski, Nicholson, Evans and Towne. We learn a bit about the movie’s score as well as its reception. This one proves less informative than its predecessors, but it still includes a mix of nice details. It’s worth a look.

Two new pieces pop up here. Water and Power goes for one hour, 17 minutes, and 50 seconds as it provides info from Towne, LA Department of Water and Power waterworks engineer Fred Barker, William Mulholland and the Rise of Los Angeles author Catherine Mulholland, Western Times and Water Wars author John Walton, Owens Valley Committee/Audubon Society activist Mike Prather, LA councilman Tom LaBonge, LA Department of Water and Power CEO/General Manager H. David Nahai, LA Department of Water and Power PR manager Chris Plakos, Owens Valley Committee/Paiute Tribe member/activist Harry Williams, retired rancher Stan Matlick, rancher Mark Lacey, Owens Valley Committee/Sierra Club activist Mark Bagley, Owens Valley Committee president Carla Scheidlinger, retired school nurse Betty Gilchrist, environmental journalist Jenny Price, and Friends of the LA River executive director Shelly Backlar.

The program looks at the history of water in LA as well as conservation and controversies. While we learn a lot of interesting info here, “Water” probably runs a bit too long. I enjoyed the piece but probably would’ve been happier if it’d been shorter.

Chinatown: An Appreciation lasts 26 minutes, 15 seconds and involves filmmakers Steven Soderbergh, Kimberly Peirce, cinematographer Roger Deakins, and composer James Newton Howard. We get thoughts about the movie as well as the methods used to create it. This varies between insightful observations and basic praise. It’s sporadically interesting but it gets a little tedious at times.

Chinatown qualifies as a great movie, and one that deserves its status as a classic. The Blu-ray delivers solid picture and audio along with a nice set of bonus materials. This is a high-quality release for an excellent film.

To rate this film visit the Special Edition review of CHINATOWN

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