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'Chinatown' is a dazzling cinematic specimen that remains as intriguing, involving, and visually arresting today as it surely seemed almost 40 years ago upon its initial release. Director Roman Polanski and screenwriter Robert Towne meticulously evoke 1930s Los Angeles, as well as film noir, yet take the genre to new and unexpected heights, while Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway contribute iconic portrayals that brim with understated power. Paramount's Blu-ray presentation makes the film look brand new, thanks to pristine video and superb audio, and a sizeable supplemental package adds essential historical and analytical context to this movie classic. For fans of fine direction, excellent writing, searing performances, and lush cinematography, this is a must own release that surely will be enjoyed again and again and again.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Paramount does 'Chinatown' proud with a spectacular 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer that completely revitalizes this 38-year-old film. From the dazzling opening credits to the crystal clear, beautifully modulated and color-timed image that comprises the body of the film, this is a deeply sayisfying viewing experience that fully transports us to 1930s Los Angeles. Faint grain preserves the film-like feel and adds vital texture to the picture, but a lush smoothness prevails, honoring the warmth and meticulous period flavor that pervade each frame. The source material is virtually spotless, with nary a speck, mark or scratch cropping up, while superior contrast enhances depth and makes details pop.
Colors are bold, but never appear over-pushed, and blend seamlessly into the film's fabric. Jake's creamy white suit exudes a lovely tone, and the red accents of Dunaway's lipstick, a lone carnation on a restaurant table, and the upholstery of a leather booth add vibrant touches to the picture. Greens also show up well, and the varied brown hues of the desert - especially when bathed in yellow light - provide striking images. Blacks are appropriately rich and deep, and fleshtones remain true to life and stable throughout the course of the film.
Background elements are easily discernible and close-ups brim with marvelous detail. Light perspiration on Nicholson's face is evident, as well as creases, and the stitching on his nose is razor sharp. Reflections in car mirrors and windows, as well as a camera lens are wonderfully crisp, and shadow delineation is quite good, even in nocturnal scenes. A slight amount of DNR may have been applied, but it's been done with such a judicious hand it escapes notice, and no banding, crush, noise, or other digital issues affect the integrity of this terrific transfer. I can't imagine 'Chinatown' looking any better than it does here, and fans should be more than pleased with Paramount's fine rendering of a beloved film.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
I'm usually not a big fan of Dolby TrueHD tracks, which I feel tend to lack the clarity and nuance of their DTS-HD counterparts, but the TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack for 'Chinatown' just might change my mind. Bursting with fidelity and a marvelous depth of tone, this first-rate audio treatment breathes new life into 'Chinatown' and further immerses us in its seductive atmosphere. Surround activity is confined to atmospherics, such as crickets peeping in the night, but it's surprisingly distinct, and noticeable stereo separation across the front channels supplies further aural interest. A wide dynamic scale handles the soaring highs of Jerry Goldsmith's music score well, and only a hint of distortion creeps in at random moments. Any surface noise, such as hiss, pops, or crackles, has been carefully erased, leaving a clean, well-balanced mix that belies the movie's advanced age.
Dialogue is well prioritized and always easy to understand, and accents such as gunfire and rushing water exhibit a nice crispness. While there isn't much bass to speak of, low end tones supply necessary warmth and weight, heightening this full-bodied, colorful, and involving soundscape. My expectations were low for this track, but this finely tuned mix far exceeded them, and should surprise others with discrminating ears.
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