"Lost In Translation" counts as the first time I have ever made a DVD "blind purchase." I figured I had nothing to lose. "Over 80 four star rave reviews," as it says on the front cover, and the film is even up for a few Oscars this year. So, how could I go wrong? For that matter, how could the movie go wrong with so much positive feedback working for it? Even now the film has already earned Bill Murray a Golden Globe for best actor and another Golden Globe to Sofia Coppola for best screen play. In many ways, I was looking forward to riding the "Lost In Translation" bandwagon and waving the flag of victorious bliss. For more reasons than not, I believed in the many good rationalizations and reasons that could only make this a safe "blind purchase.
When I returned home, I immediately fought my way through the passage-of-hell known as the "vacuum sealed plastic wrap." After my participation in this event, a well-needed rest was taken to calm my nerves for what was about to come. Yes, the dreaded transparent sealing tape. Let's face it folks, the Great Wall of China has nothing on DVD packaging tape! Your train of thought needs to be on the subatomic level just to remove the DVD chastity belt! After that atrocious event, I figured everything was downhill from here. Next came the unveiling. The most pleasurable part of owning a brand new DVD. Unfortunately, this pleasure was not about to take place. There was yet another obstacle that Universal has been kind to donate to the "Let's Make DVD Cases a Living Hell Society!" By all appearances, the case looks like any single, standard DVD case. It appears to be the same case design Universal, Fox, and MGM use for their single-disc releases. However, Universal has discovered a new sealing technique, one that is best not discovered in a room with poor lighting. I say that because I was the total moron trying to open my DVD case and wondering what in the heck I was doing wrong. The problem was on the right side (opening end) of the DVD case. Universal has blessed us with two little "snap-clips" as an extra means of sealant security. Once I was able to battle my way through the new sealant technique, I was home free.
Now, nestled in my Lazy-Boy awaiting the menu when, up to my surprise, came the most terrorizing agony known to mankind. Yes, the most devious act of commercialism ever enforced on the American public. I'm sure many of you who have purchased recent Universal releases know exactly what I'm talking about. And that would be the forever loathed "forced previews!" I call it Universal's contribution to the "Public Annoyance Association." To Universal I'd like to say, "I feel the love, and thanks for thinking about us...your general audience." I mean after all, I don't know what I'd do without movie previews that I'm forced watch. It makes the whole home-viewing thing seem like the real theater experience; the only difference is, I can fast-forward. Sadly, though, the same rules apply with this type of DVD. You can only fast-forward as an option to pass the previews. The menu jump and skip-chapter features on your DVD remote will not work during this uncompromising period. After a good nap, you may find yourself as I did, awakening to the main menu. If I clocked the experience, I'd say it was already about thirty minutes into the whole ordeal.
Another thirty minutes into the film and I began to realize that this was not a comedy film in any sense of the term. It seems to be advertised as one, and it shows multifarious differences in what people's tastes in comedy are. Comedy, in my opinion, is Jim Carrey, Peter Sellers, Steve Martin, Rodney Dangerfield, Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison, the Three Stooges, and yes, even Bill Murray. However, this is not the usual Bill I've seen in other films. And of what comedy there is that would tickle the funny bone is dry, blunt, and somewhat transparent. Not that this is a bad thing; it's just not what I was expecting. The film is a far better drama than a comedy in every sense. I love many independent films that have a "real life" feel. That dry, slightly subdued, cinematic world of independent film is as captivating to me as it is to many others. Put another way, I'd say this is the type of film that bores the general movie participant to tears but is revered by critics and art-film lovers worldwide. At least at this time, this is how I feel about the movie. Not to mention, I didn't see where it taking me.
The film is of two completely different worlds colliding. In one world is Bill Murray's character, Bob Harris, a movie star lowered to doing whiskey commercials for Japanese television. Bob is an older middle-aged man who has reached a point in his life where nothing seems to matter anymore. His career appears to be that of a "has-been," and his marriage and children are not making any admirable points with him, either. In the other world, and in the same hotel building, we have a very young Charlotte, (Scarlett Johansson). Charlotte is a young lass married to a young photographer, John (Giovanni Ribisi). The husband is constantly wrapped-up in his work in Tokyo, and he is the obvious fault for many dull moments for Charlotte. She finds herself disillusioned with her marriage, her life, her hopes, and basically everything that all of us have thought about at one time or another.
As John is away on a long-distance job over the weekend, Bob and Charlotte meet one another in the hotel lounge. They make friends and find themselves in many admirable adventures through the streets of Tokyo. They never really show much sexual interest in each other, which is commendable, but the film plays on making us think there just might be a possibility. Fact is, we never see any real sexual attraction between either of the two characters through the entire film.
Some moments in the story poke subtle fun at the Japanese culture. Obviously, there are funny moments dealing with Karaoke, Sushi, overall size, and the ever-so-apparent language barrier. I can only assume it was meant to be more humorous. However, the pacing of the film is so lackluster that it seems to tarnish what comedy exists. There are colorful moments in the film, and some moments that could be referred to as "good advice." Nevertheless, I found the overall script left me in a gray area. In some ironic way, I think that was the overall goal of the film.
On the one hand, the friendship bonding was tediously dull and is accompanied by a script that takes a snail's pace to make a point. On the other hand, there is much to admire in the cinematography and thematic feel of the film. The moving images may paint a dull world of life and relationships, while at the same time it paints a remarkably real one. The footage of Tokyo is captured in vivid bliss, and Charlotte's visit to a Japanese garden looks astonishing. I have to admit, I'm truly a fan of Japanese architecture and their passion for perfection. The film does a wonderful job capturing these elements, but it leaves me undecided when it comes to rating it as an overall "good film." So, weighing these two issues of script vs. cinematography is why I feel I'm in a gray area. It's not a bad film, and it certainly works on various levels. It just doesn't work for me because I feel the story is at a loss for passion in its storytelling.
Nevertheless, I didn't see "Lost In Translation" as a complete loss. It's not an awful film in any way. It is just one that didn't flip my switch. However, I will say it is a film that might sit better after a few more viewings. The film's cinematography alone is mesmerizing and unique enough to make every dime of my "blind purchase" worth it. However, the script and overall pace of the film were, quite simply, doing nothing for me. What can I say? It was a sleeper in the most literal possible way. It's a decent film to look at as long as you can keep your eyes open. It does make for a good home purchase because you can nap halfway through, wake up, and then finish the rest. In some ways it's almost like watching NASCAR. The race begins, you watch a plethora of left-hand turns, catch a couple of wrecks, take a long nap, and wake up just in time to see the finish.
The film is presented in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio. Again, Universal has done a superb job transferring the film to disc, and I mean that in the most sarcastic way possible. Universal DVDs are becoming notorious for trouble with dark areas, color contrast, and an unusually higher amount of film grain than one sees from other studios. Not to worry, though; it's only bad in a few spots, and I have to admit I've seen much worse. Let's just say Universal are not making any major efforts to improve their stay in the entertainment market. I guess it's a fair enough picture for what it is, and the Japanese garden scene does look beautiful.
The sound is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 in English and French. Captions are in English, and subtitles are in Spanish and French. The audio does what it needs to do for the film. There's nothing special about it, and it is very center-based speaker entertainment, at best. Not to mention, there is not a lot of background thematic music playing. Thus, the film has quite a few quiet moments. However, the overall sound is about as lackluster as it gets, although for what the film does, it works like a charm.
This single disc is packed with some candy. If you become, or are already, a big fan of the film, there are plenty of extras to feed your monster. There is a behind-the-scenes documentary where we get to see what it was like filming "Lost In Translation" from day one. It's somewhat interesting, but by no means is it delightful entertainment. Then there's an interview with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola. It's kind of funny to watch because Murray certainly steals the thunder. However, the interview covers many things already seen in the documentary. Next, there's a music video, "City Girls," performed by Kevin Shields. Who the heck is Kevin Shields? Whatever. It's in the extras. The disc is also loaded with two deleted scenes that are split up as two menu selections. Why the menu designers decided to do this, I'll never know. Overall, the extras are really nothing extra, and, rest assured, they are nothing we haven't seen on other DVDs. I guess on a good note, at least the disc did come with some non-important extras.
I can only recommend "Lost in Translation" to someone who is prepared for a serious drama, mixed with very subtle comedy. Don't be afraid to give the film a chance if you feel you can't make it through the first thirty minutes. The film does make some good points about life. How things really never get easier. How we all need to come to the realization that life is not a fairy tale. How even those who have it all, or had it all, still have human problems like everyone else. The film makes these points well, but it is the manner in which they are made that is not to my taste. It is a film that can be warm, but in the end is a bit odd, cold, empty, and somewhat sad. I think the film does acquit itself well, but that does not mean I have to love it.