LOST IN TRANSLATION - HD DVD review

...a quiet and quaint little film that easily entertains, but never pushes its audience to any great emotions.

DeanWink

Sofia Coppola took home an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for her sophomore feature film "Lost in Translation." Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, the film takes a metaphorical journey into loneliness and loss of love through foreigners trapped in a world where they are unable to understand the tongue of those around them and find solace and friendship in each other. With Bill Murray taking yet another dramatic turn in the starring role and then nineteen-year-old Scarlett Johansson portraying the young love interest in which Murray's character partakes in an unconsummated romance that helps both characters survive an unhappy situation in an unfamiliar country.

"The Virgin Suicides" was Francis Ford Coppola's daughter's second film. Coppola directed and penned the dark comedy and intended for Bill Murray to star in the film from very early in the project. The film borrows history from Coppola's own life, as the film portrays a popular Hollywood personality making Japanese commercials in a viable market after their American popularity has waned. In the film, Bill Murray's character Bob Harris is peddling Suntory whiskey. In Coppola's own life, her father had made Suntory commercials with legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Other themes in the film mirrored Sofia Coppola's own marriage to Hollywood director Spike Jonze.

The principal theme of "Lost in Translation" is the playful and unfulfilled romantic relationship between fading American star Bob Harris and lonely and ignored wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). Charlotte spends much of her time alone in Japan while her celebrity photograph husband John (Giovannia Ribisi) canoodles with beautiful young celebrities who are in Japan and spends very little time showing his own wife very little affection. Bob must pose for photographs and film commercials with a translator who is of little help and survive in a city where he has no possible chance of fitting in or adapting to the society. With Bob suffering marital boredom and stress and no longer being the huge star he once was, he finds a friendship with Charlotte and the two survive Tokyo by spending much of their time together.

As the film continues, the sexual attraction or desires between the two grow. From the moment when a karaoke outing finds each singing to the other and sharing yearning glances, it is quite apparent that Bob and Charlotte desire each other. Bob carries a tired and drunken Charlotte into bed and the two drink Sake and fall asleep together, yet never consummate their desires. When Bob does fulfill his sexual yearnings with an American singer, a strong hint of jealousy from Charlotte and self disappointment from Bob shows how each feel towards one another. When Bob finally must leave Tokyo and rejoin his nagging wife, it is difficult for either to say goodbye to the innocent relationship that burned much hotter under the surface.

"Lost in Translation" is more dramatic than it is comedic. The "fish out of water" situations that Bob and Charlotte find themselves in provides for a few humorous moments and the barbs thrown at one another between Bob and Charlotte are witty and nicely written. Bill Murray was once known for his slapstick performances in films such as "Caddyshack," "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters," but his recent work with Wes Anderson and now Sofia Coppola have proved that Bill Murray is a capable dramatic actor. His performance in "Lost in Translation" have earned him the best praise of his long career and while Murray may be a fading star in Hollywood and share some similarities with the film's main character, the funnyman is a believable serious actor in this film. Johansson is an actress that has become a bigger star since this film was released and this film suits her well.

This is not a movie that will leave you gasping for air after deep and hearty laughs. Nor is it a film that will leave you feeling philosophical after sitting through its well written storyline. It is not a film you will want to watch repeatedly. However, Sofia Coppola deserved all of her praise for this very good little film. "Lost in Translation" is a relatively low budget Indie picture. It is a quiet and quaint little film that easily entertains, but never pushes its audience to any great emotions. "Lost in Translation" is a film to enjoy for the art of filmmaking and the craft of its actors. The multi-faceted story is captivating and the passage of comfort from loneliness in a foreign land is a great metaphor for the socially unacceptable love affair shared by the older Bob and very young Charlotte.

Video:
This low budget film neither excels nor overly disappoints in its video presentation. The 1.85:1 widescreen film uses the VC-1 codec to deliver its 1080p resolution images to home theater screens. Compared to the muddy and murky looking standard definition DVD release, the new HD-DVD transfer is a definite upgrade, but still wildly inconsistent in its overall presentation. One moment, the brightly lit signs and buildings of Tokyo show vibrant coloring and gorgeous detail. The next moment, the awful black levels of many interior sequences bring the transfer crashing down to Earth, as the high level of detail is lost and the bright colors are quickly dulled. When "Lost in Translation" looks good, it shines. When "Lost in Translation" doesn't look so good, it stinks. The DVD release was riddled with a much higher amount of film grain and was far murkier. That release found any facial depth or detail lost in the shadows. At least on HD-DVD, the actors can easily be made out, but the beauty of Lance Acord's photography is lost in transformation.

Sound:
"Lost in Translation" is not a particularly striking sounding film. It is a little film with many quiet sequences and shared moments between the film's stars that speak with only facial gestures and emotions. The English Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 soundtrack is technically fine, but with a very thin spectrum allotted by the source materials, this is a move where you simply cannot rave about how good it sounds. Dialogue is very good. That is the absolutely most important aspect of "Lost in Translation." This is a movie about the spoken word and Murry and Johansson find their performances given proper treatment. The Karaoke scene features the liveliest vocals and sound effects and the .1 LFE channel thumps nicely during this sequence. A few other moments in busy Tokyo allow the rear channels to convey nice ambient and environmental effects, but most of the film is either silent or constrained to the left and right channels.

Extras:
The various extras from the previous DVD release have been ported over to HD-DVD. While not competing with most special edition releases, the value added content contained on "Lost in Translation" is worth sitting down to enjoy, if not just for the more comedic moments with Bill Murray. The first and most notable supplement is the video diary styled Lost on Location (29:39). This making of feature provides a lot of face time with Murray and Sofia Coppola. The majority of time is spent with Bill Murray and that is of benefit to the viewers. This is a nice little piece that shows some of the difficulty in shooting in Japan.

The Matthew's Best Hit TV (4:39) features a longer sequence from the segment shown in the film. Matthew is annoying and Bill Murray's character looks horribly out of place. Kevin Shield's "City Girl" Music Video (3:03) isn't bad. The Deleted Scenes (10:39) show more Bill Murray goofing around. These are essentially extensions of existing scenes, but adds more humor and heart to the film. A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola (9:47) was shot in Rome in October 2003. It features Murray and Coppola discussing the film and find's Murray playing it straight in front of the camera and providing insight into the project. Finally, there is a Theatrical Trailer.

Closing Comments:
"Lost in Translation" is a very nice little film that shows the writing and directorial talents of Francis Ford Coppola's little girl, Sofia. It also shows that Bill Murray can be a convincing serious actor and introduces many young men to the beautiful Scarlett Johansson. This dramatic picture features is closer to being a dark comedy than it is of being laugh-out-loud fun, although there are many humorous moments, including one scene where the tall Murray struggles to take a Japanese shower. The HD-DVD release of this entertaining film suffers from inconsistent visuals and unengaging sound design. The features run for roughly an hour and although a commentary with Bill Murray would have been welcome, they are nice. All-in-all, this is a nice little release of a nice little film.

Ratings

Video
5
Audio
6
Extras
6
Film Value
7