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Blu-ray Review: Rushmore – The Criterion Collection

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Wes Anderson delivered Rushmore in 1998, as his second feature film, but first with proper studio funding and support. Centered around a private school in Texas, the movie stars newcomer Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and Olivia Williams. Bill Murray received both a Golden Globe nomination for his role, and won the award for Best Supporting Actor from the New York Film Critics Circle.

The Movie

Max Fisher (Jason Schwartzman) is easily the most ambitious student at elite private school Rushmore, having started more clubs on campus than should probably exist, and finding success in the theater with his stage productions of popular films. His personal drive attracts him to fellow Rushmore alum Mr. Blume (Bill Murray), a local self-made millionaire, and the two quickly strike up an odd friendship. That is until Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) enters the picture. Both males are quickly taken with her and a fierce rivalry erupts for her affection.

In typical Anderson style, Rushmore features the kernel of a standard movie type – in this case the “coming of age” story – but then sets it in an offbeat, almost fantasy world. But a fantasy world steeped in pathos. Here we have Max and Mr. Blume, the two main characters, separated by a generation. But they each look up to the other. Max is an old soul trapped in a teen’s body and is trying to change the world before he’s even learned how to not get kicked out of school. Mr. Blume misses the spark from his own life that he now sees burning in Max, as well as in him the ambitious son he wishes he had instead of the Neanderthals he is currently raising.

And then there’s Miss Cross, the teacher, and their mutual love interest. It’s fitting that they would both fall for the same woman, as it highlights how emotionally immature both of them are. Mr. Blume is a bit old for her, and more than a bit already married. Max is too young, and certainly too much a student at her school. And yet both are obsessed with her to the point of stalking discomfort. It’s nothing short of movie magic that keeps lawyers from getting involved in their love triangle. But somehow a strange, fitting friendship is maintained by the two suitors – after all the bouts of sabotage, of course. They’re both lovably pathetic, and both admirably successful in their own rights. And both really can learn from the other. And it’s this revelation that eventually drives the story along.

But all of that is dissecting a comedy a bit too much. After all, it’s both funny and fun. Bill Murray is at his best here, and that’s saying a lot. It’s definitely more dry than it is slapstick, but Rushmore sets up an exceptional odd couple duo with the two lead actors, and they play off of each other mercilessly. It’s also Anderson’s most immediate work, and an excellent place to start before exploring some of the director’s other films.

Video/Audio

Rushmore is an impressively accurate Blu-ray transfer. By that, I mean that there is still some grain to be found (a good thing) and a couple of instances of debris (honestly, it’s hardly worth mentioning). But the craft that Anderson puts into both set and costume construction is rewarded handsomely in high definition. The color palette is rich and often all over the place, but is aided by impressive detail in everything from wool jackets to fall leaves. This is an excellent upgrade and a wonderful way to revisit the film.

The audio is similarly upgraded. Although the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track largely sits within the front stereo speakers, that’s pretty understandable given that the sound palette is almost exclusively made up of talking and 1960’s-era British Invasion rock. There are some sound effects, especially during the school plays, that expand the sound outward a bit more, but overall the audio track is focused up front but impeccably clean.

Bonus Material

Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Rushmore is simply a format upgrade from its 1999 DVD version. Extras are the same, although some of the still images have been oddly truncated. To start, there is the audio commentary track featuring Anderson, co-writer Owen Wilson, and actor Jason Schwartzman. The trio are recorded separately and then woven together, but there is still a relaxed and conversational tone for all three. It’s most interesting to heart Schwartzman, who at the time of the commentary recording (back in 1999) was still fresh off his first film, and the excitement he still has at the whole process comes through.

Next is the “Making Of Rushmore” featurette (HD, 16:49), which is a behind-the-scenes look by Wes Anderson’s brother, and frequent illustrator, Eric. It’s a loose and unstuffy take on the standard “making of”, and while it isn’t revelatory, it does a great job of conveying the mood around the set. The 1999 “MTV Movie Awards Shorts” (HD, 4:13) are all excellent, and not only are they funny, but they are a pitch-perfect continuation of the plays that were staged in the film. The “Charlie Rose Show” interview (HD, 54:20) is a surprisingly detached interaction with both Bill Murray and Wes Anderson. You get the feeling that Charlie Rose is sort of winging the interview (although he can wing it better than most), and we pull out some interesting information from both Murray and Anderson almost in spite of it.

On the lesser side of the supplement scale, we have some raw audition footage (HD, 8:40) from a handful of the actors, as well as a film to storyboard comparison of a scene (HD, 1:55). In addition to the film’s trailer (HD, 2:32) there are also galleries showcasing storyboards and original artwork for/from the film. Within the case there are two booklets, one which features credits and a short essay by Dave Kehr, and the other which is a nicely illustrated fold out map of the Rushmore world.

Conclusion

Criterion have done an excellent job on the audio and video upgrades for Rushmore, while everything else is pretty much how it’s always been from the prior Criterion release. The film itself feels as fresh as ever and is probably still Anderson’s most immediately satisfying work. This is an excellent addition to any film buff’s or Anderson enthusiast’s collection.

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