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Blu-ray Review: The Darjeeling Limited – The Criterion Collection

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Released in 2007, The Darjeeling Limited is director Wes Anderson’s travelogue film. Stars Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman play three brothers who reunite after an estranged year to travel through India. Motives range from a spiritual quest, to escape from life, and to reunite as a family.

The Movie

“I wonder if the three of us would’ve been friends in real life. Not as brothers, but as people.”
- Jack Whitman

With The Darjeeling Limited, Wes Anderson focuses his auteur’s eye on family disfunction and the search for meaning. Frances (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody) and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) Whitman are three brothers who meet up for a trip through India. Prior to this, the trio had not spoken since the death of their father a year earlier. And it has been even longer since they’ve seen their mother. Each is carrying emotional and/or physical baggage that they hope to resolve or find some answers for during their train ride on The Darjeeling Limited.

In some ways, the film is an extension of Anderson’s prior movie, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. But where that movie often lagged in focus or purpose, Darjeeling more successfully picks up the themes of family, loss and the search for purpose. Anderson also re-uses much of his stable of actors, this time adding Adrien Brody into the mix. The trio of lead actors are an effective and engaging band, and although their quirks are steeped in typical Anderson-isms, it’s much easier here to see through the clever dialogue and embrace the story beneath it. Although Anderson frequently uses the offbeat problems of affluence and privilege for his own humorous purposes, the Whitman brothers are – especially when compared to characters in The Life Aquatic – much more human in their faults and desires.

But just as important is the fact that the movie is funny. Owen Wilson plays a variation on his Dignan character from Bottle Rocket with Frances Whitman, and Jason Schwartzman borrows traits from his “troubled genius” role in Rushmore, while Adrien Brody seems right at the home as the slightly more realistic Peter. The trio fumble their way through India with the help of Frances’ personal assistant, Brendan, and eventually meet up with their estranged mother (Angelica Huston). It never becomes too serious so as not to be entertaining, but it’s also never so silly that there isn’t a story to be explored.

Additionally, the disc includes options for watching the main film with or without the prelude piece, Hotel Chevalier. This short has always been a mixed bag for me. While it’s a decidedly dry but interesting look into the character of Jack, and his sometime girlfriend (Natalie Portman), it also feels hammered into place with how it ties into the overall Darjeeling story line. Anderson keeps an Altman-esque distance from the two leads in the short, and offers only minimal closure for the importance of their interaction.

Video/Audio

Wes Anderson films are generally highly stylized in a colorful (and quirky) manner, and The Darjeeling Limited benefits from this more than most. The film is rich with color, in both the ornate clothes and intricate hand-made items that populate the story. Criterion’s transfer of the film is equally striking, with both color tones and fine detail being very strong. Even the scenes shot at night, where the opportunity to test black levels is heightened, remain impressive. This is an excellent encode for a stunning looking film.

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is suitably strong, although the content it is rendering isn’t meant to be an audio dynamo. The soundtrack is rich throughout the audio range, and dialogue is crisp and well-balanced. There were no audio anomalies to report, and once again Criterion delivers a predictably strong track.

Bonus Material

The bonus materials for this release actually don’t feel as interesting as the laundry list of items might indicate. And in fact some feel a touch eccentric, even for a Wes Anderson release. But they certainly did not skimp, and the items include:

  • Commentary track – Director Wes Anderson, actor/writer Jason Schwartzman and writer Roman Coppola head up the commentary for the film. The trio offer a fun, if disorganized, discussion of the film’s story creation and making the film on a limited scale in India.
  • Documentary by Barry Braverman (HD, 40:50) – An almost wordless collection of behind-the-scenes video from the production. It allows you to see more of the locations used and the process for constructing Anderson’s version of India. A few asides are included from cast members, but largely it is a pictorial journey.
  • Conversation with James Ivory (HD, 20:45) – Wes Anderson has lunch with James Ivory, where they discuss Ivory’s work making Indian movies early on in his career, as well as how those films inspired (and provided) much of the music used in Darjeeling.
  • Essay by Matt Zoller Seitz (HD, 11:48) – This is actually the most interesting bonus item, as Zoller delivers a visual essay about the film, offering keen insight to the story, characters, and the role of Darjeeling in Wes Anderson’s work.
  • American Express Commercial (HD, 2:02) – A fun and lengthy (for a commerical) ad that Wes Anderson did for American Express.
  • Sriharsh’s Audition (HD, 2:39) – A casting video for one of the Indian boys featured in the film.
  • Oakley Friedberg/Packer Speech (HD, 3:34) – A short video featuring the son of production designer Mark Friedberg, giving a presentation in front of his school about traveling to India to work on a film.
  • Deleted Scene and two Alternate Takes (HD, 3:21) – These unused snippets are short and sweet, and are interesting but also inconsequential.
  • Sketch by Roman Coppola (HD, 2:29) – This is a video and still montage featuring more behind the scenes images, set to some minimal electronic tabla music.
  • Waris’ Diary (HD, 11:50) – Actor Waris Ahluwalia, who plays the chief train steward, provides a collection of brief and random video journals, shot behind the scenes during the making of the film, as well as a still photo gallery.
  • Trophy Case (HD, 0:41) – A very brief, and tongue-in-cheek nod to a couple of the awards the film received.
  • Stills Galleries – There are three galleries of behind the scenes photographs. The largest was taken by James Hamilton, the on-set photographer, as well as two short galleries with images from Owen Wilson’s mother and Adrien Brody’s mother.
  • Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:17)
  • Booklet – In addition to the trademark, quirky artwork that adorns many of Anderson’s releases, the main item in the booklet is a rather pretentious essay from the New Yorker’s Richard Brody, which tries to read far too much into the nooks and crannies of the film.
  • Conclusion

    The Darjeeling Limited is an enjoyable return to form for Anderson. Although neither as comic nor containing the depth of characters present in films such as Rushmore or The Royal Tenanbaums, it is nonetheless an enjoyable, and even touching film about family and purpose. As usual, Criterion delivers a strong presentation for the film, and it’s recommended as a rental for general movie lovers, or a purchase for fans of Anderson.

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About David R Perry

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    No “Hotel Chevalier”? Seems odd not to include that

  • http://www.davidrperry.com David R Perry

    Wow, that was a big oversight on my part, thanks for catching that. I have submitted an edit for its inclusion.