The new 20th Century-Fox Home Video release of “The Darjeeling Limited” offers quite a conundrum for fans of Wes Anderson. We are so used to getting exceptional Criterion releases of his movies that, when a threadbare release such as the one coming out today, with the expectation of a Criterion release somewhere down the line, do you get it now or wait for the more extensive one that may or may not happen?
The film itself leaves much to be desired, at least to this Wes Anderson fan. The film plums a number of the same themes prevalent in his other works, with Anderson particularly obsessed with characters who try to put their broken family back together. Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody and Jason Schwartzman play Francis, Peter and Jack, the Whitman Brothers. Peter and Jack have been summoned to India by their elder brother Francis for a spiritual trek across the land via the Darjeeling Limited, a year after the death of their father, to bond again. As with almost every Anderson character, regardless of who he cowriter or cowriters may been, each are damaged goods, with Francis recently surviving a horrific car crash, Peter dealing with an unwanted pregnancy to his wife he thought he would have been divorced from someday and Jack from… well, it’s never really quite explained in the film was Jack’s problem is, even in the film’s prologue, Hotel Chevalier, which is included here.
Where Anderson fails, however, is his inability to grow as a filmmaker. “Darjeeling” is the filmmaker’s fifth feature film. By this time in their careers, Francois Truffaut, an Anderson influence, was already balancing his personal films (Les Quatre cents coups, Jules et Jim) with adaptations of other people’s works (Tirez Sur le pianiste, Fahrenheit 451), Louis Malle, another Anderson fave, had covered the gamut from thriller (Ascenseur pour l’echafaud) and drama (Les Amants) to fantasy comedy (Zazie dans le metro) and even biography (Vie privee), and Mike Nichols, Anderson’s biggest American influence, had already become an icon (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolffr, The Graduate), a fallen icon (Catch-22), a resurgent icon (Carnal Knowledge) and a fallen icon again (The Day of the Dolphin). Of his three biggest influences, two-thirds of their first five films combined were adaptations of other people’s works, and his closest modern filmmaking compatriots, Paul Thomas Anderson and David Fincher, were able to meld their strong storytelling styles into adaptations by their fifth film.
Homages to your favorite filmmakers and using your favorite bands on your soundtracks and favorite actors in minor cameos, while showing off how inventive you can be with your camerawork and how detailed you can be with your production design is not showing growth as an artist. It’s a crutch, and it’s about time Anderson step out of his comfort zone and do something completely foreign to him, and not just making a movie in another country.
The DVD transfer itself is quite sumptuous. There is no doubt Anderson spends countless hours micromanaging each inscrutable detail, and DVD is definitely the best place for film fans obsessed with detail to geek out over the look of the film. Considering the exotic locations, “Darjeeling” is easily the most colorful and vibrantly shot of his films, and the soundtrack, featuring music from the soundtracks of Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray and several Kinks songs, sounds exquisite.
However, with the film leaving much to be desired, often the make or break decision to purchase a disc can come down to the bonus features. As mentioned before, this disc is severely lacking in this detail. There is no Anderson commentary, which is almost criminal onto itself. Just a 21 minute behind-the-scenes featurette of shooting the film in India (almost as interesting as the film itself) and six trailers for other Fox Home Video titles, three of which (Hitman, Resurrecting the Champ and the direct-to-video release The Onion Movie) share zero thematic compatibility with this film.
So the question is, do you wait for something which should be much better but isn’t guaranteed to happen or notr If you must have every Anderson movie in your DVD collection, then this is an absolute necessity. But if you are obsessive about having the best possible DVD no matter the wait, as I am with all things Cameron Crowe (I’m still waiting for the deluxe DVD for “Elizabethtown”), then it’s best to hold off, if you can.Rating: C