So we all knew it was coming at some point: after Universal’s fairly barebones release and Anderson’s track record it seemed fairly obvious that Criterion was going to be releasing the film, and finally almost three years’ later it’s here! Unfortunately in terms of supplement this may be—despite some good material—the most commonplace release of an Anderson title yet from the company.
Its strongest feature may be the audio commentary, recorded exclusively for this edition. It’s moderated by Jake Ryan (who plays the sibling Lionel in the film) and features Wes Anderson and Criterion’s own Peter Becker, who serves as an interviewer. Along the way the participants call up co-writer Roman Coppola and actors Edward Norton, Bill Murray, and Jason Schwartzman to talk about making the film. The track is very rough around the edges, though this appears to be at the behest of Anderson: throughout mistakes are made, people fall asleep (Anderson has to shake Becker awake) and at one point Anderson actually thinks he’s talking about Grand Budapest Hotel and carries on until Becker points out he’s talking about the wrong movie, to which Anderson seems genuinely confused (we can all safely assume Criterion will be releasing Grand Budapest Hotel at some point so maybe they had or were going to record a track for it, too). There’s talk of editing this all out, especially Becker nodding off (in his defense they had been apparently been doing this for 5-hours by this point) but Anderson says he wants to keep it in thinking it may add to the track’s appeal.
He’s probably right as it’s certainly an entertaining track because of all of these issues. Yet the track still manages to deliver a lot of information about the film’s production and influences. I was actually most charmed about the influences, particularly the Noye’s Fludde aspect of it (Anderson was in a performance of it as a child) and it was interesting to hear Anderson talk about the development of the film since it sounds as though its original incarnation was a very different story. I was also surprised by the amount of digital effects in the film, with Anderson pointing out a number at the beginning (according to him the tree house is not a digital effect) and then they of course talk about the use of miniatures and old movie tricks like “forced perspective.”
Throughout the other members are called up, Norton and Coppola multiple times, while Schwartzman and Murray are called up once each. Coppola doesn’t get much to do (apparently he hasn’t eaten lunch yet so maybe he’s counting down to that) but he and Anderson talk about the script, while Norton talks about the unique experience of working on the film (which he loved doing) and gives ideas as to what it’s like to work with Anderson. Schwartzman shows up when his character does in the film and he too just talks about his time on set.
Murray’s a treat to hear here. He talks about his favourite scene in the movie, the bed scene with McDormand, which he considers his favourite scene of everything he has ever done (coincidentally it’s also Schwartzman’s favourite scene in the film despite the fact he doesn’t appear in it) and then he and Anderson talk about how the two first began working together and the discussion they had on Red Beard during their first meeting. His appearance on the track is probably all too brief but it was great hearing his thoughts on the film and his work with Anderson.
As the track progresses Anderson and team answer a number of fan submitted questions, though only six in total. I am guessing on the spelling of some of these names, so I apologize in advance as I try to list out the whose questions are asked: Ryan Angle (Mesa, AZ), Steve Mertens (Huntington Beach, CA), someone named Molly who asked about love (Murray is “for it”), Jonathan Bicker (Vancouver, WA), Sergio London (Denton, TX), and a Daniel Ramos Sanchez (Spain). It sounds like there may have been more but they were probably edited out. Unfortunately this is the weakest part of the track since Anderson and team either don’t have a real answer or go off on unrelated tangents, so if one of your questions actually appear you’re forewarned they may not be answered to your liking. Still these questions do manage to open up some more discussions.
It’s a scattershot track for sure, but it is actually very informative and well rounded, plus it’s indeed amusing. I enjoyed it and do recommend listening to it.
(As a side note this is probably the first Criterion release that I can recall where the commentary chapters do not receive their own chapter index. You can of course still skip through the track but Criterion doesn’t provide chapter titles for the track.)
Following this is disappointingly what appears to be mostly advertising materials. There is a section called The Making of Moonrise Kingdom, which presents four sub-sections. The first is Exploring the Set, which is a 17-minute behind-the-scenes video put together by Anderson’s assistant Martin Scali. Compiled together from over 55-hours’ worth of footage, Scali, speaking in French (he admits part way through that he can speak English but Anderson asked him to narrate in French), gives us a tour of the sets, starting with the elaborate house of Suzy’s family that is all broken up inside what looks like an abandoned Lowe’s store, and then catching some behind-the-scenes moment, like Murray’s shoe-throwing scene, where he almost takes out a crew member. This (along with Norton’s home movies that are also included on the disc) offers a decent peek at the technical aspects of the sets as well as offering a glance at the almost family-like atmosphere during the shoot.
Also under this section is 8-minutes worth of animatics and narrator tests, where we get a sampling of the animatics created for the film, along with test footage Anderson shot of himself doing Balaban’s narration. The animatics cover the opening and the flashback sequence at the church. They’re interesting to view for the planning but they’re also edited a little differently in comparison to the finished film (and feature Anderson doing the voices). I liked that Criterion included the full set for Fantastic Mr. Fox and do sort of wish that was also the case here but am at least happy with the two scenes they selected.
Also found here is 4-minutes’ worth of audition footage, featuring the child actors that appear in the film. We get actual line readings from Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, while the other children more or less just talk with the interviewers. Following this is over 1-minute’s worth of footage showing the various use of models throughout the film.
Welcome to New Penzance runs 4-minutes and feels like an advertising featurette as Bob Balaban talks about the cast and the film, with footage already found in the making-of featurette. This sort of rolls into the Set Tour with Bill Murray, where Murray (admitting he still hasn’t seen Bottle Rocket, which he also confirms in the commentary) talks about his fellow cast members (Willis typecast again) and the short pants that Anderson insists his cast wears. This is still an advertising piece though is at least quite funny, running 3-minutes.
A bit more interesting though very short is a barely 2-minute presentation about Benjamin Britten’s “Noyce Fludde” made up of photos from the very first production along with photos from the one that Anderson himself appeared in in 1979 (he’s even pictured in his otter costume). I thought it was a rather interesting inclusion just to expand on Anderson’s influences (the costumes look eerily similar to the ones from his performance) but wish it had been expanded on a bit more other than the quick notes we get.
A rather strong feature, though, is a compilation of eleven iPhone videos by Edward Norton. The 21-minute feature starts with an intro by the actor, who again explains the experience, unique in his career, and what he was trying to catch with his videos. Norton, maybe in spirit of the film, applies some sort of 16mm filter to give a home movie feel, but despite this distraction he gets some great footage. We see some of the footage he talks about in the commentary (a moment where a boat takes on water, questions he asked Anderson, and so on) and then gets some great footage during the preparation for a scene, which he films from his marker. I also rather loved that Norton film a game of Scrabble he played against Swinton, Murray, and McDormand. It’s actually great fun while also offering the best insights on what it’s like being on the set of a Wes Anderson movie. It’s also certainly one of the best features on this release.
Animated Books presents animated sequences of the passages read by Suzy from her fictional books in the film: Shelly and the Secret Universe, The Francine Odysseys, The Girl from Jupiter, Disappearance of the 6th Grade, The Light of Seven Matchsticks, and The Return of Auntie Lorraine. All done in a unique style (6th Grade oddly just animates the text being read, though) they’re charming samples of these fictitious young adult novels that appear briefly in the film. It’s a shame that altogether they total just over 4-minutes.
We then get another promotional short with Cousin Ben, which features Jason Schwartzman in character running a screening of Moonrise Kingdom for his troupe, which he promises has “thrills, adventure, comedy, romance, Bruce Willis.” It’s an amusing short, with Schwartzman in Max Fischer mode but that’s about it.
The disc then closes with the film’s original theatrical trailer.
After going through everything on the disc I was ultimately rather underwhelmed. It’s a newer film but I guess I was expecting more substance. The commentary and Norton’s videos are strong additions and worth the time to go through, but the rest feels like your standard studio fare, most of the supplements appearing to be short promos (which are admittedly cute), or add little weight. And again I know it’s a newer film, but I think of Criterion’s release for The Darjeeling Limited which managed to add a scholarly visual essay by Matt Zoller Seitz, and even tack on an interview with James Ivory, and I feel more scholarly material like that would have helped here. Heck, even more interviews would have helped (where is Gilman and Hayward?)
What this release at least has going for it is its packaging. Since going back to individual DVD and Blu-ray releases after abandoning dual-format Criterion has been fairly uncreative with their packaging and it was so nice to get what we get here. It’s a nice sturdy digipak featuring a painting by Michael Gaskill that wraps around, with a removable sticker for the awkwardly placed yellow title on the front so that all you’re left with is just the art (and the Criterion branding of course). Inside you then get an actual booklet (made up to look like the “Indian Corn” magazine that appears in the film) featuring an essay on the film by Geoffrey O’Brien, along with five short articles by young writers who share their thoughts on the film. Criterion also includes a small reprint of the “Noye’s Fludde” poster found in the film, along with a map of both New Penzance and neighbouring St. Jackwood Island. And then in a nice little touch you get a postcard featuring a photo of the cast in costume. It’s a beautifully put together package and I was thrilled with it when I had it in hand, but this may have ultimately led to my disappointment of the release overall as maybe my expectations became too high. 6/10