422 The Last Emperor

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Storaro's cropping of the Last Emperor

#226 Post by PNeski » Mon Mar 17, 2008 1:53 pm

After changing the color on my TV, I found the French Pal version simply the better version, and doubt I will watch the Criterion version much. I noticed that a lot of Storaro's cropping lets him cut out distortions cause buy the lens. This might be his main reason. Many curved walls and windows are cropped off. In some scenes this is an improvement. But overall he does more harm, once you have many actors in a scene on screen at the same time, someone gets cropped in half, or is totally missing. All these transfers aren't anywhere as nice as the best Storaro transfers out there: Reds, Agatha, Tucker. I know they had to shoot with no lights at all for some of the scenes,

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#227 Post by Dylan » Mon Mar 17, 2008 4:17 pm

PNeski wrote: All these transfers aren't anywhere as nice as the best Storaro transfers out there: Reds, Agatha, Tucker. I know they had to shoot with no lights at all for some of the scenes,
Agatha isn't available on DVD yet, but I really want to see it. It's one of the very few Storaro-shot films I haven't seen, and it has Dustin Hoffman in his prime. I haven't heard too much about the actual film, but it's apparently one of Storaro's most gorgeous works. Warner owns it, but is sitting on it at the moment.

The late afternoon outdoor lighting in Tucker is absolutely breathtaking, as are the Russia scenes in Reds (which are all laden with hazy mist and lit with some of the richest use of blacks I’ve seen from him).

Meanwhile, my main problem with cropping The Last Emperor has to do with the fact that if you watch a 2.35:1 film on a television, it's a little cropped anyway due to overscan, so the damage is significantly worse if it's cropped to 2.00:1 unless you have a widescreen TV (which I imagine most of us don't...or at least I don't). But I agree, the R2 looks a lot better, and far more Bertolucci/Storaro-like to my eyes, than the Criterion.

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#228 Post by ranaing83 » Mon Mar 17, 2008 6:11 pm

For those of you with Directv and an HDTV, Agatha is playing on HDNet Movies this month in hi-def. Just thought I'd give everyone the heads up.

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I wish I read this thread before I bought it

#229 Post by Roger_Thornhill » Tue Mar 25, 2008 11:15 pm

If I hadn't been so busy lately I probably would've read this thread or any number of cinephile websites that outlined the problems with this set, but sadly I didn't. I saw it for sale on Amazon for $35 US dollars and ordered it. It arrived a few days ago and I finally had time to watch the whole thing tonight, well, the television version since I'd only seen the theatrical version. After about ten minutes of watching it I started thinking to myself, "Wasn't this shot in 2.35:1?" and "I remember the colors being much more vibrant in the Forbidden City sequences." I shrugged my shoulders and just kept watching it since I love the film. After about the fifteenth shot of someone cut in half on either side of the frame I had a feeling that the film was cropped. I popped in the theatrical version thinking that would be in the correct 2.35:1 ratio but it was the same as the television version.

Anyways, I went ahead and finished the television version and while the color scheme and cropped AR were annoying, it's such an interesting film that I still enjoyed it. I much prefer this to 1900 now that I think about it and good God is Pu Yi's first wife amazingly hot. I don't remember that when I saw the film in the theatre, although I was only eight years old in '87 and girls had icky cooties then. [smile]

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#230 Post by cdnchris » Wed Mar 26, 2008 1:37 am

The cropping actually didn't bother me until the scene where Pu Yi and his women are in the car and about 3/4 of Pu Yi's face is cut off. That hoser has obvisouly gone insane.

As for the colours I thought they were fine, though didn't see it theatrically.

Decent set, though a tad disappointed with the supplements.

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#231 Post by denti alligator » Wed Mar 26, 2008 2:13 am

cdnchris wrote:The cropping actually didn't bother me until the scene where Pu Yi and his women are in the car and about 3/4 of Pu Yi's face is cut off.
Chris, that's exactly the same scene when I felt the new AR was wrong. I'm consoled by the fact that that was the only scene that seemed wrong.

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#232 Post by King Prendergast » Wed Mar 26, 2008 10:02 am

denti alligator wrote:
cdnchris wrote:The cropping actually didn't bother me until the scene where Pu Yi and his women are in the car and about 3/4 of Pu Yi's face is cut off.
Chris, that's exactly the same scene when I felt the new AR was wrong.
Same here. Only other scene I recalled being obviously hampered by the cropping was the scene of young Pu Yi and his brother when they run in a circle in a courtyard of the Forbidden city and their entire entourage follows. Storaro must've agonized over the cropped transfer of those scenes.

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#233 Post by punkrocker27ka » Sun Mar 30, 2008 10:26 am

overall i think it is a wonderful release, despite a few hiccups. i still have yet to watch the extras. a bad habit on my part, i spend all this money on criterions and never get around to the supplemental features. one of these days.

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#234 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Mar 31, 2008 9:41 pm

I'm about halfway through the set myself. As usual I much prefer the longer version - to pick a couple of moments early in the film that I think are deepened in the extended version, I thought the digression into the way Ar Mo was chosen as Pu Yi's wetnurse adds a more heartbreaking dimension to her character. It is not necessary for the story of Pu Yi, since he remains unaware of it (which fits in with the idea of the emperor not really fully understanding the people around him, or indeed being expected to understand what is going on), but it is a beautiful moment that humanises someone beyond just being a breast.

The other moment which I think the longer version deepens is the introduction of Johnston, where he runs into a group of student protestors facing off against soldiers in a moment full of potential violence (which is realised through sound a couple of scenes later). The theatrical version seems to play in a different way due to the way it is cut short as Johnston is behind the line of students looking at the soldiers, as if he is being aligned with their cause in a fundamental way. The extended version complicates that by having Johnston break through the students and walk through the 'no man's land' between the two factions to leave the scene - it is small change but changes the tone a lot and maybe prefigures the way Johnston is a kind of opaque figure, sympathetic and wanting to open the emperor's eyes but at the same time in the end only an employed tutor who is able to leave Pu Yi to his fate (and maybe if we are being uncharitable someone who only stays long enough to gather material for his book).

I was interested to hear Mark Peploe talking about the way Pu Yi's life is broken up into three sections which are all prisons in their various ways. I thought it was very interesting that in a way the 50s Communist section while being the most obvious imprisonment might, through it's straight forward bluntness, win Pu Yi over through not hiding its control behind illusions of giving power.

Bertolucci talks about feeling that Chen Kaige's Farewell, My Concubine had some parallels with The Last Emperor. I was wondering whether Zhang Yimou's Raise The Red Lantern similarly has some connection - in the way that getting involved in political machinations distracts from realising you are trapped by the larger system, even if you end up 'winning'?

I also remembered something Nicolas Roeg said in the interview on the Bad Timing disc about the way that if Inspector Netusil had gotten Alex to confess what had actually occured between himself and Milena during the missing period of time that Netusil would never have been able to rid himself of Alex after he unburdens himself, maybe even with Alex wanting to return over and over to confess anything he felt troubled about! That seemed similar to continually writing out life stories and confessing to your actions against the state that can be used - in Pu Yi's case, at least - to purge and rehabilitate but also to create a kind of dependence and need to report about everything you do.

It was quite ironic therefore to see Pu Yi again accept another rule, just not one in which he was being used as a puppet leader, only to see that get swept away by the Red Guard and be told that his rehabilitator was himself an enemy of the state.

There's a wonderful moment in the Red Guard march which seemed to be a call back to an early scene but maybe was unintentional and I'm just making up the connection. I thought the way the crowd was moved back to make way for the man with the flag and then the dancers following could compare to the scene in which Pu Yi and Pu Chieh travel with their retinue through the Forbidden City. The gestures of the men running in front of the emperor and preparing the way, making people stand to the side of the street without looking at the pageantry passing them, but showing that they are completely aware of the emperor's passing, seem comparable to the man in the procession waving the flag with similarly aggressive gestures, only this time in order to attract as much attention as possible to the performance which follows.

It seems a sly parallel of the two regimes, with the Maoist one maybe being worse as instead of just kowtowing to the emperor as he occasionally passes you have to pay attention to only a picture of Mao and treat his followers with as much reverence as the man himself, or you might find yourself in trouble!

I thought it was interesting to see Pu Yi coming to terms with the loss of power and enjoying an anonymous life only to find that even this was going to be threatened by the Cultural Revolution. I get the impression that he was never allowed to develop an individual personality after being taken and used from such a young age - he remained a malleable individual, fitting wherever he was put without much fuss. The final scene seems to show the disappearance into his last refuge - a retreat to his past, then into history, though with the final irony that even in death Pu Yi is used for other's ends.

(Continued 5th April):

I've had a wonderful few days working through the two discs of supplements. No matter what you think of the aspect ratio issue, the extra features on this set are absolutely magnificent and actually manage to make this set an indispensible package.

As usual this is another set that shows just how much care Criterion take with their extra material, combining new features with contemporaneous documentary material. I had seen the Postcards From China VHS footage before on the UK Optimum disc but the Criterion adds a Bertolucci commentary that adds a bit of extra context that helped me appreciate it more (I'd compare it to the way the Criterion disc of In The Mood For Love added a bit of context to the making of the cheong sam rather than leaving it to play on its own, as on the Tartan disc of that film).

I particularly liked The Italian Traveller documentary - it seemed an good example of how to give an internal, essayistic insight into a filmmaker. The film even manages to give an object lesson in staged dissent with Bertolucci playing Verdi outside the composer's house after being refused rights to use his music in a film! He even manages to sum up the whole "activist" trend of documentaries that have only become more prevalent in recent years with the comment "Provocations are like Molotov cocktails. Only one out of ten work."

The only thing I'd add to that is that whether you hit your target or not you always run the risk of injuring innocent bystanders with an unfocused attack!

A great little film, and the focus so much on Bertolucci during that period contrasts extremely well with the Face To Face interview that is more of a career discussion as well as the more straightforward making of documentaries.

When I first started playing The South Bank Show programme I initially thought that it might just be there for completeist purposes and that it would not have much new material to offer. I was very much mistaken as that programme adds lots of fascinating interview material with Pu Chieh and the governor of the prison that Pu Yi was sent to for re-education - as well as a lot of amazing newsreel footage, including some footage of the second coronation.

The interview with David Byrne might be of use to the person who asked on the other thread for music in film course suggestions - I don't read music but there was a lot of very interesting material from Byrne's notes as well as unused cues and a discussion of the way he approached the project.

I still have a few things to get through so I might amend this post further (I'm saving some of the documentaries on the third disc and the history of China documentary on the fourth disc to savour last)!

I liked the deeper insight given into the film in the extras, especially Bertolucci talking about whether someone really changes or just puts forward the illusion of change. As an outsider/educator how do you know the difference, and how do you force change? If given the chance do we actively mould ourselves into different people, or do we really only go through significant changes when forced to by upheavals that occur in the society we are in? Is any amount of ideological teaching nothing compared to the reality and practical experience of your life - of actually leading the life of a gardener rather than just being taught to think as a common man?

When I was thinking about this idea of whether Pu Yi changes I wondered if there is an unsuccessful attempt to recreate the physical and mental nourishment he had as a boy and young man just as he tries to unsuccessfully carve out a powerful position for himself? The physical nourishment of his wetnurse Ar Mo is changed for the similar (but more socially acceptable for his age) attentions of his wives - the mental nourishment brought about and encouraged by Johnston is taken up by the governor of the prisoner re-educating him into a good citizen.

I think the parallels are there especially since the film alternates between these ideas: the wetnurse leaves closing that chapter, Johnston then opens the next section while at the same time Pu Yi gets married, then Johnston leaves and the wives become central, then the wives leave and the governor becomes central. Eventually the governor is removed and Pu Yi seems to find some solace in himself rather than looking for comfort in others.

I get the impression that every character comes from and then retreats back into the fabric of the epic - and in the middle of that approach and retreat (from the audience and from Pu Yi, though in the end this applies as much to the character of Pu Yi as it does to does who surround him), we see a telling glimpse of the 'real' people.

I really like the film - I think it is very heightened, even melodramatic and in an obviously 'epic' style. I think the approach and retreat that the characters do in the film can apply similarly to the way the historical events are treated. The move from imperial China through to the Cultural Revolution seems a tale of two epic, almost inhuman in their scale extremes with the heartbreaking middle moment, when everything was in flux and the possibility of a republic with re-education and rehabilitation being used for good purposes being lost in a mass of wrongful and spiteful denouncements and petty score-settling (and re-education that 2+2 really does equal 5 if you think about it hard enough in the right way!) as the reigns of power are taken up by another form of dictatorship, though this time political and intrusive rather than regal and detached from the population.

(continued 15th April)

Well, finished the set and was mightily impressed - the historical background from Ian Buruma was an provided a lot of invaluable context on the period for a novice like myself and I'm sure will rank highly on my list of favourite supplements in the end of year poll.

I really liked the Face To Face interview and a number of statements Bertolucci made struck a chord with my own views - that all films, not just those consciously made with that intent are political and that he sees cinema as kind of all encompassing and a continuing process, with individual films sort of being individual, wildly diverse chapters within this ongoing story. I think both of those ideas are extremely good ways of viewing the world of cinema, as well as of course providing much more specific insight into the way Bertolucci approaches his own films.

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#235 Post by Tom Hagen » Fri Aug 15, 2008 5:34 pm

Specs are up for the Blu-ray edition.

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#236 Post by Narshty » Fri Aug 15, 2008 5:34 pm

Tom Hagen wrote:Specs are up for the Blu-ray edition.
Down, surely?

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#237 Post by Jeff » Sat Aug 16, 2008 2:40 am

It's not listed on the site yet, but the standard-def, single-disc, theatrical version will be $29.95, and will include:

• Restored, high-definition digital transfer, supervised and approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro
• Audio commentary by director Bernardo Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamoto
• Theatrical trailer
• PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic David Thomson

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Last Emperor Aspect Ratio

#238 Post by White Pepper » Tue Nov 18, 2008 7:03 pm

In the new Newsletter, it is stated that the single-disc DVD release of The Last Emperor will come with a 2.35:1 transfer, not the 2.00:1 one afforded last year's deluxe edition.

Has the aspect ratio been changed back to its theatrical incarnation for this release? And will this presentation of the film be included on January's Blu-ray edition?

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#239 Post by Telstar » Fri Dec 19, 2008 8:05 pm

Wasn't sure where to post this since the all-purpose Criterion Blu-ray thread has been closed... but since I just heard that The Last Emperor blu-ray has pared down the DVDs hefty 96-page booklet to a paltry 16 pages, thought it might be appropriate to post these comments from a recent email from Mr. Mulvaney here:
Regarding booklets in Blu-ray discs, for a combination of reasons, some economical, some environmental, we're trying to use a little less paper going forward. We'll still be producing the same audiovisual supplements, and we'll still be dedicating ourselves to creating beautifully designed packages, but we'll be turning to the web as a means for delivering some text that in the past we might have included in a printed book. All the content will continue to be available online, and in fact, we expect to be assigning and publishing even more film essays, about new releases and classics from the catalog, since on the web we won't have to keep such a close eye on the page count. In the end, we're doing what we think makes the most sense for the films and our audience, putting more content into the hands of more people, in digital if not physical form. We think it's the right thing to do.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#240 Post by Dr. Mabuse » Fri Dec 19, 2008 9:13 pm

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#241 Post by Lindhorst » Sat Dec 20, 2008 3:40 am

I apologize if this has been asked before, but I haven't seen anything about it yet. Do we know if the Blu-Ray version will include the same extras as the 4-disc dvd version?

Also, I just posted this on the comments of the blog entry (http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/713" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;) where they discussed the changing of the aspect ratio, but I'll repost it here if you don't go to that very often:

I also agree with the above comments (the comments above basically said that films should not be touched by the whim on the cinematographer decades after the film was made). While this is a more extreme example, I think it’s analogous to this situation:

If Steven Spielberg came to you wanted to release Close Encounters again in DVD/Blu-Ray with Criterion, but he wanted his “new print” in which all the aliens are digitally changed to where they all look like walkie-talkie’s, would you honor that request and only release it that way even though it would be obvious to everyone else except for Mr. Spielberg that this would be an obvious disturbance to the integrity of the film?

In the case of The Last Emperor, would it not be better to look at the filmmakers original intention at the time the film was made (i.e. preserving the 2.2:1 ratio), instead of changing it to what they see fit for the movie now? Would the integrity of the film from when it was actually made not be disrupted? That should be Criterion’s mission: to preserve the integrity of the the director’s and cinematographer’s choices that were made when it was actually made.

If not, then who knows what certain directors might wish for their older films to be now. We’ve all seen the disastrous results in Spielberg’s changes to E.T.
Lindhorst wrote:I apologize if this has been asked before, but I haven't seen anything about it yet. Do we know if the Blu-Ray version will include the same extras as the 4-disc dvd version?
Ah, I just looked at DVD Beaver's comparison and it does seem to be the same as the 4-disc version sans the longer booklet. Correct?

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#242 Post by manicsounds » Sat Dec 20, 2008 9:32 am

and the TV extended version is gone from the bluray

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#243 Post by Matango » Sun Dec 21, 2008 2:59 am

"Regarding booklets in Blu-ray discs, for a combination of reasons, some economical, some environmental, we're trying to use a little less paper going forward."

You can almost hear Mulvaney's belt tightening.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#244 Post by psufootball07 » Fri Dec 26, 2008 1:34 pm

Maybe they are trying to be environmentally friendly....save the trees.

Anyways this film was gorgeous, one of my favorite films from the 1980's. I felt watching it in English was quite odd, but probably something that helped it receive all of those Academy awards, I wonder if Peter O'Toole could speak Chinese.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#245 Post by Sanjuro » Sun Dec 28, 2008 5:14 am

"Regarding booklets in Blu-ray discs, for a combination of reasons, some economical, some environmental, we're trying to use a little less paper going forward."
I suppose there's two ways of looking at this.

1. Booklets are 'packaging' the less of which there is, the more trees are saved.
2. Reading booklets (and therefore presumably books) is bad for the environment and should be done away with in the future.

I hope MOC don't start thinking the same way any time soon. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I kind of like stepping away from the monitor sometimes and quietly reading a book.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#246 Post by Matango » Sun Dec 28, 2008 6:58 am

Perfectly good booklets could be produced from paper made from sustainable forests. Environmental Protection is becoming an excuse for cost-cutting everywhere, from hotels asking you to re-use your bathtowels and bed linen, to...well, DVD companies cutting back on booklets.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#247 Post by frankblack » Tue Aug 04, 2009 1:49 pm

"We offer a $20 Blu-ray upgrade program for customers who have already bought the equivalent edition on DVD. Just mail your disc, along with a check or money order for $20 (plus $5 shipping and handling), made payable to the Criterion Collection"

Just curious, has anyone upgraded to the Blu-ray version of the film yet?

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#248 Post by TedW » Thu Aug 27, 2009 11:34 pm

Bought the BR, and I'm in line with whoever else thinks it looks like shit. Excessive noise in the transfer and the decision to accede to Storaro's lunatic revisionism. Heartbreaking, really, since this truly is one of the greatest examples of cinematography ever. Please, somebody stop that guy before he gets to the BR of Apocalypse...

Sold it. I'll stick with the one I have -- from Optimum, I believe.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#249 Post by Cash Flagg » Fri Sep 11, 2009 10:01 pm

A technical problem here. I just popped the Blu-ray in my player for the first time, and the DTS audio track is silent. The secondary track with the commentary plays fine, and the music over the main menu does as well. I tried it with both my television speakers and my sound bar, and neither play anything. I've never encountered this problem with a DVD or Blu-ray before. I'm not much of a tech guy here, so apologies if this is all basic stuff. Could it be that my Blu-ray player cannot process the audio? The Blu-ray disc of For All Mankind is the same audio format, correct? I played that one without issue.

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Re: 422 The Last Emperor

#250 Post by perkizitore » Sat Sep 12, 2009 5:08 am

Which blu-ray player do you have? Anyway, it's highly unlikely that your player cannot process DTS HD. Just try another Criterion blu-ray, maybe this disc is faulty.

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