Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Artist Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
The recipient of five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Musical Score and Best Costume Design, The Artist, is the recipient of three Golden Globe Awards - more than any other picture - including Best Comedy, Best Actor and Best Score. The film also took home the top prize for Achievement in Directing in a Theatrical Release from the Directors Guild of America, and Oscar Winning Best Actor (Jean Dujardin) won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor. Uggie, the film’s surprise breakout star and 10-year-old Jack Russell terrier, also took home the top honor from the first annual “Golden Collar Awards.” Set in 1927, The Artist tells the story of film superstar George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) who is about to be banished from the movie business by the advent of talking pictures. With the introduction of “The Talkies,” as movies with sound were known at their onset, came the abrupt end to the careers of many silent film stars, including George’s screen persona, which soon falls into oblivion. For young, movie extra Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), the sky's the limit, and major movie stardom awaits.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

In this love letter to Hollywood and it's movie history, The Artist takes place in 1927 when silent screen starts ruled the box office. One of the more successful ones is George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), a man who started out in vaudeville with his dog Uggie and ended up making movies. In his movies, George plays a dashing agent that wears a mask and a bowler hat who thwarts evil along with Uggie. While promoting his latest film, A Russian Affair, George is accidentally bumped by one of his fans on the red carpet which he finds humorous. Showing that he isn't mad, George even shows off the young woman, Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), to the many cameras and the next day Peppy is on the front page of the trade newspaper Variety asking "Who's That Girl?"

Peppy tries to capitalize on her new-found fame by taking the paper with her to an audition where she discovers that her charm is more effective than the newspaper and she is soon hired to be a dancer. When George spots her at the studio again, he demands that she be hired as an extra in his new film. The studio chief Al Zimmer (John Goodman) is unhappy about it but agrees to it to keep George happy. During the filming of a dancing scene between George and Peppy, George forgets he's in a scene and keeps messing up because he's so entranced with her. Later, when George discovers Peppy in his dressing room caressing his jacket while imagining it was him, he offers to help her by setting her apart from other actresses by drawing a beauty spot on her (which later becomes her trademark).

Years pass and the tables have turned as Peppy is now a big star while George's fortunes have dimmed. The movie industry has moved on to "talkies" including Zimmer's studio and silent movies are becoming obsolete. George tries to buck the trend by financing a new silent movie called Bitter Tears with his own money, which he also writes and directs as well. Despite his belief that movies with sound are just a fad, deep down he's afraid that's not the case and he starts having nightmares where he can hear everything but his own voice. Bitter Tears ends up opening the same day as Peppy's latest film and also the same day as the 1929 Stock Market Crash, which wipes George out financially. His only chance to remain solvent is if his film is a big hit which unfortunately doesn't happen and he's ruined. His estranged wife Doris (Penelope Ann Miller) kicks him out of the house, Peppy's film is a major success, and George is forced to move into an apartment with his chauffeur/servant Clifton (James Cromwell). George's life continues to spiral out of control and all he has is the loyalty of Uggie, Clifton, and a former protege who wants to help him if only his pride would allow it.

The Artist won five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Actor and it's easy to see why. The film is meticulously crafted by director Michel Hazanavicius who obviously studied many silent pictures before making this film and he managed to capture the feel and the time period from them. Jean Dujardin does an incredible job as George and it's amazing to watch just how expressive he is. He easily could have been a major silent film star as he has the good looks, the fluid body movements, and he can do just about anything required. We see snippets of the films that he starred in and in that brief window we see him as a spy, an adventurer, a Zorro Douglas Fairbanks kind of role, and more. In each one of them, not only does he bring life to them, but I found myself wishing that those short films were actually made and that I could see them as part of the bonus features on this disc. That would have been really cool. I hadn't seen Dujardin in a movie before this one but I will correct that mistake right away.

Bérénice Bejo also does a fantastic job as the young ingenue that rises to the top without forgetting the man who gave her her first big break. Bejo winning personality seems to be a mix of Clara Bow, Mary Pickford, and her own incandescent joy. In fact, the whole film is basically joy that's been somehow bottled up for all of us to enjoy. Whether it's watching Dujardin react to Bejo's character while she's cheering him up or seeing Bejo do an impromptu dance on a staircase for George, or their final number together in perfect sync, this movie is incredibly uplifting despite a few dramatic scenes. The rest of the cast is just as good with John Goodman as the irate studio boss, James Cromwell as the loyal servant, and Missi Pyle and Malcom McDowell are great in their small roles too. I can't say enough good things about this movie and I really hope that there might be a sequel to it however unlikely that may be.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This 1080p (1.33:1) transfer is absolutely gorgeous to see! The black and white images look crisp and clean with impressive detail and clarity throughout the film. The level of detail in this transfer is astounding, as you can see every texture, every face clearly in the crowd, and every bit of detail on display. The contrast is spot on and the black levels are perfectly solid and dark. Fans of the movie will love this transfer as it looks incredible on Blu-ray!

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

The Artist's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also very impressive with a very dynamic range that captures the highs and lows perfectly well even though this is for the most part a silent movie. Despite the lack of dialogue, the wonderful musical score by Ludovic Bource is an ever present companion and it sounds great. The music comes across crystal clear and it really helps bring the movie to life as it's the perfect accompaniment. This lossless mix may not have the sonic power of modern blockbusters, but it works well for this movie and I don't think it could sound much better.

Extras (4 out of 5 stars)

While I would have liked a director's commentary included on this disc, I have to say that I really liked the extras that were added as they cover most of the areas I wanted to hear about. All of them are also in high definition too!

  • Blooper Reel - Bloopers as they would have been if done in the 20s - silent, funny, and accompanied by music.
  • The Artist: The Making of an American Romance - At twenty-two minutes, this featurette covers the usual making of material and it does it well. We hear from the cast and crew talking about the movie, the characters, the music, the dancing, and more. It's very interesting and I recommend watching it.
  • Q&A with the Filmmakers and Cast - Despite being almost forty-five minutes long, there isn't much information gained about the movie from watching this but it's still enjoyable. Matt Holzman moderates the panel that includes: Missi Pyle, James Cromwell, Jean Dujardin, Bérénice Bejo, Director Michel Hazanavicius, and Producer Thomas Langmann. This is mostly anecdotes from James Cromwell and Missi Pyle since the rest of the cast is French and some like Jean Dujardin can't speak English too well. Cromwell makes some very intelligent comments about the film and the movie industry and all of them are fun to listen to.
  • Hollywood as a Character: The Locations of The Artist - A look at the Los Angeles locations used in the film including a visit to the Bradbury building where the staircase shot was filmed as well as other films like Blade Runner. There's some recycled footage from the making of featurette too which I never like to see.
  • The Artisans Behind The Artist - A featurette that's been broken into four parts including: The Production Design, The Cinematography, The Costumes, and The Composer. More recycled footage here too.
  • UV Digital Copy

Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

This movie has it all - drama, comedy, dancing, a wonder dog, plenty of action, and a lot of heart. This is a fantastic movie and an impressive Blu-ray so if you haven't seen this movie yet, I highly recommend it!

Order your copy today!

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