Sunday, March 28, 2010

#422: The Last Emperor

(Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987)

The most obvious flaw in The Last Emperor is that everyone seems to not only speak English, but communicate exclusively in it. There aren't many other flaws. The winner of best picture in 1987, The Last Emperor is a minor epic in scope (David Thompson calls it Lean-meets-Ozu, and I get that) but a major work in 1980s cinema. Watching it again, I was struck by just how luscious the cinematography is, how personal the depiction of the emperor is, and how understated just about everything in this movie is. It's delicate and focused where many historical epics of its time were weighty and overserious (Reds comes to mind). And the performances are all really excellent. A fine film.

A note on the Criterion controversy: The current blu-ray version of the film is in a 2:1 ratio, while the movie was traditionally shown in the wider and more traditional 2.35:1 ratio. Criterion claims that this was because the filmmakers (the cinematographer and the director specifically) claim that this was their original intention for the film. I have to agree with the masses who are disappointed in this decision. I believe movies should be seen in their original release version, and I highly doubt that, had Bertolucci wanted the film to be shown in this narrower ratio originally, it wouldn't have been shown that way. If they must, it would be acceptable to release both versions, but this would of course mean another disc to avoid sacrificing quality, which means more price. But in general, I believe once a film is released, that version belongs to the public, and should not be altered.

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