Being John Malkovich – The Criterion Collection #611 (a J!-ENT DVD Review)
May 14, 2012 by Dennis Amith
A film that is original in every way, written by Charlie Kaufman and featuring the film debut of Spike Jonze, “Being John Malkovich” was not only ahead of its time, it’s a unique film featuring wonderful performances with a storyline that is captivating from beginning to end. Featuring a wonderful, new 4K digital transfer, “Being John Malkovich” from the Criterion Collection is a film that I definitely recommend on Blu-ray and DVD.
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TITLE: Being John Malkovich – The Criterion Collection #611
FILM RELEASE DATE: 1999
DURATION: 113 Minutes
DVD INFORMATION: Color, 5.1 Surround, 1:85:1 Aspect Ratio, Subtitles: English SDH
COMPANY: Universal/The Criterion Collection
RELEASED: May 15, 2012
Directed by Spike Jonze
Written by Charlie Kaufman
Executive Producer: Charlie Kaufman, Michael Kuhn
Producer: Steve Golin, Vincent Landay, Sandy Stern, Michael Stipe
Music by Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Lance Acord
Edited by Eric Zumbrunnen
Casting by Justine Baddeley, Kim-Davis Wagner
Production Design by K.K. Barrett
Art Direction by Peter Andrus
Set Decoration by Gene Serdena
Costume Design by Casey Storm
John Cusack as Craig Schwartz
Cameron Diaz as Lotte Schwartz
Ned Bellamy as Derek Mantini
Mary Kay Place as Floris
Orson Bean as Dr. Lester
Cathrine Keener as Maxine Lund
John Malkovich as John Horatio Malkovich
Charlie Sheen as Charlie
Have you ever wanted to be someone else? Or, more specifically, have you ever wanted to crawl through a portal hidden in an anonymous office building and thereby enter the cerebral cortex of John Malkovich for fifteen minutes, before being spat out on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike? Then director Spike Jonze and writer Charlie Kaufman have the movie for you. Melancholy marionettes, office drudgery, a frizzy-haired Cameron Diaz—but that’s not all! Surrealism, possession, John Cusack, a domesticated primate, Freud, Catherine Keener, non sequiturs, and absolutely no romance! But wait: get your Being John Malkovich now and we’ll throw in emasculation, slapstick, Abelard and Heloise, and extra Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich!
Spike Jonze was best known in the early ’90s for his music videos. From Beastie Boys “Sabotage”, R.E.M.’s “Parallel” to Bjork’s “Volumen”, Jonze would get the opportunity to direct his first major film titled “Being John Malkovich”, written by Charlie Kaufman (“Eternal Sunshin of the Spotless Mind”, “Adaptation”, “Syndecdoche, New York”).
The film resonated strongly with younger viewers and also receive rave reviews from film critics, “Being John Malkovich” would win over 45 awards and receive over 45 nominations including Academy Award nominations for “Best Director”, “Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly For the Screen” and “Best Actress in a Supporting Role” (Catherine Keener).
Championed for its originality, “Being John Malkovich” will now be released on Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection in May 2012.
“Being John Malkovich” revolves around a puppeteer named Craig Schwartz (played by John Cusack). Craig is married to Lotte (played by Cameron Diaz) who loves to have a lot of pets inside the house but also wonders when they will have a baby.
Because puppeteering isn’t exactly working out for Craig, nor is it bringing home any money, he applies for various jobs and gets a job as a file clerk for Dr. Lester (played by Orson Beat) of LesterCorp. The 7 1/2 Floor is unusual because it’s ceilings are so low inside the Mertin Flemmer Building in New York City, but through an orientation video, learns that Mertin Flemmer who built the building married a little person and thus, built buildings with low ceilings in love for his wife.
While watching the orientation video, he can’t keep his eye off his sexy co-worker named Maxine (played by Catherine Keener). And each attempt he takes in trying to get close to her, she pushes him away. And each day, he finds himself even more attracted to her, but she is not interested in him.
One day, while moving things around in his office, he discovers a small door behind the filing cabinet. When he opens the door and crawls through the tunnel, he finds himself inside actor John Malkovich (played by John Malkovich) and the ability to be another person, let alone a celebrity has major impact on Craig’s life. While being inside John Malkovich’s head is temporary (those who go in are dropped into a ditch near the New Jersey Turnpike), he decides to tell Maxine about his find.
At first Maxine doesn’t believe him but she realizes that both she and Craig can make money by charging people a $200 admission and give them the opportunity of being John Malkovich.
Craig tells Lotte that he is busy in the office and thus is unable to come home (because he wants to be around Maxine) but when he tells Lotte about being John Malkovich, she wants to try it and sure enough, once she does, her life changes. So much to the point that she becomes obsessed by it and wants to become a transgendered person.
When he goes to Craig’s office and meets Maxine, she wants to go inside John Malkovich’s head again and while she’s in there, Maxine uses the moment to know and get closer to John Malkovich. And as she gets closer and Lotte is occasionally inside John Malkovich, when Maxine is having sex with John Malkovich, she knows that Lotte is watching and Lotte herself is getting turned on (and realize she has a thing for Maxine).
So, now both Craig and Lotte are sexually attracted to Maxine.
But what happens when Craig starts to become jealous of Lotte wanting to be inside of John Malkovich, so she can have sex with Maxine? And what happens when John Malkovich starts to sense that something is not right, as if someone is controlling him?
VIDEO & AUDIO:
“Being John Malkovich” is presented in widescreen 1:85:1 and is a new digital transfer. According to Spike Jonze, this Criterion Collection release “matches what our original print looked like and how we were never able to get that when we put out the DVD before”.
With that being said, its important to note that if you want the best video and audio quality of “Being John Malkovich”, it’s recommended that one purchases the Blu-ray release. Having owned the original DVD release of “Being John Malkovich”, the quality of the film is definitely an upgrade for this Criterion Collection DVD. There is a bit more clarity and detail but I’m confident that the Blu-ray version will probably feature even better detail and clarity.
As for the picture quality, according to the Criterion Collection, “Being John Malkovich” was supervised by director Spike Jone and cinematographer Lance Acord. The new digital transfer was created in 4K resolution on a DFT SCANITY film scanner from the original 35mm camera negative. The data was then color corrected on a DaVinci Resolve at Company 3, with colorist Stefan Sonnenfeld. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Image Systems’ Phoenix was used for small, dirt, grain, jitter, flicker and noise reduction.
As for the audio, the audio is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Dialogue is crystal clear and I heard no hiss or any audio problems during my viewing. While the film is primarily dialogue, there is good use of surround channels during the entry to John Malkovich’s head. Once again, for better audio quality, I recommend going for the Blu-ray version for even better audio clarity and dynamic range on its lossless audio track. Otherwise, the DVD sounds very good.
According to the Criterion Collection, the 5.1 surround soundtrack was created from the original 6-track magnetic master. Clicks, pops, etc. were removed using ProTools HD and then translated into foreign languages and redubbed to our original soundtrack master. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
English subtitles are presented in English SDH.
“Being John Malkovich – The Criterion Collection #611” comes with the following special features:
- All Noncombatants Please Clear the Set - (33:18) Filmmaker Lance Bangs documented the entire shoot of “Being John Malkovich” back in 1998 and trimmed it down to a half-hour portrait of the atmosphere on the set.
- John Malkovich and John Hodgman – (27:49) John Hodgman interviews John Malkovich about the film.
- Spike’s Photos – (15:28) Made by filmmaker Lance Bangs, Spike Jonze showcases photos he took on the set of “Being John Malkovich”.
- 7 1/2 Floor Orientation – (2:12) The orientation video that Craig Schwartz watched before starting his new job.
- “American Arts & Culture” Presents John Horatio Malkovich: “Dance of Despair and Disillusionment” – (4:17) The episode of “American Arts & Culture Presents John Malkovich” that was seen in the film.
- An Intimate Portrait of the Art of Puppeteering – (7:20) A featurette by filmmaker Lance Bangs about puppeteering and how it was used in the film.
- TV Spots – Featuring four TV spots for “Being John Malkovich: JM Inc., Tunnel, Spithead and Vesselis humanus.
- Trailer – (1:55) The original theatrical trailer for “Being John Malkovich”.
- 16-Page booklet – “Being John Malkovich” comes with a 16-page booklet with the following essay: “The Original Piece of Wood I Left In Your Head: Spike Jonze in Conversation with Perkus Tooth”.
Original and captivating, Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman’s “Being John Malkovich” was a film that no one would ever expect to be made into a film, but because of its originality, it has become one of the most groundbreaking films to be released in America within the last 15 years.
Back in May 2000, during my original DVD review of “Being John Malkovich”, I often wrote about how original the film was and how Spike Jonze was going to be the next big director in the U.S. because of this film. There was no doubt that “Being John Malkovich” was a film that would resonate strongly with independent filmmakers, younger audiences and the film critics, but watch the film again in 2012, you also realize how this film was ahead of its time.
In the beginning, “Being John Malkovich” had a banal style of a man who lives a life that is not going all that great, his love for puppeteering is not as welcomed in today’s society nor is it a way for him to make a living and there is a sense of disconnection with his wife, who shows more love to her animals (which he could care less of). And the main character, Craig Schwartz starts to have a sexual attraction to his co-worker. Once again, seems banal but that’s where things take a twist.
Who would ever think of a film where people can enter a tunnel and enter the mind of actor John Malkovich. And those who experience it literally go through a life-changing experience.
On paper, the explanation of “Being John Malkovich” seems as if it is being penned by someone trippin’ on acid, but what he have is a writer striving for originality and a young director at the time who was creative and did thing his way.
Charlie Kaufman is a writer who loves creating original stories and since “Being John Malkovich”, he has continued this audacious style through films such as “Synecdoche, New York”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, “Confessions of a dangerous Mind” and “Adaptation”. And Spike Jonze is a director that knows how to interpret Kaufman’s originality with his own. Jonze is not a product of traditional Hollywood. He has come from a music video background and is known for his fascinating and cool videos for The Beastie Boys, Bjork, R.E.M., The Chemical Brothers, Weezer and many others.
He is a product of a young, talented filmmakers that are known for creativity and he has shown that in his films such as “Adaptation”, “Where the Wild Things Are” but creativity that also goes even farther when he and a group of friends created Dirt Magazine, he owns the Girl skateboard company and the collaboration between Jonez and Kaufman have been successful.
Back to “Being John Malkovich”, part of the allure of the film is how people want to experience the life of a celebrity. And they can see it up front. It’s an invasion of privacy but yet people revel in it. I don’t think Kaufman or Jonze would know how life would change for celebrities with social media, Facebook, Twitter and how information is so readily out there for outlets like TMZ.com and regular people to know what celebrities are thinking and where they are at, almost real time.
There are so many things that made me laugh while watching this film. From the 7 1/2 floor where Craig works and seeing the ceilings so low, with a crazy orientation video, add in a woman who misunderstands everything that is being said, a crazy boss, a sexy (golddigging) co-worker and a puppeteer who seems normal but yet has some creepy qualities.
And that led to the unexpected nature of how this film was going to play out. I remember watching this film and thinking of how original this film was but also how exciting it was because it didn’t follow banal traditions or storytelling. And watching it again over a decade later, “Being John Malkovich” is still a wonderful film!
John Cusack did a wonderful job of playing the creep Craig Schwarz and this is probably one of the few films starring Cameron Diaz (and Charlie Sheen) which I actually do like. But both Catherine Keener and even John Malkovich himself were great in the film and how cool Malkovich was of the film’s humor and the use of his persona. For Keener, her appearance on “Being John Malkovich” would eventually lead the actress to appear in more films by Jonze and Kaufman and for Malkovich, if “Dangerous Liasons” or “Con Air” didn’t make audiences know much about the actor, this film surely generated interest in him.
And it was also great to see Octavia Spencer in an earlier, shorter role a decade before she would win awards for her role on “The Help”.
As for this new release from the Criterion Collection, eventually the new digital transfer is enticing since the film is on Blu-ray but for the DVD version which I am reviewing, the DVD looks and sounds good and as Jonz said, with the previous DVD’s, he wasn’t able to get the color to match to the original print, until now. So, while the Blu-ray release is surely the definitive version to own, those who don’t own a Blu-ray player and are fine with DVD, will still enjoy this release from the Criterion Collection.
For those who owned the older DVD, while the majority of the special features are on this new Criterion Collection release, one thing that is new is the conversation between John Malkovich and actor John Hodgman (better known to many as the PC guy in the older Apple Mac commercials). This interview was much more informative and enjoyable to watch than the older “An Interview with Spike Jonze” which was not good at all.
But what it comes down to is the new digital transfer and the Criterion Collection giving it a 4K digital transfer is a big deal because this film looks great on DVD and magnificent on Blu-ray.
Overall, if you are a big fan of “Being John Malkovich” or a person who is curious about this film (or Criterion Collector who will buy the film no matter what), this film is a worthy addition to the Criterion Collection and is definitely recommended!
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