Adaptation. (Blu-ray) (2002)

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Released 4-Sep-2013

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Behind The Scenes-How To Shoot In A Swamp
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2002
Running Time 114:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Spike Jonze
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Nicolas Cage
Tilda Swinton
Meryl Streep
Chris Cooper
Jay Tavare
Litefoot
Roger Willie
Jim Beaver
Cara Seymour
Doug Jones
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $9.95 Music Carter Burwell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

††† Although 2002ís Adaptation. is based on Susan Orleanís nonfiction book "The Orchid Thief," itís far more than that label implies. While the screenplay by Charlie Kaufman does incorporate elements of Orleanís work, this is a brilliantly meta motion picture which is actually about Kaufman (played by Nicolas Cage) struggling to adapt the aforementioned novel for the screen. Kaufman suffered writerís block during the real-life screenwriting process, and wound up writing a sensationalised account of his painstaking endeavour to adapt the book. The finished product is nothing short of a masterpiece, an absurdist black comedy as well as a postmodern satire of todayís entertainment industry. Kaufmanís script is extraordinary, yet itís director Spike Jonzeís cinematic treatment of the material which ultimately catapults it to brilliance. In both conception and execution, this is a home run.

††† Orleanís novel was expanded from an article she wrote for The New Yorker, and is ultimately a free-floating rumination on flowers and her own desires. Itís not a solid foundation for a feature film, leaving screenwriter Charlie Kaufman struggling to adapt the work without turning it into a Hollywood movie. Also in Charlieís life is twin brother Donald, whoís the antithesis of Charlie; whereas Donald is relaxed and outgoing, Charlie is inhibited, neurotic and analytical. (Adaptation. further blurs the line between reality and fantasy by crediting the screenplay to both Charlie and Donald, even though the latter is actually pure fiction, a figment of Charlieís imagination.) Donald aspires to write scripts as well, attending screenwriting seminars as he pens a thriller while Charlie works to adapt "The Orchid Thief." Meanwhile, the narrative also dips back in time to watch Orlean (played by Meryl Streep) working on her book. She gets to know orchid thief John Laroche (Chris Cooper), who initially looks like a toothless hick but turns out to be intelligent and ambitious.

††† Adaptation. is steeped in multi-textural thematic layers, with most every scene and action part of a perfectly-judged tapestry to tell this remarkable tale. Even the title of the film is hard to nail, since itís literally about Kaufman struggling with an adaptation of a book while also having trouble adapting to life, and heís writing about Orlean whoís struggling to adapt as well. Fortunately, Kaufman at no point grows too enamoured with his own genius, hence Adaptation. never comes across as too self-conscious; instead, itís well-judged by Kaufman and Jonze. More than that, Kaufman has achieved something remarkable by presenting one of the most candid and searing portrayals of what itís like to write and make motion pictures. Whatís also interesting is the way that reality and fantasy mesh and intermingle to such an extent that itís hard to distinguish between one and the other. In fact, a number of the real people of the story are turned into fictional characters. We also get a glimpse of the set of Being John Malkovich (which was being filmed at the time the story is set), and several players from that movie get cameos here, including Jonze.

††† Adaptation.ís ending has proven to be polarising with both critics and audiences, but itís a perfect way to close the door for many reasons. When Charlie speaks to screenwriting expert Robert McKee (Brian Cox) about his script at one stage, McKee tells him to make sure the final act is good, going on to say that he cannot cheat or bring in a deus ex machina. But thatís precisely what Adaptation. does, which subverts the rules while also working on several other levels. See, Charlie explains in the first scene that he doesnít want to turn "The Orchid Thief" into an action movie, but his own experiences while writing go down that route anyway, representing brilliant irony. Furthermore, it feels organic to the story against all odds, and we have to remember that the script for Adaptation. is also credited to the fictional Donald Kaufman. Donald is the one who gets Charlie involved in the violence that closes the story, and the climax feels like something Donald has written. After all, Charlie is all about patient drama while Donald writes thrillers, and Charlie actually ends up recruiting Donald to help him develop an ending.

††† Jonze is Kaufmanís cinematic soul mate, pure and simple. As shown in Being John Malkovich, the writer has a gift for cooking up peculiar scripts, and Jonze is perfectly in tune with his concepts, translating them to the screen with visual ingenuity and energy. Such qualities are present in Adaptation.. Voiceovers are used a lot throughout the narrative, giving us intimate insight into Kaufmanís buzzing mind as well as the contents of Orleanís book. In one scene Robert McKee actually chastises voiceover narration, which makes the use of voiceover here both a sly subversion of the rules and a chance to let us into Kaufmanís mind during the creative process. Whatís also miraculous about Adaptation. is the way it remains eminently entertaining without stooping to unnecessary visual flourishes, which is a credit to the well-judged mise-en-scŤne. The picture is topped off with an enjoyably offbeat score by Carter Burwell.

††† Cage pulls off an astonishing double act here playing the Kaufman twins, demonstrating his terrific acting chops that are not often glimpsed. Charlie and Donald look the exact same, yet Cageís performances for each of the characters are so complete and nuanced that youíll never have trouble figuring out whoís who. It helps that you occasionally see Charlie and Donald sharing the same frame, executed with effects so seamless that you may initially wonder if Cage has a real-life twin. Cage was nominated for a well-deserved Oscar for his efforts, though he lost to Adrian Brody. Outside of Cage, there are a few other seasoned veterans putting their best feet forward. Streep is wonderful, capturing the emotional core of Orlean with seemingly little effort, and ably handling the darker aspects of her role later into the story. Likewise, Cooper disappears into the role of Laroche, becoming unrecognisable with missing teeth and a seamless Southern accent. It earned Cooper an Oscar, and itís not hard to see why. Also in the cast is Tilda Swinton as the executive who hires Charlie, while Cox makes a great impression as McKee.

††† Itís difficult to resist the boundless charms of Adaptation., which became one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2002 for good reason. This film is a miracle, a mind-blowing experience thatís daring, unpredictable, original and thoroughly involving. Itís amazing that it got made in the first place. Perhaps the best thing about Adaptation. is that, if "The Orchid Thief" was adapted by anyone else, it wouldíve become a dumb Hollywood heist movie, the type that Adaptation. actually satirises.

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Transfer Quality

Video

††† Adaptation. makes its local Blu-ray debut courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment, and even though this seems like a peculiar catalogue choice, it's certainly appreciated. As with the United States release from Image Entertainment, Adaptation. is placed on a single-layered BD-25, but given the pitiful selection of special features, the movie more or less gets the entire disc to itself - it takes up more than 23GB of space. The bitrate is disappointingly mediocre, leaving room for improvement. Although the movie was framed at 1.85:1 for its theatrical release, Umbrella's AVC-encoded 1080p Blu-ray transfer is presented at 1.78:1, meaning that there are no tiny slivers of black bars at the top or bottom of the screen. I cannot be certain if the master is open matte or cropped, but I never noticed any awkward framing.

††† Since this is a 2002 production, Adaptation. was shot on 35mm film stock and finished photochemically. The Blu-ray appears to have been minted from a dated scan of the film materials. Indeed, the high definition master is imperfect, with a few noticeable artefacts throughout. The opening credits exhibit gate weave and some white specks, while the behind-the-scenes footage of Being John Malkovich looks like rough digital video, as intended. Archive footage, too, has its limitations, making this presentation look uneven on the whole. But when the movie gets going proper, it does look very good, though it doesn't carry the refinement of a recent scan. You will still find print damage here and there, including small scratches as well as both white and black flecks. Grain is thankfully untouched, but it does tend to look a bit blocky, and could be better-resolved with a stronger encode (or a new scan). In addition, the presentation tends to look a bit soft - see Charlie's initial meeting with Tilda Swinton's Valerie in a restaurant.

††† On the upside, textures are a huge improvement over the DVD. The sweat on Charlie's face is easier to make out, while fine detail on skin and clothing is consistently strong. For obvious reasons, the presentation is at its strongest during well-lit daytime scenes, though clarity is also acceptable in lower light. Colours look true to the source, with a more subdued palette in certain scenes, and contrast is fine. Luckily, there doesn't appear to be much digital tampering - I picked up a bit of edge enhancement, but no noise reduction, making for a predominantly organic-looking presentation. I am glad that Adaptation. has made the jump to Blu-ray, warts and all, and it's a big enough improvement over the DVD to make the release worthwhile. This will tide me over until the movie gets remastered, assuming it ever does.

††† Contrary to the back cover, there are English subtitles.


Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

††† The sole audio option on the disc is a lossless DTS-HD MA 5.1 track, which is faithful to the movie's theatrical origins. Given that the movie is primarily dialogue, this is a front-centric track for the most part, and I didn't notice much in the way of panning or deliberate rear channel usage, which likely traces back to the source. Nevertheless, environmental ambience is used in certain sequences, for instance the sound of bugs in the swamps. And when Charlie sits in a restaurant or cafe, you can hear chattering and cutlery sounds. The lossless encode allows for crispness all-around, and dialogue is always easy to comprehend.

††† Carter Burwell's flavoursome original score fills all the channels with precision, and all the aural elements are competently mixed and well-prioritised. The subwoofer is used at various times - for instance a car crash at the 43-minute mark, and other sound effects at the movie's end which I probably shouldn't discuss - to terrific effect. The audio never sounds hollow or muffled. Without emerging as demo material, Adaptation. sounds just fine on Blu-ray.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

††† A pathetic supply of extra features. Given that Jonze and Kaufman's Being John Malkovich received the Criterion Collection treatment, let's hope that Adaptation gets something similar in the future. Apparently a number of special features have already been produced, but are sitting in a vault somewhere gathering dust. What a shame.

How To Shoot In A Swamp (SD; 2:04)

††† Carried over from the DVD, this is more like a promo trailer comprised of behind-the-scenes footage. It's too short to offer anything substantial, but the on-set footage is nevertheless appreciated.

Trailer (SD; 2:22)

††† A trailer which suitably sets up the tone and bizarre disposition of the movie. Amazingly, it doesn't misrepresent anything. If you haven't yet seen the movie, this is a fine introduction.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

† † The Region A-locked Blu-ray from Image Entertainment only contains the featurette, and not the trailer. However, the Region A release is presented at the movie's original aspect ratio. It's a draw.

Summary

††† Adaptation. is wholly unique, and it manages to be both wildly creative and enjoyable. I can't recommend it highly enough.

††† For its Australian Blu-ray debut courtesy of Umbrella Entertainment, the movie's technical presentation is strong, though there are shortcomings. Unfortunately, there are barely any special features to speak of. Nevertheless, the disc can be had for a very reasonable price. Recommended.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Callum Knox (I studied biology)
Tuesday, December 05, 2017
Review Equipment
DVDLG UP970 4K UHD HDR Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayLG OLED65E6T. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 2160p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationSamsung Series 7 HT-J7750W
SpeakersSamsung Tall Boy speakers, 7.1 set-up

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