The Last Emperor: Collector's Edition (1987)

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Released 2-Jun-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Alternative Version-Directors Cut
Audio Commentary-Bertolucci, Thomas and Sakamoto
Featurette-Making Of-The Last Emperor (52.58)
Featurette-Behind The Scenes-Postcard from China (7.40) with 2 Commentaries
Theatrical Trailer-(2.29)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1987
Running Time 156:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Bernardo Bertolucci
Studio
Distributor

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring John Lone
Joan Chen
Peter O'Toole
Ruocheng Ying
Victor Wong
Dennis Dun
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Maggie Han
Ric Young
Vivian Wu
Case Amaray-Transparent-Dual
RPI ? Music David Byrne
Ryuichi Sakamoto
Cong Su


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

In 1987 Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci went from left of centre auteur to Hollywood royalty with The Last Emperor a film that not only generated a sizeable box office but also snagged an amazing 9 Oscars including Best Picture.

In fact, and in spite of all the pomp and ceremony in this film, it still contains echoes of his earlier movies including 1900 and Last Tango in Paris in its study of a man in the epicentre of a societal change or, at least, a personal decline.

The Last Emperor was based on the non-fiction book Twilight in the Forbidden City by Reginald Johnston played memorably in the film by Peter O'Toole. It tells the story, from life to death, of one of history's most tragic characters - the boy emperor Pu Yi who lived a protected life inside the Forbidden City whilst the World changed around him, only to be thrust out into the modern World to be used and abused by the people around him.

The most potent image of the film comes near the beginning. With the impending death of the Empress Dowager the toddler Pu Yi is rushed to the Forbidden City to assume the mantle of emperor of all China. Bored with the ceremony he runs, as children do, out of the palace into a vast courtyard pushing through a giant golden curtain. In the courtyard are thousands upon thousands of loyal subjects waiting to pay homage to the new god. The look of surprise and incomprehension on his face is something that didn't leave him until many grim years in prison camps had opened his eyes.

The prison camp "emperor" is the one who greets us as the film opens, returning to his beloved home of Manchuria as a prisoner not the lord of 10,000 years. The story of the modern Pu Yi not only bookends the film but provides a source or ironic contrast to the flashbacks that tell the main story. After a failed suicide attempt Pu Yi is taken to a prison to be re-educated to realise his wrongs. That he ends his days as a poor but happy gardener is as much a comment on the little things in life as it is a reflection on the decline of imperialism.

The adult Pu Yi is played by American actor John Lone. A variety of kids of various ages play Pu Yi as he grows from a tiny boy to a teenager, married to the first two of his wives. Joan Chen gives a credible performance as one of his wives who suffers from a life of emptiness and descends into an opium stupor. O'Toole had yet another chance to be overlooked for an Oscar (he did win a BAFTA) for his supporting performance as the teacher, sad and appalled at the bleak future for his student.

Pu Yi was revered inside the walls of the Forbidden City but the World, including war and revolution, went on without him just outside the gates. He was only allowed to remain in the City on strict condition that he never leave, something which appalled his tutor, the compassionate Johnston. When he was finally turfed out his options were limited and he chose to become the ruler of Manchuria under the aegis of the Japanese. As much as the Japanese attacked China it was perhaps the emperors blind support for the Japanese that doomed the dynasty.

The Last Emperor is an historical drama but, like Pu Yi himself, it is almost oblivious to the dates and events of similar films. The abdication of Pu Yi is barely mentioned and Bertolucci actively presents him as a mere cypher often as characterless as the bleak Manchurian plains.

When it was released The Last Emperor captivated audiences with its spectacular cinematography care of Vitorio Storaro and the insight into this forgotten world. As said it received Oscars for Best Film and Best Director but also for Cinematography, Art Direction, Script, Editing, Sound, Costume Design and Score.

Twenty years on and the film has aged somewhat. The wider acceptance of subtitled films has perhaps meant that the use of actors speaking English with Asian accents has become a thing of the past. Above all things this is a technique that distances one from the action. Still, fans of the film, of which there are many will want to snap up this release to relive the experience.

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Transfer Quality

Video

The 2003 release of The Last Emperor was one of the disappointments of my DVD collection career. The image was old, soft and tired. The colours were dim and there were oodles of artefacts on show. The current release proudly claims that it is "presented here on stunning new digital prints that spectacularly capture the film's exquisite colours and detail."

Unfortunately, fans of the film may still feel it does not meet their expectations and will long for a high definition version.

The print is still riddled with artefacts although, just by comparing the opening titles, it is apparent that some clean up has gone on.

The print appears to be the same as the Optimum Entertainment release in the UK that dates back to 2004. Therefore any slim hope that the film may be the same as the Criterion Collection recent release are roundly dashed. That Criterion release was itself the subject of some criticism as Storaro supervised the editing of the print from a 2.35:1 to 2.00:1. We don't have to enter into that debate. This print is in 2.35:1. It is anamorphically enhanced.

To my eyes the newer version is brighter and clearer in colour and sharper in image that the earlier Magna release. That being said the softness of the image is in keeping with 80's cinema. The flesh tones are accurate. I noticed some flickering of the image which would suggest that there may not be a perfect source print floating around.

The case refers to English subtitles however they are not to be seen.

Video Ratings Summary
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Shadow Detail
Colour
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Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

The sound for The Last Emperor is a slightly disappointing Dolby Digital running at a low 192 Kb/s. It would have been nice to hear an expanded sound mix for the film. As it is the sound is alright without being spectacular. The dialogue can be heard clearly and there are no technical problems with the sound. It appears to be in good audio sync.

The Oscar winning soundtrack is by David Byrne, Ryuchi Sakamoto and Cong Su. Byrne had come to more mainstream success in the 80's with the Talking Heads concert movie Stop Making Sense and Sakamoto had his own measure of success with the theme from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence. Together the effect was magical with the combination of Asian themes and Western rhythms making for some unforgettable moments.

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

Extras

To say that this 2 DVD Collectors Edition has a host of extras is a major understatement.

Alternative Version- Directors Cut

The second DVD includes the complete 220 plus minutes of the Director's Cut. In fact, that title is not entirely correct. This version of the film was produced for television broadcast. Bertolucci insists that the theatrical version is his true director's cut. However, this is still very much worth a watch. The comparison between the two versions results in a more detailed backstory including the origin of Pu Yi's new "mother" and a more complex prison story. The extended version works well as a mini-series as it is just a little too long to watch in one sitting. The film looks ok although compression becomes more of an issue in this version.

Audio Commentary Bertolucci, Thomas, Sakamoto

This commentary track was apparently recorded separately and stitched together with considerable skill. Sakamoto only chimes in rarely but Bertolucci and producer Thomas are a font of knowledge about all the trouble, strife and joy that came with this gigantic production.

Featurette-Making Of The Last Emperor

Melvyn Bragg has edited and presents this extended feature on the making of the film. If nothing else this feature should be watched above the other extras. It is an excellent insight into Bertolucci and the film and is more of an on-set diary than a studio puff piece. Bragg not only narrates the documentary but has edited together a series of interviews with the director, cast and even the real identities featured in the film including Pu Yi's brother. In that way it also functions as a commentary on the life of Pu Yi.

Bertolucci looks suitably harassed trying to command huge forces of extras who speak a different language. In watching the feature, which was made prior to the release of the film, the viewer has to accept the poor picture quality and indifferent sound. Persevere, for it is rare that a studio would allow such free and unfettered access to a director engaged in the creative process nowadays.

Featurette-Behind The Scenes Postcard from China

This short feature is a postcard indeed. It consists of a series of images and video footage taken by Bertolucci in China as pre-production. His initial comments are narrated in English and he also provides a further commentary on the film. The image quality, not surprisingly, is shocking.

Theatrical Trailer

The trailer is a bit of an 80's shocker featuring a plummy voiceover.

R4 vs R1

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

The Last Emperor has had multiple releases around the World including

The differences are too voluminous to list. All that you really need to know is that if you are a fan of the movie then the Region 4 will do. If you are a real fan of the movie then only the recent 4 DVD Criterion Collection edition will suffice.

This contains :


Disc 1

Theatrical Version.

Audio commentary featuring director Bernardo Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screenwriter Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamoto


Disc 2

Extended Version.


Disc 3

The Italian Traveler: Bernardo Bertolucci, a 53-minute film by Fernand Moszkowicz tracing the director's geographic influences, from Parma to China

Video images taken by Bertolucci while on preproduction in China

The Chinese Adventure of Bernardo Bertolucci, a 52-minute documentary that revisits the film's making

Making the last Emperor - a new, 47-minute documentary featuring Storaro, editor Gabriella Cristiana, costume designer James Acheson, and art director Gianni Silvestri


Disc 4

A 66-minute BBC documentary exploring Bertolucci's creative process and the making of The Last Emperor

A 30-minute interview with Bertolucci from 1989

A new interview with composer David Byrne

A new interview with Ian Buruma examining the historical period of the film

Theatrical trailer

96-page liner notes booklet featuring an essay by David Thomson, interviews with production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti and actor Ying Ruocheng, a reminiscence by Bertolucci, and an essay and production-diary extracts from Fabien S. Gerard

Summary

The Last Emperor was a mighty critical and arty success in the 80's. Director Bertolucci would never reach such heights of critical or box office success again. The film has dated somewhat and probably doesn't have the same impact as it did all those years ago but fans will find much to like in this Collectors Edition. The film looks the best it has looked on DVD although some may feel that this is still not enough. The extras are suitably expansive

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Friday, July 18, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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out on blu in October - REPLY POSTED
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