Being John Malkovich (1999)

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Released 8-Aug-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Main Menu Audio & Animation
Theatrical Trailer
TV Spots
Featurette-The 7 1/2 Floor
Featurette-American Arts & Culture Presents John H Malkovich
Featurette-Interview With Spike Jonze (Director)
Gallery-Photo
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 108:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (55:17) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Spike Jonze
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring John Cusack
Cameron Diaz
Catherine Keener
Orson Bean
Mary Kay Place
John Malkovich
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Carter Burwell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Dutch
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, In

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

Plot Synopsis

    I have always been somewhat of a fan of John Malkovich, probably because he is just a tad odd. Certainly he is a fine, if not slightly over-zealous actor, and he certainly adds a flair to any movie he is part of. I remember being quite struck with the title of this movie, and have for a while wondered just what it was about. Now, of course, I shall wait no longer since it has arrived on DVD.

    First off, I have to say that this is a strange movie, which is probably not a surprise given the title. Secondly, it is nothing like I expected, being so bizarre and unpredictable as to have myself and others around me shaking our heads in disbelief. Take for instance a floor, placed between 7 and 8, which is half-height, forcing everyone to walk bent over. No one says a word. It is just accepted. To get to it, one has to press the emergency stop button on the elevator as it is equidistant from said floors, and pry open the well-worn doors with a crow bar. Then, we meet a speech-impediment specialist who cannot understand a word anyone is saying, and who has the manager convinced he has a speech problem.

    Being John Malkovich is just delightfully different and funny in so many ways. As for the plot, well here it is. John Cusack, who by the way looks very different with long hair, glasses and an unkempt beard, is a struggling but brilliant puppeteer. He lands a job with a very strange company as a filing clerk, and finds a small door in this building which opens into a tunnel which leads directly into the brain of John Malkovich. Still with me? Once someone enters this door, they slide into John Malkovich's brain and can experience all that he experiences for 15 minutes. We later find out that John Malkovich is a "vessel body", one which can host mind-hoppers and keep them effectively immortal, however he doesn't know this. If I have lost you at this point, don't panic. Craig (John Cusack) decides to set up shop after hours in his office, charging people off the street to be John Malkovich for $200 per 15 minutes, which turns out to be a good little earner to say the least. With so many people taking the plunge, it all ends in tears as Malkovich ultimately finds out and ends it all.

    The plot is pretty out there, but the acting and execution of the script is sublime. John Cusack is brilliant in his role, and his wife Cameron Diaz is utterly unrecognizable, being a scruffy pet-trampled slightly mad brunette. There are many scenes which will have you stunned, a most memorable one being when John Malkovich himself takes the trip into his own mind, although I won't spoil that one for you! This is certainly a movie which demands to be seen a good few times to fully explore the nuances and subtleties that are rife within this very unique story.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    This is a superb transfer, and falls only slightly shy of reference quality. It is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced.

    Clarity and detail was at all times superb, whilst at the same time having a very film-like nature about the image. There was tons of detail to be seen all around, and there were times when I paused the movie just to bask in the glory that is DVD. There was very little use of edge enhancement, and shadow detail was absolutely exemplary. Black levels were deep yet still retained clarity with no detail lost at all. There were times when this image could have been a mess given some of the low lighting conditions, but this was handled expertly by this transfer. There is little to no film grain visible, and no low-level noise.

    Colours were very natural, although slightly understated. Skin tones were essentially perfect, and there was no instances of bleeding or misregistration observed, a quality which is typical of PAL transfers.

    There were absolutely no MPEG artefacts observed save for some very minor posterization on the wall of Craig's office. This compression is completely transparent, and is no doubt a result of the entire movie being effectively spread over two layers, since the extras don't add up to much. There were only a smattering of film artefacts. The only let down of this transfer is some minor aliasing inside Craig's apartment, the culprit being a woven lampshade. Since the lamp is always on, the fine vertical detail does tend to shimmer when in focus. This normally wouldn't be a problem, however this particular lamp does feature in a number of scenes, and it is a shame to have to mark down the transfer for this extremely minor problem.

    This disc is RSDL formatted, with the layer change occurring at 55:17, during Chapter 19. It is extremely well placed, occurring during a natural scene change and is of no interruption to the movie whatsoever.

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

Audio

    There are three language soundtracks on this disc, being English, German and French. All are encoded in Dolby Digital 5.1, running at the nowadays lower bitrate of 384 Kilobits per second. I listened to the default English soundtrack.

    Dialogue was always clear and easy to make out, despite the odd instance of vocal looping which called attention to itself by being poorly integrated into the mix. There were no instances of lip-sync problems.

    The soundtrack is a very understated one most of the time. There are large passages with no music, however when it does occur it is very good and perfectly suits the strange nature of this film. Tonally, the soundtrack is very natural, with foley effects being well mixed and very clean. An effective instance is when inside Craig's apartment, the neighbour can be heard banging on the walls and screaming, and I actually turned my head in shock, which is exactly the kind of effect it should convey!

    The surround channels were used sparingly, however were very well used at times. Inside John Malkovich's head, any noises seemed to come from all around, as in a tight claustrophobic space (I am sure nothing should be read into this, Mr Malkovich). At other times, the surrounds were used to convey ambience in different environments, and as such were very adept in their usage.

    The subwoofer was used extensively for adding weight to the music and filling out the bottom end of foley effects, and was very well integrated into the mix.

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

Extras

    Hmm. I am a little bit upset with the extras presented on this disc, because they are somewhat annoying and gimmicky, with no substance and little to offer. The space should have been used for animated scene selections as far as I am concerned.

Menu (16x9 enhanced)

    The menu is very effective, having the head of a "vessel body", with animation and audio accompaniment. Audio purveys throughout the menu structure, which is a very nice touch.

Featurette - 71/2 Floor Orientation (2:10)

    This is a short promotional mock-video of the floor which Craig works in. It is intentionally of low quality, presented in 4:3, non-16x9 enhanced and in Dolby Digital 2.0. My real problem with this is that it was shown in its entirety during the movie, and there is nothing compelling about having it as an extra.

Featurette - American Arts & Culture Presents: John Horatio Malkovich - Dance of Despair and Disillusionment (4:16)

    Again, this is something which was shown entirely during the end of the movie, and as such is wasted space as an extra. Presented in 4:3, non-16x9 enhanced and in Dolby Digital 2.0, and again intentionally poor quality.

Don't enter here - there is nothing here

    Slightly humorous, since it plays on the fact that you have to select it. It reveals an almost blank screen, with "There is nothing here. Press enter to return" in the middle.

Trailers

    All trailers are in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, in an aspect ration of 1.33:1 and not 16x9 enhanced.
    Theatrical Trailer (1:52) - This is a very good trailer, and very interesting. To the point and of good quality.

    TV Trailers

    JM Inc. (0:32) - This looks like a cheesy American ad for a crackpot company, which it is supposed to. Poor quality.
    Tunnel (0:17) - Short and sweet. Excellent quality.
    Spithead (0:17) - Bizarre, as to be expected.
    Vesselis Humanus (0:33) - A look at the path to immortality...

Interview - Director Spike Jonze (2:46)

    This stupid and annoying pretend interview is in a car, with Spike driving, and being sick throughout, finally vomiting near the end and just basically mumbling nothing. An absolute joke which I didn't find funny.

Spike's Photo Album

    To be found in here are 31 photos, variously in black & white or colour. They are all 16x9 enhanced, and of good quality.

Cast & Crew Biographies

R4 vs R1

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

    The R4 version of this disc misses out on:     I fear these would be of the same unworthy nature as the rest of the "extras" on this disc, and in no way would be compelling. Stick with the R4 version for the better video quality afforded by the PAL system.

Summary

    Being John Malkovich is a strange yet engaging movie, and definitely something different in a refreshing way. I enjoyed it a lot, and look forward to watching it a number of times again.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    The soundtrack is often very dynamic with effective use of the surrounds when needed.

    The extras are somewhat ill-conceived, and are simply padding, save for the trailers which are brilliant.

There are Official Distributor Comments available for this review.
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Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Paul Cordingley (bio)
Monday, August 14, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic A-360, using S-Video output
DisplayPioneer SD-T43W1 (125cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSony STR DB-930
SpeakersCentre: Sony SS-CN35 100 watt; Main & Surrounds: Pioneer CS-R390-K 150-watt floorstanders; Subwoofer: Optimus 100-watt passive

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Comments (Add)
OH! That Director's Interview was a Joke???? -