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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Moonrise Kingdom

October 14th, 2012

Moonrise Kingdom - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

I have seen nearly everything Wes Anderson has ever made and I've liked most of it. I was disappointed by The Darjeeling Limited, but loved The Fantastic Mr. Fox. His latest film is Moonrise Kingdom, a story of young love set in 1965 with an ensemble cast, including two newcomers in the central two roles. It became one of his biggest hits, but was it also one of his best?

The Movie

After looking in for a bit on the Bishop family (Walt and Laura, plus Suzy and their three younger brothers) we are introduced to their home, the island of New Penzance.

New Penzance is also the home to Camp Ivanhoe, which is where the Khaki Scouts are having their summer retreat. After an early morning inspection by Scoutmaster Randy Ward, it is discovered one of the scouts, Sam Shakusky, is missing. He left a letter of resignation, stole some gear, and ran away. No one is sure why, although he's not a popular among the other Scouts. Randy calls the police, Captain Sharp, who calls Sam's parents. His parents turn out to be his foster family, who decide not to invite him back. Nonetheless, the search is on for Sam. The rest of the Khaki Scouts fan out to look for him, and they all bring weapons. Captain Sharp drives along the dirt roads and pathways talking to the residents on the small island, eventually getting to the Bishop's house, which is on the opposite end of the island.

When we are finally introduced to Sam, we see him canoeing down a stream to his eventual goal, Suzy. The pair met last year when the local church held a performance of an Opera based on the Noah's ark story and Suzy played the Raven. There was a connection and the pair became pen pals deciding to reunite the following year and run away together and live on a secluded part of the island, which they name Moonrise Kingdom. (This is not a very good plan.)

It isn't till much later that night that Suzy's parents realize she's run away as well, but once that happens, the search has extra urgency. The next morning, Captain Sharp organizes the scouts into searching parties and even calls in Jed, the pilot who delivers the mail, to fly over the island looking for them.

This is probably a good place to end plot summary. As for the review, I could probably safely sum it up in five words, "It's a Wes Anderson film." It has everything people have come to expect from one of his films, including the overload of quirky characters and a style that can be over-the-top at times. Nothing in this movie feels 100% real, not the characters, not the dialogue, not the situations. However, while in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, this would be fatal, Wes Anderson makes it work. To be fair, Wes Anderson, co-writer Roman Coppola, and the incredible cast make it work. I'm not surprised veterans like Edward Norton or Frances McDormand are great in this film, while Bill Murray has been in practically every film Wes Anderson has made and he's at home in this world. I'm more impressed by the two youngsters. This is the first film for both Kara Hayward and Jared Gilman, but they handle their strange roles extremely well. I look forward to seeing them in more films.

There's a real emotional heart to this film that helps it rise above the style. While the characters definitely come from the imagination of Wes Anderson, they are compelling enough as real people that you'll want to follow their journey.

The Extras

There are only three extras on the Blu-ray, starting with A Look Inside, which is only three minutes long. Next up is the four-part Welcome to the Island of New Penzance, which is a six-minute look at Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, and Wes Anderson. That's six minutes in total, not six minutes each. Finally, there is a three-minute set tour with Bill Murray. That's it. Seriously. Twelve minutes of featurettes is not enough, even for a limited release.

Moonrise Kingdom was shot in Super 16mm, so you shouldn't be too surprised to learn the video quality is not up to the same level as most first run releases made today. There's more grain than in most movies, a lot of shots are a little soft, and the colors are muted. However, all of these issues are intentionally aesthetic choices and none can really be used to complain about the transfer. It might not look as sharp as the average first-run film, but the Blu-ray really captures the look of the film, and the film does look beautiful in its own way. The audio is very good. Granted, the film is dialogue driven and for the most part it is very front-and-center. There are some scenes with good separation and directionality. There's enough ambient sounds and the music from the rear speakers to feel lively enough. Also, in the climactic storm scenes, the surround sound speakers and the subwoofer get a workout.

The Blu-ray Combo Pack costs $20, which is $3 or less than 20% more than the DVD. That's a good deal.

The Verdict

I called The Fantastic Mr. Fox Wes Anderson's best film when I reviewed it. However, I think Moonrise Kingdom might have topped it. Those who hate his style should probably stay away, but even casual fans of his previous work should love it. I'm disappointed with the weak extras on the DVD and the Blu-ray Combo Pack, but it is still worth picking up.

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Filed under: Video Review, Moonrise Kingdom, Bruce Willis, Wes Anderson, Frances McDormand, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Roman Coppola, Jared Gilman, Kara Hayward