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Featured Blu-ray Review: Chaplin

February 13th, 2011

Chaplin - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Chaplin came out in 1992 and while it never really found an audience and only earned mixed reviews, it did earn Robert Downey, Jr. his first Oscar nomination. A few years ago, the film was released on a 15th anniversary DVD, but I wasn't able to acquire a screener. So when I was given a chance to review the Blu-ray release, I jumped at it. But how well does this movie work as a biopic, or just as entertainment? And just as importantly, how well does it stand up on Blu-ray?

The Movie

The film is told as a series of flashbacks as Charlie Chaplin discusses his autobiography with his editor, George Hayden. The story of Chaplin starts when he was just five years old, living with his mother and his older brother in abject poverty. He discusses how his brother and himself were taken to the work factory, his mother's decline into madness, and the events that shaped his childhood.

We see his entry into vaudeville, his first tour in the United States, how he became infatuated with movies, his first Hollywood contract, his move to directing, starting his own company, etc., etc., etc. This film moves at a really fast pace because, well, Chaplin lived. Not only did he survive till he was 88 years old, not only did he make countless movies, but he was also one hell of a ladies man. Even at two-and-a-half hours, this movie is so packed full of dates and names and events that often times, there was no time to get the emotional impact of the events. (The major exceptions were a lot of scenes with Charlie's mother, played by Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin's real life daughter.) I did like how some of the scenes were shot like they were a Charlie Chaplin film, which added a lot of style to what was otherwise a pretty standard biopic.

The highlight of the film is Robert Downey, Jr.'s performance, which as I said previously, earned him his first Oscar nomination. A lot of people think he deserved to win that year, and I certainly think you could come up with a convincing argument to support that. You could also say the same thing about the other three nominees that lost to Al Pacino that year. (In fact, one could argue that Al Pacino's win was more of a lifetime achievement award, as he has lost out for Best Lead Actor five times previously. Too much politics.)

Overall enough of Chaplin works that is is worth checking out, but the lack of emotional impact means it is only a good movie, but it could have been a great movie.

The Extras

The Blu-ray is the 15th anniversary DVD and the extras are a little on the light side for a special edition. Strolling into the Sunset is about how Robert Downey, Jr. captured the essence of Charlie Chaplin in his performance. Chaplin the Hero talks about his talent as a performer, while The Most Famous Man in the World talks about his worldwide fame. Finally there's All at Sea is a short home movie of Charlie Chaplin with his family. That's not a lot of extras.

Additionally, the technical presentation here is mixed, at best. The video quality wavers, a lot, with much of the movie rather soft in the details. Some of this is for aesthetic reasons, like early on, when the movie is trying to emulate very old film stock, but a lot of this just seems like a weakness in the transfer. The audio is better, but the Blu-ray only has a 2.0 track, so better is definitely relative. For shovelware the price is about right, so at least it has that going for it.

The Verdict

Chaplin was the breakout film for Robert Downey, Jr. and his performance is the number one reason to see this movie and for many people, it is enough to buy the movie over just renting. That said, the Blu-ray is hardly a stellar example of High Definition and if you have the previous 15th Anniversary Edition DVD, it's probably not worth the upgrade. If you didn't grab it then, $15 is not a bad deal for it now.

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Filed under: Video Review, Chaplin