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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Two new plots

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, Oct/Nov 2003, v.34#5

Being John Malkovich cover Being John Malkovich
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean and John Malkovich
Adaptation cover Adaptation
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Nicholas Cage, Meryl Streep and Chris Cooper
Movie: A+, Picture: A, Sound: A, Extras: B- Movie: A+, Picture: B, Sound: A, Extras: D
It's been said that in Hollywood there are only 14 different scripts. Well, this is number 15.' So says Cameron Diaz. I don't know about the other 14, but I am confident that nobody has previously created a story anything like Being John Malkovich.

The ingredients for a unique movie: an out-of-work dramatic puppeteer (and a very fine one at that); a filing job employed by a woman who misunderstands everything he says; an office on the seven-and-a-halfth floor of a New York office block, with a ceiling height of perhaps a metre and a half; an apartment full of exotic animals; a 150-year-old sex fiend; a 'portal' into a man's mind. The method: mix together in the peculiar imagination of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman. The result, an alternately moving and laugh-out-loud science fiction masterpiece that doesn't look like science fiction.

With John Cusack as the protagonist, Cameron Diaz and Catherine Keener as his wife and business partner respectively, and John Malkovich as the victim, how can you go wrong? Especially in that scene were all the dozens of extras are John Malkovich! Easily, given the unprecedented wackiness of the script. Yet Spike Jonze the director and Kaufman manage to create a coherent whole with an unusually strong internal logical consistency.

The DVD is well-presented, and unlike Adaptation is actually uses a reasonable amount of space (6.7GB). The movie manages a bit rate of near 7.8Mbps, including three 384kbps Dolby Digital languages. Segments of an orientation film and a documentary, used for explanation and expostion, are presented as extras (including one which gives a false reason for the low ceiling). Oddly, both this movie and Adaptation won BAFTA awards for their screenplays, but neither of the major US equivalents.

Make that 16!

There have been self-referential movies before, but surely none has burrowed as deeply into itself as Adaptation. Nicholas Cage plays script-writer Charlie Kaufman who, fresh from the success of his Being John Malkovich screenplay, has been contracted to write a new movie based on the The Orchid Thief. Skip the next two paragraphs if you haven't seen this movie yet. Why spoil it for yourself?

In trying to adapt the book (and, yes, it is a real book) Kaufman can't work out where to start. For months he agonises, all the while accompanied by an internal monologue of self-loathing and a twin brother Donald who, having taken a quickie scriptwriter's course, creates a trite thriller script that is snapped up for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile, we are taken back to scenes related in the book, where Meryl Streep plays the author who is exploring the 'Thief' of the title, Chris Cooper (who fittingly received an Oscar). The cutting and flashbacks are easy to follow, yet there is the odd moment of jaw-dropping surprise.

As the movie progresses, it emerges that the first three quarters of Adaptation are, in fact, about the creation of Adaptation. And then, as the cleverest stroke of all, the last quarter of the movie is an intentional sell-out from the artistic temperament of Charlie Kaufman to the enthusiastic writing-by-the-numbers of his brother, Donald. Wow!

As to the disc, equally 'Wow': what a disappointment! What do you get? A trailer, two minutes of 'Behind the Scenes' and some text. So what else fills this dual layer DVD? Actually, nothing. Amazingly, of the 8.5GB of space available, only 4.8GB are used. The movie itself is encoded at a mediocre 5.27Mbps. It deserves 50% more.

Running time: 108 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English, German, French: Dolby Digital 5.1, 384kb/s
Subtitles: English, French, German, Dutch
Features: 'American Arts & Culture Presents: John Horatio Malkovich, Dance of Despair and Disillusionment' (4 mins); Interview with director Spike Jonze (3 mins); photo album; cast and crew (text)
Running time: 110 minutes
Aspect: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 5.1, 448kb/s
Subtitles: English
Features: Trailer; Filmographies (text); 'Behind the scenes in a swamp' (2 mins); Trailers for four other movies

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