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The Last Emperor(1987)
Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor won nine Academy Awards, unexpectedly sweeping every category in which it was nominated. The power and scope of the film was, and remains, undeniable—the life of Emperor Pu Yi, who took the throne at age three, in 1908, before witnessing decades of cultural and political upheaval, within and without the walls of the Forbidden City. Recreating Ching dynasty China with astonishing detail and unparalleled craftsmanship by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro and production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti, The Last Emperor is also an intimate character study of one man reconciling personal responsibility and political legacy.
For more about The Last Emperor and The Last Emperor Blu-ray release, see The Last Emperor Blu-ray Review
Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ying Ruocheng, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
» See full cast & crew
The Last Emperor Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, April 27, 2010
Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" (1987) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Optimum Home Entertainment. The disc contains the Theatrical Version of the film (164 min) as well as the longer TV Version (218 min). The supplemental features on the disc include an audio commentary with Bernardo Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screen-writer Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamato; an in-depth documentary about the making of the film; "Postcard from China", with optional commentary by Bernardo Bertolucci; and the film's original theatrical trailer. Without optional English subtitles for the main feature. Region-B "locked".
At the age of 3, Pu Yi (John Lone, War) is taken away from his mother, sent to the Forbidden City and crowned Emperor of China. He is not allowed to interact with the outside world. As time goes by, Pu Yi becomes more and more frustrated with the cannons he is expected to respect.
Outside of the Forbidden City the world is quickly changing. The Japanese Army invades China and Manchuria; then Mao's forces take over. In the beginning, Pu Yi is spared from the political turmoil, but he is eventually sucked into it. A British mentor (Peter O'Toole, Lawrence of Arabia) arrives to the Forbidden City and inspires the Emperor to begin searching for a new identity. Pu Yi also marries a beautiful girl (Joan Chen, Golden Gate).
Pu Yi abdicates in 1912. Later on he returns to Manchuria, hoping to be an Emperor again, but is tricked by the Japanese invaders and consequently, after WW2 comes to an end, captured by the Red Army. The last Emperor is then transferred to a Chinese prison where the communists begin to question his history with the Japanese.
The Last Emperor is Bernardo Bertolucci's most highly-decorated picture. Visually, it is a stunning tour de force, which few of its contemporaries, if any, could rival. It is also Bertolucci's - a passionate Marxist - most elegant yet uncompromising critique of absolute power.
Despite of the fact that The Last Emperor chronicles an incredibly dramatic story, referencing to a number of key political events from the beginning of the century, its tone is notably intimate. In fact, Pu Yi's struggle to adapt to the world he has been kept away from, and consequently change it according to his vision, seems uncannily subdued. Not surprisingly, The Last Emperor is filled with a number of protracted close-ups where Pu Yi's face is examined - pain, joy, disappointment and elation are captured by Bertolucci without resorting to high-powered lines.
Still, even though Bertolucci spends an enormous amount of time on Pu Yi and his maturation as a leader, his persona remains a perplexing enigma. There are controversial decisions the Emperor produces while juggling with the colonial interests of the Japanese, and later on Mao's communists, that are difficult to fully comprehend. Logically, Bertolucci's quiet but thorough examination of Pu Yi's history enhances even more the divisive elements in his legacy.
The Last Emperor has been shown to audiences around the world in two different versions – a shorter version (165 min), also referred to as the Theatrical Cut, and a longer version (218 min), which was reconstructed for Italian TV. I've seen both and frankly have a difficult time deciding which is the more compelling one. The theatrical cut maintains a steady tempo, which given the story's episodic structure is probably the preferred way to see this film. I would also say that it links a lot of the political events I mentioned earlier without dramatically widening the gap between Pu Yi's political and personal lives. On the other hand, the TV version adds substantially more, particularly in regard to Pu Yi's childhood years. However, here Bertolucci also elaborates on a lot of the political intrigues from the second half of The Last Emperor. As a result, the intimate tone of the story I mentioned earlier is substantially weakened.
Nevertheless, The Last Emperor remains a poignant account of a historic figure whose rise and fall at a time of great political turmoil are unquestionably fascinating to behold. Furthermore, the film effectively dispels a number of myths about absolute power that, somewhat ironically, are still alive and well in the Emperor's homeland.
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in an aspect ratio of 2.02:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of British distributors Optimum Home Entertainment.
There is nothing on the cover of this Blu-ray release indicating that it contains the same, supervised and approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro, high-definition transfer, which Criterion used for their Blu-ray release awhile ago. As far as I am concerned, however, this high-definition transfer is practically identical to Criterion's.
As I noted in our review for the Criterion Blu-ray release of The Last Emperor, despite the controversy surrounding Mr. Storaro's decision to have the film re-framed in 2.02:1, I think that the presentation is very strong. Fine object detail is pleasing, clarity very good and contrast levels convincing. The color-scheme, however, is what impresses the most. Yellows, blues, greens, reds, browns and blacks look fabulous. Furthermore, as it was the case with the Criterion release, here I was also able to spot some mild color softness during specific scenes. A good examples are the scene where the Emperor is seen playing tennis and the scene where he is greeted by the Japanese officials in Manchuria. Some mild edge-enhancement is also noticeable. Macroblocking, however, is never a serious issue of concern. Selected noise corrections have been applied, but the film's grain structure is intact. Finally, there are no serious stability issues to report in this review. To sum it all up, if you reside in a Region-B territory and could not take advantage of Criterion's Region-A "locked" release of The Last Emperor, I strongly recommend that you consider adding this Blu-ray disc to your library. (Note: This is a Region-B "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-B or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 2.0. For the record, Optimum Home Entertainment have not provide optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The English LPCM 2.0 track is solid. I ran a few quick test between the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track found on the Criterion release and the English LPCM 2.0 track and did not detect any specific differences between the two - their dynamic amplitudes are practically identical. On the English LPCM 2.0 track, the dialog is just as clean and stable as it is on the English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. This being said, I must point out that I am somewhat disappointed to see that Optimum Home Entertainment have not provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Note: The supplemental features on this Blu-ray disc are in PAL. Therefore, if you reside in North America, or another region where PAL is not supported, you must have a Region-Free player capable of converting PAL to NTSC, or a TV set capable of receiving native PAL data, in order to view them.
TV Version - unlike the Criterion release, this disc contains the Italian TV Version of The Last Emperor. The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. In English (Dolby Digital 2.0), not subtitled. (210 min).
The Making of The Last Emperor - a fascinating featurette that focuses on the production history of Mr. Bertolucci's film as well as China's rich history. In English, Mandarin and Italian, with imposed English subtitles where necessary. (63 min).
Postcard from China - raw footage from Mr. Bertolucci's visit to China prior to the shooting of the film, which also appears on the Criterion Blu-ray release. With optional commentary by Mr. Bertolucci. In English (original audio in Italian), not subtitled. (8 min).
Trailer - the original theatrical trailer for the film. (3 min).
Audio commentary - this audio commentary with Bernardo Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screen-writer Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamato was produced by Mark Rance between 2003 and 2007. It offers an in-depth analysis of the film and its production history. It also appears on the Criterion Blu-ray release of The Last Emperor.
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Those of you residing in Region-B territories should be delighted with Optimum Home Entertainment's Blu-ray release of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. I personally think that it is great to have the supervised and approved by Mr. Storaro high-definition transfer Criterion used for their Blu-ray release in the U.S. together with the TV Version of the film on the same disc. VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Spring/Summer Wave from Optimum - February 25, 2010
In a series of retailer alerts, Optimum Home Entertainment has revealed some catalog and new titles it will publish on Blu-ray in the UK in April-June. On April 19, the studio will release Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor and David Lynch's Inland Empire. ...
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