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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 The Last Emperor Blu-ray release, see the The Last Emperor Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on December 21, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Bernardo Bertolucci
Writers: Bernardo Bertolucci, Mark Peploe, Enzo Ungari
Starring: John Lone, Joan Chen, Peter O'Toole, Ruocheng Ying, Victor Wong, Dennis Dun
» See full cast & crew
The Last Emperor Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, December 21, 2008
Winner of nine Oscar awards, including Best Picture and Best Director, Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor" (1987) chronicles the tragic story of Pu Yi, the last of the great Chinese rulers. Beautifully-lensed and impeccably acted, the picture is regarded by many as one of the last true epics of our time. Courtesy of the Criterion Collection. Region-A "locked".
At the age of 3, Pu Yi (John Lone) 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) 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).
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 (164 min), also referred to as the Theatrical Cut, which is found on this Blu-ray disc, 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 Criterion.
Those of you who have already taken a look at Criterion's SDVD release of The Last Emperor probably have a pretty good idea what to expect from this Blu-ray disc – a high definition digital transfer supervised and approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.
Overall, this is a notably healthy high-definition transfer. Its color-scheme, for example, is rich and natural-looking. Orange, red, green, and blue are all with prominent roles in The Last Emperor, and the high-definition transfer certainly allows them to be as effective as possible. The blacks on the other hand are also convincing - during the first half of the film they are slightly less saturated than they are during the second half (past the Japanese takeover of Manchuria), but healthy and solid looking. Furthermore, the delicate grain-structure of the film is intact. I compared the Blu-ray release with the DVD release and, as far as I am concerned, heavy DNR alterations have not been applied here. I noticed a bit of shimmering as well as digital noise during some of the panoramic vistas (the desert inauguration of the Emperor in particular), but overall I was most definitely pleased with the look of Criterion's high-definition transfer. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing specks, debris, or scratches. (Note:This is a Region-A "locked" release which you won't be able to playback on your Region-B PS3 or SA).
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Audio Quality
An English, with portions of Mandarin and Japanese, DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix is what Criterion have provided for their release of The Last Emperor. There is a sizable difference between the DTS-HD MA track the Blu-ray disc boasts and the audio treatment the DVD offers. I could list a number of very specific examples in support of this statement but, suffice to say, you could pick any of the mass scenes from the first half of the film, and compare them with the corresponding scenes on the DVD release (I strongly recommend listening to the large horns in the Forbidden City when the Emperor captures the cricket). The dialog is also crisp and very easy to follow. The English subtitles on the other hand are very well done and free of grammatical errors (I must note that I watched the film with the English subtitles on as I still have a difficult time with some of the accents). This being said, I did not detect any pops, cracks, drop-outs. For the record, the English subtitles are placed inside the image frame.
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Before we discuss the extras found on the Blu-ray disc, allow me to point out to you that this release of The Last Emperor arrives with a very stylish 16-page booklet containing the following: "The Last Emperor, or the Manchurian Candidate", an essay by David Thompson, information about the director's approved transfer, acknowledgments, special thanks, and production credits.
On the actual Blu-ray disc, we get all of the extras that are found on the SDVD release of The Last Emperor. These include: an audio commentary featuring Bernardo Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas, screen-writer Mark Peploe, and composer-actor Ryuichi Sakamato; "The Italian Traveler: Bernardo Bertolucci", a 53-minute film by Fernand Moszkowicz, tracing the director's geographic influences, from Parma to China; Video images taken by Bertolucci while on production in China; "The Chinese Adventure of Bernardo Bertolucci", a 51-minute film by Paolo Brunatto revisiting the creation of the film; a 45-minute documentary featuring Storato, editor Gabriella Christiana, costume designer James Acheson, and art director Gianni Silvestri; a 66-minute documentary exploring Bertolucci's creative process and the making of The Last Emperor; a 30-minute BBC interview with Bertolucci from 1989; an interview from 2008 with composer David Byrne; a 2008 interview with cultural historian Ian Buruma examining the period of the film; and a theatrical trailer.
The Last Emperor Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Visually breathtaking, Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor is a fascinating film, mixing history with drama in a somewhat controversial fashion. The story of Pu Yi, the last of the great Chinese rulers, is told through a series of flashbacks highlighting key events from his coronation to his imprisonment by Mao's followers. Criterion's Blu-ray release is an excellent opportunity to see this Oscar-winning film with a deserving transfer. Very Highly Recommended.
The Last Emperor: Other Editions
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The Last Emperor Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - January 6th - January 6, 2009
During the 60th Annual Academy Awards, it was almost unthinkable that an independently produced film would manhandle the top studio films of that year, but that is exactly what happened. Documenting the life of Pu Yi, 'The Last Emperor' won nine Oscars, winning ...
• Criterion Titles Get Delayed - November 17, 2008
Criterion Collection has announced that they have delayed their first wave of Blu-ray releases by about a month. 'Bottle Rocket', 'Chungking Express', 'The Third Man', and 'The Man Who Fell to Earth' have all been delayed until December 16th, while 'The Last Emperor' ...
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