Anomalisa Blu-ray Review
Innovatively dissecting relationship and personality woes, Charlie Kaufman’s latest remains as distinctive as his best.Using painstakingly crafted stop-motion animation which left the 90 minute feature taking some 2 years to ‘shoot’ (with some days only yielding half a second of footage), Kaufman’s Anomalisa transcends its origins as one of his lauded stage plays, and avoids his original plans to turn it into an audio/radio play, and instead appears here as a remarkably realistic animation. That’s not where the novelty ends, though, as – in true Kaufman style – the voice narration of the entire cast, barring the two leads, is done by one single actor. Yes, Manhunter’s villain, Tom Noonan, lends his distinctive voice to every other character, man or woman; child or adult, with some attempted affected lighter, huskier or accented voices on offer, but all bearing the same familiar Noonan undertones. It’s a bold attempt to aurally symbolise the lead character’s struggle through monotony – hearing every single character, even right down to his own son, with the same semi-monotone drone, is supposed to show how isolated he feels, and further spotlight the one solitary voice in this environment that sounds different.For many, Anomalisa’s innovative techniques and ambitious storytelling ring true as the pinnacle of pioneering filmmaking from one of the most daring auteurs out there, delivering an acute study of both relationship and self; an honest look at our flaws and failings opened up for all the world to see. Unfortunately, the effect is clearly not universal on all, and some may find the whole endeavour rather monotonous in its very end result. Noonan affecting women’s voices for almost half the runtime gets tedious, whilst the David Thewlis-voiced protagonist is just not convincingly sympathetic, making it an arduous task to wait for Jennifer Jason Leigh’s counterpart to appear and save the day. It is an undeniable uphill struggle (despite an admittedly imaginatively honest sex scene) in this tawdry exercise in alternative filmmaking. Kaufman’s had loftier ideals than this; aspired to greater things than this kind of avant garde navel-gazing, and unfortunately – beyond its technical merits – Anomalisa will, at least for some, never stand alongside his career best.
Picture QualityDespite the inherent restrictions of an innately soft set of characters and sets, Anomalisa’s presentation does a solid job.
Hitting Region B-locked UK shores complete with a strong 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition video presentation framed in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, Anomalisa fares well, and retains strong definition, even if it’s never likely to prove demo worthy in any respect. Partly due to the filmmaking elements, and partly due to the style itself, the whole feature is engulfed in a warm, soft focus-ish look, which only allows so much detail to shine through. Nonetheless there are some great little touches, from the literal cracks in the puppetry seams (particularly important in addressing the psyche of the main character), to the clothing weaves and intricate set flourishes. The colour scheme is similarly skewed to suit the setting; a misty-eyed, brown-and-gold-dominated warmth that makes it look like you’re watching the whole thing through a glass of whisky. It works for the piece, though, with reasonably strong black levels and few overt technical flaws beyond the limitation of the material itself.
Audio QualityThe accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is similarly limited.
Initially the track goes to great lengths to try and convince you of the movie’s legitimacy as a drama beyond its animated stylisation, playing out several seconds of dialogue before it actually starts with any visuals. The trouble is that the audio is actually quite flat, struggling to afford much breadth or separation to the surround effects, and leaving even a plane-full of chatter feeling more front-dominated rather than all-engulfing background hubbub. There are still some nice elements here and there, showing you that the surrounds do have a part to play in this rather limited environment, and the dialogue does remain reasonably well prioritised for the most part, with Noonan’s distinctive nasal tones pervading the spoken words. Music too is given a voice, and even the LFE channel has something limited to say, but Anomalisa will likely not be remembered for its aural presence, with nothing more than a solid accompaniment here that does what is needed.
ExtrasNo less than 12 Featurettes accompany this UK release, looking into the production, the filmmaking technique, key scenes, the original play and the work of the director, as well as the particular voice cast adopted. There's also a Q & A with the director Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson, a Behind the Scenes Photo Gallery and a Trailer, leaving this UK disc besting its US counterpart.
VerdictDespite its innovative filmmaking approach, Anomalisa can't stand up alongside Kaufman's best.
Technically, Anomalisa struggles with the inherent limitations of its very distinctive video and audio style, but remains a solid, if far from demo-worthy, Blu-ray release bolstered by a superior selection of extras in comparison to its US counterpart.
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