Bottle RocketOverview -
Wes Anderson first illustrated his lovingly detailed, slightly surreal cinematic vision in this witty and warm portrait of three young middle-class misfits. Fresh out of a mental hospital, gentle Anthony (Luke Wilson) finds himself once again embroiled in the machinations of his best friend, elaborate schemer Dignan (Owen Wilson). With the aid of getaway driver Bob (Robert Musgrave), they develop a needlessly complex, mildly successful plan to rob a small bookstore - then go "on the lam." Also featuring Lumi Cavazos as Inez, the South American housekeeper Anthony falls in love with, and James Caan as local thief extraordinaire Mr. Henry, Bottle Rocket is a charming, hilarious, affectionate look at the folly of dreamers. Shot against radiant southwestern backdrops, it's the film that put Anderson and the Wilson brothers on the map.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
When viewed as a time capsule of sorts, 'Bottle Rocket,' director Wes Anderson's debut film, offers a bevy of interesting tells about how the career of the burgeoning filmmaker would progress. Though there was no way of knowing just how far down the proverbial rabbit hole Anderson would travel, the film itself works a something of a primer for his more eclectic and artistic endeavors yet to come.
What's immediately striking about this low-budget, 1996 film, is the ways in which it feels complete and realized – 'Bottle Rocket' lacks any hint of "If only I could have done this" that is sometimes prevalent indie cinema, where the budgetary constraints of a first time filmmaker are often blamed for any of the film's shortcomings. Here, though, the lack of budget works not only to Anderson's advantage, but to the advantage the cast's as well. How else would the world have been introduced to the brothers Wilson? Were it not for the fact the film practically required unknowns to play the parts of Anthony Adams (Luke Wilson) and Dignan (Owen Wilson) – if for no other reason than they had likely developed a shorthand from their friendship with the director – they might not be the well-known actors they are today.
As such, 'Bottle Rocket' benefits from being a clever, funny, dialogue-driven work that eschews many of familiar tropes of mumblecore cinema, while essentially working as a masterwork in the genre at the same time. It's almost as if Anderson and his co-writer, Owen Wilson (who would also shared co-writing credits on 'Rushmore' and 'The Royal Tenenbaums'), were purposely courting the idea of being an outcast amongst outcasts, long before that notion was ever considered cool.
Anthony and Dignan divvy up the majority 'Bottle Rocket' by bouncing between the supposed expectations the have for their lives, society at large and the expectations each has for the other. In the case of Dignan, he's devised a 75-year plan that will see the two friends through a multi-tiered lifetime from novice to master-criminals. Anthony, on the other hand, is just trying his best to go along with the plan, give Dignan some sense of purpose, and find himself in the process. Having voluntarily spent some time in a mental institution, Anthony seems ready to start from square one, but never seems to take Dignan's master criminal plan any more seriously than his consideration for his friend's feelings will allow.
After the semi-botched robbery of a bookstore, in which their friend Bob Mapplethorpe (Robert Musgrave) participates as getaway driver, the trio head out to a border town, where they hole up in a motel and wait out the heat they (mostly Dignan) believe is on them as a result of their crime. During the stay, Anthony falls for a young hotel maid named Inez (Lumi Cavazos). As the relationship between Anthony and Inez intensifies, the one between Bob, Dignan, and Anthony begins to weaken. Soon, they find themselves separated from one another, and Dignan believes the only way to fulfill his destiny as a master criminal lies in the hands of a local thief named Mr. Henry (James Caan). Unfortunately, for Dignan – and by extension Anthony and Bob – Mr. Henry isn't as interested in acting as mentor as he seems to be.
Like all of Anderson's films, there is an underlying sweetness and naiveté to his characters that is often clouded by a slight melancholy, which stems from the inherent perplexity of life itself. The film is essentially a comedy, but one that is tempered by the longing of its core characters to understand the world around them and have a place in it. This presentation offers a depth and richness rarely seen in a writer-director's first foray into feature filmmaking. Fans of Anderson will also notice the first of many elements that would later become part of his signature style.
The performances by the Wilson brothers and Robert Musgrave are, for the most part, understated and confident in their wry humor. The only exception to the low-key performances would be a hyperactive James Caan, who seems to be doing a slight send-up of the short-tempered characters he's portrayed in the past. Under the guidance of Anderson, Caan thankfully steers clear of self-mockery and avoids becoming a William Shatner-esque caricature. It's somewhat unbelievable that a first-time filmmaker would be able to construct a feature with such an even measure of finesse found in more seasoned professionals and the unrefined delight one finds in low-budget fare such as this.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Blu-ray is a single 50GB disc, which comes in Criterion's first (and eventually rejected) attempt at slipcover packaging. Though pleasant to look at, this thin, cardboard Digipack is low on durability and it's easy to see why the company switched over to the more standard clear plastic keepcase with insert that they currently use. Included with the disc is a rather charming 10-page booklet featuring an appreciation by none other than legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese and an essay by writer-director James L. Brooks.
One of the hallmarks of low-budget indie cinema is the way it looks. The film's grain, the obvious limitations in terms of lighting and sets are, for fans, some of the reasons these films garner the adoration they do. It also serves as something of a template for budding filmmakers who, unless they come from a filmmaking family, will likely be making their voice heard in a similar fashion. Considering these aspects, 'Bottle Rocket' is a veritable treasure trove of the visual style of indie filmmaking.
As is normally the case, the folks at Criterion – under the watchful eye of cinematographer Robert Yeoman (no relation) and Wes Anderson – have lovingly brought 'Bottle Rocket' to the apex of its viewing potential. The 1080p, MPEG-4 AVC transfer retains the film's original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and reproduces the film in stunning visual clarity. Colors are vibrant – especially the jumpsuits favored by Dignan – while the atmospheric tint of certain scenes comes through without distracting from the overall picture. Additionally, the black levels are consistently strong throughout, with contrast looking outstanding in every scene.
More remarkable for a film that was 12-years-old when released on Blu-ray, is the high level of clarity and incredible detail that can be found not only in the close-ups, but also in nearly all of the wider shot segments of the film.
Even though there might be little need for a 5.1 DTS HD-Master Audio soundtrack on a film like 'Bottle Rocket' the folks at Criterion have gone the extra mile and provided a rich, deep conversion for the film's audio. As this is primarily a dialogue driven film, there are few examples of more directionality than the occasional off camera ambient effect. As should be the case, the dialogue here comes through crisp and easy to hear, while certain elements like automobiles, gunfire, and the titular bottle rockets come through with the appropriate balance. The soundtrack's most impressive aspect is also it's richest. The work done here by Criterion not only brings to life the musical score by Mark Mothersbaugh, but the British rock and roll soundtrack as well. Both are immersive without distracting from the other elements of the film.
Including a lossless audio – even for a low-budget talkie such as 'Bottle Rocket' – is the kind of five-star touch such films deserve. The soundtrack won't have your neighbors punching their fists through the wall, but it will offer you a chance to enjoy the film's score and musical selections as Anderson intended.
Criterion has done their typical due diligence with the Blu-ray release of 'Bottle Rocket,' fitting this highly anticipated release with a virtual treasure trove of information regarding the making of this exceptional film.
- "Feature Length Commentary" - with director/co-writer Anderson and co-writer/actor Owen Wilson.
- The Making of 'Bottle Rocket' (HD, 25 min) - an original documentary by filmmaker Barry Braverman featuring Anderson, James L. Brooks, James Caan, Temple Nash Jr., Kumar Pallana, Polly Platt, Mark Mothersbaugh, Robert Musgrave, Richard Sakai, David and Sandy Wasco, Andrew and Luke and Owen Wilson, and Robert Yeoman
- 'Bottle Rocket' short film from 1992 (SD, 13 min)
- 'Murita Cycles' (SD, 27 min) - a 1978 short film by Braverman.
- The Shafrazi Lectures, no. 1: Bottle Rocket (SD, 10 min)
- Additional Material Anamorphic screen test, storyboards, location photos, and behind-the-scenes photographs by Laura Wilson
Regardless of audiences' feelings toward Wes Anderson and his films, he is that rarest of filmmaking commodities: the American auteur. Here, thanks to the care of the Criterion Collection, 'Bottle Rocket' has been presented in the best possible viewing format – and with the kind of supplemental material that makes viewing Anderson's debut film a truly immersive endeavor. This is the perfect way to rediscover the filmmaker, or to go back and view his earlier work if you've only been exposed to him recently.
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