An island off the New England coast, summer of 1965. Two twelve-year-olds, Sam and Suzy, fall in love, make a secret pact, and run away together into the wilderness. As local authorities try to hunt them down, a violent storm is brewing offshore . . . Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom' stars Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward as the young couple on the run, Bruce Willis as Island Police Captain Sharp, Edward Norton as Khaki Scout troop leader Scout Master Ward, and Bill Murray and Frances McDormand as Suzy's attorney parents, Walt and Laura Bishop. The cast also includes Tilda Swinton, Jason Schwartzman, and Bob Balaban. The magical soundtrack features the music of Benjamin Britten.
If someone asked me to explain what 'Moonrise Kingdom' is about I think I'd be stumped. A simple explanation of the film's events doesn't convey the magical quaintness of the movie itself. At its core, it's a story about a boy, a girl, and young love. However, it's deeper than that. This is a movie that seems so simple on the surface, yet the more you think about it, the more complex it gets.
One look at 'Moonrise Kingdom' and you'll instantly recognize the hand of director Wes Anderson. As with all Wes Anderson films, 'Moonrise Kingdom' is an extremely visual experience; the carefully framed symmetrical scenes, the understated but lively color palette, and the way he transforms everyday settings into something from a children's storybook. He's a master at giving his movie a distinct look and feel; an identity that goes far beyond plots and dialogue.
When you enter the world of 'Moonrise Kingdom' it's like you traveled to a completely different time and place. Someone in the movie states that it's set in the 60s, but that doesn't really matter. These characters inhabit their own world with its own rules. It's quite possible that this time and place never existed. Again, it doesn't matter. Its whimsical feel is much more important than any kind of realism that could've been achieved. As a matter of fact the way the story plays out hinges on the way Anderson has constructed this world.
Suzy (Kara Hayward) is a headstrong young girl who doesn't look like the type who would fall for Sam (Jared Gilman), but she does. Sam is a member of the Kahki Scouts so he knows his way around the wilderness. Suzy and Sam are misunderstood. Suzy finds her lawyer parents (played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand) tedious and boring. Sam, an orphan, is disenfranchised with his scout troop and decides to make a break for it. The plan is for the both of them to meet up, they're pen pals you see, and take a long needed trip away from the disappointing worlds they inhabit.
Both Gilman and Hayward are feature-length film newbies. You'd never know it though. They have more chemistry than most leading couples. Anderson has given them direction to deliver all of their lines with a deadpan stare. Most of the time they remain emotionless with their dialogue drumming like a staccato beat. It all serves to give the two young lovebirds an innocence that seems utterly lost on young kids in movies nowadays. It doesn't matter that these two actors haven't done anything before because Anderson leads them along his visionary path with a guiding hand.
The movie is funny, but the characters play every moment with dire seriousness. The true genius in the comedy here is that no one acts like they know they're being funny. The humor comes from the irony and the inherent awkwardness in blooming adolescent puppy love.
'Moonrise Kingdom' feels a lot like 'The Fantastic Mr. Fox' in that it appears to have been ripped straight from some odd little storybook. The people that inhabit this world are completely original creations. There isn't one character that doesn't facilitate in completing the story as a whole. Not one of them is superfluous. They each play their part, fitting into a larger whole. Anderson's weaves a poignant tale that seems effortless.
It's rather pointless to tread over the ins and outs of the plot, because on the surface it's rather dull. 'Moonrise Kingdom,' like all Wes Anderson works, is a film that must be experienced. There's so much more here than a synopsis will ever provide. It's innocent and stern, playful and serious, calculated and whimsical. It defies mainstream conventions. It shouldn't make sense. Yet, it does.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Criterion edition of 'Moonrise Kingdom' comes in a snazzy cardboard case (spine number 776) that, unfortunately, doesn't match the standard clear Criterion cases. So, it might look a little strange on the shelf. Inside the goodies include a foldout map of New Penzance Island, a postcard-sized photo of the cast, and a 20-page booklet made up to look like the September 1965 issue of Indian Corn (you know, the magazine Norton's character is seen reading in the movie). An essay by editor-in-cheif of the Library of America Geoffrey O'Brien entitled "Awakenings" is included.
Note: The Criterion notes for the transfer say, that this 2k transfer from the original 16mm film was directly overseen by Wes Anderson himself. However, it isn't stated if this is the same transfer that Universal used for their release or a new one created specifically for the Criterion edition. What is clear is that after watching the Criterion release of 'Moonrise Kingdom' it appears identical to the previous transfer.
'Moonrise Kingdom' has a fantastic old-timey cinematic look to it because Anderson filmed the movie with Super 16. The choice to go with 16mm might frighten some, since the film stock can be overly grainy sometimes. Don't fret though, because Anderson, under the watchful eye of his accomplished cinematographer Robert Yeoman, has created a rich film that looks great in HD.
Going with 16mm does have its limitations on finer detail though. Mid-range shots have that familiar soft, gauzy look to them. Grain is thick throughout the movie, but it only adds to the texture of a bygone era of film. An era that Anderson is trying to recreate here. The grain, which is present throughout the film, provides a very natural thematic feel. Almost like you're watching the movie at an old art house theater only it's completely free from any needless dirt, specks, or grime.
Shadow detail is hampered somewhat, however, I was surprised at the amount of detail the movie culled from its 16mm source. The heavy grain in 16mm tends to create very heavy, indistinct blacks which crush detail. While detail in the dark isn't as sharp as it would be in 35mm, there are plenty of scenes where darkness falls, but detail doesn't take a huge nosedive. Edges are still discernible during nighttime scenes. Facial features may be gobbled up from time to time by heavy shadows though. Blacks are deep and resolute. The color palette, which leans more towards earthy tones like golden yellows and tanned browns, creates a lively experience. Reds are used sparingly, sothat when they are used they popl. Suzy's neon blue eye shadow is perhaps the most colorful the film gets and the video presentation makes it shine.
While it may not be as crisp and clear as we're used to seeing for brand new films, 'Moonrise Kingdom' has a look all its own and a video presentation that provides an accurate portrayal of the director's vision.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as great. The movie is heavy on the dialogue, that's true. There is plenty of sound centered right up front. Dialogue is clear and delivered through the center channel. Many scenes feature people talking off screen with directionality picking up their voices nicely in the front speakers. There are also many scenes where characters quickly talk under their breath, but those lines are always clear. It's important that they are because many of the jokes come from the hushed one-liners.
The surrounds are surprisingly engaged as the sound mix seems just as meticulously produced as the visuals. A thunderstorm provides effects for rolling thunder and pouring rain. Wind rips across the soundfield traveling seamlessly along its way. Scouts mingle and play in the background, birds chirp, crickets serenade. The surrounds are constantly buzzing with action, keeping you immersed in the film.
Low-end involvement also works well. This isn't an action-packed movie by any means, but the culminating thunderstorm does provided for enough deep thunderous cracks along the way. The movie's bubbly 60s-inspired soundtrack calls for clear resonant bass and it delivers. There are many scenes where the sound seems as meticulously constructed as the video and this mix gives that hard work a place to shine.
The real upgrades for the Criterion re-release of 'Moonrise Kingdom' come in the special features. Also, yes some of these are new features, but they are not included in the HD Exclusives section because the same new supplements can be found on Criterion's DVD release of the movie.
The Criterion edition of 'Moonrise Kingdom' offers up some fun collectibles along with a few worthwhile special features. The original release of the film was barebones to say the least. Here we get a bit more in the way of special features. The video presentation is identical to the Universal release and I'm guessing they used the same transfer. There would've been no reason to create a new one anyway, in my opinion. Whatever the case may be, comparing the two it's clear that they're both quite similar and still look wonderful.
'Moonrise Kingdom' is worth a double-dip for fans looking for more information and perspective about the movie. More in-depth special features would've been nice, but the interesting commentary included goes a long way. This release is highly recommended.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.