Some movies are so delicate and emotionally nuanced that just talking about them runs the risk of them losing some of their power.
Such is the case with Wim Wender's 'Paris, Texas.' It's a work of panoramic beauty, one which chronicles the actual landscape, but also the landscape of the human heart. And as cheesy and forced as this sounds, it's absolutely true.
'Paris, Texas,' written by Sam Shepherd, is the story of Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton), a loner and drifter with obvious psychological and emotional issues, who resurfaces after a four year absence. Where has he been? Nobody knows. But his brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) picks him up from the dusty plains of Texas and drives him back to Los Angeles. While Travis remains mostly mute, he does reveal that he's purchased a small piece of land in Paris, Texas. Paris, Texas is where Walt and Travis' parents first made love. It's where Travis hopes to one day settle down.
Once back in Los Angeles, Travis is reintroduced to his young son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), who has no memories of his father and only knows what his uncle and aunt (Aurore Clément) tell him. Walt has been taking care of Hunter since Travis' disappearance and he treats Hunter like his son. Which makes things even harder when Travis more or less abducts Hunter and the two of them set out, back to Texas, to reunite with Hunter's mom, (Nastassja Kinksi).
This is a slow burn of a movie. It's deliberately paced and takes its time getting to wherever it's getting. Winders photographs the topography of the American southwest like he's chronicling some distant moon. Panoramas take up the entire frame and you'll have to force your jaw from coming unhinged at the sheer, magnetic beauty of everything you're taking in.
And the setting of the movie helps to inform our understanding of Travis, a man, like much of the landscape, which seems to be devoid of much personality (of anything, really) but which is endlessly rich and complicated. Without the juxtaposition of Travis the character and the geographic landscape-as-Travis'-internal-landscape, much of the movie's power would be lost.
This is even more impressive considering Wenders is a German director and that he's able to mesh his sophisticated European sensibilities to a landscape as rough-and-tumble as this. But man oh man does it work. And the way that the movie builds, with subtlety and with an air of anxiety, towards Travis being reunited with Hunter's mother, is peerlessly delivered.
Additionally, all the performances in 'Paris, Texas,' are simply staggering. In particular, Harry Dean Stanton does a remarkable job as Travis, a man who barely talks but has to hold virtually the entire emotional weight of the movie on his shoulders. And young Hunter Carson must deliver one of the best child performances ever. It doesn't ever feel like hammy child acting. It feels 100 percent real. And, of course, Dean Stockwell and Nastassja Kinski, in smaller supporting roles, shine with the little screen time they do possess.
This is a gorgeous, absolutely absorbing movie that should not be missed. Those accustomed to more frantically paced material might have their patience tried, but I plead with you: stick it out. You won't be sorry. Between the performances, the photography, and Ry Cooder's unforgettable score, 'Paris, Texas' is a one-of-a-kind experience that you'll want to treasure like the delicate thing it is.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Paris, Texas,' is a 50GB disc that is Region "A" locked. It is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #501. Being a Criterion title, it is also housed in the fatter chunky box.
'Paris, Texas'' MPEG-4 AVC 1080p transfer (aspect ratio 1.78:1) is just gorgeous. On previous home video versions of this movie, I've wondered what it could look like if it was really cleaned up and taken care of. I now wonder no more.
According to the disc's accompanying booklet (more on that in a minute): "Supervised and approved by director Wim Wenders, this new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit Datacine from the original 35 mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction."
I'm pretty sure that translates into something along the lines of "Whoomp, there it is." This thing is just gorgeous. Colors really, finally pop, skin tones look marvelous, and the panoramic views of the landscapes look as real and intoxicating as anything on Pandora. A fine layer of film adds to the presentation, rather than taking away anything. Whether you've seen 'Paris, Texas' a thousand times or this is your first go-around, your jaw will drop. This is reference-quality stuff.
Additionally, there are no technical issues to speak of (despite the use of the word 'noise reduction' there are no telltale signs) and no major instances of dirt or debris on the transfer. It's just a solid transfer, through and through, one that makes this gorgeous movie look like a million bucks.
The disc comes equipped with an equally gorgeous DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. It's the only audio option on the disc. Thankfully, it's so good that there isn't really a need for another audio option.
Again, from the booklet: "Presented in a surround format, the soundtrack was remixed under the supervision of the director using the original audio stems. Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD."
A lot of the power of 'Paris, Texas' comes from its atmosphere, which this track delivers. There are precious few sequences with dialogue (until the film's emotionally wrought climax), but that said, the dialogue that's here is crisp and clean and well prioritized. But the main draw here is Ry Cooder's amazing score. And it's never sounded better than it does here. Prepare to swoon.
There are subtle moments of immersion in the track, and overall everything sounds wonderful. There are no detectable technical issues or audio track issues like pops or hiss. Just great.
Also included are optional English subtitles.
The extras included on the Blu-ray disc are also included in the standard definition DVD released at the same time. The only difference is the inclusion here of the "Timeline" feature, which is standard on all the Blu-ray Criterion releases.
Wim Wenders' 'Paris, Texas' is a haunting film of endless melancholia. It will stay with you long after you turn it off. It's also one of the more beautiful movies you'll ever see, with stunning performances and equally stunning photography. This Blu-ray presentation is absolutely great, with peerless audio and video and a healthy selection of truly insightful extras. Those of you who were either brought up on or have grown accustomed to the quick-cutting editorial styling of people like Michael Bay may be disappointed by the film's deliberate pace but hang in there. This is one road trip worth taking.