Wes Anderson's 'The Darjeeling Limited' is about three brothers obsessed with getting lost. It's an odd conceit and one that is typically Wes Anderson in its conception and execution: brothers Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) agree to take a train across India, in the hopes of spiritual discovery and, eventually, to meet up with their wayward mother (a brief performance by Anjelica Huston), who didn't even bother to show up at the boys' father's funeral. The movie is deeply indebted to the filmmaking team of Ismail Merchant and James Ivory and the Indian director Satyajit Ray, but still, rigidly Andersonian. If Anderson was looking for a spiritual loosening up, he came up a bit short.
Which isn't to say that 'The Darjeeling Limited' is a complete dud, but there's a reason his brilliant stop-motion animated feature 'Fantastic Mr. Fox' was heralded as something of a "comeback."
The problem with the movie is that, like the neurotic protagonists of the film, Wes Anderson can't let go of his baggage (this is made very literal in the movie with the boys carrying loads of their dead father's bulky luggage, designed, of course, by Marc Jacobs for Louie Vuitton). The movie is a deviation in the Anderson oeuvre in some key ways: first off, it was the first movie he didn't write with his usual collaborators, either Owen Wilson (who co-wrote his first three films, arguably the peak period of Anderon's creative faculty) or Noah Baumbach ('The Life Aquatic,' 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'). The film was instead co-written by star Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola, one of Francis' kids who wrote and directed the underrated and utterly brilliant movie-about-movies 'CQ.' It should also be noted that this is the first movie without Anderson's longtime musical collaborator Mark Mothersbaugh. I've been asking around as to what, exactly, happened with those two, and I've never gotten a straight answer. But Mothersbaugh didn't return for 'Fantastic Mr. Fox,' and Anderson chose to instead score 'Darjeeling Limited' with pop songs and music from other filmmakers' back catalogs instead.
So we can now think of 'The Darjeeling Limited' (the movie, not the titular train) as being a spiritual quest, just like the three brothers in the film, by the three filmmakers, who were trying to outdo themselves and push themselves further than they had previously. But just like the brothers in the film, they get bogged down in the specifics of the film, in the controlled rigidity that Anderson has brought to all of his previous films: the tightly snappy lateral pans, the insistence that every piece of lettering be in Futura bold, and the inclusion of one of his famous "dollhouse" shots – wherein the camera will take on a life of its own, panning through several rooms or compartments (the most memorable is probably the sequence in 'Life Aquatic'). In 'Darjeeling,' the dollhouse shot takes on a more metaphysical quality, as the camera passes through rooms on a train that show various characters around the world. It's a cool moment, but it's one that makes you feel as though Anderson tried to resist doing it, but just couldn't: he couldn't shake that baggage.
That's not to say that I hated 'The Darjeeling Limited.' I saw it twice during its initial theatrical run and found it to be compellingly watchable, if not exactly emotionally sound. There's a prolonged sequence towards the end of the film where the brothers take witness to a young child's drowning. It's a shocking moment, and one that resonates deeply. Or, it would have if Anderson hadn't felt the need to follow the moment with a show-off-y, 'hey look at me' slow motion sequence choreographed to a beloved pop ditty. There's a disingenuousness that always threatens to torpedo his work with a level of toxic smugness. It's moments like the child's death that could really have been special had Anderson followed the advice of his characters and just tried, for a moment, to let go.
'The Darjeeling Limited' is probably my least favorite live action Wes Anderson film (hey, 'The Life Aquatic' at least had that amusing Jeff Goldblum subplot), but it's still one that should be watch and talked about and digested. There are people (including a critic that does a video appreciation on this disc) who find it to be Wes Anderson's 'thesis film,' an encapsulation and expansion of all his thematic ground thus far, and a wild ride at that. Personally, though, I think he could have stopped the train at any point in the journey.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'The Darjeeling Limited' comes to high definition courtesy of the Criterion Collection, spine # 540. It comes on a single 50GB Blu-ray disc. It plays automatically but halts on the beautifully illustrated menu screen (the box art and menu art were designed by Anderson's brother). The disc is Region A locked.
As far as video quality goes, 'The Darjeeling Limited's M1080p AVC MPEG-4 transfer (aspect ratio: 2.40:1) is more or less peerless. This is a beautiful presentation, through and through.
Even though the movie isn't that old (it was released in 2007 theatrically), the accompanying booklet, which unfolds in a typically Andersonian way (clever, bordering on precious), suggest some work still went into cleaning this puppy up. "Supervised and approved by director Wes Anderson, this new high-definition digital transfer was created from the digital intermediate 2K files, which were scanned from the original 35 mm negative on a Spirit 4K Datacine," the note reads. That means: they worked hard on it and it looks really pretty.
'The Darjeeling Limited' has a rich color palette that reflects the exoticism of India (to an almost fetishistic degree) and separates our characters further from their experiences, and here those colors pop to an absurd degree. It never overwhelms anything and heightens the viewing experience. It's just wonderful. The movie is eye-popping in a way that it never has been before.
Additionally, the fundamentals of a good transfer hold up well: skin tones look nice and realistic (and there are a whole bunch of different hues here); black levels are deep and inky and present one of the greatest "dark" scenes in a high-definition transfer, when a tiger growls in the gloom (look for it in the "dollhouse" sequence); there are no technical foibles to speak of or evidence of after-the-fact monkeying. Everything looks pristine and great.
The Blu-ray transfer on 'The Darjeeling Limited' has an unheard-of level of dimensionality that rounds out an unbelievable visual package. Even though I may feel wishy-washy about the movie itself, there's no denying what an accomplishment this transfer is.
Equally impressive is the audio mix, a hearty DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 affair that brings the lushness of India to life.
'The Darjeeling Limited' is a dialogue-heavy comedy, so most of the action takes place front and center, with every utterance rendered crisply and clearly, with things always well prioritized.
Given the often crazy locations and the amount of hustle and bustle that surrounds each scene, the movie does have some surround sound heft, with crowd scenes being given particular attention. The music, too, both the pop songs and the material from older movies, sound absolutely marvelous, particularly in the movie's frantic opening sequence.
There isn't much else to say about the audio mix, besides the fact that it doesn't contain any glitchy audio problems or technical issues, but is a clear, smooth, nicely atmospheric accompaniment to the film. It should also be noted that portions of the movie are spoken in Hindi, with English subtitles.
Otherwise, the only subtitles present are in English SDH. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the disc's only audio option which if I could editorialize for a moment, seems kind of strange. I'm not sure if the original DVD release had other language options, but most movies released today have a multitude of language tracks. It's about the only letdown on the whole disc, but it's worth mentioning regardless.
All of the extras present on this Blu-ray are also on the double-disc DVD that is being released concurrently by the good folks at Criterion. Those disappointed with the bare bones DVD that was released the first time around will be very pleased with this new edition.
'The Darjeeling Limited,' like its protagonists, certainly isn't perfect. It's a messy, sometimes slack, oddball comedy that doesn't reach the heights of Anderson's earlier movies (or his genius animated film that would follow). Still, this disc looks and sounds terrific, with enough special features that could last you from now until you reach India. Even though I wasn't sold 100 percent on the film itself, it's very easy to Highly Recommend the Blu-ray for 'The Darjeeling Limited,' especially if you're a fan of the director's work.