We open on Steven Cohen. Short, lonely, bearded movie critic. He's typing furiously, desperately trying to come up with an interesting way to open his review for 'Adaptation.' "I've got to come up with an interesting way to open my review for 'Adaptation,'" he says quietly to himself as he writes that he's desperately trying to come up with an interesting way to open his review for 'Adaptation.' He reads back that last sentence out loud and then writes about reading it back out loud before -- oh God. I've written myself into my own review. This is insane. This is genius. This is groundbreaking. This is… awful. I'm a hack. I'm a loser. I have to start over. What will they say on the forum? Will anybody care? Does anybody even read these? Of course they don't. They just see my name at the top of the page and then quickly hit the back button. Is it too late to just talk about the movie? Probably. It doesn't matter. Maybe nobody noticed. I bet nobody noticed. I'll just start the review.
Featuring a story that almost defies description, 'Adaptation.' follows screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Nicolas Cage) as he struggles to adapt a novel titled 'The Orchid Thief.' Insecure, self conscious and depressed, Kaufman ultimately writes himself into the plot as a means to overcome writer's block. Simultaneously, we see the actual story from the novel play out, which tells the tale of journalist Susan Orlean (Meryl Streep) as she gets to know John Laroche (Chris Cooper), a Florida man with a tragic past and a passion for orchids. Eventually, Charlie's twin brother, Donald (Nicolas Cage as well), aids his sibling in his writing and soon the two plotlines intertwine, sending the film into a dizzying climax that blurs fact and fiction into a manic, self referential thriller.
Kaufman's script is a truly brilliant exercise in meta-fiction that expertly blends truth and fantasy. Voice over narration guides us through the proceedings, giving us an intimate, front row seat to all of the writer's self deprecating doubts. We are constantly treated to his personal thoughts of self-loathing and insecurity, which in turn shape his very perception and the course of the plot itself. An odd sense of humor also permeates the work, blending potent drama with intelligent wit. This all ends up fueling a multifaceted depiction of the creative process that is raw, honest, heartbreaking, and comical.
The manner in which Kaufman weaves the parallel stories is not only creative, but also functional, presenting a gleefully confusing but still comprehensible plot. The unique approach allows the writer to essentially have his cake and eat it too, providing both an original story and a legitimate adaptation of a non-fiction book. With that said, there does come a point when it becomes clear that fact no longer plays a part in the narrative, and when that happens all bets are off.
While all of the self-aware ingenuity ends up taking most of the attention, at its core, this is really a very human drama. There are lines of dialogue peppered throughout the proceedings that absolutely sting with insight, focusing on concepts of change, passion, and self worth. Kaufman has a lot to say, and he finds a way to express it all in a manner that both breaks and celebrates convention, adhering to and ignoring all the so called rules of screenwriting.
In the dual roles of Charlie and Donald, Nicolas Cage is nothing short of masterful. While some poor choices in recent years have made the actor the butt of many jokes, incredible performances like this remind us what a true talent he really is. He completely disappears into the characters, emotionally and physically, becoming the portrait of a fat, sweaty, balding writer. Charlie's constant assault of self ridicule and neurosis could potentially overstay its welcome and cause the audience to turn on the character, but Cage always keeps him likeable. As Donald, the actor presents a near mirror image of Charlie, creating a confidant, laid back, everyman. The two brothers bounce off each other perfectly, allowing Kaufman to play devil's advocate against himself. Thanks to Cage's talent and the filmmakers' technical wizardry, their interactions together are wholly convincing and true highlights of the film.
Director Spike Jonze employs a mad-dash cinematic style that gives visual form to Kaufman's manic neurosis. Hyper-real montage sequences, full of quick cuts and time lapse photography, reflect the pulsating flow of thoughts that form during the writing process. Various fantasy sequences feature idyllic scenery and vibrant colors, which clash with the more drab hues of Kaufman's dark, lonely room. Thankfully, despite his penchant for cinematic flash, Jonze knows exactly when to hold back, imbuing much of the proceedings with an understated quality that gives quiet moments room to breathe and flourish. Under a lesser director the sheer scope and complexity of the script could have caused the movie to collapse into an incompressible mess, but Jonze knows exactly how to steer the ship, keeping the various moving parts in careful balance with one another.
We pull back from the desk as Steven Cohen finishes his review. He scans over the text and worries whether or not he managed to say everything he wanted to say. He shakes his head and then continues to write: This is a film where nothing is quite what it seems, where everything, even the deceptively simple title, has more than one meaning. Through the creative process, Kaufmann finds a way to instill change in his own fictionalized self, accomplishing a kind of creator/creation wish fulfillment without sacrificing entertainment value and artistic integrity. By writing himself into the script he literally goes on the journey, opening himself up to the possibility of growth. The perfect marriage of writer and director, the film is a true original. Cohen finally stops typing and leans back from the screen. For better or worse, he's finished his review. "Probably for worse," he laments.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Image Entertainment brings 'Adaptation.' to Blu-ray on a BD-25 disc housed in a keepcase. After some logos and warnings the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Though a little uneven, this is a strong transfer that shows off the film's mixture of styles well.
The print is in great shape with a light to moderate layer of grain throughout. Detail can be exceptional, showing off intricate textures (the tiny, individual dots on one of Streep's shirts, for instance) and facial features (including streaks of nervous sweat flowing down Cage's forehead). Colors are strong, especially in the film's various fantasy scenes, but the palette can be more subdued depending on the tone of the sequence. Whites are bright and blacks are nice and deep, resulting in a pleasing sense of contrast and dimension. With all that said, some scenes look softer than others and a few odd shots feature a grainier, less refined look that sticks out a bit. Jonze also utilizes archive footage from a variety of different sources throughout, and these sequences understandably differ in quality from the main feature. Some minor edge enhancement and noise pop up from time to time as well, but don't significantly affect the picture.
Despite some slight inconsistencies, 'Adaptation.' looks very good. Fans of the film should be pleased with this faithful, authentic transfer.
The audio is presented in an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Like the visuals, the sound design is creative and full of subtle, immersive touches.
Speech is nice and full, but does seem to peak slightly (particularly when McKee berates Kaufman). The soundscape is wide and lively when appropriate, enhancing the internal mania of Cage's character. Surrounds chime in with various nature and city sounds, surrounding the listener in a subtle but effective wall of ambiance. A few fast paced montages are particularly memorable, including a quick rundown of the Earth's history which features some cool effects. Directionality is precise and there is a strong level of fidelity. Dynamic range is wide and bass activity features some powerful, startling low end in a few key instances (those that have seen the film probably know what scenes I'm referring to). Balance among the various audio elements is good, with no one aspect overpowering another.
Enveloping and imaginative, the mix complements the visuals nicely.
'Adaptation.' is a true original, proving that there are still new avenues to explore in the been-there-done-that world of cinema. Kaufman's script is a brilliant blend of manic wit and self-aware insight, one that's made all the more powerful thanks to Spike Jonze's creative direction. From a technical perspective, the video transfer is strong, and the audio mix is very good. Unfortunately, outside of a very brief and pretty disposable featurette, there are no extras. Even so, the movie is the real attraction here, and based on the strength of the content and presentation, this Blu-ray comes highly recommended.