When I interviewed director John Madden about the then upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Shakespeare in Love' in January 2012, I had just barely seen the first trailer for 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,' so our conversational naturally took a turn in that direction. I don't know that his excitement about the film was conveyed as strongly in the transcript as it was hearing him talk about it over the phone, but his love for this new film was apparent. I was already onboard with it prior to chatting with him, but the way he talked about it only made me want to see it even more. Ten months later I'm finally getting the chance to see it and it was well worth the wait.
I love a good meaty film, but that doesn't mean that I can't appreciate small films that offer a realistic and delightful slice of life. I compare 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' to one of my favorite little films of 2011, 'The Way' – both take their time developing intimate and personal journeys of proverbial "fish out of water." 'The Way' follows a grieving man on an 800 kilometer hike with a trio of other wayward and wandering lost souls; 'Marigold Hotel' follows seven British senior citizens coming to terms with their age and the decisions they've made through a retreat to a run-down hotel in India.
'Marigold Hotel' features an all-star ensemble cast of Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton, Ronald Pickup and Celia Imrie as the retirees. Dev Patel plays the nervously animated owner of the rickety hotel. An odd bit about the final cut is that it doesn't feature the footage that opens the trailer. We have no clue that Patel's character is duping them via the website's misleading images of the hotel. Our central characters believe that they're heading to an exclusive resort, when it's actually a run-down structure on its way to being deemed a ruin. Entering that final "elderly" stage of their lives, each comes to the realization that their lives are like this far-from-perfect hotel. But like the eroding structure, there's an exceptional amount of beauty to be found when you look past the obvious flaws.
Dench plays a recently widowed woman looking for self-discovery in the wake of loss. Nighy and Wilton play a previously wealthy couple whose investments went belly-up, leaving them with nothing. Wilkinson plays a politician who has just walked out on his job in search of… something, something that isn't revealed for a short while at least. Smith plays a racist and crotchety old woman in need of a hip replacement, so she goes to India for cheap treatment. Imrie plays a single grandmother who is tired of her kids taking advantage of her, so she liberates herself with this drastic move. Pickup plays a horny old dude who believes that acting like a teenage boy will help him get tail. Patel's character is given more to do than run the makeshift hotel. Not only does he face the stresses of being a hotel owner, but his mother is breathing down his neck. All the while, he's trying to court the woman that he loves, a gorgeous girl who he feels deserves much better than the little that he has to offer.
'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is one of those fantastic little escape films. Want to forget about the stresses of work, your bank account, your bills? 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is not only a retreat from the real world, but it offers a refreshingly positive outlook on real life trials, woes and burdens - and you don't have to be elderly to enjoy it!
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Fox Home Entertainment has given 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' the Region A BD-50 treatment. The single disc is housed in a blue Elite keepcase that slides vertically into a mildly glossy cardboard keepcase. The only downside to the slipcase is an unremovable slapped-on sticker that's bound to leave a highly gooey residue if removed. Prior to the clip and music-filled main menu is a firmware disclaimer, a Fox vanity reel and trailers for 'We Bought A Zoo,' 'The Three Stooges,' 'The Descendants' and 'Margaret,' most of which can be glazed over by hitting the "Main Menu" button.
Like many smaller indie titles, the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode of 'The Best Exotic Marigold' is very good, but not great. Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, it's not that there are flaws with disc, but it lacks the greatness that makes some discs truly stand out.
The one thing that I wish this disc possessed was a greater level of detail. The image is always exceptionally sharp, clean and clear. If you didn't know any better, you'd assume it was shot digitally because there are very few shots that reveal grain – but there's not as much detail as it could have. I dare say that India has never looked more appealing. The sharp and vivid, never overly saturated colors are brilliant, but the depth of greater detail could have pushed this disc into perfection.
Darkness would have eliminated the potency of the colorization, so blacks aren't a frequent visitor. Nighttime shots usually contain a more-than-average amount of fill lighting that keeps the shadows from turning into utter darkness, but the few deep blacks that make the final cut are natural.
Not a single compression flaw makes its way into the film. No bands, no aliasing, no artifacts and definitely no noise. Edge enhancement and DNR also aren't factors.
Of the eight audio options, I chose the obvious lossless track for reviewing – the English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Like the video, the audio is also very good, but shy of great.
One character in the film refers to India as being a "riot of noise and color." When it comes to the colorization, the video quality makes that a true statement, but the audio doesn't quite nail it. The street and market scenes are perfect instances for the sounds to assault the audience's sense of sound, but it almost always comes across as a convenient little studio mix. The sounds pertinent to the onscreen action are given the precedence, but it would have been more effective had the environmental audio been given equally powerful levels and depth. An example is when our characters first arrive in India. They have to travel on three-wheel motorized carts known as Tuk Tuks. This sequence gives more emphasis to the sounds of the Tuk Tuks than it does the chaotic streets they are zipping through.
Having said that, the vocals and the music are mixed just fine. One never trumps the other. The dynamics they carry are just fine. The music, which slowly changes from a standard traditional scoring to a hybrid one infused with India flare, plays an invisible emotion-establishing channel-filling character of its own.
The lossless mix of 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is just fine, but it could be a little better.
Sadly, there aren't many special features on this disc. Those that are on it are of the disappointing kind – shameless generic self-promotion.
There is something satisfying and refreshing about little films that don't focus so much on a complex plot, but tell an emotional and genuinely heartfelt story about likeable characters that are easy to connect with. That's exactly the type of film that 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is. You will not only walk away entertained with a warm smile on your face, but you'll actually have an upbeat and positive perspective on life. I dare say that no geriatric comedy has ever been this entertaining. The video and audio qualities of this release are strong, but could have used a little push toward perfection. Sadly, it falls victim to the Indie Gods and only features a handful of very generic extras. Luckily, experiencing the movie itself is more than satisfying enough. Special features would not have been a crucial selling point on a film like this. If you need a breath of fresh air after the mostly terrible September 2012 theatrical releases, look no further – 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' is available on Blu-ray now. Recommended.