With memorable and captivating performances from Ethan Hawke, Kyle MacLachlan and Eve Hewson, Michael Almereyda's surreal bio-drama Tesla is a passionately brooding retelling of the Serbian inventor and his lasting legacy on our collective cultural memories. Shout! Factory brings the visionary film to Blu-ray with an excellent audio and video presentation, but sadly, the bonus features are sorely lacking. Nevertheless, the overall HD package is Worth a Look.
Like a flustered, feverish reverie, Michael Almereyda's Tesla is a passionately inventive and visionary biographical drama about Nikola Tesla (Ethan Hawke). It is a fanciful, arthouse retelling of the Serbian inventor's rivalry with Thomas Edison (Kyle MacLachlan), his friendship with Anne Morgan (Eve Hewson) and his achievements in the field of electrical power. While deliberately jumping between various places and points in his life, the film is also a strange blend of on-location filmmaking and stage performances with literal backdrops, mystifying audiences with the sight of cell phones, modern fluorescent lamps, laptops and other anachronistic technologies. Be that as it may, the story is an unabashed fictionalized rendition of a person who exists in our collective cultural memories, mythologized as much by real events as by fiction.
The anachronistic, non-linear narrative raises speculation about his unsung influence and legacy, a man who envisioned a future with remote control devices and the wireless transmission of information and telecommunication. The fantasized conversations humorously romanticize and humanize a historical figure that for most, only exists in the few images floating in the intangible, wireless cyberspace. It took Almereyda decades to complete his script, adding new details as he continued learning more about Tesla's relationships and the spell his legacy has amassed since. The finished product delivers on that expectation and remains true to the spirit of telling a story about a man who mostly endures in our imagination, creating a fantastically surreal atmosphere of piecemealed anecdotes that manage to tell a coherent narrative. The film is a hauntingly poetic vision reminding, if not also challenging, audiences to reflect on what we know about Nikola Tesla and realize it's not much.
For a more in-depth take on the film, check out our digital review of the film.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Shout! Factory brings Michael Almereyda's Tesla to Blu-ray as a single-disc package. The Region A locked, BD50 disc is housed inside the standard blue keepcase with reversible cover art and slipcover. At startup, viewers are greeted with a trio of skippable previews before switching to a static menu screen with the usual options along the bottom and music.
The romanticized bio-drama debuts on Blu-ray with an attractive-looking, highly-detailed 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode that remains true to the filmmakers' visual design. Shot with the use of diffusion filters, the HD video falls on the softer side of things, furnishing the cinematography with a fanciful, dreamlike appeal. Nevertheless, the presentation is sharp with distinct, well-defined lines in the costumes and stage production. A spot-on contrast balance with brilliant whites and crisply radiant highlights allows for excellent visibility of background information and within the brightest areas. On the other hand, black levels are a bit wanting and are more of a dark, dull grey, making for a noticeably flat and rather plain 1.85:1 image. Amazingly, shadow delineation remains strong with plenty of fine detailing in the darkest corners of the frame. Likewise, the palette leans heavily towards the warmer secondary hues, washing over the action with lots of warm yellows and oranges contrasted by a brown and blue spectrum, giving certain scenes an antiquated sepia look. Again, this is a deliberate aesthetic choice the complements the plot's theme well, and primaries are nonetheless accurately rendered and appealing. (Video Rating: 78/100)
The film also arrives on Blu-ray with a pair of strong and generally pleasing DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks: a 5.1 surround mix and a 2.0 stereo track. Admittedly, the design is not particularly memorable or frankly doesn't leave much of an impression, but for a dialogue-driven film, either audio option complements the visuals and suits the overall story adequately. On the whole, the front-heavy presentation feels somewhat confined and limited to the center, delivering clean, precise vocals with appreciable intonation in the performances. There is not much in terms of background activity, but the occasional atmospheric effect broadens the soundstage with good off-screen movement. The mid-range is mostly uniform and little variance, except for a few moments of action scattered throughout, but John Paesano's score nonetheless exhibits strong separation and definition with a good deal of warmth. The low-end, likewise, is largely restrained and understated, yet there is enough appreciable bass to still provide a welcomed sense of presence. (Audio Rating: 72/100)
From Michael Almereyda, the biographical drama Tesla is a surreal and passionately visionary retelling of Nikola Tesla, his relationships with other important historical figures and his lasting legacy on our collective cultural memories. Ethan Hawke turns in a memorable and captivating performance as the quietly brooding Serbian inventor, opposite other equally excellent performances from Kyle MacLachlan and Eve Hewson. Shout! Factory brings the bio-drama to Blu-ray with an excellent audio and video presentation, but sadly, the bonus features are sorely lacking. Nevertheless, the overall HD package is worth a look.