Wes Anderson is one of the most, if not the most, eccentric filmmakers working today. From the very start of his career, he has delivered films that are strange, quirky, and all-around fascinating to watch. His first feature, Bottle Rocket, was just the beginning of his bizarre filmography, which now includes such great films as Rushmore, The Royal Tenenbaums, and Fantastic Mr. Fox. Now he returns with his latest film, Moonrise Kingdom, and as you can probably figure, his eccentric hallmarks permeate every frame.
Taking place in 1965 on the island of New Penzance, the film tells the story of a young Khaki Scout, Sam (Jared Gilman), an orphan who has run away from his troupe, and a young girl, Suzy (Kara Hayward), who has run away from her family. Upon noticing the missing Khaki Scout, Troupe Master Ward (Edward Norton) informs the local policeman, Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis), who immediately sets out in an attempt to locate the boy. However, Suzy’s parents, Walt (Bill Murray, an Anderson regular) and Laura (Frances McDormand), also inform him of their missing daughter. It’s not long before they discover notes between the two detailing their plans to run away together.
Meanwhile, Sam and Suzy are attempting to make their way to the other side of the island by following an old Indian trail. They are an odd couple, but they believe that they are genuinely in love with each other, despite only being 12 years old. Their adventure brings them to a cove where they make camp with no particular plan in mind. In the meantime, everyone else forms a search party to hunt them down. This includes the rest of the Khaki Scouts, who weren’t exactly friends with Sam, and Suzy’s parents, who are quite upset at this turn of events. Also, as if things couldn’t be much worse, a large hurricane is due to hit the island in the coming days.
Anderson is the kind of writer/director that usually has an interesting story to tell. It may not be the strongest attribute of his movies, but for the most part, the story tends to be one that’s engaging enough to carry his films. In fact, there has only been one film of his that I’ve felt has not been good enough to recommend based on the story, that being The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
However, that being said, it still had the qualities that I find most fascinating about Anderson, more specifically his eye for composition. His films are such that there can be so much going on in the background that you can go back and rewatch them several times and still see something new each time. Even when there’s not much going on, he still finds some interesting way to present what he wants to show you that can give you the feeling that something’s a bit off, but not in a way that’s off-putting.
For example, in Moonrise Kingdom, he favors shots that pan across the scene, sometimes tracking characters’ movements. In fact, the opening scene is an establishing panning shot of the upper floor of Suzy’s house. On the first watch, you may notice the splendid detail that Anderson has added to the scene to establish the period setting, on the next viewing, you may find yourself thinking, “Wow, this is a long floor.” It may not have as much detail as say the amazing establishing shot of the boat in Life Aquatic, but this is a slightly more subtle film where detail is concerned.
Take another example from later on in the film. Our heroes have made it to another Khaki Scout Troupe and are trying to get help from a cousin (played by Jason Schwartzman, another Anderson regular) of one of the scouts. What could have been a simple tracking shot turns into a tracking shot with the camp in the background, kids ziplining and launching model rockets, and probably a few other things that I missed.
As Anderson’s own actors attest, he creates shots that are incredibly artistic, whether very complex or straightforward. This is something that has been easily noticeable throughout his career. Think back to Max Fischer’s plays in Rushmore. They were small, but looked big. In a sense, this is the way that Anderson works. His movies are rather small, but they look quite grand due to his amazing skills as a director.
Something else that carries his films a long way are the fascinating performances from his casts. I’ve already mentioned regulars Murray and Schwartzman, but he’s also worked with such talent as Owen and Luke Wilson, Gene Hackman, Anjelica Huston, Danny Glover, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Gwyneth Paltrow, Adrien Brody, George Clooney, and Meryl Streep. For his latest project, he adds such big names as Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, and Harvey Keitel.
Leave it to an eccentric director (and his co-writers) to write eccentric parts for his cast, but that’s a large part of the fun. Many of these actors are Oscar winners/nominees. To watch them playing these parts, delivering this zany kind of dialogue, is a real treat. For instance, take Willis, an actor who is probably most known for playing John McClane, a very tough cop, in the Die Hard films.
Here, he’s once again playing a cop (the only one on the island no less), but he seems rather clueless as to what to do about the bizarre situation that’s fallen into his lap. The same goes for Keitel, who’s arguably most known for playing tough guy Mr. White in Reservoir Dogs. His Scout Commander character is almost killed by a bizarre, strangely comical, set of circumstances late in the film.
Now that we’ve covered all of that, let’s take a look at the story. I find that it doesn’t quite hold up to Anderson’s great work like Rushmore or The Royal Tenenbaums, but it is still interesting and engaging. Anderson co-wrote this script with Roman Coppola, his writing partner on The Darjeeling Limited, another film that didn’t have a particularly strong story, but was able to get through on its odd trio of lead characters and the usual Anderson flare.
Here we have a story of young lovers who seem pretty sure about their feelings and the people trying to find them. The strength of the film once again comes from the interesting characters and Anderson’s amazing visual sense. It gets you involved by wondering where these kids are going to go and what they’re going to do, and it also has you guessing as to what the authority figures in their lives are going to do to them once they find them. It is engaging, but again, just not as much Anderson has been able to accomplish in the past.
Turning now to the Blu-Ray itself, the film is presented in a beautiful 1080p, HD Widescreen transfer with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The picture here is excellent and really helps show Anderson’s amazing talent for visual composition. The audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 DVS and comes through crystal clear. Audio might not be quite as big a component to Anderson’s films as the video, but he still finds interesting ways to use it, particularly in regards to the original score and other musical selections.
Now we come to the truly disappointing part of this Blu-Ray: the special features. All that’s included are three very brief features that total to about 12 minutes. These include “A Look Inside Moonrise Kingdom,” “Welcome to the Island of New Penzance” (featuring narrator Bob Balaban), and a “Set Tour with Bill Murray.” I’m sorry to say that none of these provide any insight into the making of the film and merely show lots of clips from the movie with a little bit of behind the scenes footage. A feature commentary with Wes Anderson would have been a great addition to the disc, but for some reason it was decided not to have anything of substance when it came to the extras.
The special features may have been disappointing, but luckily the movie isn’t. As I’ve mention, it may not be one of his stronger films, but it is still very much worth seeing, and I find this Blu-Ray to be a definite recommendation just based on it (and the amazing quality) alone. Fans of Anderson will once again get the opportunity to marvel at his unique filmmaking skills while those just beginning to experience his work will more than likely be drawn into his strange world, creating new fans in the process.
This review is based on a copy of the Blu-Ray that we received for reviewing purposes.
While Moonrise Kingdom may not stand among Wes Anderson's best works, it is still a fascinating experience due to his ability to offer unique cinematic composition and compelling characters.