Moonrise Kingdom

| October 14, 2012

I had admittedly had very low expectations for Moonrise Kingdom before reluctantly venturing to see it with a friend earlier this year. From the trailers it had looked to me like Wes Anderson-concentrate, and not in a good way. It didn’t appear to have the substance of a Rushmore or even a Life Aquatic, only the rich aesthetic sensibility, and yet, to my great surprise, the film won me over without reservations. Well, almost. I must admit that it’s indeed a bit thinner in substance than some of Anderson’s previous works, but it certainly isn’t guilty of the backtracking in characterization that Darjeeling Limited takes in its final moments.

Moonrise Kingdom is, as you no doubt expect of a Wes Anderson film by now, highly quirky and outlandish with an incredibly meticulous attention to detail apparent in the production design. And yet, there is certainly more to it than that. It has a endearing sweetness about it, a naivete that really only rarely wavers. And when it does, it should be noted, these moments do tend to divide the audience. After all, the occasional shift toward an adult tone clashes with the overall fantastical tone of the piece. And yet, at the same time, others are turned off by the more cartoonish events that take place throughout the film, when Anderson most fully embraces the aforementioned fantasy elements.

For me, however, both the more adult and cartoonish moments worked well emotionally, except when they centered on characters who are never fully developed or properly incorporated into the narrative. The foremost offenders here include those characters portrayed by Harvey Keitel and Tilda Swinton. Swinton’s character in particular irks me increasingly more each time I each the film. Her character, known only as Social Services, doesn’t serve an important enough function in the narrative, to my mind, to warrant her gimmicky name or off-puttingly domineering characterization. All other characters in the film exhibiting unpleasant demeanors at least have their reasons.

Now, as you may have surmised from Anderson’s inclusion of the two narratively-inconsequential supporting players above, the film features one of the more terrific casts he has ever assembled. The film boasts a wealth of wonderful young talent, including the two leads newcomers Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward, who are indeed a revelation. And these budding performers are supported by an all-star adult cast, including Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, and Bruce Willis, who delivers a wonderfully nuanced performance, perhaps the best in the film.

But what of the presentation of this wonderful film on the Blu-ray/DVD combo release of Moonrise Kingdom available from Universal Studios Home Entertainment on October 16, 2012? That, I’m afraid, is something of a massively mixed bag. The film looks every bit as spectacular as you’d hope and the special features, while slim in number, are still quite fantastic. They include “A Look inside Moonrise Kingdom“; four “Welcome to the Island of New Penzance” trailers in which the film’s narrator, played by Bob Balaban, discusses various characters of the film and the performers in those roles; and a tour of the set with Bill Murray.

On the down side, I find the menus generally unattractive for starters. Although the rotating backgrounds for the menus are nice, the stock gray bar on the left of the screen that constitutes the menu itself does not gel with the aesthetics of the film. This means that the menu clashes with the backgrounds, of course, which were drawn from the film in the first place.

Furthermore, the artwork for this release is a cluttered mess from all angles. In promoting the set’s inclusion of not only the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film, but the Digital Download and Ultraviolet versions as well, half the back side of the artwork is taken up by explanations, disclaimers, warnings, and system requirements for the various versions. Factor in the barcode and the insignias for all the studios/distributors involved in this release, and the film itself is afforded very little space indeed on the back. The front cover fares little better with the massive scroll of cast members’ names as they appeared on the full-size theatrical poster carried over to the cover art, and a large bar running across the top of the artwork listing the various versions of the film included in the set.

Not even the spine of this thing does justice to the film therein. The Universal, Focus Features, Blu-ray, and DVD logos take up just as much space on the spine as the film’s title does, if not more. It’s as though the designers think that consumers are buying formats, not films here. Sure, format is always an important consideration when purchasing a film, but it’s just that, a consideration. Who out there really buys something solely because it’s a Blu-ray without consideration for the content in one way or another? Something tells me that that demographic is far slimmer than the group that buys movies for the movies themselves.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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