WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
If you're a fan of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mindâ€”and you probably are, given that it's one of the most popular and critically acclaimed films of the yearâ€”you already own it on DVD. Universal released a perfectly fine disc of this film on September 28, 2004, and now, a mere 3 months later, they're re-releasing the same disc plus an extra disc containing four modest new features and calling it a Special 2-Disc Collector's Edition. Oh, how Universal understands and exploits our collective willingness to just bend over and take it. Well, I cry "Foul!" I'd like to take this opportunity to plead with you, up front, to avoid purchasing this shameless new edition, if only to send a message that this type of marketing behavior is simply not cool.
And it couldn't have happened to a finer film.
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is an extremely satisfying brain-bender romance. Directed by Michel Gondry (helmer of the underrated Human Nature and some really cool Bjork music videos) and written by Charlie Kaufman (who also authored the synapse-firing Being John Malkovich and Adaptation), Eternal Sunshine twists and turns inside the minds of its characters, exploring memory and love in a way that blooms into a haunting and complex rumination on the subtleties of the heart. And though it's a challenge to follow its logic, you're always right there with the characters, enduring the wrench of their heartbreak and understanding the depth of their emotions. We see their stories from wild angles and in frantic reverse, and because of these new perspectives, we get a powerful and uncommon backward-and-forward deconstruction of a vivid romance, followedâ€”or in this case, preceded byâ€”an inevitable crash-and-burn. It adds up to something I've never seen before in film.
Early in Eternal Sunshine, we witness the nasty end of a relationshipâ€”that of Joel (a surprisingly effective and low-key Jim Carrey) and Clementine (an equally fine, hyper Kate Winslet, also playing against type). We also, it seems at first, flash back to see their first meeting, but in a stroke of brilliance, we come to understand that this is actually their second first meeting, as each has chosen separately, earlier, to have all memories of this great and tragic love erased, thanks to Lacuna Incorporated, headed up by Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson). The bulk of the film focuses on the efforts of Mierzwiakâ€”with the help of his slacker assistants, played by Mark Ruffalo, Elijah Wood, and Kirsten Dunstâ€”to erase Clementine from Joel's memory, and as we dive deeper and deeper into Joel's mind, we find that the memories reaching back from the terrible breakup become more and more poignant and difficult to just flush away.
Knowing Charlie Kaufman's filmography, we come to expect mind-tinkering cinema, but what surprises about Eternal Sunshine is its enormous heart. Even as the top level of this eminently involving film navigates teetering mazes of subtle effects and quirky editing, trying to capture the elusiveness of memory and the power of isolated moments, the rich under-layer is teeming with emotion, making a real reach toward understanding the fragility of love itself. It's a lofty, impossible goal, but Eternal Sunshine comes closer to the answers than any film in recent memory. Sure, it's a dizzy headtrip of a movie, but it also adheres remarkably to your heart.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Universal presents Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in a terrific anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 1.85:1 theatrical presentation. Since this is the same disc that was released previously, there are absolutely no changes to the video presentation this time. The transfer boasts fine detail and sharpness, and it conveys the film's muted color palette with moody accuracy. Black levels are splendid, and I noticed no instances of artifacting. I saw only minor instances of ringing. Overall, this is a rich effort with scrumptious depth.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
The disc offers the same Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks as the previously released version. Both are subtly engaging and powerful surround efforts, effortlessly delivering a wonderful sense of chaos, particularly as Joel descends into cerebral bedlam. Rear-speaker activity is robust and active. Toward the front, stereo imaging is pleasing, and dialog is clear and natural. Jon Brion's score fares especially well. But here is yet another case where the audio efforts are so close in quality and oomph that they seem redundant. If I had to pick, yes, I would pick the DTS track for very slight improvements in punchiness and openness, but you can't go wrong with either one.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
You first clue about the shamelessness of this double-dip DVD set will be the Packaging, which couches the film's poster art inside a silver array of all-capped praise culled from various film critics: "MAGICAL! SMART! UNFORGETTABLE! EXTRAORDINARY! BRILLIANT! DARING! EXHILARATING! WONDROUS! INGENIOUS! DAZZLING! HUGELY ENTERTAINING! TIMELESS! GENUINELY ROMANTIC! UNEXPECTEDLY TOUCHING! DEEPLY MOVING! WILDY ORIGINAL!" Your second clue is the so-called Photo Book, which is a deeply regrettable, self-congratulatory booklet that goes on and on about how very special this film is. Each page contains a still from the film, overlaid with a large chuck of a prominent critic's glowing review. The final couple of pages contain quotes from moviegoers who apparently have had their lives changed by the film.
Disc One of this set is identical to the previously released single-DVD edition of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, containing the exact same extras. I'll just list them here with a short description, since they've been covered in-depth in reviews for the first DVD. A Look Inside Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a 12-minute EPK making-of featurette. A Conversation with Jim Carrey and Director Michel Gondry is a fun, informal 16-minute chat between the actor and director, along with humorous behind-the-scenes moments. The Feature Commentary with Michel Gondry and Writer Charlie Kaufman is a quiet, somewhat disappointing track, in which the powerhouse participants seem a little too detached and comfortable. There are 7 minutes of Deleted Scenes, and you also get the trippy Polyphonic Spree "Light & Day" Music Video that morphs singing mouths over much of the film's imagery. The extras here end with the entire Lacuna Commercial that played a part in the film.
WHAT'S NEW TO THIS SET?
The supplements new to this DVD set are located on a second Collector's Edition Bonus Disc. There are a couple of new featurettes here that are interesting, but if you've already got the previously released disc, there's not a whole lot to warrant a repurchase. I would recommend renting this set just to see the following featurettes once.
Inside the Mind of Michel Gondry is a 20-minute celebration of the film's director. Featuring interview snippets from the primary cast and crew, we get lots of lavish praise about Gondry's visual style and, in general, his utter brilliance. A lot of it is even deserved! Gondry talks about the challenges of creating many of the film's visual effects in camera rather than in post-production, and probably the most interesting aspect of this featurette is the way it explains how some of these in-camera tricks were achieved. We also get to see experimental footage that show effects tests, as well as some unused effects footage. The piece is presented in non-anamorphic widescreen.
The 17-minute Anatomy of a Scene: Saratoga Avenue is an admittedly fantastic look at one of the film's most interesting effects sequences. This is the scene in which Jim Carrey follows Kate Winslet down the street while the world around him is going nuts. Some of the effects footage hereâ€”mostly involving CGâ€”is subtly amazing. Some of it you might not have even noticed. The scoring of the sequence is also covered. Also non-anamorphic widescreen.
A Conversation with Kate Winslet and Director Michel Gondry is a low-key 14-minute one-on-one laughfest between the star and the helmer. Winslet dominates the conversation, talking about her character and discussing Gondry's techniques. She says to Gondry at one point, playfully, "Oh my God, you are so lame." That should give you an idea of the tone of this piece: mostly fun and a good glimpse of the behind-the-scenes mood. Another non-anamorphic effort.
Finally, you get 19 minutes of Deleted/Extended Scenes. Quite a few of these involve footage of Joel's ex-girlfriend, Naomi, who is only mentioned in the finished film. They reveal that an entire subplot about this woman was excised. About half of this running time is a long extension of the scene in which Joel and Clementine get to know each other on her couch. Andâ€¦yeahâ€¦non-anamorphic.
Watch for a very odd 25-second Easter Egg.
One of the faults of the first disc is that it failed to contain the film's excellent trailer, and that mistake is not corrected here. Why not?
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
Rent it if you mustâ€”and I do recommend a single viewing of the bonus disc's featuresâ€”but this release is an unfortunate double-dip rip-off that will make you more angry than thankful for more. The main disc is a repeat of the previously released disc, right down to the label, and the bonus disc gives you just over an hour of new stuff, some okay and some very good. But if you already have the first DVD of Eternal Sunshine, by all means send a message to Universal by sticking with that one.