Wes Anderson's feature length debut film focuses on a scheming would be career criminal named Dignan (Owen Wilson) who, along with his friend Anthony (Luke Wilson), who has just checked out of a mental hospital, decides to embark on a life of crime. You see, Dignan's got it all figured out. While he might seem like a loser who got fired from his job at a landscaping company he has in fact written out an elaborate seventy-five year plan that he figures will ensure that he and Anthony live the good life after making a series of scores.
After coercing Bob (Robert Musgrave) to join them as the getaway driver, they head to a bookstore just as it closes and rob the place. With the loot in hand, they head out into a more remote area of Texas to hide out at a hotel and lay low for a bit and it's here that Anthony meets a Mexican immigrant named Inez (Lumi Cavazos) working in the housekeeping department. Anthony and Inez fall fast in love while Dignan tries to make connections with the mysterious Mr. Henry (James Caan) in hopes that he'll be able to pull off his latest caper and rob a cold storage facility.
A fun blend of a crime/caper picture and a soul searching road movie, Bottle Rocket speaks to those of us who aren't quite sure what to do with our lives. Anyone bored with their job who has dreamed of a more exciting life than the one they live can relate to Dignan's enthusiasm and sense of wonderment while Anthony's character represents the more practical side of life, the part of you that says 'don't quit your job even though it sucks because the economy is in the tank.' The romantic subplot with Inez might seem out of place alongside the main plot but it too serves a purpose, as it shows us that this whole idea really is Dignan's child and that Anthony does, in some way at least, want to settle down.
The whole film plays out with a clever sense of humor. The dialogue never feels forced or contrived and it's all well delivered by a very strong cast. The Wilson brothers bring their natural chemistry to the picture and handle things well while supporting efforts from the great James Caan and the awkwardly effective Robert Musgrave round out the male cast nicely. Lumi Cavazos, as the only real female character in the movie, does a great job of playing up her characters innocence and confusion and it's hard not to feel for her just a little bit.
Aside from all of the character driven angst and humor, the film also demonstrates Anderson's knack for mixing pop music into his films. The final moments of the last big heist are almost epic in the way that they're shot. When the opening chords of The Rolling Stones' 2000 Man swell up on the soundtrack and you realize exactly what Dignan is going to do, it's hard not to tear up a little bit. The film is cut very rhythmically and the soundtrack is as much a character in the movie as any of the actors and it says as much about what's happening as any of the dialogue does.
Anderson has gone on to make a few other movies in the same vein, with bigger budgets and with better known cast members, but Bottle Rocket, while it may lack some of the sheen and gloss of his later films, remains his most poignant and effective movie.
Bottle Rocket looks great in this 1080p AVC encoded 1.85.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and where you'll immediately notice the difference between this HD transfer and the SD counterpart that Criterion released is in the detail levels and the color depth. The reds look perfect, with no bleeding, while the black levels stay strong and deep. There's a little bit of grain here and there but that's not at all a bad thing while print damage is pretty much non-existent. Skin tones look lifelike and natural while detail in the foreground and the background of the picture remains impressive throughout the film. There aren't any obvious problems with mpeg compression artifacts or edge enhancement nor is there any heavy shimmering. All in all, the picture quality is great.
The English language DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio is just as strong as the video quality. An optional standard definition English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is also included while subtitles are provided in English only. As far as the DTS-HD track goes, there's really not much to complain about here, Criterion have done a great job. The dialogue is always easy to understand and the levels stay well-balanced throughout playback. Bass response is strong without overpowering anything and the music in particular sounds nice and punchy (just try not to feel it when The Rolling Stones' 2000 Man plays towards the end of the movie).
The extras start off with a great commentary track from writer/director Wes Anderson and star/co-writer Owen Wilson. This is a fun track with a rock solid sense of humor throughout that makes for very enjoyable listening. The pair discusses the making of the film, how it evolved from a short to a feature, about casting, about shooting on location and about some of the themes and ideas that are central to the picture's narrative. The two participants come across as very likeable here and this is a really good way to get more out of the movie if, like some of us, you've seen the film a couple of times already.
Up next is a documentary from filmmaker Barry Braverman entitled The Making Of Bottle Rocket (HD) that features some interesting interview clips with Anderson, the two Wilson brothers, James Caan and producer James L. Brooks. Clocking in at roughly twenty-five minutes it delves deep enough into the picture's production to have substance without overstaying its welcome. The interviews are interesting and amusing and this makes for a nice counterpart to the commentary track. Also from Braverman is his 1978 short film, Murita Cycles (HD).
Also included is the original 1992 Bottle Rocket (HD) black and white short film that runs roughly thirteen minutes in length. This isn't as well done as the feature, obviously, but it's cool to see it included and it does make for an interesting side note alongside the version of the film that was made for theatrical play. A collection of eleven deleted scenes can also be found, totaling approximately twenty-seven minutes in combined running length. It's nice to see these here for posterity's sake and some of them are rather amusing but you can see why Anderson chose to excise this material as much of it feels a little like filler and it doesn't seem like any of it would have added much to the film.
From there, check out The Shafrazi Lectures No. 1 (HD) which is a ten minute segment in which a film school teacher discusses the theory and technique used in the film. Rounding out the extra features are still galleries of storyboards and location still photos, another still gallery containing a bunch of behind the scenes photographs shot by Laura Wilson, and a great insert booklet containing an essay on the film by Martin Scorsese, a second essay one the film by James L. Brooks, and a bunch of original illustrations by Ian Dingman.
A gorgeous transfer, excellent audio quality and a pleasing selection of extra features make Criterion's Blu-ray release of Bottle Rocket well worth a purchase. Consider this one highly recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.