Max Fischer (Jason Schwartzman) is more of a doer than a thinker at the prestigious Rushmore Academy. Well, at least he tries to do, since he's something of a collector of extracurricular hobbies than anything else. He's the type that jostles from fencing practice to debate team, and then over to the beehives or theater rehearsal after that. And if there's not a club, course, or position, he's the one who takes the initiative to create it -- such as the astronomy society, or the pedal-racer crew known as the "Yankee Racers". Max seems like a sharp kid, gauging on his savvy and his vernacular, but his grades don't reflect it, and he's in jeopardy of being kicked out of the school to which he's invested so much of his time. Does he simply buckle down and study? Of course not; such a simple path isn't befitting of Max Fischer, son of a neural surgeon and big man on campus. Instead, he starts pulling his strings, while also diverting his attention from his scholarly escapades and towards an infatuation for a teacher, Mrs. Cross (Olivia Williams).
She, somewhat obviously, becomes the one pursuit he cannot obtain or manifest of his own will, a subject that writer/director Wes Anderson is fond of playfully exploring: the unattainable, glorified conquest. With Brit-Invasion music, velvety colors, and impeccable detail-oriented framing, he paints Max's shift from an obsession with Rushmore to an obsession with a school teacher in multihued quaintness that revels in its indie traits, piggy-backing off the success he shared with his debut feature, Bottle Rocket, and both refining and embellishing its strengths. He again teams with University of Texas co-student Owen Wilson to co-write, and it's probably the clearest balance that he's stricken between the uncanny and authentic. They frame the film almost like a play, with the months identified as the acts by way of drawn curtains, and the dialogue that they write bends with the story's structure, transforming from snootiness and infatuation to defeat and, ultimately, a thirst for revenge -- kind of like growing up.
At its not-so-serious heart, Rushmore is a coming-of-age study of a high-school kid who earns the attention and admiration of people more than twice his age, including a low-ball industrialist millionaire, Herman Blume (a balanced and captivating Bill Murray), who's equally as mesmerized by what Max accomplishes as Max is in using Blume's assets to woo Mrs. Cross. Anderson and Wilson write the characters with an ambiguous depth that adds complexity to what could otherwise be a pure comedic setup, where each character's back-story becomes integral to their emotional essence and decision-making during Max's aggressive scheming. Their histories are conveyed in restrained ways -- from the innocent depth in Mrs. Cross' eyes as she talks about her dead husband, to the droopy disposition as Blume eyeballs his divorced wife during their sons' birthday party -- but they're profound when they come in contact with Max as he's cooking up ideas involving heavy-duty construction, cloak-and-dagger dinner meetings, and a crusade to save Latin.
Max himself, played by Jason Schwartzman in his very first film role, is an extremely unique character himself, but it's mostly for the things he avoids in his personal life than the things he does to win Mrs. Cross' affection. Why would a kid who's so devoted to his school and its activities sluff off when it comes to his grades -- and, on a deeper level, why would he mislead everyone into thinking that his father's a neural surgeon when he's actually a barber? These aren't things that Anderson and Wilson are interested in answering directly, much like Mrs. Cross' conflicted admiration and Blume's quasi-envy over Max's imagination. The pair of writers simply constructs the characters and allows them to effortlessly reveal their reasoning through their interactions with one another. Eventually, something of a love triangle forms among the three, and it could've been somewhat creepy and overtly eccentric; such a great dynamic has emerged among them, however, that the extreme idiosyncrasy still finds a genuine center, especially in the gravity behind their respect for Max as much more than a kid.
Everything that happens in Rushmore borders on the outlandish and hard-to-believe, from the scale of the plays executed in a high-school setting to the near-deathly war that brews between Max and Blume over Mrs. Cross, but the fact that it all works, and in potent form, is a testament to Anderson's attention to detail and self-aware, informed perspective. It explores some dark and often affecting territory in the process, ping-ponging between the fabric of Mrs. Cross' sadness as a widow to Max's continuous rising and falling from glory -- and the mentality of a kid who feels the need to conceal who he is. Yet, the humor stirring in its melancholy down-slope blends properly with the more tragic elements it navigates, punctuated at the end by a brilliant Apocalypse Now-esque play of Max's doing, through and through, that not-so-subtly personifies the whole crazy mess that they all get themselves into. It's a delightful film with a lot of imagination, and the spark that Anderson and Wilson discovered still flickers brightly over a decade later.
Rushmore returns under The Criterion Collection's label for its Blu-ray release, arriving in a clear-case presentation that replicates Eric Chase Anderson's illustrated cover from the standard-definition release. A Booklet contains information about the transfer process, as well as an essay from David Kehr, entitled: "Rushmore". Furthermore, the hand-illustrated Map from the original DVD also makes a return, only tri-folded (it's the same size).
Video and Audio:
Wes Anderson sat down and supervised this high-definition transfer of Rushmore for The Criterion Collection, which was stricken from the original camera negatives via the DFT Scanity film scanner at 2K resolution. Framed at 2.35:1 and popped into a 1080p AVC encode, what we've got here is a vastly-improved and supremely-filmic visualization that advances Robert Yeoman's indie-shot cinematography in substantial strides, aiding skin tones, shadows, and the robust color palette in ways only the heightened resolution can achieve. You'll see subtle blushing Olivia Williams' cheeks that looks sublime, textures in Bill Murray's shirts and jackets that leap from the image, and a smattering of rich reds, greens, purples and blues in the backdrops and explosions of Max Fischer's plays and the rooms of Olivia's house. And on top of that, constant film grain retains its cinematic properties. Anderson's films are always visual treats, but Rushmore is probably his most restrained -- and it looks tremendous in HD.
As impressed with the visualization as I was, the 5-channel DTS-HD Master Audio track -- remastered from the original magnetic tracks at 24-bit -- really exceeded my expectations. A few sound elements sneak up on you in Rushmore, from the slap of wrestlers on a mat to a few throaty bass-running gunshots (an explosive scene from a play near the end) and atmospheric flourishes, and Criterion's high-definition clarity marries with the crisp visuals for a near-immaculate experience. As with most of Anderson's films, dialogue is a central component, which the clarity of the Master Audio track helps out a lot; aside from a few scenes that sound slightly muffled, due to the sound design, the vast majority of the picture delivers clean, well-pitched verbal strength that hits high- and-mid-range shelves brilliantly. And, of course, the thumps and flutters of Mark Mothersbaugh's music sound that much better.
Audio Commentary with Anderson, Wilson, and Schwartzman:
If you've never heard these guys talk, you learn something early in the commentary: while Anderson and Wilson are fun to listen to, they're also extremely knowledgeable about film, both specific movies and the technical aspects. Focus shifts from scene to scene, with the direction of their talk moving with content -- trading between general discussion about the content with nuggets of info about individual scenes, such as a Godfather homage in the film and where the classroom was shot (and who it belonged to). They, naturally, dig into the casting and conceptualization process of Max Fischer, and how their perspective of him changed once Schwartzman entered the picture. And it trickles down from there into a typically great commentary to come out of the Criterion woodwork, with each of the guys taking their (segmented) turns explaining and exploring the content on-screen, including plenty of Anderson's and Wilson's reflections on their school experiences -- and how they tie into the film's characters.
The Making of Rushmore (16:46, HD):
Originally shot as footage for an EPK (electronic press-kit), Eric Chase Anderson--Wes' brother -- pieces the material together into an expository glimpse at the film's assembly. He adds narration to tell us about each of the actors and the characters they portray, scaling through their filmographies as behind-the-scenes shots capture their movement through the shooting locations. The material here doesn't really add a lot in terms of insight into the production, but getting to see the workings of Anderson's set will satisfy fans of the film.
From there, the rest of the disc retains the content encapsulated in the Rushmore A/V wing from the DVD, including the lengthy and extremely candid Charlie Rose Interview with Bill Murray and Wes Anderon (54:16). If you haven't read or seen one of Murray's interviews, you're in for a treat: he only holds back a comment if it's something that'll really rub someone the wrong way, leaving a lot of room for him to intelligently convey his pleasure and distaste of working in the business. At first, he's embroiled in conversation about the CAA disputes going on at the time of the interview's shooting, which will only interest hardcore cinema-biz fans, but he eventually centers on his involvement with Rushmore (and Ghostbusters, and several of his other projects). The Criterion Collection have also included the Film to Storyboard Comparison, Anderson's hand-drawn Storyboards themselves, and a Theatrical Trailer (2:30, HD).
On top of that, the Blu-ray also retains the Auditions with the younger actors in the film, as well as the three Max Players Presents (4:10) short adaptations of The Truman Show, Armaggedon, and Out of Sight that Anderson composed for the MTV Movie Awards. Furthermore, the Blu-ray also includes the images and other gris-gris from the Archiva Graphica portion.
Blending quirky upbeat tones with a melancholic tale, like most of Wes Anderson's films, Rushmore tells a quirky story about love and glory lost in the confines of a prep-school environment. There's a lot of oddness present in the confines of the film, but the earnestness that it achieves while telling Max Fischer's forlorn story counterbalances it perfectly, coming together into a darkly humorous, strange but effective character study of some of Anderson's (and co-writer Owen Wilson's) most intriguing characters. The Criterion Collection have spruced up the film's vibrant colors and intriguing music with near-perfect audiovisual properties, approved by Anderson himself, leaving the weatherworn DVD from the boutique label far in the dust. Highly Recommended.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site