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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Perfume
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // May 7, 2002
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Dvdempire]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 27, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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In 1986, Patrick Süskind's novel Perfume was released in North America, garnering intense critical acclaim and propelling almost instantly to the New York Times' bestseller list. It's the tale of a young man with an extraordinary sense of smell who successfully enters the lucrative perfume business in eighteenth-century France, only to find himself driven to murder when he sets out to capture the scent of a pure virgin. Ridley Scott is attached to direct a film adaptation that should splash across the big screen at some point in the not-too-terribly-distant future, and hopefully its unusual, interesting premise will be represented well. In the meantime, though, audiences can catch a slightly more conventional film by the same name that has nothing at all to do with Süskind's body of work, overflowing with B-level talent.

There are several different stories being spun in Perfume. One is of Roberta (Rita Wilson), whose independent fashion design business is floundering, due in no small part to its star designer Camille (Leslie Mann) jumping ship. Camille is being courted by a large, faceless corporation and in a more literal sense by one of its employees, Jamie (Jeff Goldblum). There is also renowned photographer Anthony (Jared Harris), who popularized the heroin chic look some years ago but has fallen into somewhat of a rut. His girlfriend, who abandoned the industry, is displeased with the state of their relationship, and Anthony himself is running the risk of being fired by a fashion magazine run by tenacious editor Janice Crawford (Joanne Baron). She, meanwhile, finds herself reacquainted with a cornrowed, Raggedy Ann-ish daughter (Michelle Williams) that she hasn't seen hide nor hair of in twelve years, and Halley wants no part of Mum Janice's world of idealized beauty. Finally, there's a terminally ill Italian fashion designer (Paul Sorvino) who attempts to hide his sickness from his family. His son Mario is eager to enter the fashion industry and make a name for himself with an emphasis on urban clothing. His father, however, doesn't embrace hip-hop culture in quite the same way, nor does the everspreading cancer offer him the opportunity to do so.

As I would hope the plot summary above would indicate, there's quite a bit going on in Perfume. One of its flaws is an inability to effectively juggle the various storylines. Long stretches of time seem to pass before revisiting certain characters. Until her reappearance in the final few minutes, for instance, I thought the character of Roberta had been dropped entirely. There's some slight intermingling with the various characters, but the connectivity between the primary stories tended to be slight. My attention drifted away at several different points, as none of the stories told were capable of inspiring anything approximating interest on my part. Perfume was co-written by L.M. Kit Carson, who, aside from having the most awesome name ever, penned The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. I'm mildly amused that a writer would follow up a 'saw sequel after fifteen years with an ensemble piece about the fashion industry. The dialogue contributed by Carson and director Michael Rymer is realistic, complete with stammers and lacking the sort of glossy polish associated with Hollywood. Similarly, the movie itself is shot in more of a documentary style, free of any grand, sweeping movements or precise Steadicam tracking.

The cover of Perfume is dominated by the sultry image of doe-eyed Planet of the Apes star Estella Warren, with Peter Gallagher, Mariel Hemingway, Jeff Goldblum, Omar Epps, and Carmen Electra lurking in the background. Of those, the only character of any remote significance in Perfume is Goldblum. Literally, the rest are, at best, scarcely more than cameos. The trailer is just as guilty, billing Carmen Electra first (?) and painting the film as more of a comedy. Even its title doesn't seem all that relevant. The word 'perfume' isn't uttered until close to the end of the film, when Camille mentions that an urban, spunky scent is to be named after her. It's later stated that Camille and Roberta used to play a game where they'd hide an empty perfume bottle. Okay.

I cannot shake the feeling that every single thing I disliked about Perfume was a conscious decision on the part of the filmmakers. My displeasure doesn't stem from Perfume's execution, but by its very design. Some may genuinely enjoy this movie. I very much did not. In any event, thanks to Lion's Gate and Studio Home Entertainment, viewers will have the opportunity to decide for themselves with this DVD release of Perfume that is slated for release on May 7th.

Video: The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen video is well-done, typical of Studio's output to date. The R4 disc is reported to have somewhat of a soft appearance, though that did not strike me as being the case with this release at all. Black levels and detail are both strong. Though colors aren't in the same ballpark as the stylish Stardom, the only other DVD I own that takes a harsh look at the fashion industry, they appeared natural throughout and appropriately bold when necessary. Exceedingly light film grain is at times visible, though hardly distracting or unusual for a low-budget effort such as this. Flaws more easily attributed to the transfer and compression are few, limited to a couple of tiny specks and some infrequently intrusive haloing.

Audio: Perfume is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 with the typical dramedy mix. The film is driven by dialogue, and, as expected, the sound is anchored front and center. The mix isn't remotely as immersive as reviews of the Australian release seemed to indicate, so it would appear that a different mix was used for the American release, for whatever reason. There wasn't enough surround use to grab my attention, nor was there an extensive amount of subwoofer activity. I noticed low-frequency effects exactly three times throughout the course of Perfume, and each of those times was from the electronic-tinged opera score and in the last third of the movie. Ambiance carries the surround usage, though when Camille and Jamie are in bed around twenty minutes in, it just sounds like hiss bursting from the rears. No idea what that's supposed to represent. Dialogue is sometimes difficult to discern, though primarily this is due more to accents and characters attempting to speak quietly than the mix itself. Nothing extraordinary, but the mix does the job.

There are also subtitles in English and Spanish.

Supplements: The only extra is a full-frame trailer.

Conclusion: Perfume is the sort of movie that I may or may not have subjected myself to if it were airing on Showtime at 9:30 PM on a Thursday night, depending on how lazy I felt at the time. Even in the most optimal of circumstances, if I weren't obligated to sit through movies in their entirety for the purpose of reviewing, I can't imagine myself making it past the halfway point of Perfume. This is not the sort of movie I enjoy to begin with, and even take for what it is, Perfume is unfocused and unengaging. This DVD release from Studio Home Entertainment looks and sounds nice enough, though, and fans of one of its many cast members may find it worth a rental. I'm fairly confident that I won't be watching Perfume ever again, and I would not recommend it as a purchase.
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