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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Paper Towns (Blu-ray)
Paper Towns (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox // PG-13 // October 20, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $39.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Jesse Skeen | posted November 7, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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Confession time again- the older I get, the more I seem to appreciate high school movies. Most of them, even when they try to stay grounded in reality, show a life that I wish I could have had at that age but with elements that were likely unattainable by almost anyone in reality. Guys with a pretty strong sense of who they were (with parents who pretty much stayed out of their way and let them do as they wanted) and girls who seemed like the one thing that would make those guys eternally happy, both encountering situations that would give them something to laugh about for a long time as well as bring new meaning to their lives. Of course a lot of these turn out to be things that can only happen in the movies or on the printed page, but it's at least a nice place to visit.

Teens in the real world at least seem to still read in spite of technological advances competing for their attention, and John Green has been a popular author lately. I still haven't managed to read any of his books or even have seen The Fault in Our Stars but the movie Paper Towns which was also based on one of his books with a big fan base was a good introduction. Former "Naked Brother" Nat Wolff is our hero Quentin, known as "Q" to his friends, who narrates most of the film. In a prologue we see him in childhood when Margo and her family move in across the street- he falls in love with her at first sight. They have a few good years together as Margo routinely visits Quentin at odd hours through his bedroom window and the two of them go off on adventures, but by high school they've drifted apart with Margo becoming one of the "popular" girls and Quentin more introverted and wishing he had done things a bit differently to keep her around.

One night Margo (Cara Delevigne) wakes Quentin up at his window for the first time in years, asking a huge favor- she needs him to drive her to a few places and help her "right some wrongs and wrong some rights" after she finds out her boyfriend has been cheating on her with one of her friends. After stocking up on supplies at a warehouse-club store, they visit the homes of those who've done Margo wrong and pull a few pranks, including making her friend's dad catch her and her ex-boyfriend together with him running away naked, covering another friend's car with Saran wrap and removing a poor guy's eyebrow while he sleeps. All of this could have been padded out to fill the entire movie and be a magical night for Quentin teaching him to take a few risks in life, but things take a turn the next day at school where Margo doesn't show up to any classes and turns out to have suddenly disappeared. Her parents aren't all that concerned as she has run off before, and being 18 now they figure she can just do whatever she wants. Quentin still wonders where she could have gone, and with the help of his two best friends Ben (Austin Abrams) and Radar (Justice Smith) they uncover a few left-behind clues at her house and around town which show where Margo might be and Quentin figures the clues are also a sign that she wants him to go after her. This leads to Quentin heading out in a minivan on a 1200-mile road trip with Ben and Radar in tow along with Radar's girlfriend Angels (Jaz Sinclair) and Margo's friend Lacey (Halston Sage) along for the ride. Road movies are another thing I have a soft spot for, and when Paper Towns takes that direction it becomes another life-changing experience for the friends involved and they grow closer together as a result.

Paper Towns is a sister film to The Fault in Our Stars as the writer and many of the same cast and crew return. While I have heard a number of things have been changed or omitted from the original story, it works quite well as a movie with relatable characters in a slightly unconventional situation. (Nobody in my high school class ever ran off from home, and it's likely that even at 18 my parents would not be very supportive of my taking off on a road trip before school had even ended.) Quentin isn't a huge overachiever but his life is going reasonably well with a bright future ahead with or without Margo in the picture. Margo is perhaps more a character of fantasy, as she's quite unique yet is still part of the school's "popular" crowd and also pulls off her disappearance leaving everyone sure that it was of her own free will and that she's found adventure wherever she is. Quentin's friend Ben brings in a few more common teen-movie elements, providing most of the cruder humor including jokes about scoring with Quentin's mom, while Radar is a more unique individual with a strange family that he's not quite ready to tell everyone about. Inevitably the movie brings up thoughts about what the right direction to take in life is, and the uncertainty ahead after graduating high school. (At least these kids will likely keep in touch via the internet for quite some time.)

The title by the way refers to non-existent towns that makers of maps (dating back several decades) would include as a subtle signature, which they would use to prove another publisher had copied their map without authorization if it also showed up there. Margo also brings up the title early on as a meaning for insignificance as she looks down on the city from a high building, but that's quickly forgotten after the real meaning is introduced.

Picture:

Shot digitally in 2.35 with a slight blue tint throughout, the Blu-Ray presents this fairly accurately although I saw some very slight compression artifacts in a few dark scenes. (The extras on the disc including the clips in the main menu did not fare as well, showing excessive gradient banding- a term I learned only after seeing it many times on Blu-Ray discs and internet-delivered video.) Having seen a number of digitally-shot movies now, my initial reaction was that it appeared very close to the quality of film but now I've seen elements (which are hard to describe at times) that distinguish it from film. Admittedly a large part of that is the steadiness of the image and absence of dirt or scratches that show up at least slightly on most filmed productions.

The package also includes a standard DVD, which as usual looks much softer compared to the Blu-Ray.

Sound:

The 5.1 mix in DTS Master Audio is very clean but not surround-heavy at all- through most of the movie you won't even notice their presence. Good separation is maintained up front though, with a bass-heavy indie-electronic flavored music score with a few similar pop songs thrown in. Both discs include French and Spanish dubbed tracks as well as an audio description track narrated by Tansy Alexander who has appeared on many of the ones I have listened to so far. English hearing-impaired and conventional Spanish and French subtitles are also included, with old-style TV-decoded closed-captions also on the DVD.

Extras:

An audio commentary with director Jake Schreier and writer John Green is included, though not listed anywhere on the packaging. It's mainly conversational with fun facts about the story and the requisite comments about how great some people were to work with. John Green does on-camera "lightning rounds" with both Nat Wolff and Cara Delevigne as they ask each other silly questions on the movie set, and a few short "Van Chat" promotional clips show various goofing around in the minivan used in the movie, along with a photo gallery of about 25 still pictures. Exclusive to the Blu-Ray are some making-of segments totaling about 21 minutes showing some interesting details like set construction and general insight on the movie, a few deleted scenes with commentary from the director and writer (one showing Quentin's parents giving him the minivan as a present, thus making the road trip less of an issue than I mentioned earlier) and a "gag reel" with intentional goofing off during shooting (I guess that's more accepted now that there's no film being wasted.) Both discs include trailers for Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, The Fault In Our Stars, If I Stay and The Longest Ride along with a promo for Season 4 of "Teen Wolf" (available on DVD only, despite the hi-def promo) and a "Discover Digital HD" promo that mainly promotes the included Ultraviolet code allowing you to "enjoy your movies anywhere on any device" (a statement I could poke plenty of holes into- what if my "device" is an Osborne portable computer from the 1980s?)

Final Thoughts:

Paper Towns is enjoyable both as a road trip movie and a general trip back to one's high school years, with plenty of laughs but also moments that will leave you thinking for a bit (which set this apart from other high school movies that I'd consider more as guilty pleasures.) I hope to take time to read the book eventually, as well as at least see the previous movie The Fault In Our Stars.

Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.

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