If it came out in any recent year, I would think that I would easily place "Memento" in my list of favorite films for the year. In a year like this one, though, "Memento" is far and away one of the best pictures that I've seen so far. Rarely have I ever seen a film that goes over so much ground in such an original way that keeps itself so wonderfully organized and exceptionally well-constructed. The film also has one of the most shocking and stunning openings of any recent picture - a polaroid picture is being shaken dry and instead of developing, the picture is dissapearing and at the end, zips back into the camera. The picture is of a murder and, soon enough, we see all of the details of who and how. And soon enough, we see all the details of why.
Director Christopher Nolan has time moving backwards from the opening sequence on. The film revolves around Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) a man who sustained a blow to the head during an attack that has left him with a serious problem - he has no short term memory. Some things, such as who he is and his condition, stick. Other things, such as who he has talked to a few hours before, exit his mind quickly. So, he not only writes on polaroids, but takes notes and even further, tatoos words on his body to remind him of his quest - to avenge the murder of his wife.
He only has two main contacts - Natalie (Carrie Anne Moss of "The Matrix") and Teddy (Joe Pantoliano...also of "The Matrix"). They seem to be helping him at first, but are they really who they are? Are they really helping him, or using him? Is Leonard really who he says he is? As you can see by this paragraph, "Memento" is one of those movies where you probably will not want to drink one of the large sodas from the concession stand. Go to use the bathroom and you may miss out on valuable information. At the begining, the backwards narrative becomes slightly off-putting as you think that you know how the story ends, but as things progress, there is an impressive amount of tension trying to figure out how the movie itself began. The film actually goes both ways at once; while the main piece of the story tells short bits of the story going backwards, there are also bits of the story in-between where Shelby discusses an important part of the tale - a fellow who suffered from a similar problem named Sammy Jenkins who he ran into while being an insurance investigator.
It's not exactly easy to explain the twists of the movie and actually, it's almost better to leave them out of this review to not ruin any of the film's suprises. Again, I was impressed that Nolan was able to handle two stories that go backwards and forwards, both finally leading us to a possible conclusion, or does it really?. The movie keeps us on edge, confused and guessing what is going to happen next. It's one of the rare movies that I've seen in the past few months that had me thinking and pondering what happened for several hours after, attempting to put all of the pieces together. The performances throughout the film are excellent and a couple are certainly Oscar-worthy, most notably Pierce, who delivers a stunningly intense and engaging performance that's smartly peppered with the occasional touch of humor (the character wonders at one point if he's chasing someone or being chased). Moss and Pantoliano also lend solid support. The film also has one of the best final lines of dialogue in ages.
Overall, "Memento" is easily the best thriller since another similarly mind-bending noir picture from about 6 years ago - Bryan Singer's "The Usual Suspects".
VIDEO: Originally written about the prior release: "Memento" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen by Columbia/Tristar Home Video. A couple of weeks prior, I had the opportunity to view the film again, but it was unfortunately the pan & scanned edition of the film. Obviously, every film should be viewed in its original aspect ratio, but this was a distinct example why. Not only were Walter Pfister's fantastic widescreen images cropped, details that were important to the movie were lost in the translation. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation on this DVD preserves the film's beautifully composed images and also, offers exceptionally strong image quality. Sharpness and detail are wonderful - the picture looks crisp, clear and well-defined, even in some of the dimly lit moments.
I found little at fault with Columbia/Tristar's presentation. Print flaws are not visible - I didn't notice any instances of marks, scratches, speckles or dirt. Pixelation was also absent and only a few tiny traces of edge enhancement were noticed. Colors throughout the film look subdued, but still appear accurate and flawless on this DVD presentation. The black and white scenes also appear bold and crisp. This is really splendid work from the studio that lives up to expectations.
As good as I thought the previous release was, Columbia/Tristar has surprisingly been able to exceed the impressive quality of that edition. Sharpness and detail are noticably improved; this picture contains a smoother, richer and more film-like image, with very nice depth to the picture. Both the color sequences and the black and white sequences appear bolder and more vivid, with colors appearing well-saturated and crisp, with no smearing. Edge enhancement is rare, brief and, while slightly noticable, isn't bothersome. The print used is sparkling, with nothing in the way of specks, marks or any other minimal wear. While a lot of "re-releases" claim improved picture quality over their prior editions and sometimes deliver and sometimes don't, this one certainly looks stronger.
SOUND: Originally written about the prior release: "Memento" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 (the limited edition adds a DTS 5.1 track). The film's design is subtle, but very effective. Outdoor scenes are presented with natural and highly detailed ambience - cars, street noises, etc come distinctly from the surrounds. David Julyan's elegant, beautiful score also is wonderfully presented, sounding rich, clear and warm. The score also gets great presence, often also coming from the surrounds. A few stray sound effects during the more intense sequences also come from the surrounds, as well. The film's sound design is perfectly appropriate for the picture - there could have been overuse of sound effects, but the filmmakers keep our interest rooted firmly in the story and use the film's sound design only to enhance what's on-screen. Audio quality was quite good, as dialogue sounded clear and natural.
As the new note in the above paragraph mentions, "Memento" is presented on this new release in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 (a Dolby 2.0 track is also available). The film's soundtrack, like the picture quality, also gains improvements here. While I couldn't compare to see if the Dolby Digital presentation is the same as the prior release, the DTS 5.1 presentation provided noticably better audio quality in about every aspect. Ambient sounds seem to be more detailed and clearer; the surrounds seemed to play a subtly more active role and even the dramatic, melancholy score sounds richer and has a deeper, warmer feel.
MENUS: Columbia/Tristar has really gone all-out to produce an interesting, film-themed experience with both the packaging and the menus for the movie. The packaging is set-up like Leonard Shelby's case file and even includes little notes. The menu for the first, movie-only disc launches into a "test" to see how many words you can remember out of a series that are shown. A test page asks you to click on those that weren't shown - of course, these include words like "watch" (play the movie) and "comments" (play commentary). While this is interesting at first, it may start to become an irriation for those who just want to play the movie.
The second disc's menus can be even more frustrating, as viewers have to pick from symbols and answer questions before the supplements start. Answering a certain way can unlock one feature or another or send you back to the menu. I found a page that lists all of the general (not hidden) features on the second disc, but it took exploration to even get to (click on the clock and answer all "E"). On the other hand, I'm sure some areas of these complex menus are also hiding secrets. While I'm sure that I'll eventually tire of the searches, I really started to have fun trying to find things.
Commentary: This is a commentary by director Christopher Nolan, who was not able to provide any supplemental materials for the original release due to the fact that he was working on his follow-up, "Insomnia", which is going to be released the Friday after this disc comes out. Nolan's discussion is quiet and subdued, but the director occasionally has a laugh or two about the film or the production. The commentary is a very nice mixture of both character/story and production, as Nolan talks about the film's structure, creating characters, as well as some additional technical details. While not an entirely fascinating track, it's a good one that covered the details I was interested in with satisfactory depth.
Anatomy Of A Scene: This is one of the supplements that can be "sought out" on the second DVD. As seen on other recent DVDs ("Sidewalks of New York", which is also being released the same week), these Sundance Channel documentaries are more enjoyable than the usual "making ofs", as they go through each step of the process, from casting to the production and the look of the film. The director, the cinematographer, producers and other members of the crew provide a good overview of the film. There's a few too many spoilers here, so definitely don't watch this before you watch the movie.
Director's Shooting Script: For example, hitting the "book" image on the menu lead me to this terrific feature, which is also available on the DVD for Nolan's "Following". What we're presented with here is the entire shooting script for the picture, complete with Nolan's written comments. Via the multi-angle button on the remote, viewers can switch back and forth from the film to the screenplay.
Also: Production stills and sketches, "Memento Mori" short story, credits, pictures of the film's props, the film's trailer and international trailer. There are several hidden features, as well, including the much-discussed ability to play the film in reverse order (yes, it is there, although somewhat difficult to find). I also found a small area of poster concepts.
Final Thoughts: Director Christopher Nolan's tricky, superbly acted and extremely well-constructed noir thriller is one of the most highly engaging, thrilling pictures that I've seen in recent memory. Columbia/Tristar's new Limited Edition DVD set provides noticably stronger audio/video quality and a terrific set of supplements. Highly recommended.