Anomalisa
Paramount // R // $39.99 // June 7, 2016
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted May 24, 2016
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
In 10 Words or Less
A work of artistic and technical brilliance

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: Dan Harmon
Likes: Charlie Kaufman, stop-motion animation, when Kickstarter works
Dislikes: Limited extras
Hates: Infidelity, heartbreaking sadness

The Show
I've backed a select few projects on Kickstarter, because of a healthy dose of caution and a limited interest in the projects that appear on that site. I guess I wasn't paying attention at the time, but Community creator Dan Harmon and his Starburns Industries production company utilized Kickstarter to help fund a stop-motion adaptation of Charlie Kaufman's sound play Anomalisa. It's just the kind of project something like Kickstarter should help bring to life--a film studios wouldn't pay to make but which people would want to watch. The results garnered a slew of awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nod for Best Animated Feature Film.

Naturally, since this is a Kaufman film (the writer also served as co-director with Duke Johnson (Mary Shelley's Frankenhole)) the plot isn't exactly straightforward, and it certainly isn't something you've seen before. Author Michael Stone (David Thewlis) travels around delivering speeches to loyal readers of his instructional books, including one on providing better customer service. He's in Cincinnati for his latest stop, staying in yet another hotel, with his mini-bar drinks and room-service meals. It's all very standard and boring--the story of Michael's life--until things go a bit sideways, and he meets Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a customer-service worker and fan of Stone's who drove up to hear him speak. Their two worlds of sadness collide, and then things twist again.

Though the oddity in Anomalisa is certainly appealing, instilling a sense of mystery during much of the film and a sense of discomfort that mirrors the experiences of the characters from beginning to end, while the movie's dips into meta self-awareness are completely in service to the film's themes of loneliness and unreal reality, the movie shines brightest as it plumbs the depths of everyday mundane life. The conversations that power the bulk of the film are fascinating to watch, in part because of what is said, but also because of who is speaking. The artifice of the puppets falls away, aided by terrific voice performances by Leigh, Thewlis and Tom Noonan, and the experience left behind is remarkable.

The artistry all over Anomalisa makes it something to behold, the kind of movie that rewards multiple viewings. The puppetry, courtesy of Harmon and Dino Stamatopoulos' studio, is hyper-detailed and emotive, to the point of mimicking reality in many places, particularly in the film's signature, striking sex scene that's got to be the technical and artistic pinnacle of the technique. And while the visuals are fantastic, including some elements you might only realize after they are pointed out to you, the sound design may be even more impressive, layering sound beautifully, with a concept that's striking and completely tied to the film's feel. The effect puts the viewer directly into the shoes of the main character and hammers home the story's point better that any line of dialogue could. And while the ending isn't wholly satisfying, it fits the movie on the whole. Simple, pat and obvious are not what Anomalisa trades in.

The Discs
Anomalisa arrives in a two-disc set (one Blu-ray, one DVD) packed in a dual-hubbed Blu-ray keepcase with a slipcover that repeats the cover art. The static menu offers the choice of play, settings, scenes and extras. Audio options include English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio; French, Spanish and Portuguese 5.1 Dolby Digital and English Audio Description, while subtitles are available in English, English SDH, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The Quality
The challenge of translating a cinematic look to miniatures was immense, but the 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer on this disc stands as a testament to a job exceedingly well done. The image is gorgeous, with appropriate, well-saturated color (the hotel hallways are fantastic) while black levels are deep throughout. The level of fine detail is wonderfully high, letting the viewer appreciate the amount of work and skill that went into fabricating this world, while sharpness is high where it should be. Digital distractions are not an issue here.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does right by the sound, which could easily be the best part of the movie. There's so much happening aurally in Anomalisa, often in layers, and this disc allows you to enjoy it all with appropriate separation and power amongst the elements. It's not the most acrobatic of mixes and there's not a great deal of presence in the low-end, but the use of discrete placement and the clarity of the sound ensures you feel the film's audio correctly. .

The Extras
The extras take the form of three featurettes, starting with "None of Them Are You: Crafting Anomalisa" (30:03). Thewlis, Leigh, and Noonan take the story of the film back to 2005 and the original sound play, with Kaufman, Stamatopoulos, Harmon, Johnson, producer Rosa Tran, DP Joe Passarelli and several of the animators chiming in from their side of the equation to flesh out the origins of Anomalisa. Footage from the voice recordings help provide a peek behind the scenes, and illustrate the challenges faced by Noonan in giving voice to a cast of characters, while an assortment of images and set footage helps show how the puppets were developed, how the look was achieved and how the film came into being. You get a huge appreciation for the work that went into the film, the obstacles overcome and the theory behind it.

Intimacy in Miniature (9:22) takes the same tack as the previous featurette and makes one scene the focus of the spotlight: the love scene between Michael and Lisa. Leigh, Thewlis and several members of the crew discuss the difficulties of creating stop-motion sex, which turns out to be an intensely detailed process. It's fascinating to see this scene in several stages and all the preparation that went into it.

After watching the film, it only makes sense to spend some time on the sound design, which is just what we get in "The Sound of Unease" (5:42). Though some of this ground is covered in the previous featurettes, this piece wraps a nice bow on this key element.

Also in the set is a code for an Ultraviolet stream or download.

The Bottom Line
Anomalisa is a stunning piece of art, a movie with layers of concepts and story that are not immediately obvious but which are immensely rewarding once understood. It stands as a new high mark in the art of stop-motion animation. The presentation is excellent in both sound and video, and the extras, though limited in number are insightful about the production of the film. If you haven't seen the film, do yourself a favor, and if you have, the extras make it well worth checking out again.



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