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Filmmaker Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, Insomnia) stormed onto the movie scene with his second feature film, Memento. With a convoluted story and an equally convoluted style, Nolan's film has become a modern cult classic, a film that can be watched over and over and continually impresses. When Sony announced that they would be releasing this film on Blu-Ray, I became excited and was really interested to see how good this film could look. Well, after screening it, I'm not as excited. Once again digital noise and compression artifacts mar an otherwise decent presentation.
Leonard suffers from a very rare brain disorder that is the result of an accident; his mind is unable to convert short term memory into long term memory. The upshot is that he forgets everything after about 15 minutes. Four times an hour he suddenly has no memory of what happened since his accident.
This condition started some years ago when his house was robbed and his wife killed. Walking in on the murder, he's hit in the head and knocked to the ground. The last thing he can remember is laying helplessly on the floor and watching his wife's life slip away. Leonard has a strong thirst for revenge, and vows to find his wife's killer. But will killing the person who killed his wife and caused his condition mean anything when he won't remember it?
Leonard (Guy Pearce) has learned to overcome his problems as best as he can. He takes Poloroid pictures of people and places and labels them with noted. The really important things that he can't afford to forget or loose he are tattooed onto his body. Every morning he reads his tattoos and notes and working for short gaps at a time (before he forgets everything again) he works towards finding the man who ruined his life.
The plot is engrossing and raises some interesting questions about the nature of people, but the thing that makes this movie brilliant is the way it was constructed. Starting at the end of the movie, the story is told backwards in small chunks of time. This odd editing style recreates for the viewers what Leonard goes through. He has no idea who is talking to him or how he came to be where he is, and neither do the people watching the film. Grounded with an interesting story though, this film doesn't rely on gimmicky editing tricks for it's appeal.
This was an excellent film that really worked well on several levels. Not only does it keep viewers on their toes trying to figure out what has happened just before, but the movie is open to interpretation and will undoubtedly start many discussions. One of the more interesting aspects of the film is that the meaning of scenes and statements also changes, sometimes drastically, as story progresses. Like the Akira Kurosawa classic Rashomon, as the movie unfolds it turns out that things aren't as they seem and when seen in the light of day, some people who seem to have good motivations are actually evil.
The film paints a depressing picture of human nature. Everyone that Lenny meets uses him once they find out about his condition. From the clerk at the hotel he's staying at who charges him his daily rent a couple of times a day, to the people who are helping him track down the killer, everyone uses him for his own ends, ultimately Leonard ends up using himself.
Note: The only Blu-Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this review is the Samsung BD-P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design, and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this, or even an official announcement from Samsung.
The good news on the video front is that the 2.35 widescreen image looks pretty good, better than the limited edition standard definition release of this film. I did some direct comparisons between the two editions, and while the difference wasn't stunning, it was apparent. The Blu-ray disc is apparently made from the same master as the LE. The level of detail is a bit stronger on this HD disc, with fine background items being more defined and having sharper edges.
There are some scenes that are really strong too, with a lot of dimensionality and a real HD feel to them. Unfortunately the entire film isn't like that. Other scenes are rather flat and don't look too different from the SD release of the film. The colors are accurate, fleshtones especially look good through most of the movie. There are a few area where the colors look more lifeless and drab, but I think that was the filmmaker's intention.
The big problem for this disc, as it has been for other Blu–Ray releases, is digital noise. The film was made with a fair amount of grain, especially in the black and white scenes, but the digital noise that this disc has makes the image look much more grainy than it should. Large areas of a single color are effected the most, but even relatively small patches of black have more noise than they should. There are some other digital defects too, some minor blocking in a couple of scenes, that I was disappointed to see. I can't be sure if it is the disc and the MPEG 2 encoding or something with the Samsung player (the only Blu-Ray deck currently on the market) but whatever the cause these defects mar the presentation.
As with the other Blu-Ray discs that Sony has released so far, this one comes with an uncompressed PCM 5.1 soundtrack as well as a DD 5.1 track. I viewed this with the PCM audio and technically it sounded good. The reproduction was accurate and the dialog was easy to hear. The tonal quality was good, and there was a lot of detail in the soundtrack with light sounds being reproduced distinctly and clearly.
The biggest problem I had with was that the mix was very anemic. The audio for just about the entire film is centered on the screen. There isn't much use of stereo panning much less the rear channels. Yes, once in a while a sound will come out from the rears to startle the viewer, but aside from this and some low level music, the back speakers are pretty much forgotten.
The two-disc LE version of this film had a good number of extra features and it is a bit disappointing to see only a few ported over to this Blu-Ray release. I guess we shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth though, this could be a Lions Gate release and have no extras at all.
This disc includes a commentary with director Christopher Nolan which is pretty dry. This is the same commentary that was on the LE, and Nolan spends a lot of the time describing the action on the screen and relating how certain shots were filmed. There are some long gaps in the narrative that make the track slow down even more. While it isn't my favorite commentary, I'd rather have it on the disc that have it omitted.
The other bonus item is a 25-minute Anatomy of a Scene that features interviews with the writer/director, editor, composer, and actor Joe Pantoliano. This was a nice show that originally aired on the Sundance channel, and I was happy to see its inclusion.
Memento is a favorite film of mine and I was quite happy to see it make the leap to HD. An excellent film that will really appeal to people who enjoy piecing a movie together to figure out what it's saying, it stands up well to repeated viewing. While this Blu-ray disc does look better than the SD limited edition set that I compared it with, it wasn't perfect. The amount of digital noise was greater than it should be and not all of the scenes had that visual depth that the best HD programing has. I was also disappointed, once again, that only a few of the bonus features have been ported over. If Sony wants viewers to fork over a grand for a new Blu-Ray player and then spend $30 upgrading our collections, the least they can do is let early adopters sell off their old SD discs. Since there are so many features on the LE that are missing from this disc, I won't be getting rid of my SD version any time soon. The bottom line is that this disc looks better than the previous release, and contains an excellent movie. For those reasons I'm giving this disc a Highly Recommended rating (my first for a Blu-Ray disc.)