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Adaptation. (Shout Select)

Shout Factory // R // October 20, 2020
List Price: $22.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by William Harrison | posted November 17, 2020 | E-mail the Author

THE FILM:

It has been nearly 18 years since I watched Spike Jonze's Adaptation., which hardly seems possible given that Nicolas Cage does not age. The feverishly anticipated, second feature-length collaboration between director Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, Adaptation. sought to replicate the success of their genre-bending Being John Malkovich. The film does not quite hit that high mark, but it is certainly no slouch. Based on both Susan Orlean's novel "The Orchid Thief" and Kaufman's own struggles to adapt that work into a screenplay, Adaptation. finds Cage playing twins Charlie and Donald Kaufman alongside Meryl Streep, Chris Cooper, Brian Cox, Tilda Swinton, Ron Livingston, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Judy Greer. These kind of meta cinematic experiments can crash and bu quickly, but Jonze and Kaufman keep the dream alive here. Jonze also tackles the difficult task of making Kaufman's idiosyncrasies appealing, a task that a lesser filmmaker could have bungled immensely. The A-list cast compliments the direction and writing, and, while I do not find Adaptation. as strong a work as Malkovich, it is certainly a film worth revisiting.

After his previous screenplay enters production, Charlie Kaufman is riding high, though his self-loathing and anxiety begin to quickly creep back in the picture after he is hired to pen an adaptation of Orlean's (Streep) "The Orchid Thief." It is clear from the jump-off that the novel is not adaptable, and Kaufman quickly enters a vortex of writer's block, sexual frustration and anger toward his brother, Donald, a sociable, carefree wanderer who also decides to try his hand at screenwriting. Well past his deadline with the studio, Charlie decides to meet Orlean to discuss the project, but is initially too frantically shy to meet her. Charlie then begins a tailspin when Donald's cliché thriller script, which Charlie constantly trashed to his oblivious brother, is picked up for a huge sum. Meanwhile, Orlean liaises with John Laroche (Cooper), her secret lover who inspired the lead character in her novel. She is fascinated with a ghost orchid that can be used to manufacture a hallucinogenic drug, and dives down a rabbit hole of conspiracy theories and paranoia with Laroche in search of the rare flower.

This film is about a lot but kind of about nothing, if that makes any sense. Adaptation. is an interesting exploration of its writer's own flaws and triumphs, and both Jonze and Cage expertly navigate the quirky waters of Kaufman's mind. Cage is really excellent here, in both roles, and this is a film I should offer more often to friends who fail to appreciate the talents of America's hardest working actor. Poor Charlie wants to be a real writer, with principles, and it kills him to see Donald effortlessly cashing in with trash that is sure to be eaten up by the moviegoing public. There is some serious self-loathing going on here, and it is an impressive feat that Jonze could depict the real Kaufman's revelations in such an entertaining and accessible format.

If you have not seen the film, you should not be surprised to lea the entire supporting cast is excellent. It is fun to see Streep playing an edgier character than normal, and Cooper nails the "it's cool, man" vibe his character demands. The film climaxes in a wild, surprisingly violent and literal car crash of characters, and Charlie lea s hard lessons about appreciating family and overcoming anxiety. It is clear that Jonze and writer Kaufman are lampooning Hollywood more than a bit here, and it works. A notch less funny to me than Malkovich (I love actor Malkovich though), Adaptation. remains a sharp, twisted, meta look at the ills of Hollywood screenwriting and offers one of Cage's best performances.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

For whatever reason, Shout! Factory has licensed this film from Sony, which previously allowed Image Entertainment to release a Blu-ray edition in 2012 that is now out of print. My previous experience with Adaptation. was back in the days of Sony's Superbit DVD line, and I suspect this 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded image is a decent replication of the theatrical experience. I assume this is the same transfer from the 2012 Blu-ray, but there is no supporting information about that included in this edition. Fine-object detail and texture are strong, and the transfer provides a natural layer of grain throughout. Skin tones are accurate if slightly washed out at times, but the film handles the bright highlights of outdoor scenes well. Black levels are largely inky, with acceptable shadow detail. The source material is in good shape, and only a few soft shots appeared.

SOUND:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix handles the dialogue-heavy film with ease. There is a lot of overlapping conversation, but the mix avoids overcrowding and distortion. Light ambience wafts through the surrounds, and the score is appropriately layered. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mix and English SDH subtitles are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This single-disc release is packed in a standard case with reversible artwork that is wrapped in a slipcover. Bonus material is light and includes a Featurette (2:03/SD) that provides a brief look at the production, an Image Gallery (1:51/SD), and the Theatrical Trailer (2:33/SD).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

This second feature-length collaboration between Director Spike Jonze and Writer Charlie Kaufman provides a twisty, meta look at the perils of Hollywood screenwriting that is anchored by a terrible dual performance from Nicolas Case. This could be unapproachable material, but the talented cast and crew make Adaptation. approachable and entertaining. Recommended.

William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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