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Title: Chinatown
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Faye Dunaway
Directed by: Roman Polanski
Written by: Robert Towne
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Rated: R
Runtime: 130 Minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date:
April 3rd, 2012

Movie: :4stars:
Video: :4stars:
Audio: :4stars:
Extras: :3.5stars:
HTS Overall Score:79


I’m embarrassed to say that before writing this review I had never seen Chinatown before. I have been a lover of the hardboiled detective genre ever since I was a child listening to old re-runs of “Sam Spade” or “Johnny Dollar” on the oldies station every Sunday evening, but for some reason I had never given this one a spin in my player.

The Film starts out with our lead J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) being hired by a Mrs. Mulwray to investigate her husband, a prominent member of the city of Los Angeles’ water committee, whom she suspects of cheating on her. J.J. starts gathers evidence of seeming infidelity only to be confronted in his office by the REAL wife (Faye Dunaway) who threatens to sue Mr. Gittes if he doesn’t drop the investigation of her husband. Wanting to find out who set him up J.J. tries to confront Mr. Mulway only to find out that he has been found dead under suspicious circumstances. Mrs. Mulwray then hires J.J. officially to investigate the murder of her dead husband. What unfolds next is a tale of greed, power and lust that will bring J.J. Gittes back to revisit his own haunted and bitter past…. Chinatown

Chinatown is not a happy story, the ending will leave you with that feeling that justice has not been served, but it gets the point across. Life is not always nice; life can be brutal and tough with no remorse. Had I not known better I would have mistaken this for a black and white film noir piece from the 50’s instead of a 1970’s movie. The style and story are so intertwined that one cannot live without the other. The feel and intensity of the film noir genre seeps into every pore but the story is every bit as engaging as the visuals. It’s a classic story, one of power, corruption, greed and loss, one that most people can relate to in some ways if not most. It sucks you in and makes you care about the characters as people, recognizing their selfish flaws, yet still allowing you to see the vulnerable humanity that rests underneath. Chinatown doesn’t attract one with a simple storyline, or throw random twists into the mix without any real purpose, but rather uses simple misdirection and focuses on one plotline so as to completely sideline you with the real plot and meaning of the story.

The Characters are the real gem in this film. The story is good but nothing revolutionary. What makes this is Jack Nicholson’s performance as J.J. Gittes. Nicholson is famous for playing a rather over the top character in many of his films, but this was the first time that I’d seen him play a character so well that I almost couldn’t recognize him. The stunning Faye Dunaway was perfect as the seductive yet tortured widow with a very dark past. I have to give props to the characters both in front of the camera as well as behind the camera for creating such a an excellent viewing experience


Rated R for adult situations, violence and language

Video :4stars:

Even though I had never seen Chinatown before tonight I had still picked up both incarnations of it on DVD (the single edition DVD and the 2 disc special edition as well) so I was able to A/B the newly released blu-ray with my DVD copies during this review. The AVC transfer done by paramount was obviously done using an older master, most likely the same master that was used for the 2 disc special edition DVD several years ago. While it may be an older master it was still done extremely well considering its source. Bitrate was high, colors were bright and the overly dark and low contrast that was used in the original DVD was boosted to a more natural level. The film was covered in a nice, fine layer of film grain showing a great amount of detail that my special edition DVD was sorely lacking. My only real complaints with the video were twofold. For one, there was a very inconsistent amount of DNR showing up in the transfer. Some scenes seemed to show a startling amount of detail only to shift over to another scene where faces were slightly waxy and fine detail was lost in background scenes ever so slightly. It wasn't so much that it was distracting, but it was still there nonetheless, most likely a result of trying to keep the grain consistent throughout the film due to inconsistent scenes, which leads me to my second complaint. There were quite a few scenes that were very rough and colors were reddish and waxy only to shift to another person and have the scene change back to being bright and colorful with great detail. There was some slight crushing of blacks, but nothing overly dramatic. Overall I would rate this as a very large step up from the 2 disc DVD that shares the same master.

Audio :4stars:

Chinatown's 5.1 Dolby TrueHD track won't bowl you over with any thunderous displays of LFE, but for a dialogue driving movie it was very well done. The score was perfectly balanced with the dialogue. Not once did I find myself raising the volume to either hear what was being said, nor turning it down to keep my windows from imploding from an overly aggressive explosion. There was a very slight hollow sound that I find is common among movies from the 70's and mid 80's but it was barely noticeable and more than likely a product of the times rather than a problem with the audio track itself. The score itself was done exquisitely, intertwining itself into the movie at just the right scenes and disappearing into the background when it wasn't needed. I honestly appreciated that it was used sparingly instead of feeling like the space between words needed to be constantly filled with scoring to "lead" the audience by the hand through the film telling them when to be tense and when it was time to be romantic etc.

Extras: :3.5stars:

• Audio Commentary
• Water and Power
• Chinatown : An Appreciation
• Chinatown : The Beginning and the End
• Chinatown : Filming
• Chinatown : The Legacy
• Theatrical Trailer

Overall: :4stars:
A truly poignant film that shows the hold that power and greed can hold over some people and the affect that it can have on those it touches. This is a film that encompasses the rough nature of the era it was filmed in as well as the era it was portraying. Artistically done and well deserving of it's classic status Chinatown grips the viewer for the entirety of it's 2 hour 10 minute run time without ever overstaying it's welcome or have you looking at your watch every 5 minutes wondering if it will end. A movie without a true hero, just showing people, raw and vulnerable, soft and hard.
Recommendation: Watch It!


432 Posts
Re: Chinatown - Blu Ray Review

Thank for the review, Mike! :cool:

It's been many years since I last watched this movie but it was really a very good one so I'd like to see it again.

1,546 Posts
Re: Chinatown - Blu Ray Review

Great Review, Mike! It is surprising that you haven't seen this film before! Anyway, I agree with your thoughts on the film! Too bad the video transfer isn't quite consistent with the film grain, but I guess they do what they can with the original print master that they used.

Premium Member
7,209 Posts
Re: Chinatown - Blu Ray Review

Thanks for the review Mike! :T

I have never seen this film before - Jack Nicholson has never really been an actor that I enjoyed watching for the reason you stated - he seems to be a bit over the top at times and I have a hard time digesting that. That said, I always try to watch the movies you all review so I will add this to my queue!
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