The Grand Budapest Hotel makes its way on to Blu-ray and DVD, with a bold instruction at the start of the film: “PLEASE SET YOUR MONITOR TO 16X9”. You’ll see why in due course.
The film involves the theft of a priceless painting, a wealthy, 84-year-old dowager (Tilda Swinton) who dies which leads to a will that’s bound to be contested by various members of her family, plus Willem Dafoe as a violent thug who’ll sort out the contesting of the will by his own terms. There are also lots of little things to make you chuckle as the film plays out. For example, war breaks out in Eastern Europe, and Anderson doesn’t exactly go with the enemies as Nazi SS members, but instead with ZZ as their logo. There’s also the constant of made-up town names, such as Lutz in Budapest, and I saw in it what Mark Kermode referred to in his review, that Anderson gets the cast to act as if they’re animated, since this results in a wonderfully wacky performance from Edward Norton as Henckels, leader of the Lutz Military Police.
The look of the hotel is sumptuous and really should at least get an Oscar nomination for set design, but given its March release, it depends how far back the voters will look when it comes to casting their nominations. Anderson’s films have had Oscar nominations before, but, unfortunately, it’s never led to a win.
Overall, I don’t want to say too much about it as it’s best to be presented with the basics and then enjoy as the story unfolds, but The Grand Budapest Hotel is a total delight almost completely from start to finish. Ralph Fiennes is perfect in his role as hotel owner M. Gustave and the film only sags a little when he’s not the main focus, although for the purposes of the story we do need to see what the other characters are up to from time to time, and this features an incredible cast all giving great performances, including Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Saoirse Ronan and Léa Seydoux.
Usually, Wes Anderson films in 2.35:1 Anamorphic Panavision, which has a curved look to the edges of the screen, but his last cinematic outing, Moonrise Kingdom, was shot in 1.85:1. That film really didn’t work for me and, quite frankly, bored me. I wondered whether it was me trying to get used to Anderson’s change in format, but with The Grand Budapest Hotel, the ratios are all over the place, primarily shooting in the age-old 1.37 Academy ratio for the bulk of the proceedings, presumably given that it’s set in 1932.
We do, indeed, get some scenes shot in 2.35:1, albeit Anamorphic Technovision (although Technovision was bought out by Panavision in 2004), those involving F. Murray Abraham and Jude Law, which are peppered throughout, and also some scenes in a slightly-windowboxed 1.85:1 with Tom Wilkinson as an author, and their relevance will be revealed when you watch the film.
Knowing that there were several ratios to play out during The Grand Budapest Hotel, before I saw it, I expected the full height 2.35:1 frame to be employed in the cinema for those scenes, with the smaller ratios cast within. This isn’t the case, so don’t panic when the cinema curtains don’t open up further when the film is about to start. I could see that being the case for when the film comes to Blu-ray and DVD, since you won’t want to be watching the 1.37:1 scenes in a tiny window on your TV, since the 2.35:1 scenes will be seen within a 1.85:1 frame anyway. However, while it would’ve been nice to see the wider shots in their full glory on the big screen, I can see that Anderson didn’t want to have too dramatic a change when they pop up during the film.
Oh, and there’s a little something towards the end of the closing credits if you stay for them. And why wouldn’t you? The music is great and all you’re going to achieve by leaving five minutes early is getting back to your home five minutes early, where you probably spend enough time already.
Go to page 2 for a look at the presentation and the extras.
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.