Last Emperor, The

Featured In Issue 138, January/February 2009

WSR Score4
Basic Information on new release titles is posted as soon as titles are announced. Once reviewed, additional data is added to the database.
The Criterion Collection
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Bernardo Bertolucci
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Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, DTS HD Lossless 2.0
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This is the original theatrical cut of this historic film, not Director Bernardo Bertolucci's cut reviewed on DVD in Issue 34 (May/June 1999). That version of The Last Emperor included an additional 60 minutes of footage. The film tells the tale of Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi, the last ruler of the Ching Dynasty who was installed as emperor at age three. The movie traces Pu Yi's (played as an adult by John Lone) life through the political upheavals of his country, his exile and incarceration by the Russians, and finally, his return to China. The movie won nine Academy Awards®, including Best Picture and Best Director. (Gary Reber)

Special features include a commentary by Director Bernardo Bertolucci, Producer Jeremy Thomas, Screenwriter Mark Peploe, and Composer-Actor Ryuichi Sakamoto; three featurettes: The Italian Traveler, Bernardo Bertolucci (SD 53:03), Postcards From China (SD 8:02), and cultural historian Ian Buruma's Beyond The Forbidden City featurette (SD 45:15); two documentaries: Bernardo Bertolucci's Chinese Adventure (SD 50:53) and Making The Last Emperor (SD 45:05); Britain's The Southbank Show shot on location in Beijing, explores Bertolucci's creative process (SD 66:03); an interview with Composer David Byrne (SD 25:05); the 1989 episode of British television arts magazine The Late Show: Face To Face with Bertolucci (SD 30:35); the theatrical trailer; and a 14-page booklet featuring an essay by David Thomson.

The 1080p AVC 2.00:1 picture is a dramatic improvement over the non-anamorphic dual-layer DVD reviewed in Issue 32 (May/June 1999), no doubt due to the extensive digital removal of thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches from the original 35mm negative. The imagery is impressive and beautiful throughout, with excellent resolution of faces and textures. Contrast is wonderful, perfectly drawing attention to comparisons of the color and pageantry of early Imperial China and the subdued, grayer world of the post-communist nation. Colors are naturally rendered and richly hued. Fleshtones are accurate, and blacks are rich and deep, with good shadow delineation. This is a wonderful picture, with excellent clarity and mesmerizing cinematography. (Gary Reber)

The DTS-HD Master Audio™ 2.0 Surround soundtrack is miscredited in that the booklet states that the original stereo surround soundtrack was mastered at 24-bit from a 35mm Doby Lt/Rt magnetic track and audio restoration tools were used to reduce clicks, pops, hiss, and crackle. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is strictly stereo; there is no surround signal. The Dolby® Surround-encoded 2.0 Dolby Digital soundtrack on the DVD also was problematic in that the matrix decoding did not engage either. But the matrix PCM soundtrack on the LaserDisc® version decoded fully. Still, the sonic improvement is dramatic. But, unfortunately, the presentation, while credited as stereo surround and indicated on our processor as DTS-HD Master Audio Stereo, is monaural, spread to the stereo channels. As such, this is an undistinguished soundtrack that sounds compressed and dated. (Gary Reber)