The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film not only packed with characters, sets, costumes, and all the things that tend to typify writer/director Wes Anderson’s style, it is also packed with story. It is becoming more and more clear to me how much Anderson enjoys having films that are about stories being told to an audience. There are frequent themes that have been present in Anderson’s other films, namely family, which is clearly seen in The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr. Fox and all of his other films as well, which is all well and good, but The Grand Budapest Hotel really goes out of its way to show us that it is a story within a story that is being told to another person. The result is a film that finds a way to present something that will be entirely familiar to everyone who recognizes Anderson’s style, but ends up feeling like a comment on storytelling itself. It is a combination of multiple genres in a rather go-for-broke fashion, with thoughtful regard for its key characters, and now the film is available in a great looking Blu-ray package.
A number of layers are peeled back in order to get to the main storyline, as the film uses a framework the takes us further and further back in time, as we realize we are watching the story of someone reading in a book, which is about another person being told about events from the past. That is a complicated statement, but so is the film’s approach to getting to its core plot, which is about a dazzling hotel concierge and his faithful lobby boy. Ralph Fiennes stars as Gustave H., the concierge who is a hit with the staff and all of the guests (mainly the older women) in a hotel located in the fictional Republic of Zubrowka. Tony Revolori plays the lobby boy, Zero, who basically serves as Gustave’s right-hand man, even after a series of events leads to Gustave’s imprisonment and subsequent prison escape, as he goes on an adventure to prove his innocence.
Anderson is not interested in making this a story of epic proportions, as the film barely lasts more than 90 minutes, but he does pack the cast with a large number of players, many of whom have been featured in his 7 previous films. Something about this all works though. The communal experience that came with the production of this film practically suggests that this cast is more of an acting troupe. Familiar faces do not feel like the film is winking at you, but rather allowing you to enjoy the return of certain favorites like Bill Murray or Owen Wilson for a time, before turning over to other favorites or new members like Fiennes or young Saoirse Ronan, who plays a baker’s assistant and Zero’s love interest. It does not hurt that every performance does feel spot on, with Fiennes, in particular, really delivering in full on his deft and quite charming character.
I actually do find it interesting that Anderson has been able to get to this point where he can have a high level of talent that also includes Edward Norton, Adrian Brody, Willem Dafoe, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, and Tilda Swinton, among others, simply show up for a time, deliver what is required of them, and simply exit the film. I would imagine it takes a great amount of comfort as a director to manage that kind of task, while still allowing for a film that respects its characters enough for you to care about the plights that matter most, without discounting the effort put into even the most minimal of roles. All of that and The Grand Budapest Hotel still has plenty of style to go with the character-based comedy/drama on display.
Wes Anderson has always been able to create unique worlds in his films. While his screenplays have a dry sense of humor in the dialogue to go along with the very autumn-themed and idiosyncratic presentation of his settings, which have led to some not quite caring for all of his features in the same way I seem to have, it continues to tap into what works for Anderson as a storyteller. Just as authors have particular writing styles, Anderson uses his filmmaking sensibilities to inform the nature of The Grand Budapest Hotel. The hotel itself features very specific colors, decorations, costumes, and more to provide it with an identity. The screwball/adventure/caper nature of the story allows for Anderson to utilize old fashion filmmaking techniques to communicate some of the action taking place on screen in a way that is fitting for this film, as well as the ones he has drawn inspiration from. I find a sense of fun in all of this. Even as the story progresses and we learn enough about certain characters to realize that the overarching story has an eventual sadness to it all, the concept of life being an adventure, which is very akin to something explored in Anderson’s film The Life Aquatic, stands as a fine reason for me to get behind a film that has a specific style, but one that does not outweigh the character-based story being told.
As far as basic entertainment value goes, the film is likely going to be less accessible to those who are not rampant Wes Anderson fans, but it has a large enough cast to hopefully engage general audiences and ideally prove me wrong. While I found Anderson’s previous film, Moonrise Kingdom, to be one of his most accessible features, The Grand Budapest Hotel has a certain wackiness to it, which may or may not hold it back from a larger embrace. That said, there is a lot of humor in this film, which aids this large cast and sprawling story. There is ambition to be found in the way this film moves through different timelines (signaled by the shifting aspect ratios) and approaches its more adventure-based scenarios, such as a high speed chase down a mountain or the aforementioned prison escape. Along with the playful score by Alexandre Desplat, the film has certainly attempted to be as all-encompassing as it can, when it comes to presenting a visual feast for the eyes, backed up by lots of actors all game for Wes Anderson’s style of fun.
Getting back to this being a film about a story being told within a story, The Grand Budapest Hotel manages to get through its narrative layers and tell a key story that is a mix of all sorts of genres and motifs, but still effectively well done. The film finds a way to have its characters contradict themselves in ways that make them all the more humorous, while also layering in the profound aspects of a friendship that becomes embroiled in innocent romance, villainous treachery, and even the political state of affairs regarding the country the characters occupy. The film is a triumph in the way it finds balance in all of this. The Grand Budapest Hotel is a beautifully shot, beautifully made film, with performance tuned right into what Wes Anderson knows how to deliver upon, especially in this level of comfort, which is evident in the confidence of his direction that is on display. I tend to re-watch Anderson’s films a lot and The Grand Budapest Hotel is one that I will likely find myself checking into quite often.
Encoding: AVC MPEG-4
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1, 1.85:1, 1.33:1
Clarity/Detail: Even with the shifting aspect rations that suggest playfulness with time, this film looks amazing throughout. From the use of miniatures to the finely crafted sets, Anderson’s regular cinematographer Robert Yeoman does a fantastic job capturing all there is to see in this film and the Blu-ray manages to bring out the details with great clarity.
Depth: I think it is when you see the different levels of the hotel, followed by some shots of miniatures that you really begin to see how great the depth of field is. This is such a wonderfully crafted film that it is easy to get lost in it, but that just makes for all the reason to keep watching the film, in an effort to take in all that is on display.
Black Levels: Black levels are incredibly strong throughout. The film is so colorful throughout, but the contrast is apparent in the darker scenes and it comes through very well.
Color Reproduction: While there is a grading on this film, which lends the overall picture a certain purplish hue throughout (fitting, based on the colors of the uniforms at the Grand Budapest), the colors are still incredibly vibrant. The use of post-production coloring is a great way to show off how involved the production design is in getting this film right and the Blu-ray does proper justice.
Flesh Tones: The flesh tones look a bit distinct, based on the coloring of the overall film, but the textures still feel completely appropriate as far as what the Blu-ray is putting on display.
Noise/Artifacts: None to be found.
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, French DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Dynamics: I always enjoy a Wes Anderson soundtrack and that is just one of the many elements that works its way nicely into this fantastic, lossless audio track.
Low Frequency Extension: As the adventure builds, there are moments when the LFE actually adds a lot to what this quirky character comedy has to offer.
Surround Sound Presentation: The sounds featured in this film are nicely dispersed across a surround system, which is a great way to be immersed into the world of this film, between the dialogue, the soundtrack, the ambiance, and other sound elements.
Dialogue Reproduction: Lots of carefully written dialogue is all very cleanly presented, with no issue.
The annoying thing is that I will likely have to wait a few years for the Criterion Collection edition of this film, which will be packed with extras, but for now, we have a decent collection of extras that have their own Wes Anderson-like sense of humor to their construction.
- Bill Murray Tours the Town – A brief look behind the scenes, where the camera crew follows Bill Murray to different locations. How this is just not a TV series in general, I don’t know.
- Vignettes: Kuntsmuseum Zubrowka Lecture, The Society of the Crossed Keys, Mendl’s Secret Recipe – At about 3 minutes each, these are small looks at key parts of the film that make plenty of sense to those who have already watched the feature.
- Featurettes: The Making of The Grand Budapest Hotel, Cast, Wes Anderson – The making-of is nearly 20 minutes, but these are mostly standard promotional items that provide a little insight into the making of the film, but is not as all-encompassing as it could be.
- Stills Gallery
- Digital HD Copy of the film.
The Grand Budapest Hotel is already a prime contender for my top ten list, come this winter, and the Blu-ray is a wonderful way for me to revisit the film in the future. While the extras are fairly standard, the picture and audio presentation do a fantastic job for the viewer who plans on watching this film at home. This was another slam dunk for Wes Anderson and short of a future Criterion release years from now, this is a solid Blu-ray package to pick up.
Order Your Copy Here:
Check out my interviews with the cast and crew HERE