Chinatown (Blu-ray Review)

Here it is just in time for the Spring season: Chinatown! Not only that, but it’s the Blu-ray we’re talking about here. Presented in high definition with a full lossless track, bonus features up the wazoo, and much more. Chinatown is the classic film that most say propelled Jack Nicholson into a full blown household name. Featuring Faye Dunaway and John Huston in supporting roles Chinatown takes the viewer into a world of mystery, crime, and intrigue where no stone will be left unturned. How will the Blu-ray stack up, you say? That’s what we’re here to find out. Yours truly is on the case, buddy. Follow me, but keep your distance, because it can get rough out there, kid. 



Chinatown is a neo-noir tale that chronicles private investigator Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) as he is hired by a mysterious woman to investigate the chief engineer of the City of Los Angeles. Gittes is on the case, but things take a turn for the complicated when the city engineer’s wife, (Faye Dunaway) gets involved. Yes, there will be drama.

I think I’ll backtrack just a bit before I hit the gas on this one. Jake Gittes is one of the best private investigators in the city, but he deals in smut, meaning that he catches wives cheating on their husbands and vice-versa. This is reflected early on in the film with one of his clients (Burt Young) as he gets the bad news. We soon settle in at what type of character Jake Gittes is as we follow him all over the City of Angels tracking down harlots and scumbags. Then again, he’s never had a case quite like this one before.

What first started out as a possible infidelity case takes a drastic turn as city politics along with big-baller-shot-callers are dragged into the mess. There is a serious drought in Los Angeles and the man under Gittes’ investigation is Hollis Mulray, the city engineer. Ah, now we’re getting warm. The building of a proposed dam would solve the city’s water shortage problem, but the engineer is against it due to some convenient past failures of similar plans.

When a picture of Hollis and an unnamed female that is not his wife is published, the real Mrs. Mulray comes into the picture. She comes down hard and strong on Gittes, but he’s neither intimated or dismayed. John Huston comes into the picture as Evelyn Mulray’s worried father to lend Gittes some “friendly” advice.  Jake likes the thrill, but by not backing off, this will lead him to an even darker place he never thought existed.

I know most film fans have heard about Chinatown’s enduring legacy in terms of screenplays. If you Google “best scripts of all time” Chinatown is always in the top 5. There is a reason behind this. The film is such a multi-layered tale that has so much depth to every character and situation. One lives and breathes with these people and this town that it makes one seem almost symbiotic. Or maybe it’s just us L.A. kids?

Roman Polanski (Rosemary’s Baby, Repulsion) cemented his directing prowess with Chinatown and everyone agreed that it was a masterpiece. This wasn’t to say that it was a new and revolutionary way of making films. It’s that the directing followed the screenplay. It’s usually the other way around. Polanski took the challenge and made what some would call a “fly on the wall” type of film. This can also be credited to the late-great cinematographer John A. Alonzo – he was an expert and pioneered handheld camerawork. Notice that most scenes that follow Jake Gittes are framed at his shoulders – it’s as if we were Jake Gittes invisible partner on the case. Chinatown is a brilliant piece of cinema onscreen and offscreen. They sure don’t make them like they used to.

I don’t think I have to gush or bore you with more details about how great Chinatown is. Even if you haven’t seen it, you KNOW that Chinatown is a great film. YOU KNOW THIS. *does Jedi mind-trick hand gesture*


Chinatown is presented in 1080p (2.35:1) widescreen. I’ll go on the record and say that this print was NOT restored. I believe it’s from the most recent special edition that came out a couple of years ago on DVD. With that being said, it’s a damn fine looking transfer, but for all of you grain-philes like myself there really isn’t much of it. No, the image doesn’t look like it was scraped with a spatula either. Grain is there, but it’s not the main focus as it is textured. Chinatown was shot to look like film-noir from yesteryear and the transfer has that deep sepia tone throughout the film especially during the opening credits. Once the film starts up and characters are introduced we get a handle on all their details with relation to skin textures, tones, clothing, etc. It’s all there. Some of the frames used to capture old-school Los Angeles in the 1930’s look like living/breathing paintings. I know the 4oth Anniversary of the film’s release is fast approaching, so I can only pray that they will properly restore the film for that milestone event. As it stands, in my personal opinion, the Blu-ray looks great as is.


Chinatown is presented in Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and Mono Dolby TrueHD. I did not get a chance to test out the restored Mono track on this release, but will do so at a later time. I did watch the film in full lossless audio. Yeah, what’s to say about the audio on Chinatown other than it compliments the video specifications nicely. Chinatown doesn’t have scenes of fancy special effects or major set pieces that require an overly aggressive soundtrack. It’s a neo-noir thriller that is mainly dialogue driven. The center channel handles the bulk while the rest of the channels, especially the rear channels, handle ambient noise rather effortlessly. In fact, all of the channels really seem to carry what’s happening on the screen really well. LFE also does a bit of rumbling during key scenes of the film. Here’s hoping that when I do sample the Mono track it’ll be on par with the full lossless track. *crosses fingers*


Chinatown ports over all the featurettes from the collector’s edition DVD. These items include the awesome commentary with Screenwriter Robert Towne with uber director David Fincher along with various featurettes that focus on the film and its impact. Some of these featurettes also include information on the real-life Los Angeles aqueduct project of almost 100 years ago that is one of the main topics of the film.


  • Commentary by Screenwriter Robert Towne with David Fincher
  • Water and Power: The Aqueduct – The Aftermath – The River and Beyond
  • Chinatown: An Appreciation
  • Chinatown: The Beginning and the End
  • Chinatown: Filming
  • Chinatown: The Legacy
  • Theatrical Trailer


They don’t call them masterpieces for nothing. Chinatown is the epitome of one due to the classic screenplay that is considered flawless. The directing is assured and so is the acting by all those involved. At long last the Blu-ray has arrived for the new crop of aspiring filmmakers and film fans in general to grab a copy, so that they can see what all the fuss is about. There’s a reason why nearly 40 years later Chinatown and the script are still talked about with the highest regard in film schools all over the world. Until Paramount springs for a proper restoration in the near future this Blu-ray should serve as a mighty fine place holder until that version sees daylight. Enjoy.




Order Chinatown on Blu-ray!



2 Responses to “Chinatown (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Brian White

    Day 1 buy!
    I don’t even care if the movie is good, it’s always referred to as the bible of screenwriting.
    I have been waiting for this to come out on the Blu-ray format for the longest time before seeing it.
    Must study!

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    I can assure you the movie is good, to say the least. Can’t wait to see it on Blu.