Chinatown (Paramount Presents #45, 50th Anniversary 4K UHD Blu-ray Review)

Bring up Chinatown to any fan of movies and you’ll most likely get an “I love that movie” as a response. Yes, Chinatown is that good, and has been widely praised in the 50 years since it was first released. Now we have a new 4K UHD Blu-ray edition of Chinatown to collect and for some, this will be an incredible experience of seeing the film for the first time. Read more about my own love for Chinatown below, and also of course my thoughts on this new presentation! Clicking the cover art at the end of the review will take you to a paid link to order a copy too! “Forget it Jake, you’ll wanna order Chinatown”


Jack Nicholson is unforgettable as private eye Jake Gittes, living off the murky moral climate of sunbaked, pre-war Southern California. Hired by a beautiful socialite (Faye Dunaway) to investigate her husband’s extra-marital affair, Gittes is swept into a maelstrom of double dealings and deadly deceits, uncovering a web of personal and political scandals that come crashing together for one, unforgettable night.

Noir films are some of the best pieces of cinema you can see.  Twists and turns and double crossings are always there.  You find yourself on the edge of your seat worried about the characters. If not, you’ll be yelling things at the screen at the villain.  Either way, Noir films are so satisfying.  Whether it’s a femme fatale like in Double Indemnity or Leave Her To Heaven, or sharp detectives or wronged men like in the films of Bogart like The Maltese Falcon or In A Lonely Place, you find so much texture and dimensionality in the writing and the performances.  Direction is shadowy and dark and it’s a whole mood.  This type of film was next to non-existent when Roman Polanski and Robert Towne began to make Chinatown.

Still not far removed from the loss of Sharon Tate, Polanski creates a cynical and almost bleak Los Angeles.  Jake Gittes is a character no doubt.  He is a vain misogynist with his own cynicism coursing through his veins.  When he takes on Evelyn Mulwray’s case, he has no doubts he can solve it. Boy, did he not realize what he was taking on.  Before long, Jake is nearly drowning in aqueducts and getting his nose sliced open. Then, his vanity is being taken away.  With a cartoonishly large bandage on, Jake continues to look for clues, all the while finding himself beguiled by Evelyn and her cold response to his interests.

As Jake begins to make more random and offbeat twists and turns looking for answers, Jake learns that Evelyn’s father was her missing husband’s business partner. Noah Cross, the father, is imposing – Tall with a long face and ape-like hands. Jake doesn’t let his intimidation show, but it’s clear the man is formidable.  Could he have killed Evelyn’s husband?  He also learns that Mr. Mulwray may have had a mistress and now he wants even more answers.  All the while, the audience is never even in on the ultimate twist coming at the end.  It will make your stomach turn.

There is an unspoken pain running through so many of these characters.  What’s made Jake so hardened in his behavior. He’s so cool and nonchalant a lot of the time, nearly to the point of seeming to be unfeeling.  We also have Evelyn Mulwray, so resistant to answering questions and so fearful of Jake asking the right ones she can’t help but answers.  When they finally fall into bed with one another we don’t know if this is part of an elaborate game or real love.  These people seem plastic, so unable to connect.  There must be some trauma to blame, because that’s the only explanation.  While we never do find out what happened to Jake, which is for the best, we do know what happened to Evelyn, and again, we cannot fault her for her issues.  We can only empathize.

Robert Towne really understood his characters.  His original writing style and his own love for Los Angeles really carry the film. With powerhouses Nicholson and Dunaway at the front, supported by an ultra-creepy John Huston as Noah Cross, and lots of small players filling in the rest, You feel a sense of wonder in Chinatown. With a storyline with such heartache and darkness, you are still transported into a fever dream of 1930’s LA. Colors are awash and look worn out.  Clothes are delicate and beautiful. Cars are big and gorgeous too.  It all feels so authentic.  If the film wasn’t in color and widescreen, you’d think you were watching something from its actual time period.  Roman Polanski films the movie in a way that feels gritty and supple at the same time.  There are rough edges, yet we still feel such class coming from the screen.  The beautiful synergy of everything is what makes the film so cohesive and satisfying.

There aren’t a lot of frills in Chinatown. The charm of the film is how it feels.  With the Jerry Goldsmith score lulling you into the world of the film, you become a character yourself, witnessing everything up close.  There is magic in these frames. There is drama and thrills and romance and tremendous upset.  There is a most satisfying ending too.  And if you’ve never seen it and don’t get it the first time, you should definitely keep coming back to the film. In the 20 years I’ve been watching Chinatown, I find myself learning new things with each viewing.  It could be story points I’ve missed, or little acting moments or beautiful shots of Los Angeles. There is just so much to savor and take in with every viewing. Chinatown continues to be a movie to revisit and now we have a definitive way to watch the film, which is such a joy for the movie fan in me!


Stills are for promotional use only and are not from the 4K UHD Blu-ray.

Encoding: HEVC / H.265

Resolution: 4K (2160p)

Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1

HDR: Dolby Vision

Layers: BD-100

Clarity/Detail: After taking in the Paramount Presents edition of Once Upon A Time In the West, I was a little worried about how Chinatown would look in 4K. My worries were put to rest when the first scene opens.  Clarity is excellent throughout, with a few lens-based soft moments. Those we know can’t be fixed and we accept them as a part of 70’s cinema, without complaint. Well, at least I hope so.  Detail is fine, especially on the vintage clothing of the actors, and the scenes in the desert, the lush grounds of estates, a funky retirement home and even a grove of trees all benefit from the resolution boost.

Depth: The look of the film is really a flat, old-school one.  But depth is not skimped on here.  The scale here is wonderful, and to see the film looking this healthy is a comfort for those who worry about new masters of classic films.

Black Levels: Black levels are presented lovingly.  No moments of crush and no detail lost in the shadows.  There is a necessity of blackness throughout the film as in any good noir flick, and the most important moments in the dark look perfectly excellent here.

Color Reproduction: For this film, the filmmakers chose to make the film rather faded looking and so the tones are often muted.  You can tell this is a stylistic choice and it’s more than fine to see the faded colors still looking healthy and fantastic.  From the golden haze of the desert to the colors of clothing and interiors to even the look of blood, colors look spot on for the movies timeline and the vintage of the 70’s film shoot.

Flesh Tones: Flesh tones are sharp and fantastic and people look nearly new. No digital scrubbing, but the sharpness on flesh tones is rather incredible.

Noise/Artifacts: Natural film grain and nothing else! Only the best for a masterpiece.


Audio Format(s): English Dolby TrueHD 5.1, English Dolby TrueHD 2.0 Mono

Subtitles: English SDH, Francais, Español

Dynamics: This 5.1 mix is a recycled one from previous releases.  There is nothing wrong with the mix at all, and for a mostly dialogue driven film, this decision makes sense.  The music is the most dynamic piece of the mix, sounding wonderful, with sound effects pushed out to surrounds to make it multichannel.  The precedings sound just fine, and we can’t ask for much more in the end.

Height: N/A

Low-Frequency Extension: Bass is reserved, as it should be for a movie from 1974, with some music and some aqueduct sounds making a pass at the subwoofer. Only flirting though, because the sub hits very subtlely.

Surround Sound Presentation: Surrounds get very little use, with some ambience, some music and some sound effects going into them, but not with much flair.

Dialogue Reproduction: Dialogue sounds best of all, and thankfully so with much of the film’s sound being dialogue based.


Extras for this new edition of Chinatown are mostly legacy features, however, the legacy features were always good, with lots of rewatch appeal.  There are two new short features as well as the usual Paramount Presents slipcover with the original poster on a outer flap. A digital code is included and best of all, the underrated, underappreciated sequel to Chinatown, The Two Jakes is included on its own Blu-ray. One wishes the second film was given a 4K disc too, but it looks and sounds wonderful, and it’s a great addition to this new edition!

Special Features:

New bonus content is detailed below:

  • A State of Mind: Author Sam Wasson On Chinatown– Sam Wasson, film historian and bestselling author of The Big Goodbye:Chinatownand the Last Years Of Hollywood, on the importance of the film and its legacy.
  • Chinatown Memories –Legendary producer Hawk Koch shares stories from his time as assistant director on the film.
  • The Trilogy That Never Was – Sam Wasson discusses the planned third installment of what would have been a trio of movies featuring the character Jake Gittes.

Additional legacy bonus content:

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


Chinatown is a fantastic and classic film.  There is no debating that in my opinion.  The film confounds and attracts and repulses and immerses viewers. There is so much to savor in the 2 hours and 10 minutes and you would be remiss not to watch and rewatch this film.  It’s just that good. You will be astounded if you’ve never seen the film.  You will be nodding your head in agreement with me if you have! This is an absolute must for film fans, but this edition is especially attractive for physical media collectors.  A Masterpiece gets it’s definitive release, and I am so here for that!

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