Asteroid City (Blu-ray)

Following a writer on his world famous fictional play about a grieving father who travels with his tech-obsessed family to small rural Asteroid City to compete in a junior stargazing event, only to have his world view disrupted forever.

August 16, 2023 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I’m sure that I’ve mentioned this in one of my other reviews of Wes Anderson films, but I don’t have it in me to dive through the reviews and cite which one. I’ll just say that my mother and I were channel surfing in…we’ll call it 1997 and came across a film that sparked our interest. As it turns out, that movie was Bottle Rocket and introduced us to the world of Wes Anderson (and it also gave us Owen and Luke Wilson). I was an instant fan and it was the next year that we got Rushmore – a movie that put Bill Murray on the map as a dramatic actor (though he still dabbled in comedy). Over the years, Anderson’s films have continued to display the same sort of tone and rhythm, giving us some fairly off the wall characters. With Asteroid City, it’s more of the same and sporting a much larger cast. That’s fine. He can pull it off. And I’m sure the characters of this film would have a field day with this writer’s style.

We meet Augie Steenbeck (Jason Schwartzman), a war photographer who arrives in a small desert town with his son, Woodrow (Jake Ryan) and his three daughters. He’s been recently widowed, though he refrains from telling his children their mother is dead until they arrive in town. His father-in-law, Stanley (Tom Hanks) shows up to watch the girls as Audie and Woodrow get to work. Woodrow is taking part in a “Junior Stargazing” competition and while this occurs, Augie manages to connect with a troubled actress, Midge (Scarlett Johansson). After that, we’re treated to a UFO that changes everyone’s perspective on things. Of course, Anderson’s stories are multi-layered and we get some black and white sequences with Bryan Cranston as well as introducing us to a writer, Conrad (Edward Norton) – he’s the one who wrote the movie we’re watching. And we get flashbacks with the director, Schubert Green (Adrien Brody).

Confused? Don’t be. If you’re familiar with Anderson’s films and/or his style of writing and directing, you’ll be right at home. We’re treated to a litany of stars in the cast (a staple of Anderson’s films), though it’s nice to see Tom Hanks appear in one of these films. We get the usual bevy of stars that we’ve seen in other Anderson films, namely Adrien Brody, Jason Schwartzman and Edward Norton. I will admit that I enjoyed this one much more than the his previous effort, The French Dispatch. But hey, to each their own. Ultimately this one manages to entertain and it’d be hard not to be with this cast (yes, I can’t stop mentioning it). This movie has its fans – you all know who you are.

Video: How’s it look?

I’m going on the assumption that anyone reading this is either a fan of Wes Anderson’s films and has seen at least one. If not, that’s fine, but just know that he has a certain visual style that’s a bit…different. We’ve got multiple aspect ratios with this one, there’s a Twilight Zone sort of sequence in the film giving it the 1.37:1 treatment with black and white for some extra emphasis. But the rest of the film stretches the bounds of your television with the very wide 2.39:1 AVC HD encode. I will note that Anderson tends to paint the frame with the scenes. There are all sorts of intricate details to be found and, generally speaking, the actors will be placed at the extreme edges of the frame. That and if you’re into films that look like different shades of cotton candy – this one is for you. Extreme blue skies, yellows, pinks and light blues will dominate this very colorful film. I loved the look.

Audio: How’s it sound?

Universal’s disc gives us a pretty standard DTS HD Master Audio mix that’s sure to please. Anderson’s films aren’t generally know for robust/dynamic sound and this isn’t one that’s going to break new ground. Rather, we get a pretty straightforward mix that’s full of dialogue from the varied cast members. Some surround sounds prevail, but by and large this is a front-heavy mix. It’s a good-sounding mix, so don’t get me wrong, but there are other films out there that’ll make more use out of your speakers.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • The Making of Asteroid City – With Wes Anderson as your guide, take a personal tour behind the scenes of “Asteroid City” and get insider’s access into set creation, performer preparation, music rehearsals and more.
    • Desert Town – Wes Anderson pulls back the curtain on the creation of Asteroid City with an intimate look at what goes into building a town in the middle of a desert and bringing its quirks to life.
    • Doomsday Carnival – Go even further inside Asteroid City as period costumes, classic cars, and camera tricks combine to create a bustling midway of carnival rides and lookie-loos anticipating an alien arrival.
    • Montana and Ranch Hands – Witness a quiet prayer evolve into a hand-clapping country hoedown as the film’s fictional band inspires a sudden dance number through their banjo, bass, and washboard.
    • The Players – We meet the with the stars of Asteroid City.

The Bottom Line

It’s hard to go wrong with names like Tom Hanks, Bryan Cranston, Scarlett Johansson and Margot Robbie in the cast (just to name a few). Fans of Wes Anderson should be squealing in delight with this one. Odds are, though, that this one will end up in the hands of the Criterion Collection (like most all of Anderson’s other films) so if you need something to hold you over until that announcement, this will do. Otherwise I’m sure that version will have many more features and be the one to have. Regardless, Asteroid City is a (literal) sight to behold.

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