The Illusionist (Blu-ray)

January 28, 2012 6 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

I have no idea why this happens or why it happens so often in Hollywood, but I call them “twin movies.” You know what I’m talking about, films that have a similiar theme or plot, though they have different actors. Movies like “Wyatt Earp” and “Tombstone”, “Volcano and Dante’s Peak”, “Saving Private Ryan” and “The Thin Red Line” and now we have (or had) “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist.” A few years ago I watched “The Prestige”, a film by Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”, “Insomnia” and “Memento”) and though I had “The Illusionist” in my review pile, there it sat. I loved “The Prestige”, though it was superbly acted and let’s just say the ending was something that made my jaw drop. Well, don’t take my word for it now, take my word for it then. So after four years, Fox has now come out with “The Illusionist” on Blu-ray and I felt it was high time I gave this film a watch.

We meet a young Eisenheim (Edward Norton), a meager kid from a poor family. His friend is Sophie (Jessica Biel) and the two, despite their difference in class, form a friendship. We flash forward to “present day” (the film takes place in the 19th century) where Eisenheim is attracting a large amount of attention for his magic show. Sophie is set to be married to the Crown Price Leopold (Rufus Sewell). Sophie and Eisenheim meet up, though a strange circumstance, and as the two rediscover one another they start to fall in love. Add to this the fact that local Inspector Uhl (Paul Giamatti) is suspicious of Eisenheim’s methods, but is also trying to figure out his secrets. All of this changes when Sophie is evidently murdered. Is the Crown Prince the culprit? Is Eisenheim a sham?

Having seen the two movies now: “The Prestige” and “The Illusionist”, I’ll echo what I read in an IMDB forum. I think “The Prestige” is the superior movie. I’m not saying that this movie is bad, not by any stretch of the imagination. I do think that when I saw the ending of “The Prestige”, my mind was really blown (and I won’t give it away for anyone who hasn’t seen the film). But I somewhat expected the ending of “The Illusionist” to end the way it did. This might have not been the case had I not seen “The Prestige”, but I just wasn’t that surprised. Still, I’m a big fan of Edward Norton and Paul Giamatti is growing on me with every role he takes on. As is the case in so many movies, Jessica Biel was fine in her role, though I imagine that her role could have been played by just about anyone. How about a “real” British actress like Sienna Miller? At any rate, “The Illusionist” does entertain and if you’ve seen “The Prestige” but not this, then give this a look, for sure.

Video: How does it look?

I was pretty impressed with the way that “The Illusionist” has been presented. Fox has given the film a very interesting-looking transfer that is dominated by brown and earthy tones. Nearly the entire film looks like it’s presented in a way that the edges of the screen are somewhat blurred out and the action takes place inside the “bubble” that occupies most of the screen. I liked this effect, though it was a bit distracting at times. The 1.85:1 AVC HD transfer looks good, I noticed no artifacting at all. I think it’s simply the way this movie was presented that gives it a very unique look. A great effort here.

Audio: How does it sound?

The DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack has a few moments, but for the most part this is a very silent track. Most of the dialogue I felt myself having to strain to listen to and comprehend what the actors were saying. I try and maintain the volume on everything I watch so I can keep it consistent, but I found myself turning the volume a few notches here. There’s not a lot of ambiance here, mainly just dialogue and some surround effects here and there. Even the gun shot at the end of the film didn’t really impress. I don’t think this is a fault of the Blu-ray, moreover its the way the movie was intended to sound.

Supplements: What are the extras?

“The Illusionist” comes to Blu-ray in a two-disc format with the Blu-ray version of the film offered on the first disc and the standard DVD on the second. That’s not a problem, but all of the supplements (taken from the standard DVD) are also on the second disc. I have no idea why Fox does this and it’s not an isolated incident. Suffice it to say that if you want to listen to writer/director Neil Burger’s audio commentary, you’ll have to do it while watching the movie in standard definition. There are also two short featurettes: “The Making of ‘The Illusionist'” and one on star Jessica Biel.

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