Alphaville: Criterion Collection

January 28, 2012 7 Min Read

Review by: Kat

Plot: What’s it about?

Lemmy Caution (Eddie Constantine) is an American private detective who has a new case, one that takes him all the way to another planet to rescue an imprisoned scientist. His destination is Alphaville, a very modern city that has strange happenings, such as words being banned, as well as love being outlawed. In short, Alphaville is an emotion free prison, where feelings are not allowed and punishment is banishment. As soon as Caution arrives he finds himself under the gun of a criminal of some type, but manages to defeat him before it’s too late. Whether he’s being harassed by the almost robotic female attendants or having problems with the city’s ruler Dr. Von Braun, Caution is like a fish out of water in this town. Soon Caution meets Natacha, who is related to Von Braun and some sparks fly, but of course love is not allowed so no remnants are seen. Soon Caution becomes involved in a plan to overthrow Von Braun’s fascist creation, the supercomputer Alpha 60, who makes these rules in order to become more human. Can Lemmy manage to defeat Alpha 60 or will he become another drone who simply follows orders…

A friend of mine recommended this title to me, and I was unsure of how I would like it. But since we both have more offbeat tastes, I decided to give this one a chance. I did some research on the movie before I saw it, so I was prepared for an unusual film…but man this is some strange stuff. The movie seems to have a complex storyline, but I am never sure when it progresses, since there’s always a new little detail added in around every corner. The movie is also known as “Tarzan Vs. IBM,” and that name fits it to perfection. Lemmy Caution is like a primitive man inside a futuristic world in this movie, and in this case the savage seems to be the good guy. While I was sometimes left equal parts dazzled and baffled, I always liked what I was seeing, even if it didn’t all make perfect sense the first time I watched the movie. After a second, and now third viewing, I find myself liking this film even more and discovering new things all the time. This is an offbeat movie that uses camera angles, unusual events and happenings, strange voices and more to keep you thinking while you’re being entertained. I think this is a fantastic movie that all film buffs should check out, but make sure you rent this first, as the disc is little more the movie itself.

Jean Luc-Godard directed this movie as well penning the screenplay, which was based on the novel by Peter Cheyney. This is the first movie I have seen of Godard’s, but since my friend owns several of them, I’ll be sure to check out more. This movie is loaded with excellent compositions, angles, and placements, all of which create a powerful but sometimes disorienting environment. That’s a compliment to Godard, as few films can manage such a task while still being fun to watch. Those of you who want more of Godard, his other films include Breathless, New Wave, The Beautiful Swindlers, and Six In Paris. The role of Lemmy Caution is played by Eddie Constantine, who turns in an incredible performance. Constantine (The Long Good Friday, It Lives Again) plays Caution with an equal blend of energy and sloth, which seems like the correct formula for the character. Also with a substantial role in this film is Anna Karina, who plays the female counter to Caution. Karina (Cleo From 5 To 7) fills her role with emotion and passion, a really terrific and powerful performance. The rest of the cast includes Christa Lang (Thieves After Dark), Howard Vernon (Delicatessen), Jean-Louis Comolli (Stray Bullets), and Jean-Andre Fieschi.

Video: How does it look?

Alphaville is presented in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio, which is an open matte of the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio. This transfer doesn’t look as sharp as more recent releases, but I venture to say it is excellent given the nature of this release. This movie is over thirty years old and it looks better than many films I’ve seen around the same age, so I won’t complain. The source print shows some minor flecks and nicks, but the compression is flawless, with no artifacts to be seen. The contrast is well executed with this black and white transfer, so the image is never obscured or over lightened. The shadows seem accurate and I could find no traces of detail loss at all.

Audio: How does it sound?

This film is presented with the original French mono track, and of course they’ve supplied English subtitles. Since this is mono, you won’t find much power anywhere, but it takes of this movie. This film is dialogue driven so the audio punch isn’t needed in truth and this mix supplies clean and distinct vocals. It might be in a language I don’t speak, but I know clarity when I hear it. Any music and effects remain in the background, where they belong in this mix.

Supplements: What are the extras?

Aside from the production notes found in the insert booklet, no supplements were included.

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