Plot: What’s it about?
As much as a mind F#%@ that Memento is, there’s something about it that draws the viewer back for more. Maybe even for a third or fourth time. But the question has to be asked…what is it about this movie that makes it good enough to warrant so many repeated viewings? Well, for one, it’s a very confusing movie and a few more viewings certainly couldn’t hurt and maybe the film would start to make some sort of sense. Does it make sense the first time around? Sure it does, but some of us aren’t all the same speed (especially when it comes to soaking in films) and the way Memento is filmed, edited and written…we’ll need every bit of screen time that is allotted. And in a nutshell, that’s it. That’s the “buzz” over Memento. While this might not seem like a lot, trust me, if you haven’t seen it the film will either make perfect sense or you’ll be scratching your noggin’ trying to figure out what happened to who when. The premise is simple enough, and written by the Director’s brother, a bit of neoptism might have played a part as well. If nepotism does this, I say cast the Fonda’s, Huston’s and Barrymore’s!
We first see Leonard (Guy Pearce) as he has just put a bullet into the back of Teddy’s (Joe Pantoliano). The scene plays in reverse, come to think of it the entire movie plays in reverse, and it’s downhill (or should I say uphill) from there. We don’t know the characters, what their motiviations are and what’s even more hard to explain is the fact that we have just seen the main character shoot another in the head. But we’re asking the same question he is…why? The story is told in a series of flashbacks (though we’re not quite sure how to follow it) that are in Black and White. The “new” information that we see is in color. As Leonard tries to reconstruct (or construct, rather) the little things that make up his day, we are confronted with his problem. The “problem”, essentially, is that he is no longer able to form new memories since the death of his wife. This problem of his is unique, but not unheard of. Each day is new to him, each face a new one though he might have met them day after day after day. To remember the key points of his life, his ongoing investigation and so on, he tatoos key items on his body. These range from a license plate number to a tatoo that is scrawled backwards on his chest that says “John G. raped and killed my wife”. How would you like to wake up every morning and see that in the mirror?
What’s so interesting and therefore frustrating for us and Leonard is that we’re not sure how to proceed. I draw the parallel that we take one step forward and then two steps back. We (and he) make progress, but very slow. The movie makes no mention of exactly how long he has been conducting his investigation. All we know is that he used to be an insurance claims investigator and that now he drives a Jaguar, wears the same clothes and is on the constant lookout for the person responsible for the murder of his wife. Memento truly is one of the more original movies to come out of Tinseltown in the last few years, and it’s a breath of fresh air. What’s more is that repeated viewings of this film are not only wanted, but almost required to decipher what’s going on. Proof that good acting, a well-written script and a thought-provoking storyline still make a good movie. Highly recommended.
Video: How does it look?
Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know. It seems the new "thing" is for studios to put out some "bare bones" release and then announce a Special Edition before the ink dries up on the DVD. Memento is no exception, but in this case, it might be worth it. The initial release of this disc featured a good-looking anamorphic transfer. I looked at this new transfer (taken from a high-definition master) and it does indeed improve upon the old one in a few ways. First of all, the 2.35:1 framing of the film is outstanding, I can’t imagine it any other way. Where the new transfer excels is in the details. There seems to be a level of clarity that wasn’t there before, some artifacting (grain) has been removed as well. The only thing that I really noticed was the slightest bit of edge enhancement, but that doesn’t distract from this in the least. Quite simply, this is just about as good as it gets when it comes to film. If you’re happy with the previous version, fine by me, but how can you sleep at night knowing that there’s a better-looking version of Memento out there?
Audio: How does it sound?
As with the video quality of the new edition, this also features a pretty kickin’ DTS sound mix as well. The original Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is still intact and I couldn’t really tell any difference between the original and this one. Sound, as you well know, does play a pretty big part in the movie. Granted, you’ll have to follow what’s on the screen, but the constant activities and the little effects that you hear throughout the movie make it that much more enjoyable. The DTS, as per usual, is a step above the Dolby Digital 5.1 track, but those who select the latter will not be disappointed. Listen and look very closely to the movie here…you’ll need all the hints you can gather! Another plus for this new 2-Disc set.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Ok, as if the movie itself didn’t mess with you enough, the packaging and menus are there just to make you go a little bit more crazy. First, the packaging. Yes, it’s cool-looking, but it’s also very frustrating. In what looks like a doctors log book, we have some slips of paper that are fastened to the outside cover with a plastic paper clip (the one on my copy was green, don’t know if they used different colors or not, but who really cares). But getting out the double discs is a challenge in itself. You have to grab them and pull and if you get lucky, they come out. This might be one of those things that sounds good on paper, but in practice, it just isn’t too well thought out. Anyway, once you actually get the discs out of their holster, you don’t really know which one is which, but the tiny (and I mean tiny) numbers on the discs tell you which one is which. Let’s start with the first disc.
These menus, as I should have probably guessed, are pretty unique and inventive. We’re confronted with a memory test and as a series of words are flashed in front of you on the screen, you have to remember them to navigate throughout the menus. Once you get past this, however, the choices to become pretty clear (or as clear as can be expected). Essentially, the only bonus materials on here is the DTS soundtrack and the commentary track by Christopher Nolan. The track is great, Nolan’s brother wrote the idea for the movie and we learn of all sorts of things that made the movie work. We learn the real meaning of Memento and even by his own admission, he says the film requires multiple viewings (just one more reason that you’ll get your money’s worth here). Essentially, that’s all you get on the first disc. I’m sure there are plenty of Easter Eggs out there, but if there were I was either too tired or confused to find any of note.
This, naturally, brings us to the second disc. We are greeted in much the same way with pictures instead of words this time and by selecting any one of those on the screen (though only 6 are selectable), it controls how we navigate through the maze-like structure of the menus. I think I actually managed to find a listing of the extras, so I think I’m covering all of the bases here, but then again…I could be wrong. First up is the "Director’s Shooting Script" which allows you to view the script as you watch the movie. It kind of reminded me of those James Bond storyboards that you can toggle on/off throughout the movie, but this was a rather interesting feature. You can use the angle feature (finally, they’re being used) to switch from the movie to the script. Next up is a documentary entitled "Anatomy of a Scene" which aired on the Sundance Channel. I found this by accident, but found later that it can be selected from the menu as well. As I have seen a few of these and some of the AMC (American Movie Classics) Backstory, these are very well made. It’s a bit more than a "Making of", but it does help out with the plot and how to understand and interpret the film. If you’re like me, you’re too stupid to get the film the first time around, so you need the cast to explain it to you. Or maybe it’s just me. The "Memento Mori" story, from which the movie was based on, made the cut from the first disc. Containing some fifty screens of text, this is the entire short story which was written by Nolan’s brother. There are some art galleries of poster concepts and images from the film as well as some props from the film. Two theatrical trailers are also included as well. In closing, while this isn’t the most "packed" of Special Editions, it does excel in video and audio terms (in a new transfer and a DTS soundtrack) and the wealth of bonus materials is a good selling point as well. The menus and the packaging might drive you up the wall, but consider the movie! Highly recommended.