Just released on Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, The Royal Tenenbaums ($39.95) is a surprisingly sweet film masquerading as a bittersweet comedy. Chock-full of the usual menagerie of quirky characters that populate a Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tenenbaums is about family -- a highly dysfunctional one. It's also about redemption, as the film's namesake and patriarch who once ruined his family ultimately saves it.
The terrific cast is led by Gene Hackman in his last great role before retiring from acting as Royal, Anjelica Huston as his long-estranged wife Etheline, Ben Stiller as his older son and financial whiz Chas, Gwyneth Paltrow as his adopted daughter and accomplished playwright Margot, and Luke Wilson as his youngest son and successful professional tennis player Richie.
The three children were all preternaturally gifted, but when Royal left the family at the insistence of his wife they entered a state of arrested development, frozen at the moment of their greatest achievements. It's the return of their scheming father that saves them from a lifetime of stunted emotional growth and troubles. It's a funny, moving, and upbeat movie that takes worn-out family dynamics and makes them fresh again.
The Criterion Blu-ray provides a gorgeous picture to an already alluring film. Shot in widescreen, The Royal Tenenbaums is a palate of vibrant colors in almost every scene -- and on almost every character. It's easy to get distracted by the surreal beauty and symbolism behind it all. There are loads of extras from Criterion as well, the best being the director's commentary by Anderson from the DVD version, and a nearly 30-minute behind-the-scenes feature of the making of The Royal Tenebaums that should please any Anderson fan or budding filmmaker.
The Royal Tenebaums is arguably Anderson's finest work, and with the Criterion Blu-ray it's never had a better showcase.
-- KIRK BAIRD