Under the Radar

Forget It, Jake

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Chinatown has long been one of the most-requested Blu-ray releases and this new version of Roman Polanski's 1974 classic certainly delivers. Starring Jack Nicholson as Los Angeles private detective J.J. Gittes, the movie manages to remain true to the black heart of the early noir films that inspired it while at the same time capturing the spirit of the maverick '70s cinema that produced it.

The incredibly complicated plot involves a murder that may or may not be connected to shady land deals involving the future of the LA water supply. Nicholson's performance is matched by Faye Dunaway's best performance since Bonnie & Clyde and an ultra-creepy turn by John Huston as her father and the dark force behind the real estate scheme.

Chinatown is the last movie Polanski made in America before he fled the country in 1977 rather than statutory rape charges in LA and the director never again made a movie this good (although 1999's The Ninth Gate with Johnny Depp is an underrated trashy pleasure). Robert Towne's screenplay sets the movie thirty years after the city built the actual aqueduct that brings water to town from the Owens Valley.

The transfer on this version is spectacular and there's an interesting 5.1 audio mix, although the original theatrical mono mix sounds every bit as good and the dialog might be a little clearer.

There are extensive extras on the disk, although none of them will be new if you bought the last version of the DVD released in 1999. There's an extensive hour-plus documentary that features Towne telling the real story of  LA water and the film is so thorough that it comes off as an apology for convincing a generation of moviegoers that the SoCal story was even more sinister than it actually was. There's also a great commentary track that features Towne in conversation with director David Fincher: it's one of those advanced film school lessons that give the feature its good name.

This is a definitive version of one of the greatest American movies, totally worth the upgrade if you've got an older DVD and essential viewing if you've never seen it before.

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Under the Radar