The Last Emperor.(The
Criterion Collection, 2008).
Red-carpet DVD producer Criterion does it again with its
lavish, four-disk box set release of this Oscar winner from 1987.Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, the film is
one of two films in Academy history that won all of its nominations in nine
categories (Gigi being the other;
only one other film won a higher number of nominations without a loss, and that
was The Lord of the Rings—the Return of
the King).Emperor is a magnificent and intelligent epic about Pu Yi, the last
reigning emperor of Imperial China.While full of spectacle on a grand scale, the picture also manages to be
an intimate human drama about a young man trapped by historical events out of
his control.After all, this was a
person who became the emperor of a country at the age of three.Of particular historical cinematic importance
is the fact that the film was the first commercial picture to be shot within Beijing’s Forbidden City.Starring John Lone and Joan Chen as the
emperor and empress, and featuring a marvelous supporting turn by Peter O’Toole
as Pu Yi’s British tutor, the film is clearly Bertolucci’s masterpiece and
arguably one of the best films of the 1980s.It richly deserved every award bestowed upon it.
Criterion has restored the theatrical version (at 165
minutes) in a beautiful, high-definition digital transfer, supervised and
approved by cinematographer Vittorio Storaro.There is also an audio commentary by Bertolucci, producer Jeremy Thomas,
screenwriter Mark Peploe, and co-composer/actor Ryuichi Sakamoto.
A second disk features a restored high-definition digital
transfer of the 218 minute ‘director’s cut’ televised version (that also played
briefly in the theaters in the 1990s).This version delves deeper into Pu Yi’s incarceration at the
“reconditioning” camp during the 1950s, as well as more scenes in the early Forbidden City sections.
Disks three and four are loaded with supplements.There are several lengthy documentaries, both
vintage and contemporary, about the making of the film.The crown jewel is the feature originally
broadcast on BBC television’s The South
Bank Show.A new and entertaining
interview with co-composer David Byrne is also a highlight.
The Last Emperor
has often been called “the last great epic.”While this contention is arguable, Criterion’s presentation of this
magnificent motion picture certainly goes a long way toward proving it.