June 16, 2024

CHINATOWN in 4K...With a TWO JAKES Chaser

1974 / 131 min
Review by Mr. Paws😸

The Paramount Presents series has been getting better and better lately, especially their 4K releases. In addition to outstanding transfers and excellent packaging, the supplemental material is becoming increasingly tough to pass up for cinephiles. Chinatown (#45 in the series, for those counting) might be the best one yet.

Like Once Upon a Time in the West released earlier this year, this one includes interesting new bonus features along with a substantial list of supplemental material carried over from previous Blu-ray/DVD editions. But the cherry-on-top is a second disc featuring The Two Jakes, the belated and maligned sequel to Chinatown that’s been largely forgotten over time, now on Blu-ray for the first time. 

So from a historical perspective, it’s pretty close to indispensable. Not only is Chinatown one of the best films of the 1970s, it’s the greatest example of neo-noir ever made. Of course, one could easily argue it’s not actually neo-noir, but classic film noir that simply happened to be made decades after the genre’s heyday…and unbound by Hayes Code restrictions.

Either way, it remains a career highpoint for nearly everyone involved. Roman Polanski wouldn’t direct another film as narratively and visually engaging. Screenwriter Robert Towne would never again create characters or a story with this level of complexity. This was Jack Nicholson before his own persona began to creep into his characters, and one of Faye Dunaway’s last great roles…a quintessential femme fatale.

Chinatown truly captured lightning in a bottle, as dubiously demonstrated by its belated sequel. The Two Jakes isn’t a terrible movie by any stretch, but was a notoriously troubled production, which certainly contributed to the convoluted story, jarring tonal shifts and weak attempts to connect the narrative to that of the original film. Towne’s disjointed screenplay lacks the nuances that made Chinatown unique, and includes distracting voiceover narration by Jake Gittes (Nicholson). Pulling double duty here, Nicholson’s direction is competent, but he’s certainly no Polanski. 

Still, it’s an interesting curio. Viewed in the context of circumstances surrounding its production - to say nothing of Chinatown’s looming legacy - The Two Jakes’ inclusion elevates it from a comparatively weak stand-alone film to the mother of all bonus features. As for the classic itself, Chinatown looks and sounds stunning in 4K UHD, one of the better transfers I’ve seen lately. That alone make this set worth the upgrading from previous editions, with the abundant extras as icing on the cake. So far, this is the best 4K release of the year.


THE TWO JAKES (1990) - On Blu-ray.

NEW FEATURETTES - In A State of Mind: Author Sam Wasson on Chinatown is an appreciation by the author, who discusses aspects of the film from the viewpoint of a lifelong Los Angelino; The Trilogy that Never Was has Wasson discussing what was originally planned to be a trilogy (had The Two Jakes not flopped); In Chinatown Memories, assistant director Hawk Koch shares a few amusing behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

FEATURETTES - In Chinatown: An Appreciation, some contemporary notables discuss their admiration; Chinatown: The Beginning and the End features interviews with Polanski, Nicholson, Towne and producer Robert Evans; Chinatown: Filming features discussions regarding the production; Chinatown: The Legacy has Polanski, Nicholson, Towne & Evans touting Jerry Goldsmith’s evocative score, as well as discussing the film’s success when released.

AUDIO COMMENTARY - By Robert Towne and director David Fincher.



FOLD-OUT SLIPCOVER - Opens to reveal a replica of the original iconic one-sheet, which is infinitely more appealing than the godawful new cover.

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