Marriage Story

I recently wrote here that I was counting down the days until Criterion's special edition blu-ray of Noah Baumbach's Marriage Story, so I'm sure you were all anticipating this one.  This is his fifth venture with Criterion now (or sixth, counting The Life Aquatic), and hey, I'm more than ready for them to follow-through with the other seven.  And upgrade their Kicking & Screaming DVD to blu.  How about a big ol' boxed set?  Well, for today, I'm just going to be happy with what I have.
We've spent a lot of time looking at Baumbach's larger than life parents throughout his oeuvre.  Now this one feels like it's jabbing at even more tender flesh by mining the life and death of his own first marriage.  The exposed nerves of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson never stop digging to reveal intimate truths Hollywood rarely gets near.  But lest the pain and vulnerability become too much for audiences to take, we're buoyed by an especially delightful supporting cast who add humor and bring the absurd trappings of modern-day divorce to life.  Laura Dern finally won her first Oscar here; and we're consistently being entertained by her and Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Julie Haggerty, Wallace Shawn, The Walking Dead's Merritt Wever, plus cameos by Robert "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" Smigel and Baumbach favorite Carlos Jacott.
Criterion has just released Marriage Story as a special edition DVD and BD (separate releases; combo-packs are dead) this summer.  Naturally, even though it's academic for most fans - because the FYC discs are super scarce and have just been invalidated by a superior, official retail release entering the market - I was still quite curious to see how the Netflix screener compared to these new releases.  Not that there was any reason to expect big, exciting variances.  You could be pretty sure it would be the same transfer taken from the same locked DCP with maybe an ever-so-slightly better or worse encode.  But no, actually they turned out to be more distinct than that.
2019 Netflix BD top; 2020 Criterion DVD mid; 2020 Criterion BD bottom.
Yes, all three versions are pillar-boxed to 1.67:1, just like it streamed on Netflix.  The DVD, as you'd expect, is softer, though it does a better job preserving the grain than you'd expect.  Sure it's smudgy and more often a funky digital pattern than a perfect grain replica.  But for SD, it's refreshingly filmic, especially when the grain sometimes gets lost on the blu, too.  In some shots, I bet you could fool a lot of home theater devotees in a blind test.  In other shots, though, the upgrade is more obvious.  But, when comparing the two blus, it's hard to focus on which capture is stronger, because the color difference is so distracting.  Who thought Criterion would change the color timing?  But they did.  Now, I don't know which is Baumbach's preferred, but theirs is definitely warmer, while the screener is cooler and more cyan.  Yes, Criterion's is less green... they seem to have gotten past that little phase.  I mean, it's not a radical shift, but when you were expecting two identical transfers, it's hard to peel your attention off of it.  Again, without confirmation from Baumbach or his DP, it's hard to say which is the more "correct" timing, but for what it's worth, I prefer the new Criterion.Of course, another reason to prefer the Criterion is that they've bumped up Netflix's 5.1 to lossless DTS-HD for their blu.  All three discs include optional English subtitles, but the Criterion's also take the extra step of adding an English descriptive audio track for the visually impaired.
Then of course, the difference that's really going to have fans excited: the extras.  How about a feature-length behind-the-scenes 'making of' documentary, for a start, that takes you through the entire filming process?  There's also a separate, on-camera interview with Baumbach, a featurette interviewing the stars, another with the main crew members, and a conversation between Baumbach and composer Randy Newman.  Still not enough?  There's another featurette that focuses on filming the famous argument scene from the third act.  We also get two trailers and a 12-page fold-out booklet with notes by literary critic Linn Ullmann (yes, daughter of Liv and Ingmar) and reproductions of the character's lists (if you've seen the movie, you'll know what this means) from the film.
You don't get much more essential than this in my book.  And hey, while we're waiting for Criterion to come in and restore Baumbach's entire catalog, it looks like Mr. Jealousy will finally make its blu-ray debut this year from a little label called Moonstone Entertainment.  That one's previously only been available on barebones DVDs that weren't even anamorphic, so make that must-haves in the meantime.

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