Years ago, all of Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan's films got nice, special edition DVDs with commentaries and stuff. Even his rare, early films were packaged as part of The Essential Egoyan series and given a larger audience than they'd ever had before. The exception being Exotica (and I guess The Adjuster, too; but that's a post for another day), as it wound up being picked up by Miramax just as Egoyan was beginning to take off with international audiences... So it couldn't be included with the rest of his back catalog, but also wasn't a big enough hit like Sweet Hereafter and Felecia's Journey to get a special edition on its own rights. So we just had this generic, barebones release, with a photo of some lady who wasn't even in the movie on the cover, making it look like a softcore porn. And to this day, in the United States, that's still the best we've got.
Update 12/30/14 - 5/8/17: Less of an update and more of a complete article overhaul.  This was one my early posts, where I hadn't quite gotten into the swing of things.  And my Exotica article's gotta be up to snuff on DVDExotica, right?  So I'm replacing .jpg screenshots with .pngs, adding the original Miramax DVD and doing a little basic rewriting.

Update 2/24/20: Again, this being DVDExotica, I feel uniquely obligated to make this page as relevant as possible. And seeing as how there's two competing blu-rays for this title in the world, I couldn't leave this page sitting without both of them.  So here we go, the 2014 UK from Artificial Eye's Atom Egoyan Collection boxed set is now in the mix.

Update 9/26/22: Nominative determinism dictates that I update this post with Criterion's new 4k BD restoration of Exotica.  Plus, I really wanted to.
Like many of Egoyan's films, Exotica plays with the conventions of story structure, often showing scenes out of chronology, and cutting to different characters narratives without letting us know how they're going to link up. His films become mysteries, but not of the traditional whodunit murder variety. You're just pulled into slowly learning why these characters are behaving as they are and what moment they're heading to. Getting into the plot at all, then, feels pretty spoilerish, so I'll just set up the terrific cast of characters. Bruce Greenwood is an accountant who spends his days at an artsy strip club called Exotica, owned by a lovelorn Elias Koteas and Mia Kirshner, Egoyan's wife who's in every one of his films. Writer/ director Don McKellar plays a pet shop owner illegally smuggling exotic eggs into the country, and Sarah Polley comes in as a babysitter very similar to her character in Sweet Hereafter. Finally, Mia Kirshner stars as a dancer who performs as a schoolgirl in honor of a tragic secret they all share.
You don't hear much about it, but the film was finally able to be wrested away from Miramax's iron grasp for blu-rays first in Canada (Alliance Films, 2012) and then the UK (2013, then repackaged as part of Artificial Eye's The Atom Egoyan Collection in 2014). As Exotica is possibly my favorite Egoyan film (it's a tough call), the Canadian blu was a Day One pick-up for me. And to this day, there still has been barely any reviews or coverage of this disc, so that plus - you know; look at the name of the site we're on - put it on the short list to review here.  This is a combo pack, so we've got a DVD and blu to look at here, plus the original Miramax DVD from 1999.  And now, it's finally making its US HD debut thanks to Criterion, who've made a new 4k restoration, plus some new special features.
1) 1999 Miramax DVD; 2) 2012 Alliance DVD;
3) 2012 Alliance BD; 4) 2014 AE BD; 5) 2022 Criterion BD.

Woof at the Miramax DVD being non-anamorphic, but then again it is pretty ancient.  Also, look how wildly different the framing is.  I mean, yeah the Miramax is 1.85:1 (despite the case claiming 1.66:1) and the old blu-rays are 1.78:1, but the vertical shift is so far off.  Clearly, there are two film technicians in the world who strongly disagree with each other.  Alliance has Egoyan's signature of being director approved, but then so does Criterion (he's also credited as a supervisor along with DoP Paul Sarossy), and you can see that one's quite different, too. The colors on the DVD look way too purple, edge enhancement is visible and it's pretty soft and muddy even for standard def.  Compare that to foreign blus, which already look a lot better.  Grain is a little soft and the contrast is definitely on the flat side.  Oh and the brights flare out a little bit at times (look at the note over McKellar's shoulder above); but these are still huge, huge upgrades compared to the old DVD.
2014 AE BD inside; 2022 Criterion BD outside.
Criterion's transfer is back to 1.85:1, but as you can see, some shots are considerably reframed.  The above shot pulls back to reveal so much more, even though the previous shot of them in the car does not, that I kept thinking I was looking at the wrong frame.  And now, scanned in 4k from the OCN, Exotica looks so much more beautiful.  The brights no longer flare out, the encode is strong and specific, restoring its filmic look and replacing fuzziness with genuine grain.  Plus, the picture itself has been widened a bit, which does look more natural.  The image really draws you in much more than even the old blus could, and all the little detail really pops.

Every release features the stereo track, but the Alliance blu also includes a French dub (with both tracks in DTS-HD), as well as French and English subtitles.  And here's where Artificial Eye really comes up short, with no subtitles and worse yet: just the English stereo track in lossy Dolby Digital (despite promising LPCM on the case).  It's back to DTS-HD on the Criterion, and we get optional English subs again, too.
In terms of extras, the old Miramax DVD has absolutely nothing, but the two import blus each have one big, and unique, feature. The Artificial Eye disc has a 54 minute documentary entitled Formulas for Seduction: The Cinema of Atom Egoyan, which is pretty good though it's more a vague coverage of Egoyan's film career rather than being very Exotica-specific. It honestly could've been placed on any disc in the boxed set and just happens to have settled on this one. And it has been released before, on the US and Canadian DVD releases of Calendar. So there's a good chance you already own it. The Alliance disc, on the other hand, has an audio commentary with Egoyan and composer Mychael Danna. It's a good commentary but very soundtrack focused. Seriously, it's not a director's commentary with the composer occasionally chiming in about the score; they're both there to talk primarily about the music. Maybe not 100% of the time, but a great deal of it. I'd rate this commentary as excellent, but it really feels like it should be paired with a second commentary track with Egoyan talking about the rest of the film. As it is, you're left feeling like, "that's all?" Especially since it's the only feature for the work of a filmmaker we're used to having great extras for.  But nope, not even a trailer more.
There's still no trailer on the Criterion, but that's okay, because they've given us plenty of other treats.  First of all, they retain the Alliance commentary, so that's nice.  They also include a great new on-camera conversation between Egoyan and Sarah Polley (wait 'till you hear what the original conception of this film was!).  And there's an audio commentary of a film festival Q&A with Egoyan, Greenwood and a few others, which is quite good.  Often those festival press junkets just consist of insipid softball questions like, "in this film, your character dates a very handsome man.  Do you find your co-star as handsome as we do?"  But here it's all good questions and insightful answers.  Don't skip it.

And they give us several other Egoyan films: the feature-length Calendar and three short films: Peepshow, En Passant and Artaud Double Bill.  The first three are all already covered on my Atom Egoyan Collection page, which I've updated to include these new transfers.  But in brief, if you don't feel like clicking over, En Passant is a slight improvement in PQ, Calendar is a slight step backwards (and the audio is still lossy) and Peepshow is virtually indistinguishable from the previous discs.  Egoyan also gives us a new little interview about Calendar, which is nice if you don't have the more robust special features the DVD came with. 
The last short is making its home video debut here: Artaud Double Bill.  It's very brief, clocking in at three and a half minutes, originally commissioned as part of a larger anthology for the Cannes Film Festival in 2007.  It's about two friends who plan to go see Godard’s Vivre sa vie, but one of them decides to go see The Adjuster instead.  So they text each other from their respective screenings, and then the credits roll.  It's a bit shocking a film festival would endorse being on your phone in a movie theater, but you can see how mixing the forms of media (one of the girls films a bit of her movie to show the other girl what she's missing) would appeal to Egoyan all his early films.  So, you know, it's nothing amazing, but nice to help flesh out our Egoyan collections that much further.

Criterion's release also includes a fold-out insert with notes by Jason Wood of the BFI, who co-directed Formulas of Seduction.
Previously, I concluded this post by saying, "I wouldn't mind Criterion or somebody rolling up and blowing all of these options out of the water with a new, revelatory 4k scan and perhaps even more importantly at this stage, a heap of new extras."  And they pretty much have.  I do feel like they only came up with a couple new extras, and are trying to cover up that fact by throwing in Calendar, which really deserves its own separate, proper release.  I was hoping for a second, more comprehensive commentary, and interviews with more of the cast and crew.  But I can't be mad at what we've got.  This is a decidedly superior edition of Exotica, and we did get a couple nice, new bonuses.  Thanks, Criterion!

1 comment:

  1. I've heard so-ao things about the commentary but still dying to hear it. Hope it will be released in the US someday. The current DVD doesn't even have a trailer.