• Chaplin

    Released By: Umbrella Entertainment
    Released On: June 12, 2017.
    Director: Richard Attenborough
    Cast: Robert Downey Jr., Geraldine Chaplin, Paul Rhys, John Thaw, Moira Kelly, Anthony Hopkins
    Year: 1992
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    The Movie:

    Note: This Blu-ray is advertised as being locked to Region B, but has played in a number of Region A players. Your mileage may vary.

    "I've seen this before." I thought as I watched the Umbrella Entertainment blu-ray of 1992's Chaplin. It first occurred to me that I'd seen it during one of the opening scenes, and I thought that there was a chance I'd started watching it and fallen asleep, or caught it late night after a few more than a few drinks. And then it kept happening. Throughout the film. Right up until the end. Scenes that I remembered seeing at some point. Indeed, at one time prior to this most recent viewing, I have watched Chaplin, from start to finish. But how was it possible that I had seen the almost two-and-a-half hour film, and had no memory of it? Was I drunk? Or was it just that forgettable?

    Richard Attenborough's (sorry....LORD Richard Attenborough's) film Chaplin is (obviously) based on the life of Mr. Charlie Chaplin, the English vaudeville star who came to America to make his now legendary name in comedic, silent pictures. We start off in the year 1894, as Charlie's mother (played by Chaplin's real-life daughter, Geraldine) is being booed off of a stage, her singing unable to soothe the savage beasts of servicemen and other drunkards in the audience. Recognizing that the show must go on, and feeling a need to protect his mother from the projectiles flung from the gallery, a very young Charlie Chaplin takes to the stage and dazzles the crowd with his natural ability to entertain. It's all sunshine and roses for the moment, before Charlie heads back into his life of poverty; sharing a one-room flat with his mother and older brother Syd, and dining on fish head soup. Before long, things go from bad to worse when the boys are taken from their home and split up, with Mother Chaplin shipped off to the asylum to deal with the mental issues that she's been experiencing.

    Later reunited with Syd (Paul Rhys), Charlie (Morton Downey Jr.) auditions for Fred Karno, a well-established vaudeville promoter, and sets about dazzling a whole new audience with his slapstick drunk character, manipulating his black tie and tails-clad body in unnatural ways; to massive comedic effect. It isn't long before Charlie works his way up the ladder to top billing, even finding a beautiful showgirl (Moira Kelly) to fall in love with. Real greatness beckons, however, and Charlie is soon bound for the United States of America, home of silent films and famous director Mack Sennett (Dan Aykroyd), who gives Charlie the exposure that he needs to become a celebrity. Along with Sennett's editor, Rollie (David Duchovny), Charlie continues to reach for the stars, until he's gained the confidence to break out and start his own film company. The world loves, "The Tramp", and Charlie draws crowds wherever he goes, attending parties of the rich and famous, like those given by Hollywood superstar Douglas Fairbanks (Kevin Kline), and marrying his way through a succession of very good-looking women (including Milla Jovovich and Diane Lane).

    For every step that he takes closer to greatness, though, Charlie feels the weight of his past casting a shadow of guilt over his success; what should be a triumphant return to his English hometown results in jeers and beers thrown by veterans incensed that Charlie's fame kept him off of the front lines; and though the occasion of his mother arriving stateside should radiate with warmth, her actions very quickly remind Charlie of how ill she truly is. Onward and upward goes Charlie, continuing his bad streak of marriages until he finds his soulmate, Oona (again, Moira Kelly), but then takes his greatest misstep when he dares to speak out against authority and the newly risen Nazi party of Germany; actions that brand the actor as anti-authoritarian and a Communist in the eyes of one J. Edgar Hoover, who utilizes the power of the FBI to place Charlie in exile in Switzerland. No longer comfortably situated in the country he has called home for the last twenty years, Charlie's hands are tied as "talkie" films slowly take over the medium in which he became a household name.

    Loosely based on Chaplin's autobiography, and featuring a stupendous cast of very talented actors, Chaplin should be a magnificent, unforgettable cinematic experience. The number of well-known actors who show up in the film, seemingly one after another, is awe-inspiring, and one wonders how the order of billing for this cast was haggled out. Anthony Hopkins, Marisa Tomei, Penelope Ann Miller, and James Woods are just a few of the names not previously mentioned in this review, and it's a safe bet that if you hit the pause button anywhere during the running time, you're sure to spot a well-known face. And true to their talents, the cast give some fantastic performances here, with Downey Jr. topping the bill; his portrayal of Charlie, right down to the smallest of mannerisms, is about as accurate as one would imagine it should be. Of course, Dan Aykroyd had already settled into his carny barker approach to acting by this point, but even that serves the role well.

    The unfortunate bit is that Chaplin's strength starts and stops with these amazing players. What's left after that? Two-and-a-half hours of not-so-great film making, a variety of scenes from Chaplin's life pasted together, that ultimately serve to provide no inspiration or affinity for Chaplin's plight or folly. When Downey Jr is performing, sure, it's entertaining, and the "get the film away from the wife" sequence that's filmed sped-up works well, but otherwise, the film is flat-out boring. Watch Charlie make a film. Watch Charlie get looked down upon. Watch Charlie not make a film, and watch Charlie hook up with yet another woman after having mundane conversations with Douglas Fairbanks. Making this Chaplin's Greatest Hits video mixtape even worse is the introduction of a fictitious character; George (Anthony Hopkins), shown interviewing Charlie in almost present-day Switzerland, serves no purpose but to introduce different sections of Charlie's book by saying things like, "In your book, you wrote about THIS", followed by that section of the book acted out on screen. Making THAT even worse is the almost present-day Charlie, Robert Downey Jr. done up with some damned unconvincing old man makeup. It's plodding, it's pedantic, and when it happens the 7th or 8th time, it's annoying. Making that not-so-bad, though, is that when contrasted with Downey Jr.'s makeup at the end of the film; for "really old Charlie", it looks far more realistic than the mummified figure we fade to black from.

    In all likelihood, the scenes with Hopkins and sixties Switzerland Charlie could have been cut from the film, and the already far too long running time would have benefited from the chop. But in addition to all of those other flaws, the film as a whole also suffers from some poor decision making; a score that sets the action directly in the late 1980's/early 1990's, and an irritating aesthetic that includes countless distracting dissolves and wipes. Remove that nonsense, simplify the score to something closer to Chaplin's original soundtracks, knock out Hopkins and Switzerland, and Chaplin may qualify as somewhat entertaining. Unfortunately, it exists as something far worse than even a horrible film; it's mediocre and boring.


    Chaplin comes to Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray in a 1.85:1 AVC-encoded transfer that some have reported as being identical to the 2011 Lionsgate release, which was apparently not much of a step up from the previous DVD release. Having not seen the DVD or the North American Blu-ray, I can't comment specifically on that, but I can tell you that this version of Chaplin does not look good. Though the picture appears to be stable for the most part, it lacks detail, it lacks good contrast, it lacks deep blacks, and it certainly isn't representative of what HD is capable of. "Smeary" is how I would describe it, and although there are some close-ups that do look decent, most of this film's transfer can be described as outdated and ugly, with countless artifacts and other problems.

    The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track fares slightly better, with the dialogue-heavy film remaining coherent for the most part, though it couldn't be called "dynamic" by any stretch. Still, it lacks distortion and other audio anomalies, and carries the the sound adequately.

    English, French, and Spanish subtitles are available for the feature.

    Strolling Into The Sunset (7:29), Chaplin The Hero (6:05) and The Most Famous Man In The World (5:27) are three short featurettes taken from the same group of interviews with "Lord" Richard Attenborough, Chaplin biographer David Robinson, film critic Richard Schickel, and Chaplin's son, Michael. The group discuss a few topics over the just-under-twenty-minutes spread, including the difficulty of getting financing for the picture, Downey Jr's audition for the part and the lengths that he went to to get Chaplin's mannerisms down for the film, Charlie's humour and how global it was, and how Charlie always remembered his roots even after he got famous. All three are SD and have been ported over from the Lionsgate releases.

    Next up is a collection of six Chaplin short films (almost two hours) that were shot for Mutual Film, according to the title cards. Before any of you Chaplin fans get excited, these films are not quite unwatchable, but definitely on the border. Sourced from a tape master (with tracking lines evident), "The Cure", "The Floorwalker", "The Vagabond", "Behind The Screen", "The Fireman", and "The Rink" range in quality from worse to horrid, with bleached picture, a complete lack of detail, abundant damage, and a prominent hiss that distracts from the soundtrack. Not bad that they've been included, but these are available elsewhere; restored.

    An Image Gallery exists in the form of a slideshow, featuring the press kit for the film (it'll be helpful if you have a zoom button on your remote), production notes, and some stills from the film.

    A Trailer rounds out the extras.

    The Final Word:

    What appears to be a straight port-over from an existing Blu-ray release that came out some time ago; and was no great shakes in its time, either; Umbrella's release of Chaplin presents a so-so film in barely so-so quality, with so-so extras. Fans of the film will most likely be disappointed by the lack of effort that's gone into this release, though folks in the AU region may find it more economically feasible than the cheap Lionsgate Blu-ray still readily available.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!