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Talk about a head-trip… BEING JOHN MALKOVICH ($25) is one of the strangest, funniest and most original films that I have seen in quite some time. As movies go, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is odd enough to be totally outside the Hollywood mainstream, yet the film has enough bankable stars to make it "commercial." BEING JOHN MALKOVICH stars John Cusack as Craig Schwartz, an unsuccessful puppeteer, who is forced to take a job as a file clerk at an odd company that resides between the 7th and 8th floors of a New York City building. One day, Craig drops a file and has to move one of the filing cabinets to retrieve it. After pulling the filing cabinet away from the wall, Craig discovers a small door. Curious as to where the door leads, Craig crawls through it and is suddenly transported into the head of actor John Malkovich.

The experience lasts only fifteen minutes, after which John finds himself deposited by roadside of the New Jersey Turnpike. Craig is blown away by being John Malkovich and immediately recognizes the money making potential that the doorway offers. So, with the help of a Maxine (Catherine Keener), a co-worker with whom he has become infatuated, Craig opens a business that allows ordinary people to briefly experience life as John Malkovich. The absurd plot of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH does ask some philosophical questions about the notions of "self." However, the movie doesn’t lose its audience by dwelling on these deeper implications. I should note that John Malkovich gives a great performance as himself. Portraying one’s self really isn’t as easy at it would seem, especially, within the context of a movie where other people are wearing your skin. The cast of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH also features Cameron Diaz (who is almost unrecognizable), Orson Bean, Mary Kay Place and Charlie Sheen in a hilarious cameo.

USA Home Entertainment has done a rather fine job with their DVD edition of BEING JOHN MALKOVICH. The film is properly framed at 1.85:1 and the DVD features the anamorphic enhancement for playback on 16:9 displays. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is an intentionally dark movie, which turns out to be a rather dark looking DVD. Considering the lighting constraints of the original cinematography, the DVD delivers a reasonably sharp and detailed image. Daylight and other well-lit scenes look good, but those that are very dark, lack definition. Of course, the transfer can’t be faulted since it is recreating the filmmakers’ intentions. Colors tend to be subdued, but they are cleanly reproduced without any evidence of chroma noise. Blacks are accurate, although the level of shadow detail suffers during the very dark sequences. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH is authored to utilize two layers, so digital compression artifacts maintain a very low profile.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack features a very intriguing mix that places one inside the head of the title character. For the most part, the sound design is pretty normal, with an open sounding forward soundstage and ambient sounds emanating from the rears. However, anytime someone gets inside of John Malkovich’s head, the sound becomes very subjective. Voices and other sounds tend to echo, as if one were really listening to those sounds from inside Malkovich’s head. Also, the surround use is great during these scenes, creating a very distinct and enveloping effect. Dialogue is crisply reproduced outside of Malkovich, but is completely intelligible from both vantagepoints. Bass is used infrequently, but well called upon, it sounds solid. Carter Burwell’s interesting musical score is nicely recorded and has been well integrated into the sound mix. An English Dolby Surround soundtrack has also been encoded onto the DVD, as have English, French and Spanish subtitles.

The interactive menus feature animation and sound. Through the menus one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as some interesting extras. There is a short interview with director Spike Jonze; two films that were shown in the movie; a look at the art of puppeteering; Spike’s photo album; a theatrical trailer; TV spots and cast biographies/filmographies.


Being John Malkovich (1999)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2000 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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