Illusionist, The (2006) 
Blu-ray Drama
Written by Noah Fleming   
Wednesday, 16 June 2010

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I think most of you out there remember this film, or at least remember hearing about it.  Some may also confuse this movie with another of its kind.  Like many films before, "The Illusionist" was released alongside another of the same genre at the same time, "The Prestige."  The general consensus at the time, and still today, is that "The Illusionist" was a much better film in regards to story than its partner.  Still, the film was not quite as good as I remember.

Perhaps it is because I already know the outcome and the getting there just isn't as much fun.  And that speaks to something of the story.  There are many films that are repeatable even though the mystery at the end is already known.  "The Illusionist" doesn't fall perfectly under that category but it comes close.

As a kid I was really interested in magic.  David Copperfield was my professional hero.  Watching this film brings back those memories.  Yet, the film is not merely a series of cinematic illusions, but instead there is a real story.

Eisenheim the Illusionist (Edward Norton) marvels the masses with ancient arts that he has learned by traveling the globe.  While all the illusions are clearly achieved through CGI and camera tricks and not by the actor himself, they are still entertaining to watch.  As for the story, when Eisenheim reappears in Europe after many many years away he rekindles an old flame with childhood friend, Sophie, a Dutchess (Jessica Biel).

Their outings together leave her fiancée, the Prince of Austria, in a state of disarray.  All Sophie and Eisenheim want is to be together but politics and law stand in their way.  "The Illusionist" remains forever more a love story.  However, that story gets overpowered with one of mystery, that isn't so mysterious the next time around.

Paul Giamatti and Edward Norton lead this cast.  They deliver solid performances that leave those watching the film feeling fulfilled.  Unlike its counterpart, "The Prestige," which contains over the top acting.

It is difficult to judge the video quality of this transfer.  "The Illusionist" comes with a highly stylized visual aspect.  The film is given and old-timey look achieved through flicker and at times tapered edges.  Throughout the film the visuals contain muted colors with a tendency for yellow and orange, and an overly warm contrast level.  These intentional effects are nicely transferred to Blu-ray.  My biggest issue with the transfer, which still leads back to the original intentions, is the oppressive black levels.  Shadows are an integral part of the film but they far too often swallow details.  Speaking of details, they are improved from the previous standard DVD release.  However, they are not as sharp as they should be.  Wider shots leave jagged edged figures in the background and foregrounds are a bit soft.  Close-ups are nicely resolved but still lack the ultimate texture that allows you to really feel the presence of the onscreen action.  Norton's beard isn't nearly as detailed as Denzel's in "The Book Of Eli."  Still, the video remains strong and true to its source.

The audio is a bit underwhelming.  Unfortunately, the original sound design is tamer than one might think.  However, that being said, the Blu-ray audio track does bring out some items lost in the Dolby track on the DVD.  Mainly these are subtle nuances and ambience-type effects.  However, they add tremendously to the cinematic experience.  Still, ambience in the surround channels is light.  Reverberation is still too dominant in the front channels, resulting a lack of true immersion.  The LFE channel is absent nearly throughout, which is no big loss if you have full-range front speakers.  Dialogue is improved from the standard DVD.  All lines are clean and clearly audible.  The music score is nicely balanced in the mix and leads to some dynamic moments.  Ultimately, this is a solid audio track, but just not very impressive.

The Blu-ray contains absolutely nothing in the way of special features.  There is no menu and no previews.  The film begins and ends and that is it.  Personally, I like that.  I don't need all the fancy special features.  I just want the movie.  However, the package does include a copy of the original standard, which has some special features.  There is a standard director audio commentary, making-of featurette and cast comments.  While I'm not keen on special features, it is a bit disconcerting that these features were left only on the DVD.  It makes it difficult to really replace your DVD collection.

"The Illusionist" is a terrific first go-around film.  Subsequent repeats become a bit less interesting, but are entertaining nevertheless.  The video and audio qualities are not demo material but they are nothing to sneeze at either.  I highly recommend this title.
Studio 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating PG-13
Starring Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti, Rufus Sewell, Eddie Marsan
Director Neil Burger
Film Release Year 2006
Release Year 2010
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature)
Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
Running Time 1 hr. 49 mins.
Sound Formats English Dolby Digital 5.1 • English DTS-HD Master 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles None
Special Features None; DVD Copy (with special features: Director Audio Commentary; Making-Of; Cast Comments)
Forum Link
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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