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Memento (Canadian version)

After the heady successes The Godfather and The Godfather Part II, which dominated the 1972 and 1974 Academy Awards, Francis Ford Coppola got a clever idea: What would his Godfather saga look like if he rolled it all together, telling the story from its earliest beginnings to its final moments? The result was The Godfather 1902-1959, The Complete Epic, released on home video by Paramount in 1981, and arguably the greatest waste of time in Coppola's life. Why? Certainly, the first Godfather film operates in a straightforward manner, but The Godfather Part II is much richer, alternating between the young Vito Corelone (Robert De Niro) and his flight from Sicily to New York, and son Michael (Al Pacino), who migrates his powerful crime syndicate decades later from the streets of Gotham to the casinos of Las Vegas and Havana. Moving between the different eras, Coppola achieves cinematic poetry — it's a contrapuntal melody between father and son, poverty and wealth, a rise to power and a fall from grace. There is resonance to the story, punctuated by final a flashback to the family dinner table in 1941, where Michael first asserts his independence — and distance — from his clan. Why undo what had been done with The Godfather Epic? Hard to say. Perhaps somebody (Coppola?) looked at The Godfather Part II one day and thought "It's a good movie, but it's all out of order." Obviously, it must be fixed.

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Hence, Christopher Nolan's Memento, a chilling, funny neo-noir piece about a man with no short-term memory who is looking for his wife's killer. Told in two directions simultaneously (the black-and-white sequences move forward, while the color scenes operate in reverse), it's a minor miracle of screenwriting that announced Nolan as an independent filmmaker of the first order when it first appeared in late 2000. But practically since then, fans have wondered what Memento would look like if it was all fit together — y'know, if we could start the story at the beginning and end it at the end. And since most film buffs are DVD buffs too, there was some hope that Columbia TriStar would release a chronological option on their Memento DVD (click here for review). Such was not the case, but Canadian distributor Alliance Atlantis has included chronological chapter-selection as a semi-hidden feature on their release (available from most online Canadian DVD retailers). What do you need to know? First, if you really, really, really think you can't live without seeing Memento in chronological order, then you will be grossly disappointed. Watching Memento chronologically only shows how terribly clever Nolan's script and direction are, as the story hangs together in a pretty airtight way in the theatrical version, but is rather dull and lacking in suspense when seen in forward-moving fashion (and that killer exit line "Now — where was I?" has almost no impact when removed from its proper location in the narrative.) However, if you are one of these folks who argues endlessly about Memento's many mysteries on Internet chat boards (or even just friends at work), watching Memento chronologically may offer new clues to the mystery, helping one truly understand the chronology of events and how the puzzle fits together. The final thing you need to know? The Alliance Atlantis disc offers chronological chapter-selection, but the disc will not play the scenes in order — you are returned to the chapter-menu after each scene and must punch up the next one to continue the story. Why? Perhaps there's a technological reason, perhaps not — but this writer actually thinks it's the best way to handle such matters. Memento is meant to be experienced in a very particular way, and if we are to tamper with it, then at least this DVD reminds viewers that they are running the film against the grain. The disc offers a crisp anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that looks indistinguishable from the Columbia TriStar release, while audio is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French) and Dolby 2.0 Surround (English). Beyond that, the only extra feature on Alliance Atlantis's disc is the theatrical trailer, which makes the Columbia release a little better on features (with a Nolan interview, tattoo gallery, and website). But of course, serious fans will want both editions until Columbia finally delivers the Memento: Special Edition we know will be announced sooner or later.

(Or maybe it already was announced and we just forgot.)

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