[box cover]

Memento: Limited Edition

Columbia TriStar Home Entertainment

Starring Guy Pearce, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Joe Pantoliano

Written by Christopher Nolan,
from a screen story by Jonathan Nolan

Directed by Christopher Nolan

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Review by D.K. Holm                    

Now…Where Was I?

Regular readers of The DVD Journal and fans of Memento — not just one of the best films of 2001, but one of the best films ever — will recall that we anticipated a deluxe DVD package somewhere down the road, perhaps in October of 2002. Well, in the accelerated world of DVD distribution, that day has arrived in May of 2002.

But sadly, the responsible critic must staunch his enthusiasm and admit that, though Memento is still great, this new "Limited Edition" two-disc set is something of a disaster. First, the extras aren't all that special; secondly, getting to them through the complicated, Easter egg-strewn menu renders them even less so.

This is a Test?

Let's talk about menus and extras and Easter eggs for a second. Easter eggs are a carryover from the world of computer programming. They were invented to give geeks something interesting to find on their new Macintosh, for example. With the advent of commercial DVD in 1997, Easter eggs were introduced as a selling point. The most famous Easter egg is probably found on the Matrix disc, if only because that is one of the top-selling DVDs ever. One of the most interesting Easter eggs is found on the Bedazzled DVD, in which a lengthy scene cut from the film is restored to the disc.

But most Easter eggs are annoying as all hell. It's a cruel game invented by marketing folks apparently to slake their sadistic contempt for consumers, and the feature is embraced by industry distribution suits who don't understand public needs. Here is my position: If you've got something to show me on your DVD, then just show it to me. I personally watch anywhere from two to eight new DVDs a week — I don't have time to play games. And I will admit over the past several months that my irritation over Easter eggs has turned into seething, blind, white-hot rage.

You Don't Have to Remember to be Hungry

The same goes for menus. Take Fox's From Hell DVD release. It's not a bad movie for a two-disc set, but it has a menu that takes a long time to get revved up and present the menu choices, and is written in a typeface that is virtually unreadable from a distance of more than one foot from the screen.

Shouldn't Make Fun of Someone's Handicap

The menus for Memento: Limited Edition are a nightmare. Complicated, time-consuming, and irritating, they presumably are designed to put the consumer "in the mood" for the movie by recreating a little bit of main character Leonard Shelby's life, as presented in the short story and on the Web site, and alluded to in the movie. But I don't need to be put into the "mood" of a film. I bought the damn thing, so obviously I want to watch it. It's a bizarre form of advertising for a object that has already been purchased. Hey, you had me at Hello. Frankly, I think we should let the movie do this, not the support apparatus. But more about the Memento: Limited Edition menus later.

Lemme Take You Down in the Basement and Show You What You've Become

Finally, there is the issue of extras. Yes, supplementary material was one of the selling points of early DVDs, adapting the marketing philosophy of Laserdiscs. But in the last several weeks this writer has seen no less than five double-disc sets. I don't object to the supplements, but I do object to time-wasting, boring, irrelevant supplements that truly to not add anything to one's enjoyment of the movie and which simply rehash EPKs and promotional specials on television. My streamlined standard for judging a film is, more or less: Will I ever want to watch it again? And that's the whole point of DVDs — to assemble a collection of movies that you want to return to again and again.

But if the standard for movies is re-watchability, then the standard for extras should be close to that as well. More a research tool than an entertainment forum, a commentary track or a "making-of" doc should also be the very best that its makers can come up with, so that the viewer is tempted to revisit them as part of a superior package of material celebrating a beloved work of art. Given how complicated the Memento: Limited Edition menus happen to be, it feels really not worth it when you finally get to the second disc's menu, and all there is are a bunch of photos and a couple of documentaries and documents.

I Know the Feel of the World

Here's what was on the original Columbia TriStar Memento release: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby 2.0 Surround (English), English and Spanish subtitles, closed-captioning, a 30-minute interview with Christopher Nolan from the IFC Channel conducted by New York Times movie reviewer Elvis Mitchell, the complete contents of the official website (www.otnemem.com) in slide-show format, the text of Jonathan Nolan's original short story, the theatrical trailer and TV spots, plus a trailer for Christopher Nolan's Following (later released by Columbia TriStar on disc), a brief "tattoo gallery," and brief director and cast biographies.

None of the extras from that disc are on the new two disc set.

Well, actually one is — the short story. But like everything else on this disc, it's hard to find (this reviewer never did stumble upon it, plus, in a act of Sammy Jankis-style self-destruction, lost a copy of the previous Memento disc somewhere inside or outside the apartment while writing this review).

On the whole, what we have on Memento: Limited Edition is a mix of very good features (Nolan's commentary track) and time-wasters (foreign posters and promotional materials that don't look all that good reduced to the size of a TV screen). In brief, the supplements on this two-disc set include an audio commentary by Nolan, a "The Making of a Scene" episode from the Sundance Channel, production stills, two trailers, the short story again, script-to-screen multi-angle, Leonard Shelby's hospital diary, production stills, sketches, and a portion of the movie in chronological order. All hidden under that damn menu that makes the consumer fight to get at the material he or she has paid for. Memento: Limited Edition is a watershed in DVD distribution: It's all Easter eggs.

I Guess I've Already Told You About My Condition

Here's what the menu is like. After slipping in the disc, the screen, mimicking the style of psychology tests, asks you to memorize a set of forthcoming words, or images, which go at an increasingly fast rate. There may be sense to this, or there may not be.

Then, as music from the film appears under Leonard whispering "Where am I?", a static menu materializes. It consists of five columns that lists random words. Theoretically, to proceed the viewer must choose the words that did not appear in the opening montage. However, soon the fact that not all the words can be "selected" makes the viewer realize that there is some guidance hidden in the menu. There is a sheet of paper that comes as part of the packaging that even tells you that to play the movie you must highlight the word "watch" which appears in the middle of the word lists. The words themselves, then, are hints: "listen" leads to the sound selection menu, "comment" is the commentary track selection, "chapter" is scene selection, "read" is subtitles.

I Need to Look People in the Eye When I Talk to Them

On the second disc, we have six columns of images, rather than words. Here, the key to handling this menu seems to be to answer the questions posed as if you were Leonard Shelby; thus, paranoia and vindictiveness seem to be the order of the day. A hint that you are getting closer to an actual feature on the disc seems to be that background music from the movie, and dialogue by Leonard, Teddy, or Sammy comes up. The second disc actually has a core menu, but it only lists five things (trailers, anatomy of a scene, director's script, production stills and sketches, and international art campaigns). Two or three others are "hidden." And boy are they hidden. To get to this core menu click on the image of the clock, answer "E" for the three successive questions that come up, and there you are.

The much vaunted feature on this set's second disc is the movie in chronological order. It's hard to find. Basically you have to keep snooping around and answering psychological testing questions incorrectly so that you keep getting more Qs; eventually you will hit upon a question that asks you to put a narrative series of four images in the correct order. They show a woman noticing that her car has a flat tire, opening the trunk, changing the tire, and then closing the trunk. Click on each image in order and the image appears in blank boxes in the bottom half of the screen. The secret is, this being Memento, that you have to click on the images of the woman in reverse order of the narrative, i.e., closing the trunk first, seeing the flat tire last. When this is accomplished, the movie begins again, but with the closing credits running backwards. This is followed by all the black-and-white scenes in chronological order, and then by Leonard and Teddy going to the abandoned warehouse. And that's it. As far as I can tell, you don't get the whole movie in order, just these three portions.

Maybe there are other hidden features here. But if so, the best thing to do is to hit a lot of DVD websites and chat boards until all the disc's mysteries are cleared up, and print out a cheat sheet to insert into the packaging. I don't have time. And maybe neither do you. (And the Internet is not always a help either; this reviewer learned about two From Hell Easter eggs, but the path to accessing them was nothing like what was described on the Web.)

(Editor's Note: Several readers have notified us that the entire film is available in chronological order, but there may be some hardware issues that make accessing this feature difficult for all users. Also, the Alliance Atlantis DVD release of Memento in Canada offers reverse-chapter selection, and while each scene must be punched up individually, it offers a complete experience.)

Can't Remember to Forget You

Three of the extras on Memento: Limited Edition are pretty good. The soft-spoken Nolan's commentary track is insightful and informative, and he doesn't go into too much back-slapping and glad-handing. The script-to-screen multi-angle comparison is helpful to students of the film.

The Sundance Channel show is interesting, because it concentrates on only a portion of the movie, the first three scenes, and goes into unusual depth and detail for television. Among the things that this sophisticated "making-of" short reveals is that Pantoliano was not the first choice for the role (the show doesn't say, but it was Denis Leary; if Brad Pitt had also starred, as originally planned, the movie would have been utterly different). Also we learn that Nolan apparently dubbed over a few words from Teddy's about-to-die speech (although the voice still sounds like Pantoliano's).

You Have to Burn Them

The new anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) on Memento: Limited Edition appears to be an improvement over the first pressing. Anecdotally, it seems sharper and with greater detail; others have complained about the edge enhancement. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio also seems to be the same as the previous disc. For this release, Columbia TriStar has also added a DTS track, which is the preferable presentation format.

The World Doesn't Disappear When You Close Your Eyes, Does It?

Memento the movie remains a four-star event, but this confusing, frustrating disc's menu, plus the fact that it doesn't share all the extras from its predecessor, dictates that consumers hold on to their previous Memento purchase and/or skip this one altogether (or get the Canadian DVD to re-arrange the chronology). You'll have to decide how much time you want to invest in the DVD experience.

— D.K. Holm

Disc One

Disc Two

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