The most striking advantage that the Blu-ray Disc has over the DVD is its great depth of images. There's an airiness and an openness to them that gives a real sense of space, and it's all so three-dimensional that you feel you could almost enter the scenes and walk among the layers of figures that flow back into the distance.
As outstanding as the picture is, the DTS-HD Master Audio stereo soundtrack is just as complex and clear. The film opens with a great audio pan as a train steams noisily across the screen, with each sonic element distinct, despite the loud score throbbing underneath. That score - a mixture of electronica, Shostakovich-like orchestrations, and traditional Chinese music, created by David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Cong Su - has good separation between all the individual instruments.
This Blu-ray package - again, just a single disc - has been stripped down somewhat from the four-disc DVD set, presenting the 165-minute theatrical cut but not the 218-minute TV version. The longer one doesn't add anything to the plot, but I'm sure that historians and Bertolucci connoisseurs will want to hang onto their DVD set, since those extra 53 minutes do offer additional information on various characters and the day-to-day life of the Emperor. The Blu-ray package also lacks the 95-page book of essays and brilliant color photographs. Otherwise, all of the DVD set's wonderful extras are here (though, sadly, not in high-def).
In the group commentary, Bertolucci's insights into the creative process are nearly always fascinating, and they reveal, among other things, his wish that the film be edited more like poetry than prose. It's a transcendent approach to reality that seems to be part of the director's own life, judging from the content of his conversation and the language he uses. His fellow commentators are more straightforward and not always that interesting (particularly co-writer Mark Peploe), although producer Jeremy Thomas does add some historical and social background as well as various anecdotes about the production.
A 53-minute vintage French documentary (with subtitles) takes us with the director on a physical and emotional journey, passing through the Italian sets of 1900 in Parma, the apartment used in Last Tango in Paris, and on to the Chinese palaces of The Last Emperor, with inventive intercutting of clips and unexpected appearances of actors from his films. It's all quite fascinating, and a lot of fun. Additional extras include a 66-minute study of the director made by the BBC, his preproduction videos, a 51-minute featurette revisiting the making of the film, and 75 minutes of interviews with Bertolucci, Storaro, and other members of the crew.
This is a Blu-ray Disc as rich as the movie itself.
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