The Other Prestige
The title Illusionist gives away the eventual twist. How and why hold until various plot developments need them. Illusionist toys with its audience, with Edward Norton playing a stage performer with a clever method of deception. It’s all trickery.
Illusionist plays like an adult fairy tale. Set in the late 1800s, the magic of this story involves a prince, a throne, a princess, and a pauper. Romantic battle lines draw between rich and poor, Norton plays much of his role from a place of wanting. It’s a long game – Norton sets up an intricate (and implausible) scheme to dupe the abusive prince, turning the princess toward Norton as much as the people against their future scheme.
At times, Illusionist is too clever with itself. Too smug, too. Stuffy and pretentious even. Illusionist draws comparison to Christopher Nolan’s The Prestige, as both magician-themed movies debuted in the same year with wild twist endings. Yet, Illusionist leans on the fantastical – or at least it seems as such – and uses the setting partly to prey on whims of duped people. Norton’s arrested for disturbing the piece, a political move, if one trapped in a bigoted mindset from those who truly believe Norton conjures the dead. Civil disruption of the kind recounts a day of witch trials. People never change.
The illusion is one of superficial superiority
The illusion is one of superficial superiority
There’s a sociological element to The Illusionist; that’s of interest when against the rudimentary romance. Illusions do not only involve reanimating deceased people. Rather, how the rich portray themselves and command an audience over those “beneath” them. Money brings attention. To The Illusionist, that means turning them into demanding, spoiled people, unwilling to see or admit failings. The illusion is one of superficial superiority, so strong as to think love isn’t an illusion when the only thing holding a couple together is a deep checkbook.
While Illusionist’s masculine duel plays flatly and monotone, the idea in itself generates notice. Norton’s repetitive depression is eventually given critical purpose (remember the title) and Rufus Sewell as the vile prince give this film the antagonist brutish enough to counteract the sheepish hero. Working against The Illusionist is an old-fashioned style, beautifully composed, if with a core story thousands of years old. Only so much is hidden under the facade, if emboldening how some things stick around because of their timeless nature.
Welcome to the mid-2000s when single hue digital color grading was in vogue. Illusionist takes that to the extreme with orange. Orange skin. Orange lighting. Orange rooms. Orange exteriors. Orange skies. Orange, orange, orange. Maybe a little green, but even that’s orange.
Don’t blame the Blu-ray for that, of course. That’s “style.” For the most part, MVD’s release deals with the bright orange best it can. Grain resolves with purity, transferring the rich texture without loss. It appears Illusionist comes from a newer scan based on sharp resolution and clarity.
Encoding does struggle though. The opening credits break down into banding and artifacting. That continues for a good chunk of the runtime, in any spot where the screen falls toward shadow. Curious the rest holds up so well. Note at 12:18, there’s an encoding error leading to garbage artifacts swarming the screen for a handful of frames.
Some crush is endemic to the cinematography. A loss of depth is natural, and enough contrast is induced to keep dimension firm.
Stereo PCM and DTS-HD 5.1 offer up the uncompressed options. Stick with the 5.1 soundstage. The two tracks deviate only when horses and carriages pan, with better spread in the quiet score. It’s limited in directionality.
No low-end support plays out either. Illusionist is audibly muted and gentle, working only as needed, and it’s not needed much.
Two EPK featurettes barely offer any value. IMDB hosts a few more than what’s on this disc. At least director Neil Burger steps in for a commentary.
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A fairy tale that gives the ending away in the title, The Illusionist still manages to find a unique style through old-fashioned storytelling.
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