Night on Earth
Five cities. Five taxicabs. A multitude of strangers in the night. Jim Jarmusch assembled an extraordinary international cast of actors (including Gena Rowlands, Winona Ryder, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Beatrice Dalle, and Roberto Benigni) for this quintet of transitory tales of urban displacement and existential angst, all staged as encounters between cabbies and their fares. Spanning time zones, continents, and languages, Night on Earth winds its course through scenes of uproarious comedy, nocturnal poetry, and somber fatalism, set to a moody soundtrack by Tom Waits. Jarmusch’s lovingly askew view of humanity from the passenger seat makes for one of his most charming and beloved films, a freewheeling showcase for the cosmopolitan range of his imagination.
Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth finally comes to Blu-ray through the Criterion Collection, upgrading their previous DVD. The film is presented on this dual-layer disc in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Criterion is reusing the same high-definition master they used for their DVD edition, which came from a scan of a 35mm interpositive.
There is a notable upgrade in comparison to the DVD, but it’s not as substantial as what Stranger Than Paradise offers. The DVD for Night on Earth was solid enough to begin with on its own (even upscaled) but the improvements found on this edition really come down to the basic upgrades you would expect when jumping from standard-definition to high-definition: better compression, a better rendering of the film’s grain, and some improvements in detail. It’s this last part I was probably a bit more disappointed in: though finer details and textures are rendered in a far clearer manner, I rarely found the image to be what I would call razor-sharp. This could come down to the photography, with a lot of the film having been shot in low-lit settings, but the blacks seem to crush out details, leading to a bit of a flatter, muddier image on the whole.
Colours look really great on the other hand and for a film that primarily takes place at night there are some wonderful pops of blue, pink, red, and more, and it is all saturated wonderful. Further restoration efforts have also been performed, and doing a quick comparison between the Blu-ray and the DVD shows that a number of marks and bits of dirt have been removed for this new edition, though the DVD wasn’t in too bad shape to begin with.
The Blu-ray does offer an improvement over the DVD, though ultimately just the bare minimum.
The film is talkative, with next to no action (the most action packed sequence involves Benigni’s character bombing through Rome in his taxi), so it’s fair not to expect too much from the film’s 2.0 surround track, presented in DTS-HD MA, yet it gets the job done. Outside of the music, which does make it to the rears, most of the audio is spread between the front three speakers. Dialogue is clear, the music sounds great (even delivering some great bass), and the track is pretty dynamic overall.
Criterion ports all of the material over from the DVD starting with the select-scene audio commentary featuring director of photography Frederick Elmes and sound mixer Drew Kunin. Despite some lengthy gaps I really do enjoy this track as the two (recorded together) talk about their tasks around the production. The film was shot on location, creating all sorts of difficulties for the two to deal with. The most interesting aspects, though, are probably around filming in the cars and how the cars in the European locations (where the cars are smaller) created issues when it came to mounting the camera. The two also talk about general production issues, especially when it came to filming in different countries, getting different crews (they explain how it was like starting the film all over again). Though it’s listed as a “select scene commentary” and only provides indexes for the beginning of each segment, the track does cover a good chunk of the film and when there is going to be a gap a voice does pop on to indicate the next chapter where the track picks up again.
Criterion next provides a Q&A with Jim Jarmusch. Criterion had fans write in questions for the director and for this hour-long audio-only feature, Jarmusch goes through several of them (this has become a fairly standard feature on Criterion’s releases for his film since). The questions vary from general ones about his career (like what Nicholas Ray taught him) to specific questions about segments in this film (inspiration for the film, significance of a character with a band-aid, etcetera). I do love how laid back he is, and he always comes off genuine (and funny) and there are also a few surprises, like his mention of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy being one of the best films he saw that year. These are always a lot of fun and this one is no different.
The disc then closes with a 6-minute interview with Jarmusch, recorded in 1992 for Belgian television. Appearing to be promoting the film (and recording the interview in a cab) he talks a little about the film and what drew him to it (exploring these loose and brief relationships) and what it was like making a film with different languages (which he gets into a bit in the Q&A). I was also pleased to hear he is a true film nerd, owning (at the time) a multi-region VHS players so he can buy films from other countries. It’s a brief but excellent interview.
No trailer or anything else appears here. Criterion does port over the booklet in its entirety. Each essay focuses on a segment in the film, with a specific focus on a certain subject or theme, starting with an essay by Thom Andersen covers the film (with the bonus of being a former cab driver in L.A.) followed by another by Paul Auster looking at the poetic nature of Jarmusch’s films. Bernard Eisenschitz then provides an essay about the dialogue/language in Jarmusch’s films, starting off that he had been called up while the film was in production to help in translating a pun that appears in the film (he ended up not doing it, but this had stuck with him). Goffredo Rofi then provides an essay expressing some thoughts on Jarmusch (calling him a “frontier director”), and then the essays conclude with one by Peter von Bagh on the final sequence and how Jarmusch is a master of the “episode film.” Criterion also reprints the lyrics to the songs that appear in the film. It’s a wonderful booklet and I’m happy they saw fit to port it over.
Not a souped-up edition by any means but the material is solid and I can’t say there is an ounce of fat on it.
It’s still a good edition, delivering some great special features and a decent presentation. But it doesn’t provide as strong an upgrade in the image department as I would have hoped.