The Criterion Collection presents the Richard Linklaterís Before Trilogy, which contains the films Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnight. All three films receive new 1080p/24hz high-definition presentations and are presented over three dual-layer discs in their original aspect ratios of 1.85:1. Before Midnight, the only one to be available on Blu-ray previously, was the lone film to be shot digitally and that 2K master has been used for the source here. The other two films come from brand new 2K restorations, which were both scanned from the 35mm interpositives.
All three films vary to certain degrees in overall look and quality, but on the whole they all look quite good. Sunrise is probably the softer looking one of the three, though this does appear to be just a byproduct of the photography. In general the image is still sharp, with sharp looking grain, itís just there appears to be an ever-so-slight haze that manages to limit some of the finer details. Textures and depth still come off looking fine, though, and colours are also nicely saturated. Sunset also has a somewhat soft look, though again this seems to be intentional and the film seems to feature a subtle glow around most objects, which suits the just-before-sunset timeframe of the film.
Midnight is the sharpest of the three, which Iím sure can be attributed to the digital source. This one delivers better detail and clarity, and the colours come off a bit stronger as well. The image is also clean and stable, and black levels are strong, even in some of the darker interiors.
The digital presentations and encodes are also all very strong, though there are a few weaknesses scattered about. I noticed some shimmering effects in Delpyís polkadot dress during the last portion of the film, though I do attribute this to the original digital source. Sunrise also looks a bit weak during the darker park scene, with some crushing blacks and a weaker rendering of the grain that looks a bit off. Otherwise I canít find much to fault in these. They all look terrific and the first two come off looking very film-like in quality.
Detailed reviews for each title: 9/10
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight
All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.
Criterionís box set The Before Trilogy presents all three of Richard Linklaterís filmsóBefore Sunrise, Before Sunset, and Before Midnightótogether for the first time. Each film receives their own dual-layer disc and the features are spread across all of them. Though the third film might receive more attention the features otherwise donít really look at the individual films themselves, instead going over the trilogy as a whole. Because of this the features for the set seem slim and not impressive, especially for what is a fairly big release for Criterion.
(As a note, if you have not seen any or all of these films previously, it is highly recommended to go through all of the films in the set first before visiting any of the special features as they will contain spoilers.)
The first disc, presenting Before Sunrise, starts off the set with two significant features here, both of which are interviews. The first, called The Space In Between, is a 44-minute interview between Kent Jones, director Richard Linklater, and actor/cowriter Ethan Hawke. Julie Delpy shows up about midway through ďvia satelliteĒ to join the discussion (she apparently became stuck in L.A., so Iím guessing she was supposed to be there with the others but got held up). The discussion focuses primarily on the working relationship between the three and how that has grown over the nearly two decades since the first film. Linklater (who based the original Before Sunrise off of a personal experience) did have a script for the first film but even then he had both Hawke and Delpy throw in their own ideas and develop their characters and scenes. Apparently the script even had portions with something along the lines of ďInsert Good Idea HereĒ in place of scenes because Linklater had planned to get input from whomever he cast in the leads. The film became a group project and this atmosphere and openness in creativity carried on to the other films. The first film was always intended as a one-off but they all eventually started playing with the idea of a sequel and that led to Before Sunset and eventually Before Midnight. The three also talk about the various ideas they had for the third film, and though they openly shot down a few I have to admit they actually sounded rather good.
What I enjoyed most about this discussion was just how passionate the three are about the films and the characters, with the participants dumping other bigger projects for this one. Delpy was even fired by her agent because she dropped out of an audition for a part as a ďsexy LatinaĒ in Rush Hour 3 to do the second film. Itís also rather funny listening to what ideas came from whom, and Iím ashamed to say I was rather shocked that a lot of the funniest and cruder lines and moments were actually from Delpy (for some reason I attributed some of the cruder moments to Linklater) who was apparently concerned that the wasnít funny enough. On top of this they talk about the themes that came out of the films (like time and mortality), and how they would revisit the previous film or films as they worked on the next, even tying some things up. Itís a really terrific discussion, quite funny, too (far funnier once Delpy shows up) and itís one of if not the best feature on the set. Itís a very informative and very breezy 44-minutes.
The next feature is the only scholarly supplement on here (well, not counting the one odd feature by ::kogonada on the Before Sunset disc, but Iíll get to that), featuring writers Dave Johnson and Rob Stone. Called 3 x 2: A Conversation and running about 40-minutes, the two talk about their admiration for the films, how they first discovered them, and then offer their own readings and interpretations. It can get a bit ridiculous in places, especially when the two seem to go down a bit of a fanboy hole asking each other ďwhich character are you!?Ē or trying to give fan theories about how the films are alternate timelines or whatever (I hurt my optical nerves with the amount of eye-rolling that followed). Thankfully it works really well when they start talking about their different readings of the film from a more grounded level, and I liked their discussion about how the films work one way on their own but then each completely change and morph when taken in the context of the series as a whole. Though it has some of those eye-rolling moments I think there are some genuinely good observations and it also has some funny moments, like Johnsonís reaction to Stone saying the third film is his favourite. But even its worst moments are still far better than what ::kogonada put together on the Sunset disc.
The disc then closes with 6-minutes of behind the scenes footage, which Iím guessing was put together for publicity purposes, with footage from the film edited in (though interestingly it looks like Criterion is using footage from their new restoration). It features Linklater, Hawke and Delpy talking about the film and the meeting between their characters. It doesnít add a lot to what we already get but it is sort of fun watching all these youngíuns talking about the original intentions with the first film, with no idea about any possible follow-ups. Sadly Criterion doesnít include the filmís theatrical trailer (or the trailer for any of the other films). Watching them on YouTube itís interesting to see how the marketing morphed with each film and how they each target very different audiences.
The second disc, containing Before Sunset, manages to pack one of the better features, a 90-minute documentary created for the PBS series American Masters called Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny. Through new interviews with Linklater and others close to him or who have worked with him over the years (including actors like Ethan Hawke, Julie Delpy, Jack Black, Matthew McConaughey and others), along with older interviews recorded throughout the years, we get a very personal and openly honest portrait of the director, who talk about his work, the difficulties along the way, while also sharing his journals, logs, and writings from over the years (this includes a book where he tracked all of his purchases during his early career, which humourously shows a lot of money was spent on Pepsi).
Admittedly the documentary only briefly mentions some of his more lackluster work (like Bad News Bears and Fast Food Nation, which get lumped into a ďperiodĒ of his work) but it goes through his work chronologically, with Boyhood coming up multiple times as we go year to year. It is at its best, though, when Linklater reflects on a lot of the luck that has gone into his success, which in turn offers a look at where filmmaking, particularly independent filmmaking, is now. Linklater muses about how he just happened to be born at the right time because if he found himself just entering the film world now he would more than likely not have the same success. To expand on this the documentary also offers a look at how Linklaterís Slacker really helped catapult the 90s indie film movement, Kevin Smith even popping up to explain how that film inspired him.
It doesnít differ all that much from other documentaries of its type but itís still an engaging look at Linklaterís career and work.
From there I moved on to the next feature on the disc, and any bit of enjoyment I got from that previous feature was quickly crushed, a visual essay put together by filmmaker ::kogonada called Linklater // On Cinema & Time. ::kogonada (a name which I keep seeing as the tail end of a C++ static method call still missing the scope) has provided a number of visual essays for Criterionís releases and though they can be frustratingly put together and can seem a little overdone to address what are ultimately not terribly in-depth observations, Iíve still found them generally harmless. This one, though, may have tested me a bit much. Here ::kogonada uses excerpts from a phone interview he conducted with Linklater who talks about how time is handled in his films. This is all well and good on its own, but then ::kogonada edits what is ultimately about 2 to 3 minutesí worth of comments over 8-minutesí worth of clips from Linklaterís films, linking them through similar scenes or dialogue. He also provides clips from Citizen Kane and Vertigo because film language. Michael Koresky had already put together a nice visual essay about Linklaterís use of time on Criterionís release of Boyhood, so Iím not sure why we get a round 2 here. The whole thing feels more like filler.
After that the disc then closes with a 9-minute behind-the-scenes feature that, similar to one on the Before Sunrise disc, feels like it was put together for promotional reasons, with Linklater, Delpy, Hawke, and others talking about the film and the general surprise of Before Sunrise getting a sequel. The segment also features clips from the film, though it looks like Criterion has again edited them in from their new restoration.
Interestingly the third disc, featuring Before Midnight, is the only one to feature an audio commentary, though I suspect itís because this track is a pre-existing one. Though I didnít listen to it this appears to be the original track recorded for the Sony Blu-ray, recorded in 2013 and featuring director Richard Linklater and actors/writers Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke. Going through the features on the set itís obvious the three have become close friends and this track has that loose feel of three close friends just sharing stories with one another. Itís a loose and funny track but fairly informative, the three recalling the long process that went into developing the story and the basis for the scenarios and some of the lines in the film. They joke with one another a lot throughout, and Delpy, quite amusingly, has to keep reminding herself to speak up throughout as she gets caught up in watching the film (she admits she is not used to doing an audio commentary). Though a lot of this material is actually shared in other features what makes the commentary of value is that they do get more focused on particular scenes in the film, and they have a lot to share about the fight scene later in the film. Itís a good track and itís a shame Criterion and/or the three participants didnít feel the need to record new tracks for the other films, but this one is still a good track and Iím happy Criterion at least carried this over.
The other features also choose to look more at the development of this particular film, and to a minor extent the other films. After Before is a 2016 documentary put together by coproducer Athina Rachel Tsangari from footage shot during the development of the film. Most of the footage is of Delpy, Hawke, and Linklater (dealing with what appears to be a broken foot) sitting around working through the filmís story and individual scenes. We hear all about their development sessions throughout the supplements so itís nice to see first-hand footage of these sessions, which seem to be incredibly relaxed. We also get to see behind-the-scene footage related to the sequences being discussed.
The disc then closes with a 40-minute radio interview featuring the three together again and hosted by Terry Gross. The three are there to promote the film during its initial release and they talk about their working relationship, how this film came together, and the previous two films. There is a lot of repetition of material mentioned in other features (Linklater on the story that inspired the original film, life events that inspired things in the film, etc.) but there is some new material scattered about with more specific comments on certain scenes in the third film.
All together they are a fine set of features with a few solid gems in there (the new group interview and the documentary on Linklater) but again, for what is a fairly big release for Criterion, the supplements still feel a little light.
Detailed reviews for each title: 7/10
Before Sunrise, Before Sunset, Before Midnight