Martin Scorsese once picked The Last Emperor as one of the 10 films that exemplified what a movie camera can do with light and colour. And he hadn’t even seen it on Blu-ray yet.
But there’s much, much more to Bernardo Bertolucci’s massive, magnificent historical biopic about Pu Yi, the boy who was crowned Manchurian Emperor at the age of two.
OK, it’s long. Really long. Especially in the restored version also included here, in which Bertolucci ups the 162-minute runtime by another 50. But he doesn’t waste a second: flashing back and forward through time, the Italian director masterfully weaves through Pu Yi’s life and that of a man and a country.
The sheer grandness overwhelms at times – but that can only be how Pu Yi himself felt, a passive observer as he’s shuttled through tumultuous Chinese history from “son of heaven” to political puppet to simple gardener.
And Scorsese is dead right: straight from the title sequence rinsed in primary colours, this Blu-ray fully cements cinematographer Vittorio Storaro’s rhyming, roving camerawork as some of the most sumptuous in cinema history.
After an hour-long Making Of, further anecdotage comes via Bertolucci’s video-diary and commentary with producer Jeremy Thomas (“I see it as a way of ‘writing’ with the camera”).
Good stuff. But then again, it’s not quite the four-disc Criterion Blu-ray, is it? Sigh.
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