The City Of Lost Children

The City Of Lost Children (1995)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork
Extras: Audio Commentary, Theatrical Trailer, Costume Design Gallery

For all fans of the truly inventive, or the almost surreal, Columbia TriStar Home Video has just released a real delicacy on DVD, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s "The City Of Lost Children". The French filmmaker has created an entirely artistic movie with a strong narrative that pulls viewers into a world they have never seen before. What is truly impressive is that despite its arthouse style, "The City Of Lost Children" is not nearly as much of an obscure movie as many comparable films. It has found its audience in theaters and I am sure it will make quite some waves, now that it is available on DVD.

"The City Of Lost Children" is a film that is most likely different from anything you have seen before. Visually, it is a daring excursion into an unreal world with unreal colors that is highly reminiscent of Jules Verne’s descriptions of his fantastic worlds. Hence it is hardly surprising to find many other hints at Jules Verne throughout the film in the form of bulky gadgets that either seem way ahead of their time, or too sophisticated for their mechanical simplicity.

In a fantastic world that seems inhabited mostly by infants and kids, children are abducted from the streets for a weird experiment. Krank (Daniel Emilfork), a mad scientist is trying to find pleasure in children’s dreams, and uses his futuristic devices to dive into their consciousness and become part of their dreams. Sadly however, the experiments keep failing as all these children are plagued by horrible nightmares. Convinced that there has to be an emotionally balanced child in the world somewhere, he keeps subjugating more and more children to his dream-machine.

One day, One (Ron Perlman), a Carnival strong man witnesses his little brother being kidnapped by Krank’s deformed henchmen and decides to do whatever it takes to save the helpless boy. He ventures deep into territory where no regular man has ever been and slowly closes in on Krank’s domain. Supported by the gutsy little girl, Miette (Judith Vittet), he soon learns that more children need his help, and that he has just seen the tip of the iceberg yet. He has to go into the lion’s den and put an end to the madman’s plan to steal children’s dreams and as such, their innocence.

Surreal is the word that comes to mind immediately when watching "The City Of Lost Children". Nothing seems like the real world, everything is dark and subdued. The entire film features a strong and uniform color palette that consists of copper-tones, reds and greens. Direct or broad daylight is a luxury that you will hardly get to see in this mesmerizing film.

Everything is artificial, even the people that live in this murky and twisted world. It seems very isolated and one wonders where all these children come from, as the world is noticeably devoid of adults. It is a very stylized world, too, and the architecture and production design is quite frankly breathtaking. Jean-Paul Gaultier’s costumes while somewhat too stylish, always blend in nicely with the color scheme of the entire film and actually create a feel of sassiness within this synthetic world. This grotesque, yet exceptionally intriguing world, is nicely complemented by the film’s story. Never melodramatic, the story always feels as if it was drawn from a dream as well. We do not learn much about the characters, other than their immediate motivations. Interestingly it doesn’t matter in this case. The isolation of the world is not limited to the geographic locations but also to the scope of the story itself. When the film is over, we don’t even know where the people go. It feels very much like an experiment in a test-tube that has a defined beginning and end. Everything else is of no interest. I certainly would not want to call "The City Of Lost Children" an experimental film, although it is highly imaginative and ‘different’. However many of the plot devices and the narrative flow are quite common. It is what makes the film so accessible despite its strong artistic approach.

Beautifully acted, "The City Of Lost Children" pulls much of its appeal from the performances of Ron Perlman as One, a sentimental big guy, and even more so by Daniel Emilfork, whose sharply defined, rat-like look greatly exaggerates Krank’s personality. They are complemented by a great supporting cast that create a menagery of twisted characters that could easily compete with the Addams’ Family for their eccentricities.

"The City Of Lost Children" contains the film’s original <$PS,widescreen> presentation in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> TV sets, as well as a <$PS,pan & scan> transfer. The picture is rich in detail and brings out the best of Jeunet’s magical world. Boasting stark colors and faithfully reproducing all the subtle hues and shades with the copper-red and green palette the filmmakers use practically throughout the film, this DVD has a spectacular visual quality. The transfer is very clean with sharp edges and good definition, and the color balance is just perfect. Shadows are deep and solid, but still containing even the slightest of details. Highlights are always warm and defined creating an overall presentation that has a balanced and very pleasing feel. No compression artifacts of any sort can be found anywhere on this release, making this a phenomenal looking transfer.

The DVD contains language tracks in English, French and Spanish, all of them presented in <$DS,Dolby Surround>. The audio tracks a well-produced creating a good and natural sounding aural environment for the film. Dialogue is always understandable and never washed out by the sound effects or the music by Angelo Badalamenti, who did a fabulous job to create a score that is as whimsical and playful as many parts of the film are. I can only recommend to watch this film in its original French version with English subtitles, because the language adds so much to the extraordinary flair of the film. It adds to the otherworldly atmosphere and adds incredibly to the film’s authentic feel. This disc also contains subtitles in French and Spanish, as well as the movie’s theatrical trailer.

Interestingly the disc also contains some unadvertised bonus features, such as a costume design gallery that nicely shows off Gaultier’s work on the film, as well as a <$commentary,commentary track> by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet and his main actor Ron Perlman. It helps immensely to hear the two of them talk about the intentions of the film, the practical ways of making it happen and about ideas and plans they initially had, but that fell by the wayside during the production.

"The City Of Lost Children" is a rather unique film that vastly differs from anything produced in Hollywood. Featuring some incredible characters and utterly impressive visuals, this film is a dazzling experience of foreign filmmaking that will leave you baffled. With Columbia TriStar’s superb release on this DVD, there is no reason why you shouldn’t give this extraordinary piece of movie culture a good look.