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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > The Two Jakes (1990/Paramount DVD)

The Two Jakes (Widescreen)


Picture: B-     Sound: B     Extras: C-     Film: B



Sequels are almost always bad, usually being rehashes of the original.  Too often, it is those very bad ones that make money and lower major motion pictures to the level of bad television, give or take the really bad “reality show” cycle.  The Two Jakes (1990) attempted to be a sequel to Roman Polanski’s all-time classic Chinatown (currently on a DVD from a print that shows the film needs more restoration), a film that did not really need any sequel.  This follow-up was a huge commercial and critical failure, reflecting that sentiment, but some revisionist thinking is finally in order to really appreciate what was attempted here and what did work.


Robert Towne (writer of Chinatown) was originally set to direct this film from his original Two Jakes script back in the early 1980s, but a big legal mess led to a settlement that had him exiting the big-budget project and Jack Nicholson actually took over at the helm.  Nicholson actually did more behind-the-camera work than most people still realize to this day and his directing of this film is more competent than anyone wants to give him credit for.  With the clout of the first of the new series of Batman (1989) films behind him, this got made.


The title refers to Nicholson's private eye Jake Gittes and his involvement with client Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel, who is really good here), but the professional relationship goes sour when Berman breaks the law while employing Gittes.  Along the way, the case takes Gittes back to the ugly nightmare that the case in Chinatown was...and still is.  Even World War II's horrors are no longer enough now for Gittes to use as a way to suppress the home-grown horror that he's lived with since Chinatown.


The film does an intelligent, articulate job of delving into the Film Noir themes of mirror characters and the darkness of the past being inescapable.  These are among the qualities separating Noir (1941-58) from the Detective Whodunits of the 1930s, a film type made possible only by the advent of sound.  Image and theme would catch up to the Detective film (whether "hard boiled" types or the more thoughtful likes of Charlie Chan or Philo Vance) just in time for the horrors of the real WWII and all of its fallout.


The anamorphically enhanced picture is not the 35mm very widescreen 2.35 X 1 Scope frame of the theatrical release (though the trailer is), nor is it the 2.2 X 1 70mm print where you would get the larger sound design at the time.  Instead, it is the full Super 35mm frame with which both print types were produced.  This is very rare on video and when it happened by accident on the first DVD issue of Silverado, the disc was unfortunately recalled, leaving that copy the only way to enjoy the larger frame used to produce its 70mm prints.  This is also a nice plus when watching the film on a 16 X 9 TV, since you can play around with the masking more, with more picture area present.  The new DVD copies of Silverado only show the 2.35 X 1 35mm scope frame, so The Two Jakes DVD is exceptional indeed.


The image is sometimes too soft and a few artifacts show up here and there, but the cinematography from the innovative Vilmos Zsigmond is so very impressive, it makes this a must-have disc for visual film fans.  These images go out of the way to create a new world for Gittes, while still having clever way of engaging the viewer into the narrative.  It thus manages to forge its own identity, while showing the past as deceptively faded.  The past (flashback clips notwithstanding) becomes its own character, coming back to haunt Gittes like a ghost.  This is furthered by the reappearance of characters from the first film in often disturbing (and also humorous) cameos, all building up to this film's climax.


The sound on this disc is Dolby Digital 5.1 AC-3, but was mixed in a more old-fashioned design, even for 1990.  35mm copies of the film had old Dolby A-type optical analog Pro Logic (when the better Dolby analog SR or Spectral Recording S-type had just been introduced in 1987), while 70mm copies were non-Dolby magnetic stereo sound.  At least A-type was used for low-budget films.  That raw magnetic stereo had gone out of common use by the early 1980s.  Occasional surprise earthquake and explosion activity demonstrate that the 5.1 remix here uses the 70mm soundmaster, which keeps most of the sound in the front speakers (read behind the screen).  There is no traveling dialogue, however, that one would expect to find in a pre-Dolby 70mm soundmaster.  The five-speakers-in-the-screen approach would require a fold-down to the three front speakers in 5.1, so that was not an issue here.


If you have an attention span better than MTV, challenge yourself to try watching these films in order.  It may seem like more effort than Hollywood thinks you are used to, but the pay-off will be worth it.  And by the way, nowhere on the DVD does it have the hype-ad quote from the original theatrical poster.  For the record, it read:  Money makes the world go around, but sex was invented before money.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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