Chinatown: 4K UHD Review

1974’s Chinatown, which was written by Robert Towne and directed by Roman Polanski is considered not only one of the best detective films of all time. But, also one of the top 100 best films by the American Film Institute.  It is a film that I have been aware of all my life, having been released just a handful of months after I was born. Yet, even with all-of-the great things I have heard, I had never actually seen the movie, until now. With a brand new 4K presentation released under the Paramount Presents banner, I figured, now was as good as time as any to check out Chinatown.

Set in 1937 Los Angeles, private investigator J.J. “Jake” Gittes (Jack Nicholson) has been hired for an infidelity case and soon learns that there is much more going on than he could have ever imagined. It turns out the woman who hired Jake to tail her husband, was an imposter that the real Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) sent in her place. Evelyn’s husband was also the chief engineer for Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and he has turned up dead of an apparent drowning.

The deeper Jack digs into the case, the more trouble he finds himself in. Even though he can simply walk away, he is determined to find out who is trying to frame him. Even getting his nose nearly ripped from his face by a couple of goons, doesn’t stop the P.I. from digging. Things get even more complicated as Jack starts to get involved with Evelyn, who might not be as innocent as she seems. There are plenty of twists and turns in the narrative and I could never truly figure out who was actually pulling the strings.

Those familiar with Los Angeles history may notice some familiar elements that Towne clearly lifted from old newspaper headlines. Chinatown really is a great film all-away-around. Everyone involved is in top form and it saddens me that Nicholson retired from acting.

As I mentioned, I had never seen Chinatown until now, so I can’t compare this presentation to previous ones. However, the new 4K presentation with Dolby Vision is truly stunning.  The cinematography from John A. Alonzo really comes to life with incredible detail. From the Los Angeles city streets to the groves outside the city, the locations look sharp. Same goes for skin tones and inside locations like Jake’s office and L.A. mansions. We also get a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track, which was apparently ported over from the previous Blu-ray release. The track sounds great and in-all-honestly, doesn’t feel like it needed an upgrade.

Aside from the legacy bonus features, we also get three new ones, including A State of Mind, Chinatown Memories and The Trilogy That Never Was. Finally, as an extra bonus, Paramount has included the 1990 sequel, The Two Jakes on a separate Blu-ray. While that film wasn’t given a 4K upgrade, it might be worth checking out for those of you who may not even be aware that the mostly forgotten film even was a sequel to Chinatown. While nowhere near on the level of the first film, it does feature an impressive supporting cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Meg Tilly, Ruben Blades and David Keith. It was also directed by Nicholson himself.

New Bonus Content:

  • A State of Mind: Author Sam Wasson On Chinatown – Sam Wasson, film historian and bestselling author of The Big Goodbye: Chinatown and the Last Years Of Hollywood, on the importance of the film and its legacy.
  • Chinatown Memories – Legendary producer Hawk Koch shares stories from his time as assistant director on the film.
  • The Trilogy That Never Was – Sam Wasson discusses the planned third installment of what would have been a trio of movies featuring the character Jake Gittes.

Legacy Bonus Content:

  • Commentary by screenwriter Robert Towne with David Fincher
  • Water and Power

The Aqueduct

The Aftermath

The River & Beyond

  • Chinatown: An Appreciation
  • Chinatown: The Beginning and the End
  • Chinatown: Filming
  • Chinatown: Legacy
  • Theatrical Trailer

By: Marc Ferman