Color, 1995, 112 mins.

Directed by Marc Caro & Jean-Pierre Jeunet

Starring Ron Perlman, Daniel Emilfork, Judith Vittet, Dominique Pinon, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, Genevieve Brunet, Odile Mallet, Mirielle Mosse / Written by Nicholas St. John / Produced by Claudie Ossard / Cinematography by Darius Khondji / Music by Angelo Badalamenti

Format: DVD - Columbia (MSRP $29.98)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

For a successor to their outlandish French art house hit Delicatessen, the visually gifted pair of Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Alien: Resurrection) decided to go even further over the top with a surreal, self-contained fantasy related almost entirely from a children's viewpoints. The end product, The City of Lost Children, widely divided audiences who either found it captivating and imaginative or shrill and overblown. Regardless, the aesthetic artistry invested in every single frame of this film is consistently breathtaking, and for anyone inclined towards the films of Terry Gilliam and David Lynch, City of Lost Children provides enough delights on every possible level to reward multiple viewings.

The sad, lonely, self-absorbed Krank (Daniel Emilfork) lives on a self-constructed laboratory where he keeps the talking brain Ervin (voiced by Jean-Louis Trintignant!), thriving in a jar. Accompanied by a series of clones (all played by the fantastic Dominique Pinon), Krank spirits away small children to his oceanic home and uses a device to steal their dreams, since Krank was not created with the capacity to dream himself. A spirited young girl, Miette (Judith Vittet), notices the disappearances of her peers, including her surrogate brother, Denree. With the help of the simple but strong One (Beauty and the Beast's Ron Perlman), Miette winds her way through the nocturnal city and tries to track down the insidious abductor.

Crammed with bizarre incidental characters and events along the way, City thrives more on its little details than the basic storyline. The famous teardrop scene alone is easily worth the price of admission, recalling the earlier chain of event showpiece in Delicatessen. In fact, much of Children feels like a green-washed, elaborated second draft of its predecessor, with the romantic anchor of the first film replaced by protection of a child in this one. The filmmakers display an endless amount of inventiveness throughout almost to the point of complete overload, with Angelo Badalamenti's heart-tugging score and the sincere performances always managing to keep events from spinning off into the completely avant garde. Interestingly, the casting of Fellini regular Emilfork (also in The Devil's Nightmare) aptly pegs Jeunet and Caro as the sci-fi Fellinis of the '90s, with their emphasis on eye-popping decor and unusual, fascinating human faces.

Columbia's earlier widescreen laserdisc of City looked fairly good, but the DVD is a tremendous improvement. Razor sharp throughout, even during those tricky scenes drenched in darkness and fog, this has obviously been handled with a great deal of care and affection. The DVD is actually closer to a special edition than the packaging might indicate, with a welcome costume gallery provided to highlight the stylish Gauthier designs and a running commentary with Jeunet and Perlman, who provide plenty of anecdotes about the elaborate, difficult process of making the film and the sacrifices made along the way. Presented in French with optional English subtitles (or the English dub track, which is adequate but not very satisfying), this film should deservedly continue to amass a following in years to come, and this edition should make that task even easier.

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