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A Hologram for the King (2016)

Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/9/2016

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/21/2016

Most of us go to work everyday because we have to in order to pay the bills. If we didn't go to work, we would run out of money, some much sooner than others. However, there are those who don't have this situation. We could easily make a list of veteran actors who we can't help but assume could never work again and would be fine. Like Tom Hanks for example. Since beginning his career in 1980, Hanks has worked steadily for over 35 years. Despite having won two Oscars and appeared in numerous blockbusters, Hanks continues to make an average of two movies a year and shows no signs of slowing down. Looking at his filmography, during this career, Hanks has worked in many different genres and one would assume that he likes to pick and choose diverse projects. One of his latest offering, A Hologram for the King, is a unique film to say the least.

Alan Clay (Tom Hanks), dealing with a lifetime of broken relationships and business failures, has traveled to Saudi Arabia in an attempt to sell a new technology. He arrives at the Hyatt and exhausted from his travels, oversleeps. Having missed the shuttle, he must get a ride with local driver Yousef (Alexander Black), whose junkie car and fear of assassination doesn't help put Alan at ease. Arriving at the worksite -- which is a proposed urban center --, Alan find that his tech team has been placed in a tent, that the technology is unacceptable, and that no one is available to help him. These setbacks frustrate Alan at first, but he then grows more and more determined to make things happen. This leads him on a bizarre journey where he meets interesting people, has a medical scare, and grow closer to finding what makes him truly happy.

A Hologram for the King is based on a novel by award-winning author Dave Eggers. I did not know this going into the movie, but once I learned it, I wasn't surprised, as the movie has that "novel" feel. We've all seen movies which feature characters or plot-points which simply feel like they came from a book. Alan's journey to a strange land, which is attempt at redeeming his life, has the feel of something which is both epic and intensely personal. The quirky characters and the Kafkaesque situations definitely have a literary feel. The thing which really jumped out at me was the odd running gag in which chairs keep collapsing under Alan. That's some heavy-handed symbolism.

If only all of these lofty elements gelled. To say that the movie is disjointed would be an understatement. If one was asked to place a genre label on A Hologram for the King, it would ostensibly be a drama, but it's also an absurdist comedy and a drama as well. Sure, plenty of movies straddle genres, but this one takes an odd approach to this, as it doesn't so much blend genres, as it jumps back and forth between them. You could jump into various parts of the movie and come away with many different impressions.

Again, I have not read the novel, but it's like Director Tom Tykwer, who also did the screenplay adaptation, doesn't know what kind of movie he wants to make. The movie opens with a unique version of the Talking Heads' classic "Once In a Lifetime", which is contained in a visually creative video. Once we get into the story, it feels like a serious drama with comedic undertones provided by Yousef. Then, as Alan runs into bureaucratic roadblocks, it feels like something out of Kafka. This is intertwined with some fairly standard "stranger in a strange land" stuff, as Alan adjusts to the culture. Then, it becomes more of a serious drama when Alan has a medical scare. The final chapter of the film morphs into a romance. The effect of this isn't jarring, as it always feel like we are watching the same movie, but it make us feel that we are watching a movie which is desperately trying different things, hoping that something will stick.

As one would expect, Hanks is solid here and he deftly handles the shifts from drama to lighter fare. The funny moments reminded me of how much I would like to see Hanks in a real comedy. Speaking of comedy, newcomer Alexander Black steals the show as Yousef, a man who is laid-back, yet eager to please. Tykwer has given the movie a very slick look, and the desert landscapes look great here. So, the film isn't a trainwreck and there are some things to like here, but most viewers will come away feeling very dissatisfied, as the story has a conclusion, but it doesn't have a true sense of closure. A Hologram for the King shows us a world that most haven't seen, but the journey there is quite bumpy.

A Hologram for the King hit home with the Pepsi joke on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is incredibly sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. As noted above, the landscape shots look great and they have a ton of depth. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture has a notable crispness and the level of detail is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The opening sequence provides a nice amount of subwoofer and stereo effects. The rest of the film delivers fairly standard dialogue and other effects, with the street scenes offering some mild stereo effects.

The A Hologram for the King Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "The Making of A Hologram for the King" (20 minutes) is dominated by a conversation with Director Tom Tykwer and Author Dave Eggers. They discuss how the project got off the ground and the casting. We also hear from Hanks, which leads to a talk of the story and themes. The piece then explores the location shooting and the use of visual effects. Sarita Choudhury also joins the conversation, talking about her role. "From Novel to Screen: The Adaptation of A Hologram for the King" (12 minutes) brings us more footage from the interview with Eggers and Tykwer, who talk about the book and the challenge of bringing the book to life. "Perfecting the Culture" (10 minutes) allows Tyker and Production Designer Uli Hanisch to talk about the steps which were taken to properly depict Saudi Arabia.

Review Copyright 2016 by Mike Long