March 26, 2007

DVD Review: Children of Men

Children of Men topped my best of 2006 list, and I am happy to report that it has successfully made the translation to the small screen with its impact intact. Alfonso Cuaron's film is a film that thrusts you into a dangerous and brutal world, yet brings hope for the future. This vision of the future is bleak and grim, there is a distinct feeling of hopelessness. Director Alfonso CuarĂ³n delivers a daring future world that takes you on a journey through the despair to the dawn of a new hope. Quite frankly, I loved this movie, and my love continues unabated on DVD.

The story is set in the future, not too far removed from our own. In this future women have become infertile, no more babies are being conceived. The very idea of this happening is blood chilling. Think about it, with all of the weird things that go on in the world, from pollution to genetic experimentation to all of the crazy drugs and chemicals being added to our food and used to treat illnesses, who knows if some sort of other side effects are changing us without being detected.

This is the story of a world that has lost hope, everyone is literally watching the world die. Civilization is collapsing all over the world, we get flashes of other major cities around the globe, every one is falling into chaos. England has enacted a Homeland Security Act that is being used to expel all non-nationals. This movie shows how the immigration issue is being dealt with as everyone is being rounded up and sent to refugee camps to await deportation. This future is dark and violent and feels very, very real.

What helps bring this future vision alive is how little we are told. There are things that happen to imply things about the world and the various groups and people involved, but we are kept on the outside looking in, forcing us into being one with Theo as he moves forward. While being sucked into the world, we are forced into his perspective, not unlike watching the action through a dirty window, where many of the details are fuzzy around the edges, only allowing focus on the primary action.

It is an extraordinary film that shows what smartly written science fiction can do. It is a movie that can give way to all sorts of thoughts. You may want to consider the reality of The Human Project and what it really is, or perhaps the political climate that led to the iron fisted rule that is currently in place, or perhaps the change in immigration policies and how it is related to current events. Maybe you would rather look at the more personal implications, like how would you react knowing you were part of the last generation of humanity, or the changes that Clive Owen's Theo goes through, what about the loss of hope, or the discovery of a possible salovation for humanity in the miraculous pregnancy. How about the religious aspects, the Christ-like metaphor of the child born to save the world.

Children of Men is such an extraordinarily complete film. It has so much to say, and do is it by saying as little as possible. There are so many things left unsaid, the details about what exactly is going on surrounding the main story, but with so much flavor left scattered about, it is entirely possible to put the pieces together to build a picture of the bigger picture. An astonishing accomplishment.

Besides the beautiful storytelling, Alfonso Cuaron has demonstrated his grasp of technique and inventiveness. This film has some incredibly detailed work from the sets to the way it is shot. I did not notice it when I saw it in the theaters, as I was drawn into the story so deeply, but now, watching on DVD, I can see some of the great technical work. There are a number of incredibly long takes with no edits, you don't notice it at first, but when you realize what you had just seen, you cannot help but wonder how they did it. In particular, the scene with the car chase, they are driving along, then the road gets blocked with a burning car and they are chased. During this scene, the camera is moving all around the inside of the tiny vehicle, which has 5 people inside, you cannot help but wonder just where they put the camera and how the managed to move it around as much as they do. The other is a tracking shot behind Clive Owen in the middle of a firefight.

I read that Alfonso Cuaron got together with two of his fellow directors, and close friends, Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Babel), to watch the film. Afterwards, the two friends couldn't figure out how he did it either.

Children of Men is a true triumph of filmmaking. It is a shame that it did not do better at the box office and got overlooked for the big awards at Oscar time, but as we all know, great films are not always recognized right away.

Audio/Video. The technical aspectsd of the film are very good. The audio track is Dolby Digital 5.1, and sounds very good. I do not have many comments on it, as there is nothing to really complain about. The video is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, preserving the original aspect ratio. It looks good, giving the same gritty/grainy look without losing any detail as it was in the theater.

Extras. This single disk release has a nice selection of extras.
  • Deleted Scenes. Two excised scenes totalling 2:22. Nothing extraordinary, and they would not have added much to the film. I cannot help but think that there is more footage out there that was cut.
  • The Possibility of Hope. Documentary featurette runs nearly half an hour. It combines some onset footage with other archival footage with interviews of philosphers and historians about the themes of hope as brought up in the film. It is interesting and will give a bigger thought of what is going on in the film and in the world.
  • Under Attack. Running about 7:30, this takes a look at the car chase scene. It looks at just what was done to tecnically bring this piece to life. It is a rather landmark achievement.
  • Children of Men Comments by Slavoj Zizek. Philosopher and cultural critic, Zizek, gives some interesting insight into the film as to what is going on in the background versus the foreground. This runs about 5:40.
  • Theo & Julian. Nearly five minutes on how every attempts were made to keep these two characters human and relevant.
  • Futuristic Design. Running over 8:30 this featurette takes a look at how they went about creating the look of the future while keeping it relatable to the present day. This is something that they succeeded at wonderfully, creating a gritty looking world that feels like a rundown version of our own time.
  • Visual Effects: Creating the Baby. This is a brief three minute look at how the baby was created using digital effects. It is quite interesting, and just slightly creepy.

Packaging. I do not normally comment on the packaging, but I have to say that I cannot stand the cover art. It is advertised as some sort of Clive Owen action vehicle, with his face peering from around the corner, with the other side saying "The Year 2027, The Last Days of the Human Race, No Child Has Been Born for 18 Years, He Must Protect Our Only Hope." Yes, in a way it is accurate, but it has no elegance to it. I really wish that they had used the original poster art, it just looks so much better.

Bottomline. If you couldn't tell, I love the movie, and will continue to do so. This is a DVD that deserves to be on the shelves of every movie lover. It nicely represents the movie, and has a nice selection of extras, even though I would have loved a commentary track. It is a beautiful story of hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Highly Recommended.


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