HD DVD Title: Children of Men (combo format)
Screen format: 1080P 1.85:1
First theatrical release: January 5th, 2007
Previously released on DVD/BluRay: Day and Date with Widescreen & Fullscreen DVDs and downloadable version
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam, Claire-Hope Ashitey
Sound Formats: English & French Dolby Digital Plus 5.1
Length: 1 Hour 50 Minutes
Subtitles: English, French
In “Children of Men”, director Cuarón has adapted P.D. James book of the same name to craft a near futuristic ‘Anti-Blade Runner’ that stirs up a hornets nest of modern issues (including global warming, immigration, government control, aggressive capitalism and the rights and mindsets of individuals versus what is good for all mankind) into a disturbing and fascinating mirror of who we are today and where we are headed.
Everyman Theo (Owens) is a beleaguered office worker who is sleeping through the demise of man as the world he lives in can no longer produce children. Without children there is no hope, romance, or even art to inspire people to keep going, and devastating chaos has broken out the world over and only England remains as the last bastion of order. England is beset on all sides by refugees trying to get in and under attack from within by factions who have their own ideologies and demands on how the government should handle the current state of affairs.
Theo himself is nearly wiped out in one such attack and is captured by a member of one such faction, the Fishes. Theo’s ex, Julian (Moore) turns out to be one of his captors, and requests that Theo help her group out by getting one of his contacts to aid them with paperwork which will give safe passage to one of their members. Theo soon learns that the papers are needed for the most extraordinary of reasons: a refugee, Kee (Ashitey), is pregnant, the first person to be fertile in 18 years. Kee is sure that her baby will be stolen by the government, they wouldn’t risk the embarrassment that a non citizen is the first and only to be so lucky. Thus begins both a race against the clock to get Kee to the only group believed to be able to help get her baby to safety and a journey of emotional and spiritual reawakening for Theo.
Children of Men is a curious mix of science fiction, dystopia, politics and war bundled together as a movie. It pulls at so many issues simultaneously that viewers might feel beaten up during the viewing. While I wasn’t drawn in too heavily by the story, the gripping drama and the sheer emotional bleakness combined with the overarching malaise and terrors of war really did get my stomach in knots and it took a while to calmly assess just what I liked and did not like about the movie outside of the obvious audiovisual merits, which are discussed in detail below.
As a work of Science Fiction, the movie combines a lot of what I liked about the original Star Wars movies: it looks lived in, dirty, and whole. There was an awful lot of thought that went into designing a world that no longer had children to care for. Gear is slightly advanced but not unrealistically so. Cars in particular echo current designs but are just slightly unrecognizable as today’s models. In many ways the future here seems to echo that from the video game Half Life 2, and it was interesting seeing how the themes of both resonated with each other. In the extras, members of the crew repeatedly say they were going for believability as opposed to simple gimmickry or interesting gadgets, in other words the “Anti-Blade Runner”. And I believe that they nailed this goal perfectly.
As for the political agenda of the movie, I really don’t have a lot to say. Certainly there are things we as humans are doing to screw up our futures on a grand scale, but this film seems to separate the things we are doing wrong from the overarching problem that cannot be explained by the folly of man. The message seems to be that even if we weren’t such colossal boneheads we would still be faced with this infertility and even our smartest people aren’t the ones who solve it, that simple promiscuity is the one solution that worked. That doesn’t seem like a good theme given the realities of STDs in our modern world.
What did impress me mightily is how the journalistic war photography style that worked so brilliantly in Saving Private Ryan was adapted for use here. Additionally, many of the scenes here are done as very long (4-7 minutes) single takes, without breaking camera angles. That the actors and crew were able to hold viewer’s attention so long and also go without breaking the busy, convincing and realistic action is remarkable.
Overall, Children of Men is probably a film that is going to require multiple viewings for most viewers to digest its complex messages and to enjoy its full impact. The story itself is relatively simple but there are interesting sub contexts and details that veer off and demand further reflection. Whether it will go on to be considered a classic film is debatable but it does have a lot to recommend and is certainly one of the deepest and most thought provoking films I have seen in a long time. In the final tally I found it an engaging film that just didn’t break into the territory of brilliance, but it came close.
Sound Quality: 4/5
Children of Men features a relatively sparse surround track through most of the film, fading out and letting the blight and disarray of the visuals do the talking. The musical score alternates between a mix of classic rock, original instrumentals, and the bizarre futuristic punk favored by Theo’s friend Jasper (Caine). The harsh divergence of these musical genres complements well the journey Theo takes from complacent disinterest to earnest awakening and rush for survival, both his personal and for our species. The inclusion of alternate arrangements of songs that viewers will be familiar with including both a Beatles and a Rolling Stones track are particularly inspired, as is the haunting ‘Court of the Crimson King’, which will also echo some of Steven King’s works for those familiar with The Stand and the Gunslinger chronicles. All are interwoven subtly into the story and hold up nicely as examples of somber, near futuristic favorites.
However, when the action sequences kick into overdrive in the final stretch (and during the explosive initial sequence), there is nothing left wanting. Explosions are deep and gut punching, bullets whiz through and past all corners of the room and outside of the obvious confines of the speakers they emanate from, and voices likewise are positionally placed with great accuracy and vibrancy. While Children isn’t necessarily going to be the ‘go to’ film for reference testing, the effects match the visual horror with terrific fidelity and sheer impact.
Visual Quality: 4/5
As noted above, CoM goes for a very stark, journalistic style that is often heavy on grain during darker sequences and clips both blacks and whites for emotional impact, especially in outdoor scenes. This is intentional and almost certainly reflects what was intended for the film. The color palette is likewise muted, with certain segments in deep amber glows during Theo’s capture and blue green during the wartime segments and the escape to the sea. Grain is wholly film based and never from digital artifacting and there were no occurrences of ringing or over-sharpening.
As far as the sharpness of the film goes, shallow depth of field is used extensively to direct the viewer’s attention to specific areas of screen while the action explodes all around. Overall sharpness is above average but (given the look of the film) is not going to impart as much impact as if there was really deep color palette. What really sets CoM apart is simply the level of detailed trash and decay throughout. Every bit of graffiti, garbage and torn apart civilization is viewable in dizzying detail. Even Jasper’s retreat is detailed down to extraordinary levels, again seemingly just barely futuristic and all looking like it has real a real use and having really BEEN used.
Overall CoM could not be considered a beautiful looking movie but the transfer nails exactly the cold and barren look of the film in complete detail, and conveys the full weight of the story as well as any other HD transfer possibly could.
Extra Features: 3/5
Once again Universal has chosen to make many of the special features available only through the torturous U-Control technology. Unlike how these tools were used in Miami Vice I found CoM’s use simply mind numbing and distracting to the actual film itself. It’s bad enough that you have to watch the film a second time to really take advantage of the U-Control segments, but in a film like Children of Men this completely destroys all suspension of disbelief and emotional impact. I simply gave up after a half hour of messing with it because it was entirely un-compelling. Which is a shame, since the behind the scenes information seemed interesting, I just could not stomach the delivery mechanism.
As for “real” extra features, there are a few and they are a mixed bag. Three deleted scenes are included, and they are examples of judicious cuts, as they were absolutely not relevant or helpful to the story. In truth, they were plain awful. The Possibility of Hope is a half hour long dissertation of the political messages behind the book and movie, and would have been tolerable if it were not for the extremely annoying accents and verbal ticks of those who contributed to it, in particular one Mr. Slavdi Zizek. Mr. Zizek is also given his own shorter featurette, which while interesting was physically painful to listen to at times. The all too brief Under Attack just barely breaks the surface of how the siege scenes were created. Theo and Julian is also too brief in interviewing Moore and Owen about their experiences on set and the interaction between the two of them. Finally the Futuristic Design goes into some detail about how the crew were able to avoid the temptation to over design the look and simply make things just a shade past what we have today.
Overall: 4/5 (not an average)
I note that Children of Men has attained quite a bit of buzz and is a leading candidate for many people’s favorite movies of the year already. I found it interesting and engaging but at least at this time I’m not convinced of the long lasting impact I will take away from this film. I will definitely be viewing this film again in the future to see how it stands up to multiple screenings and seeing if it resonates more deeply once I’ve had ample time to take in all of what it has to offer. That said, it is one of the few films where you can sincerely claim that one viewing is insufficient and that is rare indeed. Recommended.