Directed By: Darren Aronofsky
Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
|Studio: Warner Brothers|
Film Length: 96 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16:9
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Release Date: May 15, 2007
It is worth dying to find out what life is.
-- T.S. Eliot
The Film"The Fountain", scripted by Aronofsky from a story he co-wrote with Ari Handel, intercuts narratives from three distinct time periods separated by gaps of 500 years. The present day narrative concerns Tom Creo (Jackman), a scientist who is working furiously on cutting-edge cancer research, spurned on by the fact that his wife, Izzi (Weisz), is succumbing to advance-stage brain cancer. Izzi has been working on a novel called "The Fountain", telling the story of a Spanish conquistador, Tomas (also Jackman) during the Inquisition. Queen Isabel (Weisz again) sends Tomas on a quest for the Tree of Life which she believes to be hidden in Mayan-controlled jungles of "New Spain" in the Americas. Intercut with these stories is the progress of a bald, space-traveling Thomas hundreds of years in the future. His vessel resembles a glass globe inside of which is a tree that seems to have skin for bark. He is gradually progressing towards a nebula surrounding a dying star that is referenced in all of the film's three time periods.
The heart of the film is Thomas' attempts to circumvent and/or deal with the inevitability of Izzi's death which, through juxtaposition with the past and future elements of the film, ties in to humanity's "big questions" about the nature of life, death, the vastness of time, and the seemingly infinite cosmos. The toll that Izzi's illness takes on both herself and Thomas weaves an emotionally effective narrative thread through a serious science fiction film that is largely "experiential" in its design.
The film is not for everyone, and seems to be intended for active, analytical viewers who will not mind being left to draw their own conclusions about the film's meaning and how certain elements of the film relate to each other (e.g. is the conquistador story an entirely fictional creation of Izzi's that is finally finished 500 years later by future Thomas or is it something more?). There is plenty of symbolism. There is both melding and juxtaposition of Pagan and Judeo-Christian conceptions of death and creation. After viewing it, depending on your mood and taste in cinema, you will probably either want to watch it again, discuss it with a friend, or lament the 96 minutes of your life you can never have back.
Outstanding performances by Jackman and Weisz help to make the potentially frustrating obliqueness palatable. Jackman brings a sense of raw emotion to Thomas that almost makes you feel sorrier for him than Izzi even though she is the one who is dying. Weisz gives Izzi a sense of grace and serene acceptance that is almost 180 degrees out of step with Thomas, and yet there is enough chemistry between the two that you never doubt why they are soul mates. This is essential to sell the concept that the consequences of her illness could potentially reverberate with Thomas for centuries.
The VideoThe transfer renders the sometimes difficult cinematography fairly effectively, but is occasionally plagued by some compression issues. There are certain scenes where the bitrate seems to have trouble keeping up with the film grain, resulting in some artifacting noticeable with critical viewing on large displays. A number of scenes, especially the "New Spain" conquistador sections of the film, have large portions of the image crushed almost completely to black. This may have been done to tone down some of the violence in the battles between the conquistadors and the Mayan warriors, but it also ties in with the film's recurring cinematographic motif of moving from darkness into light. This motif results in several high contrast shots where characters are swallowed in blackness while moving towards a light. The fact that critical details in even the darkest frames are usually highlighted by flashes of light also suggests that the deep blackness is intentional.
The AudioThe Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, encoded at a 448 kbps bitrate, is very active and dynamic with LFE and surround activity used during appropriate moments to create a very enveloping experience. There are numerous instances where phrases are gently whispered by characters, sometimes in the surrounds. Dynamics are employed effectively so that these moments build from almost subliminal hints to crystal clear enunciations of recurring significant phrases as scenes, and the film itself, progress.
The ExtrasWhen the disc first spins up, the viewer is treated to skippable promotional trailers for DVD releases of "The Painted Veil", "Pan's Labyrinth", and "The Science of Sleep". All are in 4:3 letterboxed widescreen with DD 2.0 audio.
From the extras menu, the first and foremost feature listed is Inside the Fountain: Death and Rebirth, a documentary directed by Niko Tavernise. Broken into six featurettes called "Australia", "The 21st Century", "Spain - 16th Century", "New Spain", "The Endless Field", and "The Future" with an available "Play All" selection, it thoroughly covers the film's complete production process. It begins with the initial aborted attempt to shoot the film in Australia in 2002, glossing over the casting of that version and the reasons for the production shutdown, but not the consequences. After that, it skips to the launch of the revised, re-cast, scaled-down production that resumed in 2004, documenting the complete production in roughly the order it was shot with extensive behind the scenes footage and interviews with most of the key cast and crew. In total, it runs 64 minutes and is one of the better documentaries of its kind I have seen. It is presented in 4:3 video with most of the program letterboxed to approximately 1.66:1 (there are a few times where outtake footage from the film is shown with timecodes that go to the bottom of the 4:3 frame).
Also included is the film's theatrical trailer, running two minutes and 22 seconds in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with DD 2.0 stereo audio.
PackagingThe disc comes in a standard Amaray-type keep-case, with the only insert being an advertisement for the film's soundtrack CD. A Warner recycling logo on the back cover insert indicates that the keep-case is made from 30% post-consumer recycled content. The plastic feels slightly less hard than cases made from virgin plastic, but not so much that your disc will be any less well-protected, so I think this is a great idea.
Summary"The Fountain" is a difficult film that demands a lot from its audience. That being said, it features excellent performances from its two lead actors and is intriguing and thought-provoking for those willing to put in the effort. The stylish cinematography and immersive sound mix are well presented on this DVD, marred only slightly by occasional, but not pervasive, compression artifacts that cause grain patterns to smear. The disc includes an outstanding comprehensive documentary on the film's production that runs for over an hour and includes significant input from almost all of the key creative people involved in the production.
Addendum: If you are interested in the HD-DVD release of this film which also includes additional special features, check out Pat Wahlquist's forum review at this link.