Like all of his films, Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life is a meditation on the human condition. It also delves into the forces which have controlled the cosmos since the beginnings of time. And all of this is accomplished with those astonishing arrays of visual motifs which stagger the imagination and leave the viewer stirred and shaken. The Tree of Life certainly has a plot and a plan about it, but the pondering of life’s overwhelming conflicts with its own kind of checks and balances makes the film so much more than a simple narrative. It’s as complex as life itself.
The Tree of Life (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Terrence Malick
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 139 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 surround English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
Release Date: October 11, 2011
Review Date: October 12, 2011
The central focus of the piece involves the upbringing of three brothers in mid-1950s Texas. Oldest brother Jack (Hunter McCracken as a child, Sean Penn as an adult) is at war with himself trying to control the inner demons and rage inherited from his father (Brad Pitt) with the calming, loving nature passed on from his mother (Jessica Chastain). While his father is a man full of love, he’s also a man full of dissatisfaction and disappointment, a person who has played by the rules but who has not achieved the American Dream he thinks is owed to him. Jack and his father are often at odds with one another due to their stubborn insistence on going their own ways, and the combative relationships seems to extend into Jack’s adulthood.
An art film through and through, it’s pointless to try to find any rational explanations for the dizzying array of images Malick infuses throughout the film. Even in its most mundane narrative passages, the camera is never where one might expect it to be, and the visual invention which infuses every centimeter of this movie cannot be overstated. A lengthy sojourn into the origins of life on Earth and some surprising time spent with dinosaurs seems to extend Malick’s central thesis: the constant war on Earth between the forces of nature and the forces of grace imparted in plants and animals, both human or otherwise, all of which happens about one-third of the way through the film interrupting the narrative which jumps back and forth in time anyway. With the effects under the supervision of Douglas Trumbull who brought similar mystical complexity to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, the movie offers mind expanding views of the universe as well as locales on Earth and under the sea. The myriad images, from simple shows of flocks of birds spiraling through the sky to simple fireflies in a yard or a blazing sea of sunflowers, never cease to amaze. If Malick stumbles at all, it’s with an arty, surreal coda as past and present collide in numerous locations around the globe. Plot wise, we’ve seen this motif before in Longtime Companion as well as in some Bergman and Fellini films. But after viewing both the interesting and tremendously authentic depiction of a typical mid-1950s childhood along with the staggering visual kaleidoscope which accompanies the narrative, the coda's lack of dazzling originality hardly matters.
Brad Pitt does a magnificent job with the domineering father internally warring with his ambitions and his unfortunate reality. Jessica Chastain is the embodiment of maternal love and graciousness, a mostly quiet, controlled performance of great sensitivity and achievement. Hunter McCracken makes a terrific impression as the fiery Jack, the usual boyish mixture of angel and devil struggling always to control both sides of his temperament. Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan as his younger siblings also seem completely natural before the camera, and all three boys interact believably together as brothers. Sean Penn has less interesting things to do as the elder Jack and not a lot of screen time in which to do them. Fiona Shaw has a moving scene as the comforting grandmother who comes to offer solace when one of the two younger brothers is killed at age 19, a plot point mentioned but never dwelt on afterward.
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. The cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki is exquisitely rendered in this transfer with sharpness consistently superb and color resolution natural and deeply satisfying. Flesh tones are all realistically pictured with no fluctuations in them at any point in the presentation. Black levels are awesomely deep and impressive. The imaginative special effects as rendered here are quite hypnotic and will likely draw many repeat plays. The film has been divided into 24 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix is one of the most active you’ll ever experience from a film that isn’t an action picture. The available channels are used intelligently to surround the listener with sound (a prefilm note advises the user to turn up the volume before the film starts), and an underlying rumble that rises off and on through the movie makes a great aural impression through the LFE channel. Dialogue is always easily discernible and has been placed in the center channel. The film is loaded with classical music and it, along with Alexandre Desplat’s own moving themes for the movie, get excellent spread through the soundstage.
“Exploring The Tree of Life” features almost all of the key production personnel talking about the making of the movie except director Terrence Malick (directors David Fincher and Christopher Nolan pinch hit for him). From the stars through several producers, the cinematographer, composer, and special effects advisor, this 30-minute featurette gives a excellent background to the production of the movie. It’s in 1080p.
The film’s theatrical trailer is in 1080p and runs for 2 ¼ minutes.
The second disc in the set is the DVD copy of the movie.
The third disc is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installation on PC and Mac devices.
4.5/5 (not an average)
A philosophical art film with overtones of domestic drama and explorations of the nature of the cosmos, The Tree of Life offers a great adult cinematic experience and an excellent chance to discuss the movie’s meanings with friends afterwards. The Blu-ray is an exemplary video and audio experience which for many people will make a better rental than purchase.