A micro-budgeted indie that combines a fanciful, underdeveloped sci-fi element with a more familiar melodramatic central story, Mike Cahill’s Another Earth is merely passable when the pieces are there for it to be something much more. Good performances and a bravura use of its limited finances and available locations, Another Earth ‘s very existence is partly a reason to celebrate the plucky determination of its production team, but the core of the drama is pretty prosaic, and one is a bit unsatisfied with its ultimate resolution.
Another Earth (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Mike Cahill
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 92 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Release Date: November 29, 2011
Review Date: November 30, 2011
On the evening that the discovery of a new Earth-like planet is announced over the airwaves, seventeen-year old Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) plows headlong into a car carrying composer/conductor John Burroughs (William Mapother), his pregnant wife and young son, killing the latter two instantly. Serving four years for vehicular manslaughter, Rhoda abandons plans for MIT and instead upon her release goes to work as a custodian at her old high school. She also tries to apologize to Burroughs for what she had done four years earlier, but she chickens out when facing him and instead offers her services as a once-a-week housekeeper. Over the course of a couple of months, the two become friendlier and then more intimate though John is unaware of Rhoda’s role in his life’s tragedy. Learning that the other Earth is an exact replica of our Earth down to its very inhabitants, Rhoda wants to go there, perhaps hoping to start afresh there or at least meet her doppelganger so she can discuss her life and feelings with her. She even enters an essay contest which offers a free trip to Earth 2, but John doesn’t want her to consider it thinking they’re on the cusp of something important for them as a couple.
The script by the director and his leading lady keeps emotions very internal for all of the characters, not only Rhoda and John but also for her fellow school janitor (in a subplot that’s confused and ill-used), her parents, and her brother. With so much focus on the inward struggles of these unhappy people, there’s not enough dramatic release when things seem to get sunnier, the director and his actors never fully embracing the melodramatic situations in which they’re entwined. There is one lovely moment to savor where the film reaches its emotional peak: John takes Rhoda into an auditorium at Yale and plays the saw for her. It sounds ludicrous, but the delicacy of his touch, and the eerie, haunting strains of music that emanate from the tool lend such an air of lyrical melancholy to the film that everything else: John’s devastated realization of who Rhoda is, Rhoda’s ultimate decision, and the film’s twist ending, seems anticlimactic to an extraordinary degree. Elsewhere, Cahill’s direction is rather routine (he also shot and edited the film himself), and a few nicely staged scenes like Rhoda’s suicide attempt in the snow or the broadcast of the first contact between the two Earths don’t make up for the mundane helming in most of the movie.
William Mapother is the most known actor in the film, and he gives a beautifully nuanced performance as the devastated widower slowly making his way back into the world. Brit Marling as Rhoda does well, too, though she seems perhaps a tad too emotionally constrained throughout to fully satisfy as the young woman experiencing a complete change in her life’s path. Matthew-Lee Erlbach as Alex reaches a certain level of poignancy in a very quiet, contained portrayal. Robin Taylor as Rhoda’s younger brother has perhaps the film’s most lively signs of life on display.
The film was shot in digital high definition and has been framed at 1.85:1 with 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Colors are very subdued and cool for the most part (a blue tinge occurs over several but not all scenes). Sharpness is above average but never of startling clarity, and focus varies throughout with the images sometimes taking on a erratic grainy quality but only at random moments. Black levels are decent but again not exemplary. The film has been divided into 20 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix does nothing at all with the rear channels. As effective as the spread is across the fronts and in the subwoofer, the transfer is very frontcentric throughout limiting its effective expansiveness. Dialogue is always understandable and can be found in the center channel, and there are some scattered ambient sounds coming from the separate front channels on occasion. The music by Fall on Your Sword also spreads nicely across the front channels and offers some decent bass as well.
“The First Time I saw Jupiter” music video is performed by Fall on Your Sword and runs 3 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
There are seven deleted scenes which can be played separately or in one 9 ¼-minute group. They’re in 1080p.
“Fox Movie Channel Presents” three interview featurettes presenting the director Mike Cahill and the two stars Brit Marling and William Mapother discussing in brief detail the production of the movie. Each of these interviews runs 4 ¼ minutes in 480i.
“The Science Behind Another Earth” promises more than it delivers in this very brief conversation between director Mike Cahill, co-star Brit Marling, and astrophysicist Dr. Richard Berendzen discussing the feasibility of an Earth concentric with ours. It runs 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
“Creating Another Earth” is another brief conversation between director Cahill and leading lady Marling about the low budget methods used to get the film made. It runs 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.
The film’s theatrical trailer runs for 2 ¼ minutes in 1080p.
The disc also includes 1080p trailers for The Descendants, The Art of Getting By, and the Fox World Cinema series.
The second disc in the set is the DVD copy of the movie.
The third disc in the set is the digital copy of the movie.
3/5 (not an average)
Another Earth isn’t quite dramatic enough or expressive enough to be a memorable entertainment, but it makes a passably enjoyable film that one might find worth renting.