Seeking a Friend for the End of the World goes into that good night on Blu-ray in an edition that nicely fits the quietly reserved movie it is. I confess not knowing what to think of this movie based on the funny trailer and the mixed word of mouth. But watching the movie is a captivating experience, gently nudged along by Lorene Scafaria’s guidance and anchored by the gentle performances of Steve Carell and Keira Knightley. The Blu-ray offers fine high definition picture and sound and a few extras, including a group commentary with the director. This release is Highly Recommended.
Studio: Universal/Focus Features/Mandate Pictures/Indian Paintbrush
Length: 1 hr 41 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, (AVC @ 32 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.2 mbps, up to 4.8 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Content Rating: R (Language, Sexual References, Drug Use, Violence)
Release Date: October 23, 2012
Starring: Steve Carell and Keira Knightley
Written and Directed by: Lorene Scafaria
Film Rating: 4 ½/5
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a surprisingly good movie, and one that I don’t believe has been able to reach much of an audience, which is really a shame. The simple story centers on the idea that the world is about to end due to the impending arrival of a deadly asteroid named Matilda. With that as the premise (and it’s set up in the opening five seconds of the movie with the radio announcement heard in the trailers), the movie actually follows Dodge (Steve Carell) and Penny (Keira Knightley) as they make a final road trip for him to find a long-lost high school sweetheart and her to find a way to her parents’ home before the end. The movie becomes a kind of character road movie, similar in a way to 2009’s Away We Go, only in a much quirkier setting. There are some great cameos here along the way, including William Peterson as a possibly deranged trucker and the great Melanie Lynsky as a desperate single woman vying for Dodge’s attention early on.
SOME SPOILERS HERE: I wouldn’t want to spoil more of the story than that, but I will say that it seems clear that the movie was completely overlooked upon both its theatrical release and the home video release. This may be due to viewers thinking this would be a more extroverted Steve Carell comedy, with more slapstick or a broader hand. It may due to viewers thinking this would be a more serious movie, with heavier thoughts and greater depth. But this movie is neither of those things, and it can’t reasonably be termed either a straight comedy or a straight drama. It’s probably more of a drama in its outlook, given the arc of the story. But the thought here was to create a romance between two unlikely people, with a real time limit running in the background. And much as I may find it unlikely that this pairing would work onscreen, it actually does here. Carell turns in a restrained and quite gentle performance in the lead role, keeping most of his reactions to the onscreen action as small as possible. Knightley similarly goes for a quieter stance, which allows the two of them to actually achieve a greater impact in their stillness than if they were trying to outdo the multiple character cameos that surround them. By the end of the movie, we’re inevitably left with Dodge and Penny (even if her presence by then requires a major suspension of disbelief) and the simplicity of their affection for each other.
A FEW MORE SPOILERS HERE: It’s possible that people may have thought the movie would find some kind of a big happy ending for the two leads, and that the public disappointment with the movie is a reflection of people not liking what actually happens. But the movie is pretty clear that this is an unavoidable ending. If anyone is unclear about what is going to happen by the end, then they are either not paying attention to the trailer, the poster and the title of the movie, let alone the plot, or they are simply in denial. The point at the end isn’t whether the characters survive the title event. The point is that they have found each other. For them, clearly, that’s enough. I couldn’t think of a better ending for this movie, and I’m glad Lorene Scafaria was brave enough to stay with the one she had.
I was both surprised and moved by this film, and I want to make sure that more people get to see it. Therefore, I am giving it a Highly Recommended rating. If just a few people give this movie a chance, I think they will be very happy with what they see.
One extra note – I’m adding an extra half point for the very appropriate choice of an ESPN Classic moment for an early television background. The filmmakers chose “The Play” from the 1982 Cal/Stanford Big Game in which the Bears ran the football all the way into the end zone with no time left. As a UC Berkeley alum, I heartily approve of this as something all viewers should get to experience.
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World was released on Blu-ray and standard definition more than two weeks ago, but wound up being shelved due to the demands of a much longer review. (Cough, Hitchcock, cough). The DVD and the Blu-ray share the special features, with the real difference being the high definition picture and sound on the Blu-ray. Of course, the Blu-ray release includes both discs. Instructions for downloading a digital copy and getting an Ultraviolet copy are also included in the package.
VIDEO QUALITY 4 ½/5
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 transfer that nicely presents a variety of textures and environments with a satisfying level of detail. From what I can see, this was an Alexa shoot which was handled quite well – meaning that the look is fairly close to that of film.
AUDIO QUALITY 4 ½/5
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, as well as a standard DTS mix in Spanish. Much of the mix lives in the front channels, but there is a surprising amount of atmospheric sound, particularly in the latter parts of the movie. And the generous music/song score fills the surrounds any time the atmosphere is quiet.
SPECIAL FEATURES 3/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Seeking a Friend for the End of the World comes a few special features, most crucially a scene-specific group commentary.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.
pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device. Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.
Feature Commentary with Lorene Scafaria, Gail Scafaria, Producer Joy Gorman and Actors Patton Oswalt and Adam Brody (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific commentary is a group affair where writer/director Lorene Scafaria is able to discuss her thoughts about the project at length and the group is able to respond to on-screen events. There are times when this dissolves into a mutual admiration society, but there are also plenty of opportunities for Scafaria to discuss the mechanics of her story and the very subtle ways she was trying to achieve them onscreen. Some time is understandably taken with discussions of the various song choices in the soundtrack. Overall, this is an engaging track, if for no other reason than the director proudly announcing that she has reduced her mother to tears by the end of the movie.
The following materials are presented in high definition on the Blu-ray. If they are also available on the DVD, they would obviously be presented in standard definition there:
Outtakes (8:36, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – The usual blown takes and silly moments on set are presented here, although in this case it actually shows how restrained Steve Carell’s performance is. Once a take is blown, he goes back into the full-blown fun mode one would expect from the former star of The Office.
A Look Inside Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (4:54, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – Here’s a brief featurette about the movie, including soundbites from all the principal players and Lorene Scafaria. Some of the time is spent discussing what music people would put on the turntable if they knew the world was ending.
Music for the End of the World: What’s on Your Playlist? (2:15, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This is really just a distillation of the music comments from the earlier featurette. And it’s a nice riff on the title of Lorene Scafaria’s earlier screenplay, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.
DVD Copy – A second disc is included in the package, holding the standard DVD of the theatrical cut of the movie. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.35:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English and Spanish (448 kbps). The commentary, outtakes and featurettes are all included, in standard definition..
Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud. The instructions include a deadline of April 30, 2017 for activation. I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.
IN THE END...
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is a surprisingly effective and moving film. It may not be for everyone. It’s certainly not the wild comedy fans of Steve Carell may have expected, and it’s not a heavy drama that fans of Keira Knightley may have expected. It’s somewhere in between the two ideas, and if you can appreciate it for that, you’ll have a rewarding experience here. I certainly would never have expected to have been so moved by a Steve Carell movie, but if he and Knightley could pull off what they do in this film’s final moments, anything is possible. The Blu-ray offers this fine and underappreciated movie in a wonderful light, with solid picture and sound and a nice commentary to go with it. Again, this release is Highly Recommended.
November 12, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at ISF picture mode
-Set professionally calibrated by AVICAL in June 2012
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer