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HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Black Swan (+ Digital Copy)

Discussion in 'Archived Reviews' started by Matt Hough, Apr 1, 2011.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Director

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Black Swan (Blu-ray + Digital Copy)
    Directed by  Darren Aronofsky

    Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
    Year: 2010
    Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 108 minutes
    Rating: R
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish, French
    Subtitles:  SDH, Spanish

    Region:  A-B
    MSRP:  $ 39.99

    Release Date: March 29, 2011

    Review Date: April 1, 2011



    The Film



    Darren Aronofsky’s psychological thriller Black Swan will remind you in places of such film greats as Repulsion and A Double Life but mired in the intense, competitive world of ballet as portrayed in such movies The Red Shoes and The Turning Point but with less melodrama and more paranoia. With mesmerizing performances complementing a story where we as viewers are never quite sure where we stand or if we can believe what we’re seeing at any given moment, Black Swan is an insidious thriller. It doesn’t offer the heaps of gore that slasher fiends crave, and the intricacies of the structured ballet world may be too overpowering for some, but the rewards are plentiful, and Darren Aronofsky’s dazzling direction maintains involvement even through the squirm-inducing visuals we’re occasionally finding ourselves viewing.


    Insecure, tentative ballerina Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) is the surprise choice of artistic director Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) to dance the role of the Swan Queen in a new, avant garde production of Swan Lake. The role requires the dancer to be both the fragile, sensitive White Swan (which Leroy has no doubt Nina can handle) and the quixotic, alluring Black Swan (which will be the paramount challenge for the shy, introspective Nina). Nina’s controlling mother Erica (Barbara Hershey), once a member of the corps de ballet but never a principal dancer, is thrilled for her daughter but isn’t prepared to ease her troubled and deeply frightened daughter through the grueling process of becoming a prima ballerina. Lily (Mila Kunis), another member of the company who’s assigned to be Nina’s understudy, has the talent and the outer confidence to dance the role in her sleep, and Nina’s growing concern is that Lily is undermining her with the company so she can step into her part.


    The script by Mark Heyman, Andrew Heinz, and John McLaughlin and the direction by Darren Aronofsky are positively baroque with extravagant staging of shock moments throughout the presentation (including utterly inspired use of mirror images – some in actual mirrors and some merely occupying the same frame, all keeping the viewer off balance and uncertain about what his own eyes are seeing, much like the increasingly psychotic protagonist). While there are bloody scenes and quite a few disturbing images, the guignol might not be quite so grand as in something like Interview With a Vampire or Sweeney Todd, but there is plenty here to satisfy light to medium blood lust (trimming fingernails, maintaining cuticles, and dealing with rashes has never been made so nerve jangling). Ballet lovers may also get just enough of a taste of Swan Lake here to force them to head off to a local production, but Aronofsky gets his camera right into the thick of both the rehearsals and the actual performance so that we feel like we’re right beside the dancers as they work, a much more kinetic viewing experience than we’re offered in the simpler (if undeniably effective) ballet scenes in The Turning Point  or The Red Shoes. Aronofsky also handles a disquieting sequence at a dance club with razor sharp images and editing and brilliantly uses jump cuts to take us with the frazzled Nina from backstage to outside Lincoln Center, then inside her apartment hallway, and inside the apartment in a matter of seconds. All of the accolades Aronofsky  garnered for his work on this film were greatly deserved. It’s his best work to date.


    Natalie Portman’s bravura work as the mentally unstable Nina won her this year’s Best Actress Oscar, and her combination of acting and dancing en pointe is terrifically impressive. It’s a huge role requiring her to be on camera for almost the entire running time of the film, and she never disappoints. It’s an exceptional performance. As her (possible) rival in the troupe, Mila Kunis likewise manages to play something of a split personality, the talented dancer and effervescent person all can see and this slithery, calculating vixen that she occasionally appears to be in Nina’s head. She walks a very finer line quite impressively. Barbara Hershey as the smothering mother is appallingly effective making us understand the root of Nina’s problems while despising her guilt-edged hold on her daughter while she lives vicariously through her success. Vincent Cassel makes a convincingly ambitious artistic director doing whatever it takes to get the results he wants for his production. In a small but expressive part, Winona Ryder has a couple of helpful scenes as the retiring prima whom Nina is replacing.



    Video Quality



    The film is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is offered in 1080p using the AVC codec. Contrast has not been overly applied nor are colors ramped up to über saturation levels, so the film has a slightly veiled quality that is part of its mystique, infusing everything we see in the movie as possibly something in a nightmare or a deranged mind. Sharpness is very good but not razor edged, and flesh tones are reasonably accurate. Black levels, however, are outstanding and quite the best aspect of the transfer. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.



    Audio Quality



    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix makes the most of its audio design by wrapping the listener in a wall of symphonic sound during all of the theatrical moments and also effectively placing significant sounds into the various channels that aid in establishing the psychologically creepy and disorienting nature of the entire enterprise. Despite the film’s low budget, this is one of 2010’s most effectively considered soundtracks.



    Special Features



    “Metamorphosis” is the three part making-of documentary that covers every aspect of this movie with interviews from the director, producer, and film editor, through the production designer, costume designer, writers, special effects coordinators, and makeup personnel. Natalie Portman, Winona Ryder, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis also discuss their roles in the production in this 49-minute, 1080i presentation.


    The film’s theatrical trailer is presented in 1080p and runs for 2 minutes.


    “Ballet” gives information on the story of Swan Lake from director Darren Aronofsky. It runs for 2 ½ minutes in 1080p.


    “Production Design” features Aronofsky and production designer Therese DePrez discussing the set design of the ballet itself as well as sets for other principal locations in the movie. It runs 4 minutes in 1080p.


    “Costume Design” has Aronofsky and costume designer Amy Westcott discussing how they took the characters from Swan Lake and used its designs to make wardrobe choices for the various actors for their street wear. This 1080p piece also runs 4 minutes.


    Both Natalie Portman ( 3 ¼ minutes) and director Darren Aronofsky (2 ¾ minutes) are given brief profiles about their work ethic in prepping for this project which they waited ten years to make. They’re in 1080p.


    “Conversation with Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman” is divided into two featurettes. “Preparing for the Role” in which they discuss her ten months of ballet training runs for 3 ¾ minutes. “Dancing with the Camera” takes a (too) brief look (1 ½ minutes) at the way the camera worked right along with the actors as they worked. It’s in 1080p.


    “Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character” offers brief interviews with four of the actors and the director of the movie. All are in 480i. Those interviewed are Natalie Portman (6 minutes), Winona Ryder (2 ¼ minutes), Barbara Hershey (3 ½ minutes), Vicent Cassel (4 ¾ minutes), and Darren Aronofsky ( 6 ¼ minutes).


    The disc is BD-Live ready, but there was nothing at the Fox site of an exclusive nature dealing with this film.


    The disc offers promo trailers in 1080p for 127 Hours, Love and Other Drugs, Conviction, Never Let Me Go, Casino Jack, and the FX slate of drama series.


    The second disc in the case is the digital copy of the movie with enclosed instructions for installing on PC, Mac, or pocket BLU devices.



    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)


    An emotionally gripping and cinematically engrossing thriller set in, of all places, the world of ballet makes Black Swan one of the year’s best films and one which will reward second viewings to see how some of the magic was done. A generous helping of bonus features also extends the value of this recommended Blu-ray release.




    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC


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