Studio: Sony/Dimension Films
Program Length: 111 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p
Languages: English 5.1 DTS-HD MA
Subtitles: English SDH, English
The Man: You have to keep carrying the fire.
The Boy: What fire?
The Man: The fire inside you.
Imagine a world which is perpetually overcast, where nothing grows, where no birds fly and where no animals graze. Imagine that this world is populated by a relatively small number of humans who somehow survived an apocalyptic event, people who have by and large become desperate nomads who will stop at nothing – even cannibalism – in their pursuit of food. Welcome to the world of The Road, an almost unremittingly bleak but utterly compelling film about a man and his boy and their struggle to survive while Earth is dying.
The Road is based upon a novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy, the author of “No Country for Old Men.” The precise nature of the cataclysm is never explained, nor is any explanation required. The characters in the film are not even identified by name. Indeed, the situation that they find themselves in is so grim that names would seem to be superfluous. The film opens in summertime, when the sleep of a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his pregnant wife (Charlize Theron) is interrupted by loud rumblings, an intense light and the shrieks of neighbors. We next see the man and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) as they traverse a forbidding landscape. In a series of flashbacks we learn that the man and his wife were leading a nearly idyllic rural life before the tragic event occurred. Then their life began to disintegrate, as over the course of several years animals died, crops stopped growing, temperatures plummeted, and lawlessness reigned. Facing the prospect of freezing to death or being murdered by rampaging gangs, the man decides that their only hope is to head south to the coast in search of more favorable conditions. His wife, however, has given up.
The man and his son set out on a journey which is so arduous that merely watching it is draining. They have to scrounge for sustenance and every stranger must be assumed to be a potential murderer. They must deal with earthquakes, dangerous thunderstorms, and bone-chilling rain. Along the way they find themselves in a series of life-threatening situations. In the face of these travails they have to keep “the fire” – the will to survive – alive, while not knowing what they will find when and if they reach the coast.
Viggo Mortenson is superb as the man, and young Kodi Smit-McPhee is a revelation as his plucky but sensitive son. In addition to Charlize Theron, the film features brief but significant supporting roles by Robert Duvall, Guy Pearce and Molly Parker. As good as the actors are, they are nearly overshadowed by Javier Aguirresarobe’s spectacular cinematography. The scenes of utter devastation are incredibly powerful. The filmmakers wisely chose to make the film on location in some of the gloomiest areas of the United States, including a deserted section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, flood-ravaged sections of New Orleans, and Mount St. Helens. The pacing of the film is excellent, thanks to exceptional direction by John Hillcoat.
Ultimately, though, what holds The Road together is the relationship between the man and the boy. Neither would have considered embarking upon the journey without the other, and neither would have had any chance of surviving it without the other. The man provides the physical strength, but his son provides the humanity. Seen from this perspective, The Road is surprisingly life-affirming, even in the face of utter hopelessness.
I did not see this film in a theater (not many people did, judging by the box office receipts), but our resident expert Robert Harris has reported that “The Road was photographed in Super 35 and finished in 2k, which means that what you're seeing on your screen via this Blu-ray disc, should replicate the intentions of the filmmakers.” I have seen a few quibbles by others about the 2.35:1 1080p transfer, including comments about some softness and edge enhancement. However, I tend to believe that Mr. Harris has it correct. This is a spectacular-looking film but not a pretty film. The images are not of the sort that you want to jump off of your screen (some of the scenes are positively horrific), so I am convinced that whatever softness is present is entirely intentional. As to the claims of edge enhancement, I did not observe any such problems on my monitor. Except for the flashback scenes, the color palette is dominated by gray (in the supplements it is mentioned that an extra take was required on one scene because the sun came out during filming). The colors, though muted, appear to be accurate. Contrasts are excellent, black levels are solid and shadow detail is very good. Overall, this is another top-notch Blu-ray from Sony.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is excellent. Thunderstorms, forest fires, earthquakes, falling trees and gunshots provide enough loud noises to give the subwoofer a workout. The surround channels are very effective in delivering realistic ambient sounds. Some of dialogue, particularly early in the film, is very quiet and I found it necessary to turn up the volume somewhat higher than usual to make it all understandable. The film includes an excellent and evocative musical soundtrack composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
The extras on this Blu-ray disc are not plentiful, and in truth I found myself wishing that there were more.
An interesting and informative commentary by director John Hillcoat is available for those who have the intestinal fortitude to watch The Road twice.
A 13-minute “making of” documentary provides some worthwhile information about the casting and filming of The Road, as well as providing insight into some of the hardships the crew endured during the filming. However, I would have liked to have seen some more information about the location filming. Several times during the film I found myself wondering, “Where did they shoot that scene?”
Also included are five deleted scenes. They are interesting, but not integral to the story.
The Blu-ray disc also features two theatrical trailers for The Road, as well as trailers for Youth in Revolt, Unthinkable, Chloe, Nine, The Last Station, Legion, and A Single Man.
The supplements are in both high definition and standard definition, and the audio is English stereo with English subtitles. MovieIQ and BD-Live features will be available on the release date.
The single disc comes in a standard Blu-ray keep case.
The Final Analysis
The Road is certainly not for everyone. However, within the genre of end-of-the-world films, it is heads and shoulders above the likes of 2012. If you are not put off by the subject matter, it is a film which you will find yourself thinking about long after the closing credits.
Equipment used for this review:
Panasonic DMP-BD50 Blu-ray player
Panasonic Viera TC-P46G15 Plasma display, calibrated to THX specification by Gregg Loewen
Yamaha HTR-5890 THX Surround Receiver
BIC Acoustech speakers
Interconnects: Monster Cable
Release Date: May 25, 2010