DVD Review HTF REVIEW: The Fountain

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Ken_McAlinden, May 11, 2007.

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  1. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    The Fountain

    Directed By: Darren Aronofsky

    Starring: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn

    Studio: Warner Brothers

    Year: 2006

    Rated: PG-13

    Film Length: 96 minutes

    Aspect Ratio: 16:9

    Subtitles: English, Spanish, French

    Release Date: May 15, 2007

    It is worth dying to find out what life is.
    -- T.S. Eliot

    The Film

    "The Fountain", scripted by Aronofsky from a story he co-wrote with Ari Handel, intercuts narratives from three distinct time periods separated by gaps of 500 years. The present day narrative concerns Tom Creo (Jackman), a scientist who is working furiously on cutting-edge cancer research, spurned on by the fact that his wife, Izzi (Weisz), is succumbing to advance-stage brain cancer. Izzi has been working on a novel called "The Fountain", telling the story of a Spanish conquistador, Tomas (also Jackman) during the Inquisition. Queen Isabel (Weisz again) sends Tomas on a quest for the Tree of Life which she believes to be hidden in Mayan-controlled jungles of "New Spain" in the Americas. Intercut with these stories is the progress of a bald, space-traveling Thomas hundreds of years in the future. His vessel resembles a glass globe inside of which is a tree that seems to have skin for bark. He is gradually progressing towards a nebula surrounding a dying star that is referenced in all of the film's three time periods.

    The heart of the film is Thomas' attempts to circumvent and/or deal with the inevitability of Izzi's death which, through juxtaposition with the past and future elements of the film, ties in to humanity's "big questions" about the nature of life, death, the vastness of time, and the seemingly infinite cosmos. The toll that Izzi's illness takes on both herself and Thomas weaves an emotionally effective narrative thread through a serious science fiction film that is largely "experiential" in its design.

    The film is not for everyone, and seems to be intended for active, analytical viewers who will not mind being left to draw their own conclusions about the film's meaning and how certain elements of the film relate to each other (e.g. is the conquistador story an entirely fictional creation of Izzi's that is finally finished 500 years later by future Thomas or is it something more?). There is plenty of symbolism. There is both melding and juxtaposition of Pagan and Judeo-Christian conceptions of death and creation. After viewing it, depending on your mood and taste in cinema, you will probably either want to watch it again, discuss it with a friend, or lament the 96 minutes of your life you can never have back.

    Outstanding performances by Jackman and Weisz help to make the potentially frustrating obliqueness palatable. Jackman brings a sense of raw emotion to Thomas that almost makes you feel sorrier for him than Izzi even though she is the one who is dying. Weisz gives Izzi a sense of grace and serene acceptance that is almost 180 degrees out of step with Thomas, and yet there is enough chemistry between the two that you never doubt why they are soul mates. This is essential to sell the concept that the consequences of her illness could potentially reverberate with Thomas for centuries.

    The Video

    The transfer renders the sometimes difficult cinematography fairly effectively, but is occasionally plagued by some compression issues. There are certain scenes where the bitrate seems to have trouble keeping up with the film grain, resulting in some artifacting noticeable with critical viewing on large displays. A number of scenes, especially the "New Spain" conquistador sections of the film, have large portions of the image crushed almost completely to black. This may have been done to tone down some of the violence in the battles between the conquistadors and the Mayan warriors, but it also ties in with the film's recurring cinematographic motif of moving from darkness into light. This motif results in several high contrast shots where characters are swallowed in blackness while moving towards a light. The fact that critical details in even the darkest frames are usually highlighted by flashes of light also suggests that the deep blackness is intentional.

    The Audio

    The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, encoded at a 448 kbps bitrate, is very active and dynamic with LFE and surround activity used during appropriate moments to create a very enveloping experience. There are numerous instances where phrases are gently whispered by characters, sometimes in the surrounds. Dynamics are employed effectively so that these moments build from almost subliminal hints to crystal clear enunciations of recurring significant phrases as scenes, and the film itself, progress.

    The Extras

    When the disc first spins up, the viewer is treated to skippable promotional trailers for DVD releases of "The Painted Veil", "Pan's Labyrinth", and "The Science of Sleep". All are in 4:3 letterboxed widescreen with DD 2.0 audio.

    From the extras menu, the first and foremost feature listed is Inside the Fountain: Death and Rebirth, a documentary directed by Niko Tavernise. Broken into six featurettes called "Australia", "The 21st Century", "Spain - 16th Century", "New Spain", "The Endless Field", and "The Future" with an available "Play All" selection, it thoroughly covers the film's complete production process. It begins with the initial aborted attempt to shoot the film in Australia in 2002, glossing over the casting of that version and the reasons for the production shutdown, but not the consequences. After that, it skips to the launch of the revised, re-cast, scaled-down production that resumed in 2004, documenting the complete production in roughly the order it was shot with extensive behind the scenes footage and interviews with most of the key cast and crew. In total, it runs 64 minutes and is one of the better documentaries of its kind I have seen. It is presented in 4:3 video with most of the program letterboxed to approximately 1.66:1 (there are a few times where outtake footage from the film is shown with timecodes that go to the bottom of the 4:3 frame).

    Also included is the film's theatrical trailer, running two minutes and 22 seconds in 16:9 enhanced widescreen with DD 2.0 stereo audio.

    Packaging

    The disc comes in a standard Amaray-type keep-case, with the only insert being an advertisement for the film's soundtrack CD. A Warner recycling logo on the back cover insert indicates that the keep-case is made from 30% post-consumer recycled content. The plastic feels slightly less hard than cases made from virgin plastic, but not so much that your disc will be any less well-protected, so I think this is a great idea.

    Summary

    "The Fountain" is a difficult film that demands a lot from its audience. That being said, it features excellent performances from its two lead actors and is intriguing and thought-provoking for those willing to put in the effort. The stylish cinematography and immersive sound mix are well presented on this DVD, marred only slightly by occasional, but not pervasive, compression artifacts that cause grain patterns to smear. The disc includes an outstanding comprehensive documentary on the film's production that runs for over an hour and includes significant input from almost all of the key creative people involved in the production.

    Addendum: If you are interested in the HD-DVD release of this film which also includes additional special features, check out Pat Wahlquist's forum review at this link.

    Regards,
     
  2. Brett_M

    Brett_M Screenwriter

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    Great review. I missed this theatrically and have it at #1 on my Netflix queue.
     
  3. Stephen_J_H

    Stephen_J_H All Things Film Junkie
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    I'm going to buy this blind. I have always found Aronofsky's films absorbing, and would recommend Pi to anyone and give a reserved recommendation of Requien for a Dream, since it is not for everyone.
     
  4. Bryant Trew

    Bryant Trew Second Unit

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    This film is like a painting. A beautiful, but mostly incoherent painting. You also need to be aware that the studio pulled the plug and then relit the project. My gut feeling is that this screwed the process up.
     
  5. Sam Davatchi

    Sam Davatchi Producer

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    I said it in the other HD thread.
    Yes, it's like a jackson pollock painting.
     
  6. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

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    I loved this movie. It's one of the most beautiful, stunning movies I've seen in a long time. It must be flippin' amazing in HD.
     
  7. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    They didn't relight it -- he turned it into a comic book, and then couldn't get it out of his head and move on to another movie, so he re-wrote it on a much smaller scale and made it as an indie.

    There's a fantastic article in Wired on the film's tortured production history -- it should be available on their website.

    I loved it, though it's a little silly at times. I never found it incoherent, though -- I thought it made perfect sense.

    I also appreciated that it told its story in only an hour and a half. Had it been three hours long it would have been miserable.
     
  8. Bryant Trew

    Bryant Trew Second Unit

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    What a tragedy.
     
  9. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    Well, I don't know that it is one -- my impression from the Wired article was that he had kind of an epiphany, that he hadn't needed to rely on a studio for Pi or for Requiem For A Dream, so why should he rely on them now and tolerate their interference? He also seemed frustrated with Brad Pitt, who started off loving the script and then at the last minute wanted a number of changes that ultimately torpedoed the first production. (And pardon me if my recollections are off -- I read the article back when the film came out, which was at least five months ago.)

    Sure, it would have been something else to see a massive Conquistador battle and a gigantic pyramid, but overall I don't think that the film suffers from the battle only involving a dozen men or the pyramid only being seen at night and mostly in close-up shots. Then again, I haven't read the comic to see what the original vision was for the changed sequences.

    I do think that being forced to rethink the effects has radically improved the film -- where before there was a multimillion dollar digital effects budget, in the finished film most of the effects were created in the real world with old-fashioned or downright weird techniques, and the effect on a big screen was absolutely stupendous. The meteor shower that is actually super close-up photography of spices suspended in water with the microscope lens being pushed towards them is breathtaking and beautiful and absolutely different from anything I've ever seen on a big screen. (There is digital work, but the images were almost entirely created out here in the analog realm and then overlaid onto each other digitally.)

    I wonder what I would think of a studio financed The Fountain, starring and produced by Brad Pitt and chock full of spectacular, state-of-the-art digital effects. I'll never know, because it never got made. But I know that I love the independently financed one starring Hugh Jackman with crazy microphotography special effects. For me, there's no tragedy here because the resulting film was one of the best movies I've seen in the last ten years.

    edit: and I completely agree with your sig about The Matrix Reloaded. [​IMG]
     
  10. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    I completely disagree with your sig about TMR (discussed at length in the proper threads), but I'm not surprised at your reaction to The Fountain.

    I found it remarkably coherent for a 96 minute film with a scope as large as humanly possible. My #1 film of 2006.
     
  11. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    It does not really qualify as an independent film since he made the movie for Warner Brothers with their money.

    It was a significantly smaller budget than the original conception, and they presumably gave him a longer leash than if he had been working with a larger budget. Besides scaling back the concept, part of the $40 million reduction came from Jackman and Weisz agreeing to work for substantially less than their normal asking fee, which was a lot less than Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were originally slated to make.

    Regards,
     
  12. BarryS

    BarryS Second Unit

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    Yes, I think the film benefits from being smaller-scale and lower budget. Aronofsky was forced to be creative rather than make another CGI-bloated effects movie.
     
  13. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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    This was one of the few films I saw twice theatrically, which made me appreciate it more on the subsequent viewing. I look forward to owning the HD DVD, too bad the price gets bumped due to it being a dual HD/SD disc. The Fountain review thread by HTFers late last year.
     
  14. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    I don't fully know the specifics of what went down in the end regarding rights, but I do know that he had to make the film with Warner because they still owned the property. Plus, the majority of the reported budget was actually spent on pre-production on the unmade original version -- more was spent on that then what was spent on the second version of the film.

    In the Wired interview, they say the effect budget was something like $150,000!
     
  15. Bryant Trew

    Bryant Trew Second Unit

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    I swear, it just cracks me up how Matrix fans are compelled to insult anyone who believes that the 2nd and 3rd films were complete trash. I actually enjoyed the Fountain despite the fact that it is by far DA's worst film. Unlike Matrix 2 and 3, I still see this as very worthy art, and I actually don't feel the need to understand it. It was a good experience, and I'll probably still buy it on HD. It was beautiful, well acted and had great feeling. The Matrix 2 and 3 simply were sequels gone mad and bad. Proof positive that a big sfx budget does not an intelligent film make. You won't find me obsessing over how many jewels were in the Queen's scepter, or whether or not there was a budhist monk standing in the shadow of the tree of life. Sometimes incoherence can be a good thing, and in others it is just a plain disaster.
     
  16. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    Not quite true. A reported $10 million of the budgeted $75 million was spent when the original was shut down. $35 million was subsequently spent on the actually produced version, not counting marketing. My point was simply that while the film as produced and released was modestly budgeted, it was still made with the money of a major studio.

    Regards,
     
  17. Chuck Mayer

    Chuck Mayer Lead Actor

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    Not anyone, Bryant. I make a special dispensation to take a dig at you.

    ...

    And not a soul among us discussed such trivialities in The Fountain discussion thread. That was hardly a point of contention.
     
  18. Bill GrandPre

    Bill GrandPre Cinematographer

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    I've had two copies freeze up at the same spot.

    It's about 10 seconds into chapter 5, it stutters and skips and freezes. I returned the first copy that did it and got a second one and it does it again.

    That's usually a sign that it's the player that's doing it but upon having the second copy do it I tried it in another player and it skipped at the same point.
     
  19. Michael:M

    Michael:M Supporting Actor

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    I'm with Chuck on TMR and The Fountain. Best film of '06.

    Saw a note on IMDB that the film had been "re-edited" to be PG-13; wasn't it R when theatrically released? Anyone know what changes were made?

    I just watched the extras on the disc. Some neat nuggets to be gleaned from a lot of handheld personal camcorder footage. I wish the film had done better, because it really deserves a full BTS treatment.

    Funny little bit: filming a scene where Jackman's conquistador gives a dramatic line, then whirls and leaves the scene...Aranofsky says something along the lines of,"Just like Batman. Who says I didn't film Batman?" [​IMG]

    For those who have not seen this film...watch it. It's a beautiful, moving, profoundly simple and simply profound story. It has a very basic theme or point, but is lovingly and wonderfully dressed in thematic and visual layers.
     
  20. Aaron Reynolds

    Aaron Reynolds Screenwriter

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    ...which means that they didn't recut the film, they appealed the ruling and the MPAA backed down and agreed to a PG-13 without any changes. Steven Speilberg successfully appealed the R ratings for Jaws and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (and Gremlins? Don't remember for sure) back in the pre-PG-13 days and they were reduced to PG without cuts to the films.
     

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