Children of MenOverview -
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
'Children of Men' is a masterpiece, pure and simple. It's a raw, kinetic science fiction thrill ride that's also a deeply meditative piece of art. And, of course, it was almost completely ignored during its brief theatrical run. People that bitch about the sorry state of science fiction film these days, well, they haven't seen this.
'Men' is set in a world in which humans are no longer capable of conceiving children. It could just as easily be the men's fault.) At the start of the film, the world's youngest human, an eighteen-year-old male in South America, has been killed. Terrorist attacks are increasing. And our "hero" is an office schlub played by Clive Owen who could really care less.
One day, this disaffected slob is kidnapped by the Fishes, a fringe group that happens to be led by Owen's ex-wife, played by Julianne Moore. The group has a mission for Owen, which could greatly use his connections to the leaders of government and his own security clearances from his job. They will pay him. He accepts, partly we assume, because he really doesn't have anything else to do.
Very soon he realizes the severity of the situation - he's responsible for ferrying a pregnant girl to something called The Human Project, a shadowy (possibly make-believe) group of scientists working on the global infertility problem. In a world of martial law, bloodthirsty immigration enforcers, terrorists, and turncoats, Clive soon realizes he can't trust anybody, and he's got to get this girl where she needs to go.
Ostensibly a chase film, with Clive and the girl running from all sorts of dangerous characters (the movie convenes in a derelict immigrant outpost at the start of a civil uprising), but the movie is so much more than that. I'm not going to say much more, because I don't want to spoil anything, and because it really needs to be experienced firsthand.
Director Alfonso Cuaron seems to have taken everything he's learned and perfected on previous films - the swirling, computer-assisted camera movements from his 'Harry Potter' installment, the gritty earthiness of 'Y Tu Mama Tambien' - and put them together to create something really unique and new. This is a world where technology exists but has failed mankind, and as such has been relegated to the fringe. This is not some robotic-happy utopia. This is a beat up, organic, terrible world. And Cuaron captures everything first hand, with long, unbroken shots and plenty of handheld work. He gets the best out of his actors (among them Michael Caine and Chiwetel Ejiofor) and puts some amazing set pieces together, like a cataclysmic car crash, a terrorist attack that serves as the prologue, and that climax.
It leaves you breathless. This rush of ideas and images will stay with you long after you've finished it. Like I said: it's nothing short of a masterpiece.
This 1080p VC-1 encoded transfer (1.85:1 aspect ratio) is brilliant. For a movie that goes to great lengths to show us the degradation and desperation of this futuristic society, this transfer is just beautiful. You might not want to live in 'Children of Men's future world, but this transfer makes it a wonderful place to visit.
This is a world where detail is incredible - you would watch the movie multiple times just to see what all the graffiti says. Every detail here is sharp - textures are vivid, colors (what colors there are) are clear, and when the movie switches from the urban decay of the city to the more peaceful countryside, nothing is lost (details just change - goodbye garbage bags and animated signage, hello dirt and tree leaves).
Black levels are deep and inky - both in shadows and in nighttime scenes, and flesh tones are solid. And what's more, there are no glitchy technical issues to mar this level of technical accomplishment. I didn't pick up any edge enhancements, artifacts, digital noise, or black crushing - this is a solid, well-defined, admirable presentation of a great, great film.
The one area where the transfer slightly falters is during its presentation of some of the digital effects. There's a scene where Clive Owen is sitting in front of a green screen (the screen is removed and replaced with Picasso's "Guernica"), and you can just see so plainly that it's Owen sitting in front of a digitally replaced background. The outline of his body seems more pronounced and it's distracting in a way that it never was before. Ditto the computer generated baby in the movie's final act. It's still a nifty bit of visual effects wizardry (years before the breakthroughs associated with the aged baby in 'Benjamin Button'), but stands out more as being an obvious fake. Still, it's only enough to take half a point away from this glorious transfer.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio may not be aggressive enough for some surround sound connoisseurs, who may complain that the majority of the mix is locked to the front channels, even when the action really explodes. Ambience is there, with all channels being used but probably not to a degree that will satisfy most. Still, I found this an engaging mix, with the focus on the front channels not taking away from the overall experience.
When action scenes do arise, they do so in a really strong way. (That harrowing car chase? Whew you feel like you're in the car.) Gunshots pop, rubble crunches underfoot, and the entire world is brought to vivid life.
The mix also brings the soundtrack to life in an essential way. One of the great things about the movie (and one of its undercurrent themes) is that when society breaks down, "high" and "low" art exist simultaneously (that's why you can see the Pink Floyd pig in the same shot as "Guernica"). So, a rich and challenging work of art like this is peppered with pop songs. It's pretty amazing, really, and the music in this robust mix sounds commanding and powerful.
This disc also comes with an impressive array of audio options, with French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1, Italian DTS 5.1, and German: DTS 5.1 soundtracks and subtitles in English SDH, French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Korean, Dutch, Portuguese, Traditional Mandarin, and Greek.
Universal has provided a great array of special features, which lean a bit too heavily on the sociological side, but it's nice to see a disc that isn't merely concerned with the bubble of filmmaking. These features explore the world we live in, which seems to be only a few degrees away from 'Children of Men's' post-apocalyptic landscape. Extras are presented in a mix of high definition and standard definition video using MPEG-2 with Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo sound. It's also BD-Live enabled as well as being D-BOX enabled, in case you have a chair that shakes around. Also interesting to note that this disc doesn't have any trailers for the movie. Knowing how bungled the marketing of this movie was, this was probably a conscious decision (or a request on Alfonso Cuaron's part).
- Deleted Scenes (2:22) - There are two deleted scenes on the disc, "Streetside Destiny," and a scene called "4 Months Behind," which does much to explain Clive Owen's motivation for taking the "job" - he's deeply in debt.
- The Possibility of Hope (27:16) This is a talking head documentary directed by Curaon. He talks with a bunch of people about how we're all doomed. It's fairly interesting but slow, grim, and some of the interviewees are really hard to understand. Interviewed are: Salvoj Zizek, philosopher and cultural critic; Naomi Klein, anti-globalist advocate and author of 'The Shock Doctrine'; Tzetan Todorov, philosopher and historian, Tabrizio Eva, human geographer; Saskia Sassen, sociologist of human migration; John Gray, philosopher and economist; and James Lovelock, scientist and futurologist.
- Comments by Slavoj Zizek (5:44) Further comments by Zizek. If the 'Possibility of Hope' documentary really intrigued you, then check this out. Otherwise, you can skip this.
- Under Attack (7:30) This is all about the car chase sequence, and it's totally fascinating. One producer describes Cuaron's shooting style as "incredibly long takes," which must have been frustrating. Cuaron and his cinematographer rigged up this car so that they could be on top, with a sort of craning arm that could come down. They wanted it to be raw and real and not use green screen and boy they got it. Even after watching this feature I'm not sure I really understand how they did it.
- Theo & Julian (4:40) This is a brief piece about Julianne Moore and Clive Owen's characters, their shared history, and the backstory that's only hinted at in the film.
- Futuristic Design (8:38) Describes how the crew went about creating "the anti-Blade Runner." They go on to talk about how, even though this is the future, things are already old and junky. Very interesting stuff.
- Visual Effects: Creating the Baby (3:06) This deconstructs the process of creating the animated baby character in the film's last act. This is mostly silent, with just score music on top; very engaging and informative.
'Children of Men' is a movie that deserves to be in your collection. It's a magnificent film achievement and this disc is superb - great extras, and an AV presentation that will really impresses. Universal has done a great job with this disc, and I hope that it finally finds the love it always deserved on high-def home video. Highly recommended.
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