Alexander Payne's Downsizing proves that a clever and witty social satire can only go so far if it doesn't have anything to say. What could have been a silly and fun social satire about the current state of the world and economic discrepancy, the film loses itself on an overly long journey of self-discovery for star Matt Damon and has little of anything to say. While the project is ambitious and the cast is wonderful, the satire didn't wear its dentures. While the film may not be as great as it potentially could have been, Paramount brings Downsizing to Blu-ray in fine order. The picture quality brings a lot of pop and presence to the intricate world design and the audio matches the needs of the film perfectly. Bonus features are a bit on the slim side but there's some good stuff to be seen. If you're curious, the film itself is at the very least Worth A Look
"$83! Are you crazy? Why that's practically our food budget for two whole months!"
It's a tough day when you really, really want to like a movie but just don't. Alexander Payne is usually an on the ball solid filmmaker who can churn out heartfelt human drama with a delightfully dark humor punch. Downsizing starring Matt Damon, Christoph Waltz, Kristen Wiig, and a host of other cameo appearances stretches itself with its comedic near-future science fiction shenanigans. It starts out strong but forgets to bring the bite to the humor and loses its sense of direction as the film slowly rolls to the finish.
The world is about to change in a big way. Well, a small way actually. Esteemed Norwegian scientist Dr. Asbjornsen has discovered the way to solve the world's looming overpopulation and environmental catastrophes. By shrinking people down to about five inches, man's impact on the environment will be greatly reduced - not to mention the economic benefits that arise for those who undergo the procedure. For Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), living a smaller life could lead to big things. As they struggle to make ends meet and climb the economic ladder, the chance to have their income scale upwards of 1000% by shrinking down in physical size all the while helping the planet is too good an opportunity to pass up. Almost. When Audrey backs out of the procedure leaving Paul standing a hair below five inches tall, Paul will have to navigate his situation and discover his place in this new tiny-big world.
In all due credit to the cast, director Alexander Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor, the first 40 minutes of Downsizing is terrific. It sets up an absurd near-future science fiction neo-dystopian premise, introduces the cast and establishes their motivations. We get to know Matt Damon's Paul who is just trying to do the right thing at all times by everyone but often sacrifices his own needs in the care of others. The film tools along as a silly but relatable satire of modern economic times and how people are getting rich off of selling the idea of the "good life" through timeshare properties and other first world problems. Once that 45-minute mark hits and Matt Damon moves into his very own gigantic personal mini-mansion, the pace of the film just grinds to a halt. Where that first 45 minute was a breeze, the final hour and a half is a real slog.
Part of the problem with the film is that it frequently jumps ship on its ideas. Just when you think the film is going to delve deeper into an intriguing topic or idea, it jumps onto something else without really saying anything beyond mere talking points. When Paul goes from being an occupational therapist in the big world to a Lands' End telephone operator, I was hoping they'd dig into wealth discrepancies now that small people have taken jobs from big people, or something like that, but nothing really comes of it.
When Paul meets up with Christoph Waltz's black market smuggler Dusan Mirkovic and his partner Konrad played by Udo Kier, I thought that was going to go somewhere how even in a new smaller world there is still a criminal element, but that gets dropped. Then Paul meets the Vietnamese revolutionary-turned-cleaning lady Ngoc Lan Tran played by Hong Chau, I thought for sure the film would have something to say about the value of helping others and understanding how the people that clean our houses or care for our lawns live - but even that plotline gets dropped. It all becomes frustrating as the film just doesn't know how to settle down and live in the world that it's created.
Throughout it all, I couldn't help and wonder at what Downsizing could have been if it had been directed by Terry Gilliam twenty-five years ago. Or, if it had been overseen by someone like Charlie Kaufman. Downsizing feels like a movie better suited for those filmmakers and their natural idiosyncratic storytelling natures. I feel like Kaufman would have found the bite while Gilliam would have nailed the visual absurdity of the premise. I still have a great love for Alexander Payne and his humanist touches he brings to relatable characters, but here, the material stays just out of reach. I suppose it's one I would say is worth watching, but at the same time, I can't shake the very real sense that this was a missed opportunity. For this review, I effectively watched the film twice and I just kept hoping it would get better the second time I watched it, thinking I might have missed something. Unfortunately, I didn't miss anything. It's a well-shot, well-acted film with a clever story that doesn't have any teeth to the satire and loses any weight it was attempting to carry.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Downsizing arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Paramount Pictures in a two-disc Blu-ray + DVD + Digital set. Pressed onto a a Region A BD-50 disc and housed in a standard two-disc case with identical slipcover artwork, the disc loads to trailers for other Paramount releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
Downsizing makes for a pleasing 1080p 2.39:1 presentation that's big on details and bold on colors. As the film explores the artifice of wealth and the "good life" there is a lot to see and soak in with every frame. Some of the image is limited due to the obvious green screen trickery that tends to render backgrounds as blurry indistinguishable nothings when looking at the HO scale people and their surroundings in relation to normal-sized folk, but that's a cooked in issue. When it gets to exploring the small world, everything is on display and finer details of facial features and clothing come through with terrific clarity. Colors are bright and vibrant, primaries get plenty of daylight to shine. The green grass of Leisureland, the blue of Paul's numerous work-friendly T-shirts, the bright yellow Full-Size rose - all come through with a rich colorful presence. Black levels and contrast are spot-on. Whites are particularly grand as everything in the small world is overly bright making it look all the more fake and artificial like a bunch of people living in state-of-the-art dollhouses. Blacks are well balanced giving the image a nice sense of depth. Again it's where obvious green screens were used where the image has a tendency to flatten, but that's not a fault of the transfer.
Downsizing boasts an effective and lively DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, even when big people are talking to little people and their teeny tiny voices become a little higher pitched and harder to hear. This is an area where you can tip your hat to the mix because you never have to adjust the volume to compensate. Sound effects aren't of the dramatic action-heavy sort, but they're enough to help build a sense of a world and active enough to keep the surrounds moving. The best sequences are the ones that feature the most amount of people in a single location. The Leisureland presentation, the sales floor, and then at the big party sequence where Paul is on drugs and starts really feeling the music punches the activity and the pulses give a nice LFE presence. For much of the film, things keep to the Front/Center channels letting the sides handle atmospherics while the score by Rolfe Kent layers in nicely to keep the sense of mood in play. All around a clean clear mix with terrific levels.
Considering all of the creative world-building efforts and some of the many visual jokes of the film, I was kinda let down by this rather anemic assortment of EPK-friendly bonus features. Some of the material is worthwhile, but much of it is merely the talking head, stock question and answer nonsense.
Working With Alexander (HD 12:22) This is a love piece about how the cast and crew enjoy working with Payne.
A Visual Journey (HD 14:02) This is perhaps the meatiest bonus feature as it's a quick but good look at the film's impressive production design.
The Cast (HD 11:30) This is another puff piece but focuses on the impressive cast and what they bring to the show.
A Matter of Perspective (HD 9:06) Like the production design segment, this is a very quick but good look at the film's visual effects.
That Smile (HD 6:27) "Who doesn't love Matt Damon?" Basically, that's what this feature is all about.
A Global Concern (HD 6:39) I swiftly pandering look at the environmental issues the film attempts to raise.
If you're like me and saw the trailer to Downsizing you were probably excited to see a pseudo-science fiction dark comedy from Alexander Payne. Unfortunately, the final film simply doesn't measure up to its high concept. There are a lot of great big ideas throughout the film that are interesting, thought-provoking and would serve as the perfect bedrock for any dark satire. Unfortunately, there are too many ideas to fully explore in an already overlong film. It has its charms, and I did enjoy chunks of the film, but it never cooks into a satisfying finished cinematic meal. Paramount Pictures brings Downsizing to Blu-ray in fine order with a strong A/V presentation and a few slim bonus features. If you're curious, it's certainly worth watching but keep your expectations in check before entering. Worth A Look