Lars von Trier's 'Melancholia', which is named after a mental condition characterized by great depression of spirits and gloomy forebodings, opens with an eight-minute prologue of brilliantly staged, breathtaking visuals shot in slow motion. They feature Kirsten Dunst in a variety of images that will be revisited, and it concludes with a cataclysmic event as a large planet crashes into the Earth. I was slightly disappointed when the film then began to tell its story about two sisters in two parts in a conventional manner.
In "Justene," the title character (Dunst) has just gotten married to Michael (Alexander Skarsgård) and they are on their way to the reception at the estate of her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and brother-in-law John (Kiefer Sutherland), but the limo has gotten stuck. Only three minutes into this part of the story and von Trier's lack of a tripod was already very annoying. The couple arrives hours late and tensions run high.
Throughout the night, which should be the bride's night, her family treats Justene poorly, causing her to retreat from everyone, both physically and emotionally. Her mother Gaby (Charlotte Rampling) insults her during the toast. Claire scolds for not acting happy enough. Worse of all is her boss Jack (Stellan Skarsgård), who is Michael's (and in real life Alexander's) father. He promotes her from copywriter to art director of his ad agency, but then harasses her throughout the night to get some work done for a campaign. Dawn breaks and a few characters end up on new paths than the ones they had anticipated the day before.
"Claire" takes place a little while after the reception. Justene, who is depressed to the point she can barely function, stays with her sister at the estate. There's word that a rouge planet named Melancholia is heading towards Earth. This makes Claire very nervous, Justene is indifferent, and John, trusting what he's heard from scientists, is excited by the prospect of this unique celestial event.
During "Claire," I became disconnected from the film because what appeared to be metaphoric, a massive onset of melancholia, becomes literal in the end, which left me puzzled about my interpretation of what I had previously seen. Reading interviews, von Trier states the conclusion is in fact literal, as I surmised, but unfortunately that makes the film work less. I also had a big problem with John's resolution. It was out of character from what we had been shown about the man.
'Melancholia' is an intriguing film filled with compelling elements and ideas that can lead to engaging conversation, but it isn't entirely successful because von Trier doesn't fully realize or execute them as well as he could, causing the piece to suffer slightly. He makes fascinating creative decisions but some that just fall flat. The realistic pacing, created by von Trier's lack of rehearsals and actor improvisation, causes too many moments of boredom and scenes that take too long to get to their intention. In this case the parts of 'Melancholia' are greater than the sum.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Magnolia Home Entertainment presents 'Melancholia' on a 50 Region A Blu-ray disc housed in a standard blue case. The menu appears after trailers for 'I Melt with You', 'Roadie', 'Angels Crest,' and 'Jiro Dreams of Sushi'.
Recorded digitally with Arri Alexa and Phantom cameras, so there's no issues with the source as you would get with film, the video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at 2.35:1.
The prologue is exquisite with an image so sharp, colorful, and pristine it almost looks fake. The "Justene" portion finds everything cast in a warm, yellow glow while "Claire" has a cool, blue tint. Blacks are inky across the board and the whites are bright. Images of space are impressive and the CGI blends very well.
Only a few minor blemishes mar a perfect presentation. There's a touch of banding around the approaching planet as Justene lays naked under it, like she's waiting to give herself to a lover. There's a flash of alias seen in Claire's whicker patio chairs. Otherwise, the "keep shooting on film" people like Christopher Nolan are going to have a tough time making their case when an image can look this good.
The audio is available in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. The film is heavy on dialogue, which is consistently clear to understand.
The surrounds engulf the viewer as the prelude to Richard Wagner's opera 'Tristan und Isolde' plays; the strings and brass instruments mixed well together. When Justene and Michael step away from the reception to talk, the music from the ballroom can be heard, muffled through the walls. This does a really great job creating space and authenticity to the setting.
Slammed doors are punctuated with some bass. "La Bamba" is too bassy though and the subwoofer rumbles with distortion. Another instance of slight distortion occurs during off-Earth POV shots when Melancholia passes by.
Though I had issues with it, 'Melancholia' excels in a number of areas and is perfect for those who want a film that is original and different. Even with the limited Special Features, fans of the film should be very happy with the A/V qualities, and it's highly recommended for those who appreciate cinematography.
[Thanks to all those who made it to the end and didn't run off to Google, searching for frames of Kirsten to ogle after the mention above that she appears in all her glory.]