I always enjoy the prospect of an experimental indie passion project. Whether the final product is bad or good, you can't help but commend those involved for their unique attempt. When you learn about 'Prince Avalanche,' you'll find that it definitely qualifies as one of those types of films. Shot over 16 days, there were more days in the shoot than there were cast and crew members (combined) on-set. Director David Gordon Green felt the need to return to basics after back-to-back-to-back studio films. From a filmmaker I've enjoyed and a cast that I adore, I'm ecstatic that 'Prince Avalanche' is one of those films that you can commend for its ambitious merits, as well as praise for being a successful indie comedy.
There is very little to the story of 'Prince Avalanche,' which is probably why it was admitted to the Sundance Film Festival in 2013. Set in 1988, the film follows a two-man crew that's hired for the rebuilding of a small Texas highway after a fire completely scarred the land. Their specific jobs are to paint the lines in the road and bang reflector posts into the ground along the road's shoulder. And that's about it – but don't let the confining scenario lead you to believe that nothing happens of interest. Being a character-driven picture, there's a lot more to it than that.
Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch play the two leads. Rudd (who dons a sweet '80s 'stache) is Alvin, an uptight and awkward guy who enjoys being away from the city and people. He delights in his job and loves bossing his co-worker around. Hirsch is Lance, an air-headed male bimbo who can hardly stand being away from civilization. He misses his freedom and his social life, and absolutely cannot stand working under Alvin. The relationship between these two – the oil and water mixture of two polar opposite characters – is what carries 'Prince Avalanche' along for 94 minute.
Alvin has been working this job for an unrevealed amount of time. The money he makes goes to his girlfriend, Lance's sister, and her child. Alvin helped get Lance hired as a favor to his girlfriend. After a gorgeously-shot opening sequence, we see the duo butt heads over what type of music they're going to play on their ghetto blaster. We immediately see that Alvin enjoys bossing Lance around. He's on Lance's case for the things that he does, as well as the things that he doesn't do. Lance is always in trouble with his anal-retentive boss. Before long, it gets to Lance, and Lance can't help but push back. And this is when 'Prince Avalanche' really gets entertaining.
It's not common that we get to see Rudd play the straight man in a comedy, so he's fun to watch play an absolute dick in 'Prince Avalanche.' It's also uncommon for us to see Hirsch play such a comedic character, so watching him as an '80s goofball is hilarious.
What I particularly enjoy about 'Prince Avalanche' is the great big heart that it contains. We get alone time with each of the characters and see who they are outside of their combined bickering. Not only do we get to see Rudd and Hirsch shine in these one-man chapters, but we see writer-director David Gordon Green flex his chops. While Green's credentials may have been recently tarnished by studio films 'Your Highness' and 'The Sitter,' 'Prince Avalanche' brings him back up to the great levels that impressed us before those failures - 'Undertow,' 'Snow Angels' and 'Pineapple Express.' One of my favorite scenes in 'Prince Avalanche' follows Alvin while exploring the burned forest alone in the rain. Everything about this sequence is perfect. The music, the cinematography, the imagery, the acting and the on-screen action. Alvin finds a debris-covered slab of concrete that once served as home's foundation. As he investigates, he finds a woman sifting through the ashes, hoping to find an important document amidst the rubble. It doesn't take special features to queue you in that this scene is unscripted, that the woman isn't an actress, but the actual owner of the home that once stood on that foundation. It's brilliant. This fascinating emotionally-charged scene comes out of nowhere. Great little moments like this unexpectedly pop up; you never know where the film is going nor what you're going to get.
I've never seen the Icelandic film ('Either Way') upon which it's based, but loving 'Prince Avalanche' so much, I'm hunting for it. While I'm completely aware that 'Prince Avalanche' is not a film for everyone, I can't help but recommend it because of how loudly it speaks to me. And you'll never know if you speaks to you unless you give it a shot.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Magnolia' has placed 'Prince Avalanche' on a Region A BD-50. (Thank, heaven! I was afraid that it was only going to get a compressed 25-gig disc.) The Blu-ray is housed in a single-disc blue Elite keepcase and the cover image is identical to the poster art. Prior to the main menu, you're forced to watch a Magnolia vanity reel and a commentary disclaimer. Trailers and advertisements play for 'Drinking Buddies,' 'I Give It A Year,' 'Syrup,' 'Touchy Feely' and AXS TV, but they're all skippable.
Shot digitally, 'Prince Avalanche' carries a fantastic 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 video presentation. Unlike most low-budget flicks, very few minor imperfections pop up to reveal its low-budget indie roots.
The opening sequence shows a raging forest fire. I'm certain that this is archival footage because it carries the signature grainy look of celluloid – that and I doubt an indie movie of this small size had the means to create such a raging blaze. Aside from this title card sequence, the remainder of the film is a crisp and clear digital presentation.
As I mentioned in my review of the film itself, 'Prince Avalanche' is wonderfully shot. Many scenes are filmed during the beautiful twilight times of the day. In a few of these scenes, minor bands can be seen, but - given the fact that banding is present - there are other shots that you might assume would also contain bands, but don't. One example is a shot from within a murky river. Instead of seeing bands, brilliant details are shown. The tiniest floating particles can be seen hovering and floating through the water. Loads of great details and textures are visible – follicles, tiny hairs, pores, et cetera – some of which would have accompanying aliasing if they appeared in other Blu-rays, but that's not at all an issue with 'Prince Avalanche.'
Despite being set below many dull, gray and overcast skies, bright primary colors are abundant. From the paint used to divide the halves of the road, to the color of the worker clothing and the evidence of green life rising through the black and gray wasteland, colorization is strong. Aside from the few instances of banding, the only other scene that reveals problems is a slightly blown-out shot in minute 25. That's it.
'Prince Avalanche' has been given a nice little 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix that's stronger than that of most small indie films.
Set entirely in nature, there's almost always specific nature sounds to be heard in the background. Be it crickets at night, a creek in the distance, lightly falling drizzle and so on, the surround channels are almost always filled with subtle environmental effects. And that's not the only great aspect of this mix.
Great music and scoring is evenly applied throughout the film to give it a certain mood and tone. For films like this, the band Explosions in the Sky is perfect. Their music, as well as music from other performers and composers, is perfectly mixed. A few music-filled montage-ish sequences have remained with me for a few days after each viewing of 'Prince Avalanche.' The sound in these moments leaves just as much of an impression as the imagery, which makes this a truly effective blend of video and audio.
Vocals are very well mixed against other sound elements. Despite an annoyingly loud painting machine's engine blaring from each channel, the lines of dialog yelled over the droning sound are perfectly intelligible. The same goes for vocals mixed over music. No dialog is lost. The only flaws are a few instances of heightened dialog sounding slightly distorted and blown out.
Around the start of each year, I'm completely burned out on most types of films. What I call "End of Year Burnout" is the result of the release of countless pretentious or heavy-handed Oscar hopefuls and the many standard mainstream holiday flicks. Far too many "must-see" movies are released between October 1 and December 31. Following that congested period, I enjoy a good palette cleansing. The Sundance Film Festival typically offers this relief – which is exactly where 'Prince Avalanche' got its satisfying start. Since we're currently in that burnout period, I recommend 'Prince Avalanche' for relief. Its unique blend of humor and heart via great characters, scenarios and filmmaking can cure that fatigue. It's unlike anything you've seen before. The Blu-ray offers great video and audio qualities, as well as a few more special features than are found on most low-budget indie Blu-rays. If you like David Gordon Green, Paul Rudd, Emile Hirsch or indie-flavored comedies, then you're going to love what 'Prince Avalanche' dishes up. Recommended.