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Lions Gate presents
"If you're finding this tape, then you're probably a new race that has gone through our cities and noticed that everyone's dead. Except for birds and bees; things with wings that can fly. Anyway, you're probably wondering what the hell happened? Well, I don't know why I made it, but I think I can explain the rest..."
DVD ReviewThe Last Man is one of those little films, the kind that pop up mainly at film festivals, but largely go unnoticed by the general populace. It's a shame, too, because this a nicely constructed, and very funny, exploration of what happens when an unknown apocalypse just happens to wipe out the entire population of Earth, except for three people. The end-of-the-world scenario is really just a loose shell around which writer/director Harry Ralston examines the romantic dynamics of how two's company, and three's a crowd.
Ralston's lead character is pudgy, balding anthropologist Alan Gould (played by David Arnott), a guy who decides to record a video diary to explain what happened, in case a new race eventually decides to inhabit the Earth. Alan could be quickly described as being Albert Brooks-ish, and his long ramblings about his studies with the Chetabi Indians are the same type of subtle, comic monologues that made films like Real Life and Lost in America so funny. The Chetabi, according to Alan, have perfected the art of "Goyen Hai," which is essentially the principle of detachment, and the complete absence of emotion.
Alan's lonely existence (actually only a couple of days, post-apocalypse) is happily broken one day by the sudden appearance of the beautiful Sarah (Star Trek: Voyager's Jeri Ryan). The fact that he meets her while performing a Chetabi humiliation ritual that involves covering oneself in mud and masturbating does little to diminish his attraction to her. Apart from this rocky initial meeting ("I won't hurt you. I'm from the Bay Area!"), to say that Alan is undeniably smitten with Sarah is an understatement; he mistakes her first night's drunken amorous activities to be a sign of true love, especially considering he is the last man alive. Or sadly, so he thinks.
Sarah's clearly non-romantic feelings (once she sobers up) for Alan are the primary source for more tension when they come across hunky young hitchhiker Raphael (Dan Montgomery). Raphael isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his appearance causes the story to really get rolling. The sexual sparks between Raphael and Sarah start flying, and there is little for Alan to do but become increasingly more paranoid and neurotic, and that equates to some very good comedy.
There are great chunks of dialogue in The Last Man, and Ralston manages to keep much of it sounding natural, realistic and extremely relatable. Alan gets to make a number of video narratives, and these act as mini-monologues that highlight his increasing frustration levels with Sarah and Raphael. The dim Raphael delivers a wonderful "origin of the word flapjacks" speech at breakfast, to the aggravation of a comically exasperated Alan.
If this film had been made by a big Hollywood studio, it would likely star Albert Brooks, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. But Ralston's apocalyptic comedy is a low-budget indie—he struggled to raise the cash just to have a few prints made for the festival circuit. Instead of mega-marquee names, Ralston cast The Last Action Hero screenplay writer Arnott in what would have surely been the Brooks role, Ryan as the slightly unstable female object of desire, and newcomer Montgomery as the slightly dense hitchhiker.
When I was in college (which now seems like 100 years ago), I was in a similar situation (minus the end-of-the-world part) when I had an almost relationship with a girl, only to have her wooed out of my clutches by my oblivious roommate. Ralston's film rekindled a lot of the same emotions I went through back then, and the absurdity of it all made it that much funnier.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: This is a low-budget indie, don't forget, so you're not going to necessarily get reference quality video on this 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer. Many of the scenes are captured (intentionally) on video, as the character Alan periodically creates his taped message, and these were shot with less than perfect lighting and as such, there is a significant amount of distracting shadow and poor color. The film's "normal" scenes look o.k. at times, with healthy color, but rather weak and pale minutes later. Night scenes tend to look the worst, with a steady dose of fine grain. There is also a fair amount of compression issues (most notably an abundance of tell-tale image ringing) throughout.
This isn't the world's greatest transfer by any means, and I waffled back and forth on my grading. However, since I considered that many of the video imperfections were really for dramatic effect by director Harry Ralston, I kowtowed and gave it a B-.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: Nothing fancy here audio-wise, with only a standard 2.0 stereo track. Dialogue is audible, and the sporadic alt-country tunes peppered across the soundtrack sound just fine. A couple of the louder dialogue passages clip a bit, but that isn't really a major distraction here. There isn't much in the way of separation on this track, but by the same token there aren't many scenes that require any flashy audio mixing.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fraility, Liberty Stands Still
3 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Harry Ralston, Roger Avary, David Arnott, Jeri Ryan, Dan Montgomery
Packaging: AGI Media Packaging
Extras Review: Lion's Gate has packaged The Last Man with a respectable set of extras, especially for an indie, capped by a pair of commentaries. The first track, and the better of the two, finds director Harry Ralston teamed up with cast members David Arnott, Jeri Ryan and Dan Montgomery (who shows up about 1/3 of the way in). Ralston is a pretty low-key guy, and his patter is informative, though a little hesitant. Arnott, on the other hand, cracks wise enough to make this track a rather fun experience; Ryan doesn't offer much substance during the commentary, though she seems to be enjoying herself immensely (opinion based solely on her frequent bouts of raucous laughter). The second track hooks up Ralston with executive producer Roger Avary (co-writer of Pulp Fiction), and this commentary lacks the direct humor that Arnott provided, and focuses more on the film's development and assorted post-production issues. This one is a little drier in tone, but I imagine the content would probably be of interest especially to future indie filmmakers, where as the cast track would have more mass appeal.
Also included are Storyboard Comparisons (06m:08s), which show the typical final scene/storyboard split screen, here centering the opening sequence, the mud ritual and the balloon launch. A Behind the Scenes Footage (08m:01s) segment alternates between production footage and the finished scene as shown in the film. There is no narration, though it's pretty easy to tell what's going on. The Audition Footage (09m:55s) is just what it says, and shows Jeri Ryan and Dan Montgomery doing some line reading with Ralston standing for Arnott, captured on grainy video. Personally, I would have preferred ten more minutes of behind-the-scenes footage instead of the audition tape, which really has no payoff of any kind.
The remaining supplemental materials are three trailers (The Last Man, Fraility, Liberty Stands Still), subtitles (English, Spanish) and 24 chapters.
I think Lion's Gate should have gone with film's original poster art (with a plainly dressed Jeri Ryan and David Arnott pushing a shopping cart), rather than the Seven of Nine-ish Ryan that is featured on this release. I'll admit that the one they selected is probably more eye-catching, but it's not even a scene from the movie, for Pete's sake.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThe Last Man is very funny, and that's all you really need to know. If you've ever laughed at the likes of Albert Brooks, then you should certainly enjoy David Arnott's apparently Brooks-inspired persona as the lonely and lovestruck Alan. This is a smartly written film, and director/writer Harry Ralston deftly twists the sexual and romantic machinations of Earth's last three survivors into some comically weird, and very relatable, loops along the way.
Go out of your way to look for this one. Highly recommended.
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