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New Line Home Cinema presents
Birth (2004)

"If I lost my wife, and the next day a little bird landed on my window sill, looked me right in the eye, and in plain English said, 'Sean, it's me, Anna. I'm back,' what could I say? I guess I'd believe her. Or I'd want to. I'd be stuck with a bird. But other than that, no. I'm a man of science. I just don't believe that mumbo-jumbo."
- Sean (Michael Desautels)

Review By: Matt Peterson  
Published: April 18, 2005

Stars: Nicole Kidman, Cameron Bright, Danny Huston, Lauren Bacall
Other Stars: Arliss Howard, Peter Stormare, Ted Levine, Anne Heche
Director: Jonathan Glazer

MPAA Rating: R for sexuality
Run Time: 01h:40m:00s
Release Date: April 19, 2005
UPC: 794043783821
Genre: mystery


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A- BA-A- D+

DVD Review

The lights go out. The company is hushed. Suddenly, a beacon of orange fire appears in a doorway. It is a birthday cake, beaming with the glow of candles. Anna takes it slowly into the dining room, careful not to spoil the moment with a lapse of clumsiness. If only her husband Sean was around to see such a beautiful sight. A small figure follows her in, curious, yet familiar with the surroundings. The flames are blown out, and the lights turn on, revealing a young boy. The guests are startled, but disarmed by the innocent youth. They laugh nervously when the boy asks to speak to Anna. "It's me, Sean," the boy says with eerie confidence.

Anna (Nicole Kidman) has just become engaged to Joseph, a well-to-do businessman that will surely provide her monetary security, maintaining the life she is accustomed to. The emotional component is the question. She has no doubt Joseph (Danny Huston) loves her, but she has been unable to get over the death of her true love, Sean, some ten years prior. When a young boy (Cameron Bright) shows up claiming he is her late love reincarnated, it's initially seen as a joke. Anna and her family are not particularly religious or concerned with matters beyond the grave; nor was Sean. Nevertheless, the event is too fantastic to ignore. How often does someone come along claiming to be a dead person, let alone a child? After some testing, the boy becomes more and more convincing to the vulnerable Anna. She is beginning to fall in love all over again, risking the rage of Joseph and the course of her future.

Birth is a risky venture. The idea of true love reincarnated is intriguing, but placing a boy in the shoes of the deceased could easily turn into a cauldron of controversy. The innocence of a young child brings a kind of honesty and believability to the part; would you be more liable to believe a small, immature child with echoes of adulthood, or a mature adult? Simultaneously, there is the problem of suggesting sexual feelings between Anna and the young Sean, culminating in a controversial bathtub scene. Thankfully, the film handles this material well, depriving such moments of excessive erotic overtones. Anna is drawn toward the consciousness of Sean, not the boy.

If I didn't know Stanley Kubrick was no longer with us, I would say this is his follow up to his final masterwork, Eyes Wide Shut. Director Jonathan Glazer is obviously a huge Kubrick fan, layering in several homages, some of which are blatant (the doorman bounces a ball off the walls of a barren entry way, as in Jack Torrance; an outburst during a classical recital that would make Barry Lyndon proud). Mostly it is the tone of the film that seems familiar; layered with flat, low lighting, and meticulously coordinated costume and production design, this is a beautiful film to look at, projecting a kind of ethereal mood that makes it a memorable experience. Glazer's love for long takes is also quite welcome. The grand opening and an unforgettable shot in an opera house that tightens on Kidman's contemplative face for minutes may seem excessive at times (think Tarkovsky), but these takes contain undeniable power. Alexandre Desplat's throbbing, lush score is soaring at times, and annoying at others.

The story here is thinner than the effective style. It remains compelling, no doubt, but dialogue is minimal, and some scenes are nothing more than reiterations of events we have already seen. Still, this behavior is in line with the characters depicted. These rich New Yorkers seem decidedly closed off, reacting to the bizarre situation as expected. Nicole Kidman's performance is stellar (Anna's pixie haircut and swank apartment brings Rosemary's Baby to mind). Her subtle, nuanced expressions reveal her obsession with great impact. Young Cameron Bright is also a standout, exuding convincing bits of adulthood. Yes, his character does seem kind of monotone and creepy at times, but if he were more charismatic, he would seem no different than an average, rambunctious child. Danny Huston's outing as fiancé Joseph is nicely dynamic, shifting from curiosity to anger. Other standouts include Lauren Bacall, Peter Stormare, Anne Heche, and Arliss Howard.

Birth's climax is disappointing, but this unique tale of supernatural love remains affecting and memorable. Think Kubrick, and absorb the details.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The gorgeous cinematography by Harris Savides is well captured by New Line's anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Detail, color and contrast are good, and the image has a very filmic look. Still, some excessive grain does persist, knocking the grade down a bit.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 audio is mostly dialogue driven, but Alexandre Desplat's score, with some strains of Wagner, fill the soundstage beautifully. The surrounds are used for musical support and some ambient fill.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 21 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Monster In Law, The Upside of Anger, The New World, Bright Young Things, Vera Drake
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The only extras are the film's theatrical trailer and other New Line trailers. I was happy to find the teaser for Terrence Malick's The New World in anamorphic widescreen and 5.1 surround.

Too bad there's nothing more. I would have loved a commentary on this one.

Extras Grade: D+

 

Final Comments

Stanley probably could have made this a great film, but Glazer's effort is worthy of being dubbed "Kubrickian." Regardless of some sputtering, Jonathan Glazer's tale of love reincarnated is visually stunning, and emotionally affecting. Kidman simply glows. This is one of 2004's more memorable outings.

 


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