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Universal Studios Home Video presents
"Very odd, what happens in a world without children's voices."
DVD ReviewSome science fiction has the allure of fantasy, the playing out of stories in galaxies long ago and far away that are removed from all of the tedium and ugliness that can pollute our daily living—in the best sense, it's escapism. Children of Men couldn't be further from that, though, and that's what makes it so terrifying and memorable—it's our familiar world nudged just a little bit, all the worst and most fearful tendencies of our new millennium played out under worst case scenarios, and it's a brutal look at a future that could be not so far off. It's also a deeply felt story—director Alfonso Cuarón and his team haven't just made some shabbily compelling apocalyptic eye candy, but have told a tale that navigates us through this world, while commenting none too obliquely on some of the awful things that have happened in our own.
It's 2027, and between our time and theirs, calamities of Biblical proportions, only obliquely referred to, have plagued our planet. A war has made the U.S. a distant memory; the story is set in the United Kingdom, where the British maneuver around huge cages filled with refugees, looking for a better life because their homelands have been destroyed. This forced emigration doesn't lead to streets paved with gold, by a long shot—the immigrants are imprisoned, reviled, and treated as animals. A global scourge has resulted in all of the women in the world being rendered infertile—we're in a world exclusively of adults, a population that knows it is dying out and can do nothing about it. The film opens with the death of Baby Diego, the last person born before the calamity, now dead at 18, and it's a great device for Cuarón, allowing him to lampoon the media circus that parades across cable each night while also communicating the dire implications for the universe of his movie.
Clive Owen is the reluctant, compelling hero, Theo, pressed into service by his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), who has become a revolutionary—Theo and Julian never recovered from the death of their only child, as she found refuge in violence, he in the bottle. You probably don’t want to learn too much about the story before seeing the film, and I'm not going to give away much here, beyond saying that it marries the best storytelling traditions of Hitchcock and spy thrillers with a keenly realized physical production that's absolutely haunting. Theo is part James Bond and part George Smiley and a whole lot of Winston Smith, a decent man trying to do the right thing in a bad world; his journey is reminiscent on some level of Yossarian's in Catch-22, and much of the second half of the picture plays out as a deliberate and nauseous parody of the nativity story.
Cuarón's keen eye gives us all kinds of exquisite details, such as abandoned nursery schools and elementary schools, unused and unnecessary, because now there are no children here, ghost places that have become firing ranges. But what's more striking is the conscious effort to evoke what we see around us much too much—there's as much Abu Ghraib as there is Orwell in the iconography of this film, and it calls out the callous nativism that infects so much of politics, the willful ignorance that permits the wanton and random destruction of human life. (There's as much Darfur as there is Iraq in this movie.) The enforcers of British supremacy in this dystopian future are festooned always with signs announcing that they're from Homeland Security, and it's their brutal repression alone that staves off revolution and anarchy, which actually seem in this context like palatable alternatives. Owen gives a stolid performance in a rough role—he's a man with a tortured soul pressed into a mission for which he's especially ill equipped, but he does his best, and holds on to the last strands of humanity when everything conspires against him. Moore is very good, though on screen only briefly; the same for Michael Caine, who plays a renegade political cartoonist and old mate of Theo's, looking like an ancient Bee Gee. It's a startling and upsetting movie, but also a relentlessly compelling one.
Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: An excellent transfer, providing a fine look at the film's deliberately grubby palette. There's an occasional bit of debris, but given the production design of this movie, it blends right in.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: The sound mix is a very dense one, and the entropy of the world of the movie is well conveyed, but if your speakers aren't well balanced you may lose out on some of the dialogue.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring Smokin' Aces, The Good Shepherd, Hot Fuzz, Alpha Dog, The Hitcher, HD-DVD promo
3 Deleted Scenes
Extras Review: The extras package is more bigthink than you'll find on most DVDs, emphasizing the film's sociology more than its making. The Possibility of Hope (27m:15s) is a consideration of the movie's philosophical and political implications, interspersing film clips and interviews with historians and social scientists, discussing globalization, the war on terror, and global migration, among other topics. One of those interviewed here, philosopher Slavoj Zizek, gets his own featurette (05m:45s), in which he talks about the tensions between the film's foregrounds and backgrounds. Under Attack (07m:36s) is a look at some of the stunts and action sequences in the picture; Cuarón, Owen and producer Eric Newman discuss the director's taste for long takes, making these shots a particular challenge.
Owen and Moore are prominent in Theo and Julian (04m:40s), focusing on their characters, and giving them dimensionality; the true stars may be in Futuristic Design (08m:38s), as set designer Jennifer Williams and production designer Jim Clay talk about their work, and Cuarón talks about wanting the film to look like "the anti-Blade Runner." A featurette (03m:07s) on visual effects is a great small overview of the many different elements that go in to a single f/x shot; the three deleted scenes are little more than snippets, running just about two and a half minutes all together.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThis is as overtly political as any documentary cataloging the outrages of war and corruption in recent years, but its keen story sense and stunning visuals make it so much more compelling than any mere diatribe could ever be. What's so haunting about the movie is not how fantastical this vision of the future is, but how close we might actually be to it, and the film's excellent presentation on this DVD will help to keep your nightmares in sharp focus.
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