Reality Films presents
Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality (2003)
"What are we to do with death, and why do we fear it?"- narrator Gabriel ByrneDirector: Patrick Shen
MPAA Rating: Not RatedRun Time: 01h:25m:41s
Release Date: 2005-09-06
DVD ReviewYou've got to admire this documentary for its grand ambition—it wants to do nothing less than to investigate the very nature of life itself. When you set the bar that high, you're unlikely to come away with firm answers—if all the world's philosophers, poets, theologians and scientists haven't cracked that particular nut, we can't really hold it against a couple of documentary filmmakers that they've got more questions than anything else. In fact, the movie plays out like an extended bull session following a lecture or a philosophy class, and in my experience, there's usually a bong along to facilitate the conversation and the outside-of-the-box thinking.
Visually, the movie is a mixture of talking heads and moody arty shots—as you might expect, there are many, many images of graveyards, frequently juxtaposed with shots of little kids frolicking, the span of existence in just a couple of frames. We can put men on the moon, we can decode the genome, but we still cannot elude death—and just why that is is the subject of conversation. Gabriel Byrne narrates, and his track provides the loose structure for the musings of academics, philosophy and psychology professors, and religious authorities from a variety of faiths. There are discussions of the ancients and their contending with death, going back to the epic of Gilgamesh, through the stories of Osiris and Christ, up to the Frankenstein stories, all of which imagine someone either coming back from or eluding death altogether. Ernest Becker, a philosopher from the latter part of the last century, is cited as a pioneer in the field; and there's no shortage of death ephemera, including post-mortem photographs of Victorians, apparently a popular keepsake for surviving family members, and shorthand versions of a gaggle of the world's creation myths.
Most moving, certainly, are the ruminations from cancer patients and others for whom death may be imminent and seems to feel palpable; and there's much discussion of the mind/body problem—why are we conscious at all? What purpose does our consciousness serve us, and what are we to do with this knowledge of death? On some level, gliding over so many of the big questions in less than an hour and a half can give the film the air of the dilettante; but the filmmakers are not so brazen as to suggest definitive answers, and so it's a movie you'll want to watch only if you're committed to the spirit of inquiry.
Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Lots of graininess throughout, but that seems to be an aesthetic choice, not a transfer problem. The print looks reasonably clean, though you'll notice some debris now and again.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: There's quite a bit of buzz on many of the interview clips, though Byrne sounds stentorian on the narration track.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 10 cues and remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Deleted Scenes
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Patrick Shen and Greg Bennick
Extras Review: Filmmakers Patrick Shen and Greg Bennick provide a commentary track that goes over the origin of the project and relates tales from the shoot; they both seem terribly earnest, though there's a bit too much inside-baseball stuff, about temp music tracks and the like. They're both featured in a making-of piece (28m:53s), as is Byrne; particularly interesting is the impact of the 9/11 attacks on their production, and how it brought notions of death very much to the fore in public discussion. You'll also find a gallery (03m:11s) of production stills, an original trailer, and five deleted scenes—four are extended interview pieces, and the last is about what molecular biologists are learning about the science of death on the cutting edge of medicine.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsUnquestionably thought-provoking, this documentary asks fundamental questions about the very nature of our existence, and you've got to respect its dogged effort, even if it may not be all that illuminating.
Jon Danziger 2006-07-06