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Warner Home Video presents

The Fountain Combo DVD and HD-DVD (2006)

"Death is a disease like any other, and there is a cure. And I will find it."- Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman)

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz
Other Stars: Ellen Burstyn, Mark Margolis, Donna Murphy
Director: Darren Aronofsky

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense sequences of violent action, some sensuality and language
Run Time: 01h:36m:51s
Release Date: 2007-05-15
Genre: sci-fi

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Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A-A-A B+

 

DVD Review

Darren Aronofsky made a name for himself with such grim dramas as Pi and Requiem for a Dream, exploring madness, obsession, and addiction in the modern world. Wanting to do something different, he ventured into the realms of fantasy and science fiction with The Fountain, which suffered from an exceedingly troubled history, with the filming aborted in 2002 when then-star Brad Pitt pulled out after demanding script changes. Retooling the entire production for a much lower budget and an independent approach, Aronofsky nevertheless managed to get two bankable stars for his revised version. His rumination on the nature of death and the determination to avoid it doesn't suffer as a result, however, and manages to benefit in a number of ways, not least of which are a tight emotional core and unusual visuals.

Just because he's working in a different genre doesn't mean that Aronofsky is all light and sunshine, though. The complex and frequently perplexing story presents and then pokes one raw nerve after another, demanding that the viewer come to terms with mortality and what it means by using three intertwined stories set respectively in the present, five hundred years ago, and five hundred years in the future. The present story is the central focus, as Dr. Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman), a research oncologist, is struggling to find a cure for the brain tumor afflicting his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz). Distraught, he tries an experimental extract from a tree bark on a research ape, finding that it restores youth rather than curing the cancer as he had hoped. Izzi is writing a story called The Fountain, and we see an onscreen presentation of this tale about a conquistador, Tomas (Jackman), sent to the New World by Queen Isabella (Weisz) in search of the biblical Tree of Life, which will give immortality. The third strand is the most bizarre, featuring a future astronaut, Tom (Jackman), hurtling through space to a dying star in a fragile clear bubble, accompanied by a massive tree and plagued by visions of both Izzi and Isabella.

While the relationship between the past and the present stories is somewhat straightforward, the third and future story throws everything else into question. Is this actually Tommy, having made himself immortal? A reincarnation of Tomas (or both Tomas and Tommy)? Or Tommy's wish fulfillment dream of trying to reach beyond death, fueled by love and will? There's plenty of ambiguity here, and The Fountain offers plenty of possibilities for metaphysical discussions. At times it threatens to become too philosophical, but a spare running time and frequently astonishing (but seldom CGI) visuals keep matters on track.

Even if philosophy isn't your cup of tea, there's little denying that Jackman offers up the performance of a lifetime, keeping his three characters quite different yet maintaining a thread among them that emphasizes their interrelationship, namely their devoted love that drives each of the three (or two?) men to extraordinary lengths. But those journeys are not without pain and isolation, and he makes the most of an emotional rollercoaster ride of hope, despair, promise, and agony. There's no neat Kübler-Ross progression of stages of death here; Jackman gives us despair, denial, anger, and bargaining all at once—it's just acceptance that evades him, although Izzi/Isabella both come to terms with it readily (though not without fear).

Although the visuals of Aronofsky's prior films were frequently dark and bleak (such as the grainy darkness of Pi), The Fountain, in accord with its more hopeful and romantic tone, is fully suffused with a golden tone throughout, with the inevitable associations with the conquistadors. But there are equally dark passages as Tommy tries to come to terms with Izzi's situation and his failures. As a result, there's a sense of coming from darkness into light, a parallel to the near-death experience vision of coming into the light. Also notable is the use of macrophotography, or extremely closeup photography, of fluid movement, which gives the sci-fi sequences a very organic feeling without relying on the crutch of CGI.

While the script uses a very fractured time sequence, it's only frustrating for a while, as we see scenes from the past and future but lack any context for them. It's not until much later that we understand what they represent, but even then there's plenty of room for interpretation. It certainly rewards repeat viewings.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-

 

Image Transfer


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 One Two
Aspect Ratio1.78:1 - Widescreen 1.78:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes yes
Anamorphicno yes


Image Transfer Review: The disc presents the HD version on side A, and a standard DVD version on side B. The visuals on the HD side take advantage of the increased shadow resolution and allow the darkness to become thoroughly enveloping; the equivalent scenes on the standard side are a fair amount brighter, since they would otherwise be lost altogether, with an equivalent loss of evocation. The grain structure is excellent, with a fine grain texture that has the feeling of real film without being distracting or annoying. Detail is frequently gorgeous, such as the parallels between the fine hairs on Weisz's neck and the sensitive hairs on the bark of the Tree of Life. Although gold and black predominate, the occasional reds are brilliant. Color range is more limited on the SD side, unsurprisingly, but it's still a more than acceptable modern transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: A-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
+
English, Frenchyes


Audio Transfer Review: The DD+ tracks have a nice soundstage, with occasional effects that stray into the surrounds. What really gets the viewer's attention is the thunderstorm sequence, which is intensely immersive. The music score by Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet has very good presence, with rhythms and harmonies that recall Central American cultures, tying the audio to the Mayan creation myths that are unified with Biblical stories in the course of the screenplay.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 23 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Painted Veil
8 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Peter Parks bonus macrophotography
Extras Review: Although Aronofsky is careful not to explicate his movie too much, there are quite a few extras here in support of it (though unsurprisingly, Brad Pitt is not mentioned even once). Weisz interviews Jackman on the last day of principal photography, while his tattoos as Tom are being applied by makeup artists (13m:08s). It's quite informative and Jackman is more than affable in his chattiness. Visual Effects Step by Step is a series of comparisons of effects shots, broken into their component parts and then unified into the final result for comparison. Finally, there is Inside the Director's Mind, which is not an explanation but instead an examination of the structure of the visuals through the use of a storyboard comparison. The only HD special feature is a 4m:46s segment of Peter Parks' astonishingly beautiful macrophotography. For those so inclined, the segment loops for 1h:36m:26s. All of these extras are found only on the HD side of the disc.

Both the standard and HD sides include the six-part collection of featurettes, Inside the Fountain: Death and Rebirth, which can also be played as a single 50m:36s documentary. This covers the writing of the script and the shutdown of the original filming of the picture and its devastating effect on Aronofsky, as well as plenty of behind-the-scenes footage of the final version. There's also a standard definition anamorphic widescreen trailer for the film on both sides. The only exclusive to the standard side is a nonanamorphic widescreen trailer for The Painted Veil.

Extras Grade: B+
 

Final Comments

Nothing less than the struggle against death itself is the subject of Darren Aronofsky's latest and long-in-the-works outing, and with spectacular visuals and an outstanding lead performance, it scores on every count. Plenty of extras are provided, though they don't clear up all of the ambiguities.

Mark Zimmer 2007-05-21