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Children of Men(2006)
A futuristic society faces extinction when no children are born and the human race has lost the ability to reproduce. England has descended into chaos, until an iron-handed warden is brought in to institute martial law. The warden's ability to keep order is threatened when a woman finds that she is pregnant with what would be the first child born in 27 years.
For more about Children of Men and the Children of Men Blu-ray release, see Children of Men Blu-ray Review published by Greg Maltz on May 12, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clare-Hope Ashitey (1), Pam Ferris
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
» See full cast & crew
Children of Men Blu-ray Review
Cuaron's apocalyptic vision of the future delivers nonstop riveting action sequences with impressive picture and sound quality.
Reviewed by Greg Maltz, May 12, 2009
Recently, a trio of talented Mexican directors--Alejandro Inarritu, Guillermo Del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron--began showcasing their immense filmmaking chops. Each director commands unique vision, effects wizardry and the ability to coax top performances from their actors. They've already had an enormous impact on Hollywood. Nowhere is their talent more apparent than in Inarritu's heightened portrayal of global alienation, Babel, Del Toro's fantastic vision of a young girl's imagination set against Spanish resistance, Pan's Labyrinth, and Cuaron's voyage into a future where the human race is dying out, Children of Men. For the latter, Cuaron teams up with cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki to deliver a portrait so compelling and believable that it does not seem like sci fi. With its intense plot and heavy symbolism, Children of Men is more than a simple action flick. But once the Blu-ray slides into your player, the rawness of the visuals and sounds will stun your senses and rattle your room. The main draw is the nonstop action that Cuaron handles expertly, and Universal's Blu-ray release does not disappoint.
Based on the story by P.D. James, Children of Men is an epirevolutionary look into the not-so-distant future. The year is 2027. The place is England. Illegal immigrants are being kept in internment camps as the world struggles to deal with terrorist groups and a mysterious medical condition with no known origin or cure. The condition is sterility. Unable to produce offspring, the human race is on the verge of extinction. The film starts off with a bang when Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is nearly blown up in a terrorist attack on a cafe--saved by mere luck and timing. His nonchalance at being seconds from death sets the tone for the entire film. With bullets whizzing by and danger around every corner, Children of Men becomes a game of inches and a study in chance versus faith. Faron and his old friend, Jasper (Michael Caine) soon become embroiled in a mission assigned by his old gang of activists, The Fishes. Headed by his ex-wife Julian (Julianne Moore), the gang persuades Faron to secure transit papers for an immigrant named Kee (Claire Hope Ashity).
Pursued by terrorists and by the government, Faron knows that Jasper is the only one he can trust. When he discovers that Kee is miraculously pregnant, the stakes are raised and he realizes that the future of humanity rests upon his ability to keep Kee away from The Fishes and the government that would use her for political gain. Chased from the English countryside to a bombed out urban ghetto where a military campaign is underway, Faron must keep all his wits about him to survive. More importantly he must protect Kee and her unborn baby--a deadly challenge that proves to be a nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckle ride, rivaling some of the best thriller movies in recent years. The frailty of a defenseless pregnant woman is constantly set against the brutality of life-threatening characters and situations, making some scenes absolutely frightening as they play out. The nearly constant death and mayhem on all sides keeps audiences on their toes. The scene in the internment camp rivals even Black Hawk Down for pure adrenaline-rush warzone violence. With messianic overtones and nonstop action, the film speeds toward its inevitable conclusion.
The political statement of Children of Men and its relevance to current events is interesting. At the start of the movie, we learn through a newscast that the youngest human being is over 18. That's the age when you can be tried as an adult and it seems Cuaron indeed has placed the entire western world on trial in his film. Children of Men certainly renders judgment. Its statement is clearly one of moral equivalence...that governments are just as bad as the terrorists they fight...that pot-smoking hippies can be the wisest of spiritual martyrs...that we have sins to atone before faith in humanity can be restored. Not the least of these sins is to pay for the plight of Africa and the institution of slavery. While the film never comes right out and says that's what all this is about, you don't have to be a genius to see the role of race and gender in Cuaron's Children of Men. The caucasian Faron sacrifices everything to save the black Kee. While he is merely a protector and steward, she is the symbol of fertility, hope and the future of the human race--her baby is tantamount to the messiah.
But wait. There's more. And it strongly suggests that Children of Men is less a vision of the future than Cuaron's agenda for today in which he demonizes government actions. Even before the opening credits or the first frame of the movie, Cuaron lets us know the army is occupying mosques. The homeland security bill has been passed, closing all borders. Immigrants in the internment camps will soon be deported. Later we learn about "The Human Project", a Greenpeace-like operation running boats in international waters seems to be the answer to the evil dangers of the government. From that "project" with its mothership, "The Tomorrow" to equating terrorism and government to the cliche pot-smoking John Lennon figure, Jasper, it's easy to see the film's motivations and political agenda. Regardless of whether you subscribe to that agenda, the premise, vision and pacing of Children of Men are brilliantly relentless. As for the writing and character development...it's debatable as to whether there is any character development. But the film is still well worth the ride.
Children of Men Blu-ray, Video Quality
The camera style, contrast and color palette of Children of Men are highly stylized thanks to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Yellows are favored, for a slightly sucked-out look and the handheld camera adds a bit of frenetic presence to an already schizo assortment of sets and action. One feature cannot be denied: the 1080p VC-1 encode is a brilliant transfer that delivers excellent definition. Watch the scene as Theo gazes down upon his friend after the Fish gang pulls Jasper from his home. Every tree is rendered with good presence. Even the puffs of smoke after each gunshot have lifelike appearance. Due to the color scheme, skin tones and earthtones only sometimes appear lush or palpable, but this was undoubtedly a decision at the director level to communicate a futuresque, nightmarish look and it works well enough.
No sign of edge enhancement, artifacts or black crush are visible, proving that whatever may be worth criticizing in the picture, it's not the fault of the blu-ray transfer. Gradients in the darker images are actually quite detailed from deep blacks to shades of grey that reveal good definition. This helps create depth and makes the night scenes more palpable and harrowing. Watch the scene where Theo is awakened in the farmhouse hideout of the Fishes gang. As he creeps around the house and goes outside, the contrast highlights certain details not just in the light areas, but in the shadows, allowing the darker areas to go pure black. My kuro screen does the job nicely, and you will need a display device capable of reproducing as true a black as possible to make this transfer appear vivid and defined. The rest of the colors do not have as important an impact.
Children of Men Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I expected Children of Men to have a more engaging surround field with many effects and voices assigned to side and rear channels, but the action is anchored solidly front and center. The score is impressive in the front left/right with just the slightest hint of ambience in the rear channels, but apart from surround imaging, the quality of the DTS-HD MA track is good. The LFE content was a bit weaker than I would have thought, too. Now that the criticisms are out of the way, let's discuss what the track does right. Highs have good brightness, extension and realism. Gunshots nearly have as much presence as in reference-quality Blu-ray discs, and voices showcase excellent crispness and tonal accuracy. And the music really is the crowning achievement of the audio mix--produced for DTS-HD MA, and proving heavily crankable on my B&W 802D system while still yielding plenty of detail and heft. From King Crimson to The Libertines, it delivers a wide range of moods and styles, in many cases perfectly complementing the action. It also maintains the British character of the film.
The soundtrack cuts include Hush (Deep Purple), Witness - 1 Hope (Roots Manuva), Tomorrow Never Knows (Junior Parker), Sleepy Shores (Michael Price), The Court Of The Crimson King (King Crimson), Backward (Kode 9 & the Spaceape), Wait (The Kills), There Is An Ocean (Donovan), Ruby Tuesday (Franco Battiato), Money Honey (Pressure), Arbeit Mach Frei (The Libertines), Indian Stomp (Cyrus Random Trio), Bring On The Lucie - Freda Peeple (John Lennon) and Running The World - Explicit (Jarvis Cocker). One would have expected the sound effects of an action film to steal the thunder of the audio mix. But in the case of Children of Men, it proves to be the music that takes top honors. Considering that the film is heavily weighted toward visual effects, it's an interesting choice to tame the surround field and emphasize what amounts to mood music. It works for me. If the audio had no music, like No Country for Old Men, the raw visuals would have been almost too overwhelming.
Children of Men Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
If you need evidence that Children of Men appeals to far-left idealogues, the bonus content seems to prove it. The audio commentary is provided by Slavoj Zizek, a Lacanian Marxist sociologist, psychoanalyst, philosopher, and cultural critic. Zizek waxes philosophic on the film as it relates to our sociology and philosphizes in the model of Hegel in an almost unlistenably thick accent. The rest of the supplementary material is much better, described below.
Visual Effects: Creating the Baby--Somewhat of a letdown, this documentary focuses on only the CGI effects that were used to create Kee's baby.
Futuristic Design--I found this an odd name for the design documentary because actually very little in Cuaron's film has a futuristic look. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the most interesting featurette included, describing the design of sets from concept to creation, and explaining how Cuaron's vision was brought to the screen.
Theo & Julian--A series of clips from interviews of Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. Some worthwhile moments here but nothing earthshattering.
Under Attack--An in-depth documentary showing how the filmmakers created the film's most dangerous scenes, often with long shots featuring remote-controlled camera and advanced, unbroken tracking. Cuaron is truly a master behind the lens.
The Possibility of Hope--A nearly half-hour documentary on the politics behind the story of Children of Men. Various philosophers, marxist activists and other "experts" are interviewed. I agree with maybe 5% of their rhetoric. Your mileage may vary.
Rounding out the bonus content are a couple of deleted scenes and one alternate take, along with PiP selectable trailers and ads for the film in U-control.
Children of Men Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
When I saw Children of Men in a packed theater in 2006, the imagery, premise and plot commanded a sense of awe, but something about the movie was missing. I finally realized it was character development. Cuaron seeks to make the film a morality lesson about our current political and ethical climate, but without more attention to character development, the film becomes successful mainly on the merits of its pacing, sets, effects and action sequences--and of course Cuaron proves a heavyweight on all counts. His knockout blow is to deliver a vision so powerful that even people with vastly different political views cannot help but sit up and take note. With picture and sound that far surpass the DVD version, Children of Men is a thrill ride of epic proportions that must be enjoyed on Blu-ray.
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