HD DVD Review: Children of Men

Children of Men (Universal) [combo HD DVD/DVD]
Featuring: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

On seeing Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men I was somewhat baffled at the intensity of the praise accorded it, but still found it interesting enough to be thoughtfully entertained. Personally, I think film reviewers are a pretty hard-up bunch, always looking for that elusive blend of cinema where balance is found between intelligent storytelling, convincing and complex writing and acting, and unconventional directing and vision while still retaining the giddy (and somewhat guilty) pleasures of pure entertainment.

Is it as good a dystopic vision as A Clockwork Orange or Blade Runner? Welllll…. Cuaron’s gritty-realism and knack for putting in plot and narrative elements in the background (to reward those who catch repeated viewings, much like Ridley’s Scott’s film) do invite a search for meaning, but even on figuring out the whos, the whys the whatfores, I was still plenty confused as to why I should give a shit, aside from the nativity/messianic elements woven into the story. In the end I didn’t care about the outcome of the film’s characters, the Human Project or even the awe-inspiring event of childbirth in a childless world. Aside from the initial interest in the film’s speculative premise, I was left rather cold and feeling overwhelmed by the too-real comparisons to today’s current geo-political context (immigration, refugee issues, terrorism, Guantanamo and Abu Gharib) and imagery.

Still, if you can buy into it, the film offers some incredible sequences (some stuff, like the impossible visual shot of a moving car being attacked, with the camera tracking inside and outside of the vehicle, is breathtaking while being violently repellant) and an excellent acting ensemble. Michael Caine is a standout in a short role as a politically-radical neo-hippy who just loves his buddy green, while Clive Owen gives a solid performance as Theo Faron, a bureaucrat who marshals his own dormant activist persona to transport a woman who holds the hope of humanity within her. The transfer belies no noticeable defects from what I saw in the film’s theatrical release. You get a 1080p resolution, 1.85 widescreen image that’s as gritty and downright dirty looking as any recent news footage from the frontlines of the Iraq quagmire.

The audio is in that new Dolby AC-3 compression format (E-AC-3) called Dolby Digital Plus (English/French) and also offers a more standard Dolby Digital 5.1 surround mix (English/Spanish/French with Spanish/French subtitles) that gives lots of ample room to the varied mix of shouts, yells, automatic gunfire and explosions, but gives nice ambient detail to the quieter moments (most notably during the exposition sequence between Owen and Caine). On the whole it’s an adequate hi-def disc… but where the money is well spent is in the slew of features that cover just about everything you want to know about the making of this highly complex and daring film.

Alfonso Cuaron’s documentary called The Possibility of Hope describes how the revolutionary themes in Children Of Men relate to our current geopolitical situation including how Cuaron was visual and thematically influenced by other dystopian films and documentaries (particularly The Battle of Algeirs). Under Attack gives a look at how the filmmakers created the film’s most dangerous scenes (including that crazy car sequence and the film’s siege-like ending). There’s comments on the film by Slovenian postmodern sociologist, philosopher, and cultural critic Slavoj …i… ek, as well as making-of featurettes such as Theo & Julian with actors Clive Owen and Julianne Moore a segment on the films retro-Futuristic Design from concept to creation, as well a VFX segment on the creation of the digital baby (how ironic) and some nice hi-def player features: Picture in Picture interviews with Alfonso Cuaron and the cast and crew as well as a toggle-feature: Info & Commercials: Go deeper into the advertising used in the film’s depiction of 2027 Britain and see the full commercials, billboards and ads of the future while you watch the movie. All-in-all this is an excellent HD DVD release.

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