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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Family > Crisis > Conflict > Science Fiction > Epic > Philosophy > Melancholia (2011/Magnolia Blu-ray) + The Tree Of Life (2011/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD)

Melancholia (2011/Magnolia Blu-ray) + The Tree Of Life (2011/Fox Blu-ray w/DVD)


Picture: B-/B & C+     Sound: B-/B+ & B-     Extras: C     Films: C/B



Occasionally, films try to make a big statement on the universe and the world, but most of them fail miserably.  There are many ways to do this, including actually literally taking on planets, heavens and the like.  Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is still the gold standard in pulling this off, but a few films (including a few that make science fiction secondary, at their peril I might add) attempt this and two of them were recent critical darlings that were spoken of often during awards season.  Are either any good?



Lars von Trier to me has always been an awful and awfully overrated director who was not even a real movie or film fan, despite recent pleas that he is an Andrei Tarkovsky fan (coming up very, very short in imitating him) and being increasingly pretentious in everything he does on camera, behind it and in public.  When promoting his latest debacle, Melancholia (2011), he stooped to a new low making pro-Nazi comments exposing his ability to be a total idiot in ways I never imagined he would.  I even wondered if there was something fascist about this film and was there some strange motive going on there to promote it.


As expected, it was an idiotic aside that had nothing to do with this goofy work that is only saved by an interesting cast and some (not many) good visuals telling the dual stories of family melodramatic conflict and planet earth about to be hit by a planet dozens of times larger than it.  Does it mean anything?  Should we care?  Is it about the value of life?  Is it about anything we have not seen before?  No, no, no, no.


It is eye candy (think Tarsem without brains or a point) that would like you to think it has deep meaning, but it does not.  Instead, he is like Wim Wenders, wallowing in his subject matter instead of doing something with it as real filmmakers do.  When you have a cast like Kirsten Dunst, Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Gainsborough, Stellan Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, Udo Kier, John Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland, this is all you did with them?  Any similarity to the title condition or depression is fake and surface.  Extras include five featurettes and a trailer.



Terrence Malick is a much better and frankly, more important director, yet he does not get as much credit as he once did.  From earlier solid works like Days Of Heaven (now on Blu-ray from Criterion we recommend) to the recent, underappreciated The New World (also on a Blu-ray we recommend), his new film The Tree Of Life (2011) got more attention and it deserved it.  Not that it was great, but it works more often than not.


It does deal with depressing subject matter, like the loss of a happy life, someone’s death, the rise and fall of family, adds deep character study and nearly pulls off the epic it attempts.  Though it wants to be a crash course in the history of life, it falls short, especially when it decides to confirm a spiritual, religious afterlife that rings false, no matter your beliefs.  This is more of a problem when set against the realism and dimension of the acting and characters.


Outside of other worlds, the basic narrative blocks in the mortal world involve the original 1950s/post-WWII suburban America and a family headed by a salesman father (Brad Pitt in one of his best roles ever) who wants success and has followed all the rules, but is even then being cut short and out of success.  The other side has one of his sons fully grown up and working in the corporate world (Sean Penn) still in pain from the past.  This all works more so than not and it is worth sitting through its long 139 minutes and is at least as visually effective as the other film here and more so.


The acting is fine and Jessica Chastain gives a performance far superior to her work in Jolene and the overrated The Help, while the period 1950s work is as impressive as anything here visually.  Unfortunately, like Hyams’ 2010: The Year We Make Contact (1984), this hits a wall when it tries to explain the mysteries of the universe and oversimplifies too many issues in the process for its own good.  Still, it is a fine film worth your time.


Extras include Exploring The Tree Of Life featurette and Digital Copy for PC and PC portable devices.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image on Melancholia is shot totally on HD video and when you add obvious digital visual effects and other styling, it holds back the overall fidelity of the images and its “beauty” is not only overrated; it is clichéd as is its director.  On the other hand, the 1080p 1.85 X 1 AVC @ 37 MBPS digital High Definition image transfer on Life has much better digital effects and uses a wide variety of sources from HD video to IMAX 70mm film to 35mm film in a mix well-edited and ably handled by Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki (The New World, Children Of Men, Ali, Meet Joe Black) has the talent to make it meld together well and that would not have happened in the hands of most DPs.  An anamorphically enhanced DVD is also included, but it cannot compete with the Blu-ray.


Both Blu-rays offer DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) lossless mixes with the 5.1 on Melancholia having its dialogue too much towards the front speakers for its own good, which is more noticeable when the music kicks in.  That means an awkward soundstage, but typical of von Trier’s work, down to the use of Wagner (the Nazi reference?).  On the other hand, the same encoding mix in 7.1 on Life is not only stunning, especially for such an often quiet film with its share of dialogue, but it is one of the best Blu-ray sound mixes of new movies in recent years and is demo quality for any serious home theater system.  The DVD version offers lossy Dolby Digital 5.1 which has a soundfield, but is nowhere nearly as good.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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