Beyond The Black Rainbow (2010/Magnolia/MagNet Blu-ray)/Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985 2-Disc
Blu-ray Set)/La Jetée/San Soleil
(1963/1983)/Things To Come (1936)/World On A Wire (1973/Criterion
B/B/B/B/B- Sound: B/B-/B-/B-/B- Extras: C-/A-/B/B/B Films: C-/A-/B/B/B
trying to represent and portray a dystopian future (or futures) accurately have
been one of the greatest challenges of serious filmmakers and also tend to rank
among the highlights of both political cinema and the science fiction genre, a
genre that never gets the respect it deserves.
That most of the films have been bad action films in dystopian/post-war,
post-apocalyptic clothing or angry space operas have not helped the situation.
why I have brought together four classics issued by Criterion with a more
recent film aspiring to do more than just be loud and predictable.
Cosmatos’ Beyond The Black Rainbow
(2010) is an ambitious attempt to do a THX-1138-type
thinking-mans science fiction film where many things are never explained and
others are so visually odd that you wonder if the director/writer knows what it
is. Shot in the old Techniscope format
like THX-1138, the film also has
elements from several Stanley Kubrick films, ZPG, Alphaville, Logan’s Run and approximates the 1970s
modernist look as often as it can as a young woman in a futuristic police state
society tries to escape it despite being drugged up by the state.
the film has too many side moments that throw off its intents, despite efforts
to approximate the look of 1970s films on then-current Fuji 35mm film stock
(they just discontinued all motion picture stocks) and dopes manage to often
(re-) create the mood of such serious cinema.
Too bad this one never adds up, has little to say and offers nothing new
despite all the great, smart efforts put forward. The dystopian aspects are never flushed out
well enough and despite showing as much talent as his late father George, Panos
Cosmatos has some approaches to reconsider, though I hope he tries again.
is the only extra.
Terry Gilliam’s Brazil (1985) is an example of how such
a film can work, though the American director takes a British absurdist
approach to this tale of a man (Jonathan Pryce) mistakenly targeted by the
police state he lives in for ‘treatment’ and ‘standardization’ because of a
typo over his name versus someone else’s.
Along with Ridley Scott’s Blade
Runner (1982), both films were attacked for their political views and
censored in famous conflicts and battles, but Gilliam had to hold the film
negative captive and threaten to destroy it if the film was not released while
the pro-Reagan regime of Universal Pictures (who helped their old friend get
elected) wanted to edit out every mature adult point and make it into an
idiotic, nonsense love story as they seemed to be trying to destroy Gilliam’s
famously issued a great DVD box set with a bunch of extras showing three
versions of the film (Gilliam’s cut, the theatrical cut and the pathetic
90-minutes cut) and the first two cuts with all the extras and better playback
performance have all been included here on a single Blu-ray with terrific
results. Now a serious classic and (as
the case rightly states) one of the best films of the 1980s (one of the few?), the
cats that includes a still cutting-edge Robert De Niro, Katherine Helmond, Ian
Holm, Bob Hoskins, Kim Greist, Michael Palin, Ian Richardson, Peter Vaughn and
Jim Broadbent just gets better with age and in a film where there is so much
technology that there is less and less room for people, the film is more
relevant than ever.
harder to imagine so much techno-junk, but much has changed since it was
released and some of the absurdity is now reality.
another fine booklet including informative text, illustrations and an essay by
David Sterritt, while the Blu-ray set adds feature length audio commentary
track by Gilliam on the first disc with his longer, better cut of the film,
while the second disc adds the Original Theatrical Trailer, commentary on that
90-minutes butchered version by Gilliam scholar David Morgan, The Production
Notebook and featurettes What Is Brazil?,
Brazil-iana and The Battle Of Brazil where the censorship battle is thoroughly
explained. This is a must-own disc set.
would revisit some of the Brazil
themes with 12 Monkeys (1995,
reviewed elsewhere on this site) and the clever time travel thriller was
actually based on a short film by Chris Marker made of black and white stills called
La Jetée (1963). Criterion has issued two of Marker’s short
films on one Blu-ray with a La Jetée/San
Soleil (1983) double feature and the films have some similarities and
differences, but make sense to pair.
La Jetée has a world of the future in ruins
after WWIII, so a man (Davos Hanich) goes back in time as his body is used as
the vessel to time travel. Only Resnais’
Je T’aime, Je T’aime (1968, long
overdue on Blu-ray and DVD) offered as challenging a time travel concept at the
time. The man is being used to get
resources into the current time to rebuild, but something else is going on.
narration for it’s nearly half-hour length, it is more direct than its famous
remake, has no time for humor and is as dark.
It has been a celebrated short film classic for years and not just
because it is made of only black and white stills, but because it is one of the
late, political and controversial Marker’s most well-realized works. Whether you have seen Gilliam’s remake or
not, it is a must-see classic well worth your time and was the first sing
(followed by Godard’s Alphaville in
1965) of a renaissance in Science Fiction cinema that led to the greatest cycle
the genre veer saw and lasted… until Brazil.
San Soleil is actually a documentary with
narration and an honest, solemn meditative state approach running 100 minutes
is an actual examination of Japan at the time and real related worlds, but it
is interesting Marker uses a female protagonist (various actresses narrated for
various languages) in Marker’s equivalent of the Quatsi Trilogy or the trilogy of Chronos, Baraka and Samsara from Ron Fricke (all reviewed
elsewhere on this site) asking mature, serious questions about the world we
live in, what we are doing to it and what its future is. Underseen and worth catching up with.
include yet another nicely illustrated booklet on the films including
informative text, illustrations and four essays on the films and Marker’s
career, while the Blu-ray adds two interviews with filmmaker Jean Pierre-Gorin,
Chris Drake’s look at Marker entitled Chris On Chris, two clips from the
French series Court-circuit applying to these films, a look at David Bowie’s La Jetée-inspired Music Video for his single
“Jump They Say” (directed by the
Kubrick-inspired director of One Hour Photo (finally on Blu-ray), Mark Romanek
whose videos collection you can find elsewhere on this site) and the short Junktopia
which Marker participated.
Cameron Menzies’ Things To Come
(1936) has already been issued on Blu-ray before in two versions we covered
including an inexpensive Legend release at this link:
extras-loaded Network U.K. Region B Blu-ray at this link:
have exhausted speaking about the film (read about it in the previous
coverage), the question then is, has Criterion come up with definitive
version? Technically, it is about a draw
with the Network release (more on that below), but because both have a serious
number of extras and they are not the same extras, fans need to have both to
really have the coverage on the film necessary, so it is a draw.
the Criterion version include their own separate booklet on the film with
different informative text plus Geoffrey O’Brien’s essay Whithed Mankind?, while the Blu-ray adds yet another terrific feature
length audio commentary track by the great David Kalat, new interview with
Christopher Frayling on the film’s designs, new visual essay on the Arthur
Bliss score from the film by Bruce Eder, unused special visual effects footage
by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy that is great, Jan Tichy’s multimedia reinterpretation of
that footage and a repeat of the 78 RPM record of Welles from the Network
release about The Wandering Sickness
which applies to this film.
not least is a gem by Rainer Werner Fassbinder called World On A Wire (1973) which is the #1 influence on the Matrix
films, but is much smarter, better, more original, never disappoints, has some
great moments and was actually a TV mini-series he made for German TV that was
totally filmed and on its 40th Anniversary continues to see its many
valuable points be as relevant as ever.
was always influenced by Godard (even having Alphaville lead Eddie Constantine in his later film The Third Generation, long overdue on
Blu-ray) and this series owes some debt to Godard, but also asks us to question
what we see as reality in smart ways and also addresses the tendency of
technologization, especially by Germany, in what runs a nice 3.5 hours and is
some technology may show its age and the modernist style gives it away too, but
it is also uncanny how accurate Fassbinder and company were in what they saw as
the coming of virtual reality and how it can suffocate and minimalized nature,
people and the future. Fred Stiller
(Klaus Lowitsch) is a cybernetics engineer for a big multi-national corporation
who discovers (ala Futureworld three
years later) that their innovations and strides ahead of everyone else in
futuristic technology is so disturbingly successful that they have very dark
plans on how to use it and he is the only one who might be able to stop them.
it will not be so easy and this is not just some shallow actioner, but has so
much more to say with Fassbinder using his time very well and effectively
making this one of the best non-U.S./U.K. TV mini-series up there with
Petersen’s Das Boot and deserves as
large and audience. Fassbinder was in
great form here and the series should be thought of in the same TV greatness as
the original Star Trek, first season
of Space: 1999, original Doctor Who, Sapphire & Steel and so many other progressive Science Fiction
works TV was actually producing at the time.
Matrix fans disappointed with the two sequels will particularly enjoy
what they see here, as Fassbinder never drops the ball as the Wachoiwskis
did. This one is worth going out of your
include a well illustrated booklet on the series including informative text,
illustrations and essay The Hall Of
Mirrors by Ed Halter, while the Blu-ray adds an Original Theatrical Trailer
for its 2010 re-release Juliane Lorenz’s 50-minutes documentary Fassbinder’s
“World On A Wire”: Looking Ahead To Today.
Blu-rays offer performance that is as good as it is going to get with only
minor issues in some cases and only Ultra HD is going to make these films look
2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image transfer on Beyond (as noted) was shot in the 2-perferation Techniscope format
on 35mm Fuji film and has added flaws and fading to make it look like the
1970s, but the color is impressive throughout as is the definition where
applicable, because some of the shots by Director of Photography Norm LI are
supposed to be less defined to go with the look and narrative, so the playback
is just right.
1.85 X 1 digital High Definition image on Brazil
comes from a 35mm interpositive of the film and though I think some scenes
might be a little soft, this is not often and the stunning work Director of
Photography Roger Pratt, B.S.C., is pretty much the way the film is intended to
look. Lucky that it survived at all,
color is very consistent and the use of light and darkness comes through better
here far better than any past video release of the film.
1.33 X 1 black and white digital High Definition image on Jetée comes from a 35mm fine grain positive of the film and looks
as good as I have seen it anywhere, save maybe one film print a while ago, but
it is a solid performer, while the same on Things
has the most picture area of the three Blu-rays we have covered. Criterion has also tried to clean the film a
bit, but that has also left it very slightly softer than the Network Blu-ray,
but I like seeing more picture area and Criterion used Network’s video master
form the original 35mm materials. Nice
to see this film get so much justice after so many bad releases.
1.33 X 1 full color digital High Definition image on Soleil comes from a 35mm interpositive and usually looks great,
though a few shots are soft and we get a little fading, but otherwise this is
how the film should look. The same type
of frame on Wire comes from a
thorough restoration of its 16mm reversal film stock shoot by the legendary Director
of Photography Michael Ballhaus, who supervised the transfer to 2K HD of the
footage. The definition limits like
detail issues and fading are from the format and maybe some dated film
passages, making this a little less of an impressive performer than the other
entries here, but it is still very impressive for any 16mm film production of
the time and even has some reference-quality shots.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 5.1 lossless mix on Beyond is the only multi-channel presentation here and the newest
recording, so it is the sonic champ with a surprisingly consistent soundfield
(with limited dialogue in more spots than you might think, though you can here
inaudible talk at times) and is one of the best independent film-produced such
mixes of the last few years in its character as a result, also helping the
attempted narrative along.
DTS-HD MA (Master Audio) 2.0 Stereo lossless mix on Brazil comes from the original Dolby A-type noise reduction-encoded
magnetic stereo masters, so you can play this one in Pro Logic (or one of its
variants) to get some healthy, basic monophonic surrounds and though some would
have liked a 5.1 upgrade, I think the sound design is just fine for the film
intended and its age.
of the films are presented in PCM 2.0 Mono presentations with the same quality
clean up Criterion gives all of its Blu-ray releases. Jetée
and Soleil come from original
optical soundmasters and sound as good as they likely ever will, Things has the problematic Network
audio transfer with Criterion trying to clean that up and the result is that is
sounds the best by a narrow margin over the previous Blu-ray releases and Wire comes from the perforated 16mm
magnetic soundmasters offering more dynamic performance than most TV
productions of its time anywhere and offering its own savvy sound design
- Nicholas Sheffo