Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Drama > Existentialism > Police State > Drugs > Surrealism > Modernism > Thriller > Brit > 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 Blu-rays)

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 Blu-rays)


Picture: B/B/B/B/B-     Sound: B/B-/B-/B-/B-     Extras: C-/A-/B/B/B     Films: C-/A-/B/B/B



Films 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.


That is 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.



Panos 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.


Unfortunately, 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.


A trailer 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 career.


Criterion 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.


It was harder to imagine so much techno-junk, but much has changed since it was released and some of the absurdity is now reality.


Extras include 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.



Gilliam 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.


With 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.


Extras 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.



William 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:




…plus the extras-loaded Network U.K. Region B Blu-ray at this link:




Since I 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.


Extras for 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.



Last but 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.


Fassbinder 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 never boring.


Sure, 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.


However, 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 way for.

Extras 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.



All five 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 better.


The 1080p 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.


The 1080p 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.


The 1080p 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.


The 1080p 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.


The 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.


The 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.


The rest 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 throughout.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com