Another Earth (US - BD RA)
Gabe ponders the possibility of another version of himself pondering the possib...
A high school graduate named Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) celebrates her acceptance to MIT with friends, and drives home intoxicated. While driving she listens to a radio story about an approaching planet that scientists claim looks exactly like Earth. The story leads her to look at the stars out of her car window, and not paying attention to the road, she crashes her car into another vehicle. The accident puts John Burroughs (William Mapother) in a coma, and kills both his wife and his son. Rhoda is a minor, so her identity is not revealed to John. After serving her four month prison sentence, Rhoda declines MIT, and takes a job as a janitor at a local school. Eventually Rhoda develops the courage to visit John, who has recovered and is now living a sad, lonely life at home. Intending to apologize for the harm she did to him, she loses her nerve, and pretends to be a maid offering a free day of cleaning. John reluctantly agrees to Rhoda's offer. When she finishes, John asks her to come back again. Rhoda returns several times over the following weeks, and develops a caring relationship with John.
Mike Cahill’s Another Earth is all about mirroring universes, so it’s rather fun to note how much it mirrors Duncan Jones’ brilliant 2009 feature Moon. Both films are science fiction melodramas based around the concept of encountering one’s own self. Both treat the science fiction elements as somewhat coincidental, or are at least low-key in comparison to most major release sci-fi films. Both films are also the feature length/narrative-based directorial debuts. Jones had made a short film called Whistle, and Cahill directed a well received film on the US/Cuban conflict entitled Boxers and Ballerinas, which also saw him collaborating with Another Earth co-writer/co-producer/actress Brit Marling. The intended emotional messages are similar between Moon and Another Earth, but Cahill focuses in a more meditative and poetic fashion. Moon was certainly not what some might consider ‘mainstream’ entertainment, but it was relatively conventional in its general storytelling, whereas Another Earth is strictly speaking what most people would consider an art film. At the very least it wears its indie status (which is more heartily earned thanks to an almost $5 million difference between the budgets) with a little more purpose. Despite the intergalactic elements there’s sizably less science fiction here, and the bulk of the special effects revolve around a static second Earth in the background of some shots.
The second Earth thing isn’t a new concept. Apparently there’s an actual scientific theory that states there’s a possibility of a mirror universe, and science fiction film and television have dabbled in the ramifications since, I don’t know, the original Star Trek? This concept isn’t what makes Another Earth a bit of a novelty, it’s the almost matter-of-fact treatment of phenomenon. Like all good science fiction, the fantastical elements are present for the sake of allegory. Cahill and Marling sneak bits of social and political allegory into the science talk that leaks from radios and televisions throughout the film, but for the most part they are concerned with using their concept as a way for the two main characters to deal with grief. The meditative tone, and sense of melancholy is draining, but there are a few precious moments of levity, such as a brief montage of Rhoda and John playing Wii Boxing. Asking for more humour in a film about regret is a little unrealistic of me, but I found that the consistency of grief caused me to unintentionally stonewall my some of sympathy. Cahill and Marling also introduce a rather perverse angle to the mix to kick off the third act, but this PG-13 frown-fest never has what it takes to deliver on this darkest angle, which doesn’t quite make sense for the narrative (without spoiling things I think this is a ‘really go there or don’t go there’ situation). Complaints aside, I admit that at its most tender Another Earth had an effect on me, largely because of Brit Marling and William Mapother’s performances, which overwhelm any issues I may have with the characters. I really could’ve done without the magical Indian custodian, though.
Stylistically speaking Duncan and Cahill don’t have very much in common, at least not at this point. Another Earth encompasses a fair number of styles, but reminds me the most of Darren Aronofsky’s films, especially his rawer, more unsettling films (which I suppose by some accounts would be all of them). Cahill is smart with his small budget and shoots the film vérité style (quite literally seeing that he’s the cinematographer), complete with handheld cameras, naturalistic lighting, and a generally voyeuristic sense of camera placement. I believe this was the ideal approach to the material (I suppose a big, baroque version would’ve worked too), but found myself a bit annoyed with the constant repositioning, and arbitrary zooms used during some conversational moments. I’m hoping the next time he makes a movie he employs a more headstrong cinematographer that will help him lock down the camera when needed. The editing, which Cahill also did himself, isn’t quite as extreme as the editing in Requiem for a Dream, but jumps about quite a bit. This acts to create some immediacy, but like the occasionally incessant camera wobble, it’s seems more arbitrary than artful, and rarely serves the story.
According to the technical specs on imdb.com Another Earth was captured entirely digitally, but not in full 1080p video. For whatever reason (likely monetary) Cahill, who also acted as cinematographer, shot in 720p HD, so this 1080p, 1.85:1 transfer isn’t going to blow any minds, and the rest of this section will probably sound more negative than I intend it to. This warning in mind, I’ve actually seen worse from full 1080p and 35mm releases. The obvious shortcomings are in general resolution, and minor artifacts. In many ways it reminds me of a 16mm release (which I believe is comparable in general resolution?), though this particular grain is of the digital variety. The almost exclusive use of natural source lighting means that a lot of the film is quite dark, and with darkness comes a loss of resolution, and generally more digital artefacts. In brighter lighting the general noise levels are cut, but there are some jagged edges, and bright white levels blowout consistently. Sharpness also increases a bit in better lighting, and leads to some unavoidable chroma noise and moiré effects. Colour quality changes with the lighting as well, and is rarely what I’d call vibrant, outside occasional daylight greens and warm highlights. These hues usually appear natural, but are often slightly impure, especially yellow, which take on a bit of green.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is among the loudest I’ve heard in a while, which is surprising given the film’s generally low key audio production. But here even the simplest things are loud, especially occasional narration, or other dialogue that doesn’t come from the on-screen image. It’s not often I have to turn down my system for the sake of talking. Sound effects are featured largely in the front channel with the dialogue, but general ambience subtly leaks into the stereo and surround channels at the quietest times. Music is a more important element. John is a composer, and Rhoda tells him a story that helps reawaken his creative energy, so music represents more than just film score throughout. This particular score, by a band called Fall on Your Sword, is quite eclectic, including more traditional piano and cello elements, along with some more aggressive electronic stuff (mostly at the top and bottom of the film). The classical elements are the slightest bit thin to my ears, but overall things are effectively warm and sonically dynamic.
The extras are placed on the menu in a weird order, so I’m going to run through the order I preferred to watching. First is The Science Behind Another Earth (2:40, HD), which features Cahill and Marling speaking with astrophysicist Dr. Richard Berendzen about the scientific history behind the multi-universe theory, and the implications found in the film. Creating Another Earth (2:30, HD) features Cahill and Marling interviewing each other about their production process (which is rather odd…). This is followed by seven deleted/extended scenes (9:20, HD) that fill out some questions about Rhoda’s home life, but aren’t really necessary for the film, which already makes us feel terrible for Rhoda, and a few failed special effects ideas. Next up are a series of those fluffy ‘Fox Movie Channel Presents’ featurettes, including Direct Effect with Mik Cahill (4:20, SD), In Character with Brit Marling (4:20, SD), In Character with William Mapother (4:20, SD). Things are rounded up with ‘The First Time I Saw Jupiter’ music video by Fall on Your Sword (3:20, HD), a trailer, a soundtrack trailer, and a trailer for (snicker) Atlas Shrugged Part 1.
I’m guessing that Another Earth might’ve had a little more impact on me had the entire film not been spoiled by the trailer, but despite some problems with the tone, and all the navel gazing, I generally enjoyed the experience. The film was shot at 720p HD, so don’t watch the film expecting any miracles in the video department. The sound design is modest, but the DTS-HD soundtrack is robust. Extras are sadly minimal, and act to tease what might’ve been achieved with a good director/writer, actress/writer commentary track.
*Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 29th November 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English Descriptive Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Deleted Scenes, The First Time I Saw Jupiter Music Video, The Science Behind Another Earth, Creating Another Earth, Fox Movie Channel Presents Featurettes, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mike Cahill
Cast: William Mapother, Brit Marling
Genre: Drama and Sci-Fi
Length: 92 minutes
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