Children Of Men: Special Edition (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie takes a look back at Alfonso Cuarón's futuristic movie...
It is 2027 and the human race is infertile. No children have been born for eighteen years and war rages all over the world. Britain has closed its borders and the powers-that-be occupy themselves by rounding up illegal immigrants and packing them off to refugee camps. In the middle of this dystopian future is Theo (Clive Owen), an apathetic alcoholic whose activist’s spirit is reawakened with the arrival of his old flame Julian (Julianne Moore). She asks him to help her protect a woman who is miraculously pregnant, but at every turn someone wants to get their hands on her and use the baby for their own benefit.
The most striking thing about Children of Men is its visual style. Rather than present a vision of the future with flying cars and buildings stretching up into the heavens, director Alfonso Cuarón’s version of London in 2027 doesn’t look a lot different to London nowadays. There are touches scattered around in the background that hint at the way things could be, but there is nothing new in this world that we don’t believe could be possible if our world was left to decay. The handheld camerawork helps to give the impression that we’re watching a documentary about the future, which heightens the realism and helps the viewer buy into the movie.
Editing plays a very important part in Children of Men, or more specifically, the lack of editing plays an important part. Alfonso Cuarón chose to film key scenes in very long takes, which meant an incredible amount of planning and rehearsal to get everything just right and significantly increased risk to the budget should he need to do re-shoots. The long takes work well because the viewer is placed right in the heart of the action and we follow Theo as he struggles to survive in this oppressive world. Because the cuts are few and far between, the edits have more impact on the viewer and left me with the feeling that this is a movie more meticulously constructed than most and was therefore more visually rewarding.
The setup of the story should be pretty familiar to fans of action movies—a jaded hero rediscovers himself by helping out a woman in need while all manner of bad guys are hot on their heels. What is different here is the way the story is told. For a start, the central plot point of human infertility is never explained. It’s up to you, the viewer, to buy into the idea that the whole human race could suddenly find it impossible to procreate. This is because Theo doesn’t know why either. He’s just trying to survive, not taking part in a journey of discovery, so we only find out the key facts that he needs to know and everything else is left in the background, which is where much of the detail explaining life in this world can be found. If you just follow Theo’s journey, you’ll enjoy a typical fast-paced thriller, but if you keep your eyes peeled and delve deeper you’ll find more layers and commentary about the way our current society is heading.
There is a distinct lack of sentimentality about the movie, which comes directly from Theo. As someone who has effectively given up on the human race, he is emotionally numb and I thought Clive Owen was the perfect choice for this role. He has a history of playing characters that are charming yet aloof ( Croupier and Closer for example) and he doesn’t allow the audience to get bogged down in grieving for the passing of key characters. His motivation to survive and get the job done is enough to keep the story moving along very quickly. Michael Caine and Julianne Moore are both great additions to the cast, sharing important scenes with Clive Owen; however they are both supporting performances and are taken out of the story before we are allowed to grow too attached to them.
Based on a novel, the structure is episodic and the changing locations also gave me the impression that Clive Owen was a character in a survival video game and I found memories of Half Life popping into my mind. That’s not a bad thing of course. Half Life is a great game. The best way I can think of summing up Children of Men is to describe it as Brazil with realism substituted for comedy. That’s not to say there aren’t funny moments (notably the character Sid, who only speak in the third person), but these are fleeting and we are soon returned to the director’s bleak vision of the future.
Children of Men is presented with a 1.85:1 anamorphic picture. The colours throughout are muted, but this is intentional to paint a picture of a grimy and hopeless future. What’s important here are the details and the picture is very sharp, allowing the viewer to pick out the finer points in the background. This is a movie all about the visuals and I’m pleased to say this is an excellent representation. You’ll notice that on the last screenshot that there are drops of blood splattered on the camera. This may or may not have been intentional, but they stay there for the whole take and that’s just another example of the way this movie is so visually rewarding.
There are also nice details in the soundtrack as well. Following the explosion in the opening scene Theo complains of a ringing in his ears, which we are also treated to through the surround speakers. During a key scene (trying to avoid spoilers here!) dogs bark louder and louder to build the tension and echo effects are also well represented. Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks are available in both English and German and I’m also pleased to say that the soundtrack is powerful and free from interference.
Disc one begins with that annoying anti-piracy advert and contains just one featurette. ‘Men Under Attack’ is the first part of a set of featurettes about the making of the movie, focusing on the concept of using long takes and documentary style. The scene where Julianne Moore’s car is attacked is given particular attention, showing the lengths the filmmakers went to film the whole scene in one take. Disc two continues the featurettes with ‘Theo and Julian’ that allows the two leads to talk about their roles and their involvement in developing the characters. ‘Futuristic Design’ focuses on the production designers’ intention to make Children of Men the ‘anti- Blade Runner’ with a more realistic vision of the future using real locations.
In a five-minute featurette, philosopher Slavoj Zizek comments on the themes used in the movie and the significance of placing many of the details in the background rather than the foreground. He also pops up in ‘The Possibility of Hope’, a documentary focusing on predictions of the future of our planet and society, along with many other social commentators including Naomi Klein and Tzvetan Todorov. Be warned though, it is a bit heavy going if you’re expecting a nice making-of documentary. Three deleted scenes complete the mish-mash of extras, which show a little more about Theo and the world around him.
An action movie that will get you thinking at the same time as it gets your heart pumping, Children of Men is highly recommended, especially if you’ve grown tired of all-American heroes. The movie looks and sounds great on this release and while the set of extras isn’t quite what the doctor ordered, this two disc set is a welcome upgrade from the vanilla disc that was initially released without the director’s consent.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Release Date: 19th March 2007
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 German
Subtitles: English, German, Dutch
Extras: The Possibility Of Hope, Men Under Attack, Comments By Slavoj Zizek, Visual Effects: Creating The Baby, Deleted Scenes, Theo & Julian, Futuristic Design
Easter Egg: No
Director: Alfonso Cuarón
Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Peter Mullan, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Genre: Action, Drama and Thriller
Length: 105 minutes
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