Creation (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie checks out this movie starring Paul Bettany as Charles Darwin
Creation tells the story of Charles Darwin (Paul Bettany) as he stands on the brink of writing the manuscript for ‘On the Origin of Species’. Failing in health and racked by guilt following a family tragedy years before, his investigations have led him to question his belief in the Christian God, which sets him at odds with his deeply religious wife Emma (Jennifer Connelly). On one side, she fears his eternal damnation for publishing the book, but on the other his scientific allies led by Thomas Huxley (Toby Jones) encourage him in their battle of science versus religion.
With 2009 being both the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, it was certainly an opportune time to commit his life story (or part of it) to the screen. Instead of telling the story of his life as a whole, it focuses on his attempt to write his master work, peppered with flashbacks to happier times in his family and professional life. This is essentially a tale of a man’s attempt to write a book he knows he has to write, even though he runs into obstacles every step of the way, from the limitations of his own body to the disapproval of his wife.
The screen couple of Charles and Emma Darwin are played by real-life couple Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly. Her performance is notable for her spot-on English accent and their relationship is entirely believable, both when they are fighting and when they are happy. However, it is not this relationship that is at the heart of the film. The relationship Charles shares with his daughter Annie (a brilliant debut performance by Martha West) is the emotional core of Creation. At times, Annie is the viewer’s window on Darwin’s world and it is the moments they share together that allow the story to progress, without her turning into a young female Basil Exposition.
There are more moment of directorial flair than I was expecting in what I thought would be a straight historical biography. We’re drawn into Darwin’s world via a fast-forward montage of nature that can be found in many of David Attenborough’s documentaries but works well here within the context of the film. When Darwin’s health is failing, some scenes take an abstract turn and convince the viewer that he truly is freaking out and that we should worry about both his health and his sanity.
The central theme of science versus religion plays out in many different ways. First of all, there is the conflict at home of Charles (science) and Emma (religion). Then there is the animosity between Charles and his old friend Reverend Innes (played by Jeremy Northam) following the religious punishment given to Annie when she dares to recite her father’s philosophies. Finally there is the pressure being put on Charles by his scientific colleagues as they attempt to make an example of him in their fight against religion. While being somewhat restrained in preaching the virtues of science over religion, the film doesn’t really make concessions for religion (apart from a moment of forgiveness and understanding in the final stages) so it’s fair to say that creationists might not take to Creation.
Creation is presented in 2.35:1 and what struck me most about the visuals of the film was the use of colour. The palette changes from scene to scene, giving us well-lit golden tones when the family are happy and all is well in the world, but more washed-out grey shades to match Darwin’s pasty white face when he is battling illness. The transfer is generally good, although I did think the picture was not quite as sharp as some other new DVD releases I’ve seen recently.
The disc comes with two choices of soundtrack—Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS 5.1. I went for the DTS option, but other than the nice bass on the clap of thunder during the Icon ident just before the film, there aren’t many other ‘wow’ moments. This isn’t really surprising given the dialogue-heavy nature of the film, but there’s certainly nothing to complain about regarding the audio quality. Christopher Young’s score was the highlight for me and it sounds strong on this disc, without drowning out the dialogue or taking attention away from the action on-screen.
Director Jon Amiel provides a solo commentary track, which for me was the stand-out feature on the disc. There are many interesting facts to pick up along the way, including some trivia about Charles Darwin the cast and crew picked up when filming at his house. The remainder of the special features is made up of featurettes of varying quality. ‘Creation: The Battle for Charles Darwin’ is a typical making-of teaser that was filmed for TV (the gap where the ads are supposed to go is a giveaway), including long clips from the film and interviews with the stars, and is probably best watched by those who haven’t yet seen the film.
‘Darwin’s Legacy’ is a set of three short featurettes where three academics—a biologist, a theistic evolutionist and a young Earth creationist—discuss Darwin’s findings in the context of their own teachings. ‘Digging Deepeer into Darwin’ is a set of seven featurettes (unfortunately with no Play All option) where a long clip of the film is followed up with a short discussion on its content by Nick Spencer, author of ‘Darwin and God’. Finally we get an episode of Pollard on Film, which is an online series of film reviews where Nick Pollard relates the themes in films to spiritual philosophies. Let’s just say it might not be to everyone’s tastes...
Creation is a compelling tale of a character that has been relatively untapped on film up to this point and features some great performances. I thought the casting of Paul Bettany as Darwin was perfect and is an interesting development from his role in Master and Commander, which would be a good companion choice in a double bill. The transfer is about as good as you can expect from a new release without blowing the viewer away but the extras are a bit lacking and feel like they were thrown together at the last minute.
Review by Scott McKenzie
General viewing, but some scenes may be unsuitable for young children
Release Date: 1st February 2009
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital DTS English, Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Director's Commentary, Creation - The Battle for Charles Darwin, Darwin's Legacy, Digging Deeper into Darwin, Nick Pollard on Film
Easter Egg: No
Director: Jon Amiel
Cast: Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Jones, Jeremy Northam
Length: 104 minutes
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