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If the future depicted in movies is to be believed – we’re screwed. Nearly every theatrical sci-fi adventure of late has painted the future as a cold, big brother’esque affair, with little in the way of happiness and laughs! Step up Equilibrium, the next in the line of morbid predictions of the future. The film went by largely unnoticed last year and as such I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’ve been a fan of actor Christian Bale for a while though so I was willing to give it a chance. Here goes…

In the not too distant future the world is devoid of emotion. World War III has been and gone and the surviving remnants of mankind realise that they will not survive a fourth. And so the choice is made to remove the one element of humanity that makes us who we are – feeling. Enforcing this is a drug called Prozium, which keeps the body in a constant form of passive acceptance. At regular intervals the population of Libria are required to top up the drug via a hand held device that each Librian carries with them. Keeping tabs on things are the Grammaton Clerics. The Clerics are the final line of defence and are to ensure that everybody takes their prozium doses at the appropriate times. One of these highly trained Clerics is John Preston played by Christian Bale. As well as eliminating sense offenders, he also oversees the destruction of countless artefacts depicting emotion, including the original Mona Lisa in one of the films opening scenes! But when the top enforcer himself misses a dose of the emotion-blocking drug, he begins to realise that things are not quite as they seem!

Equilibrium is certainly one of the more entertaining science fiction films as of late, although it doesn’t always conform to that particular genre. I say this because the film actually features very little in the way of science, infact in many ways it goes at great lengths to avoid it. Personally, I think this is a good thing rather than a hindrance as so many films (including Matrix Reloaded) get far too caught up on the scientific and philosophical aspects that it often completely disillusions the audience. Equilibrium on the other hand relies primarily on the interesting concept of an emotionless society and the intricately crafted action sequences. No fancy techno-babble here! The film was built on a $20 million budget, which is extremely surprising given the quality of special effects on display. The establishing shots of Libria are genuinely impressive with huge futuristic cityscapes dominating the screen. Sure, if I wanted to I could pick out flawed CGI but never does it detract from the overall impact of what is being portrayed. Many people have compared the design of the film with the earlier works of Metropolis though I personally think the design of this film is unique in its own way.

A major selling point of this film would be the action sequences. Despite the low budget, some extremely impressive sequences have been devised and in many cases they appear almost (shock horror) original! One concept created by the director of the film is a term called Gun Kata. This is a form of armed combat in which Clerics use the mathematical and statistical aspects of a shootout to their advantage. Basically, they put themselves in the least likely place to be hit at any given time during an engagement and the most effective response in that situation. All pretty impressive stuff. It isn’t all quite as original though. One of the closing action scenes takes place in a room very similar to the lobby scene in the aforementioned Matrix. Luckily the action is pulled off well so I can forgive the director for that one!

Performances throughout are strong and leading the way is Christian Bale as Cleric John Preston. For the first thirty minutes or so we witness Bale as an eerily emotionless killing machine and he pulls it off extremely convincingly. It can’t be easy for an actor to resist showing any sign of feeling (unless they can’t act!) and for that Bale must be commended. He really does go through a roller coaster of emotions from then onwards and thankfully the audience gets to go on that ride with him. Good stuff. Also particularly worthy of note is an incredibly soulful performance from Sean Bean. I can’t really admit to being much of a fan of his but he has almost converted me with his short yet important role in the earlier stages of the film. The only questionable casting decision is that of Taye Diggs as Preston’s partner. For an emotionless man he seems to display a hell of a lot of it, with smiling, aggression and nearly every other emotion under the sun! Still, if you can handle a few oversights such as that the casting is pretty much first rate.  

Overall, Equilibrium for me stands out as one of the more exciting films of the year. The plot is pretty well crafted and the action sequences are incredibly well conceived. Performances are also strong so it surprises me greatly that the film only raked in a mere $1 million during its US theatrical run. The film isn’t perfect; at times the editing is a little questionable and it does borrow heavily from other films – still, for a Saturday nights entertainment you really can’t go wrong with this one. Recommended.

Equilibrium receives a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer here and is anamorphically encoded. There’s no doubt in my mind that Equilibrium is an attractive looking film and thankfully Dimension Home Video have put together a transfer to do it proud. One of the first things that you’ll notice when watching the film is the greatly reduced colour palette. The colours throughout are extremely grey and washed out, which help to create the overall tone of the film. This is of course intentional and will not effect my overall scoring. It’s also a rather darkly lit film but thankfully the black is exactly that – black and I didn’t detect any noticeable grain. Edge enhancement is also pretty much non-existent so overall I’m more than happy with this.

I really do love these action movie soundtracks! Dimension Home Video have included a Dolby Digital 5.1 track here and boy is it active! Equilibrium makes great use of the surrounds throughout with bullets ricocheting off of walls here, there and everywhere. The track also handles the more subtle sounds admirably and speech is always clear and concise. The film score also makes solid use of the soundstage although I do feel the score itself borrows heavily from other films. I’m sure that I noticed more than a few similarities to Hans Zimmer’s score for The Rock in the opening shoot out. Still, a solid little track and a welcome addition to the DVD.

Unfortunately Equilibrium went by largely unnoticed theatrically and so the disc isn’t given the treatment it perhaps deserves. Still, it’s not a complete waste of time. For starters we have an audio commentary with the director of the film, Kurt Wimmer. Initially the director sounds a little nervous doing the commentary, his voice for example is more than a little stuttery at times. Luckily though he soon gathers confidence and provides a fair few interesting titbits. Particularly interesting was his insistence that the logo symbolising the government of Libria wasn’t meant to resemble that of the swastika of Nazi Germany. I remember thinking it looked almost identical at the time so that was quite interesting to hear. Another commentary is also included on the disc, this time with the director and producer Lucas Foster. Everyone seems much more relaxed here and as such the commentary does flow a lot better. One problem with this commentary though is that it was recorded after the first one and as such there’s an awful lot of ‘Did you touch on this on your other commentary’ and ‘I spoke about this on the other commentary’ which does get a little annoying after a while! Still, well worth a listen if you’re a fan of the film, and I’d certainly recommend this one over the first despite that one criticism.

Completing the Equilibrium related features is a short featurette entitled Finding Equilibrium. Short is probably too fair a word for this as it only runs to four minutes in total. This feature is a pretty promotional affair with clips of the film interspersed with interviews with the principal cast and crew. It’s presented in full screen. Completing the package are trailers for Dimension Films, Kill Bill, Wes Craven Presents Dracula II: Ascension, Invincible and Below. Personally I’d much rather that they included the trailer for Equilibrium but you can’t have everything! Fans of Quentin Tarantino will probably appreciate the Kill Bill trailer at least.

Equilibrium is a refreshingly entertaining sci-fi film that doesn’t pretend to be hugely intelligent and clever like many of the films that obviously inspired it. For that it works well and features impressive performances from the key players. Christian Bale proves that he’ll be around for a while yet, and Sean Bean puts in a surprisingly deep performance considering that he’s only in the movie for about twenty minutes! Dimension has put together a technically sound disc with the extras being the only slight disappointment. Still, seeing as the film was a theatrical flop I guess that was to be expected.