Never Let Me Go Technical Review (UK - BD RB)
Chris takes a look at the Blu-ray release of the Carey Mulligan/Keira Knightley film
Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) are three very unusual children. Raised at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school that seeks to prepare them for their place in society, the trio live a relatively idyllic full of play and artistic endeavour. While Tommy and Cathy become very close friends during their time at Hailsham, it is with Ruth that he eventually enters into a relationship. This relationship continues throughout adolescence into young adulthood, upon which they move to a cottage with a number of other ‘special’ individuals who have come from schools around the country. By this time they have discovered and accepted their role in society, but repressed feelings of jealousy conspire to split them apart and set them off down different paths. Kathy applies to be a ‘carer’ and loses touch with Tommy and Ruth for almost a decade, but when she eventually reconnects with her long-lost friends she finds that much has changed in the intervening years. Still, her feelings for Tommy have not diminished with the passage of time and seeing him again stirs up long-since buried emotions and reopens old wounds.
Right, it’s almost impossible to write a synopsis for this film that doesn’t spoil it just a little bit. Even the back of the Blu-ray slipcase says more than it should, proudly announcing something that should have been left for the viewer to discover during the course of the film. Granted it’s a fairly early discovery, but given that the film only runs for a little over ninety minutes it’s actually quite far along in plot terms. Anyway, I’m determined not to tell you anything about Never Let Me Go other than that it’s a romantic drama with a dystopian twist that features strong performances from the three leads (and the child actors that play their younger selves, come to that). Despite its females leads it’s not a feel-good film, so don’t buy/rent it expecting a gentle romance. The subject matter is actually quite thought-provoking and, well, disturbing. Personally I felt that it needed a little more backstory, but I’ve not read the novel upon which it is based so that failing could be an unavoidable one. It’s not my usual cup of tea but I found that I enjoyed the film a lot more than I expected, although I can’t see myself watching it again for some time given the relatively depressing subject matter.
Never Let Me Go has a pretty terrific 2.35:1 (1080/24p AVC) widescreen transfer. It’s a nicely detailed effort, with strong textures, some great close-ups and a fine layer of grain for an extremely filmic look. The colour palette is probably best described as bleak, but it suits the depressing inevitability of the subject matter very well and it’s actually strangely attractive. Black levels are top-notch and contrast is all-but perfect, while film and digital artefacts are conspicuous by their absence. I’ve been staring at screen captures at high magnification looking for something to criticise, but concluded that such nit-picking is really unwarranted. It’s a fantastic visual effort that really needs to be seen first-hand.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is quite understated but it does its job well. There are some nice ambient touches—mainly during the earlier scenes set at the school in which children laugh and play—but don’t go expecting a constant flurry of activity. The track is generally a talkie affair with strong, clear dialogue that is perfectly balanced in the mix. The majority of the surround utilisation comes in the form of Rachel Portman’s score, which often sweeps you away on a sea of melancholy. As I’ve said before a soundtrack doesn’t have to be filled with loud explosions and obvious panning effects to be effective and Never Let Me Go’s mix is yet another fine example of ‘less is more’.
The main attraction here is a thirty-minute making of featurette entitled ‘The Secrets of Never Let Me Go’ which, as the name implies, features plenty of discussion about the book, the adaptation and the creative process with the cast and crew. The rest of the extras aren’t quiote as exciting (from my perspective), as they include three still galleries (Mark Romanek's On-Set Photography, Tommy's Art, National Donor Programme and Hailsham Campaign) and a theatrical trailer. Not the strongest collection of supplemental material then, but there’s still some interesting information to be gleaned from the featurette.
Never Let Me Go is exactly an enjoyable film due to the rather bleak subject matter, but it is a well-acted, lovingly crafted tale that holds your attention from start to finish. I do think that it could have benefitted from revealing a little more about the larger world surrounding the characters, but as it is an adaptation that might very well be a ‘limitation’ of the source material (I haven’t read the book). The Blu-ray might not win any awards for its bonus material but the same cannot be said of the visuals, which are absolutely great (and the audio is no slouch either). Fans of the film will no doubt love this presentation and I feel confident in recommending it as a blind-buy or rental for those not adverse to films that don’t come conform to the usual archetypes.
* Note: The images below are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Chris Gould
Suitable only for persons of 12 years and over
Release Date: 27th June 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 French, DTS 5.1 German, DTS 5.1 Italian, DTS 5.1 Spanish, Audio Description Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Subtitles: English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Icelandic, Norwegian, Swedish
Extras: The Secrets of Never Let Me Go, Still Galleries, Theatrical Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Mark Romanek
Cast: Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Charlie Rowe, Isobel Meikle-Small, Ella Purnell
Genre: Drama and Romance
Length: 104 minutes
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