Submarine (US - BD RA)
Jonathan takes a look at the US Blu-ray of Richard Ayoade's first feature film..
Young Oliver Tate’s coming of age is coming even sooner than expected. Prone to daydreaming, listening to French crooners, and indulging other self-absorbed fantasies, Oliver (Craig Roberts) suddenly finds himself submerged in real-life, dual challenges – plotting to lose his virginity with a quirky new girlfriend (Yasmin Paige), while also struggling to reconcile his parents’ (Golden Globe winner Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) marriage, even though his mom seems smitten with the self-help guru next door (Paddy Considine). (From the Anchor Bay synopsis)
I have to confess that I was a little wary of Submarine going into it. I have a tendency to be annoyed by movies that pander to indie crowds, and it was apparent just from the original poster (with a font structure straight out of a Godard film) that it would be steeped in French New Wave references. The trailer also made me feel like the film might be imitating Wes Anderson's style. But the glowing reviews and seeing the hilarious Richard Ayoade (from the original IT Crowd and Darkplace) attached as a first time director were enough to get me in a theatre seat. By the time I was fifteen minutes in, my stupid presumptions and cynicisms had been obliterated. It certainly does have references, but they’re used in clever and subversive ways, and often as a basis by which our hopelessly romantic protagonist views the world around him. I’m probably making it sound like this movie is all about clever film references, but it’s not. At its core, it’s a confident and sweet coming-of-age story about a teenager trying to juggle between saving his parent’s relationship, while starting a romance of his own.
Craig Roberts, in his first feature film, is immediately likable as our leading man, Oliver Tate. Ayoade wrote and directed Submarine, but the screenplay feels like it was pieced together by the fictional Oliver Tate himself. The film indulges in his dramatized views of himself and the world, using his self-aware narration and even opening with a "My Dear Americans," letter to the audience; from Oliver Tate. "Sometimes I wish a camera crew was following my every move," he narrates at one point, and it seems as though this entire film was wished into existence by the character. These touches come at a rapid pace, often filled with brilliant bouts of humour and witty observations, and somehow never grow tiresome. At one point he bullies another student from class to impress a girl, the result of which is shown using that bullet time effect pioneered in Buffalo '66. When he notices the bullied student has stopped coming to class, he immediately writes her a bullet-pointed pamphlet to encourage her and help her get over her grief. Does that sound like an ordinary teenager to you?
The girl he takes interest in is Jordana (Yasmin Paige), a sly manipulative girl who holds her cigarettes with an old fashioned demure and has a haircut that echoes some of Godard's leading ladies ( Vivre Sa Vie comes to mind). One day she asks Oliver to meet her under a bridge. As a train passes by overhead, she kisses him and begins taking pictures of them with a Polaroid camera in a scene so stylized you'd be forgiven to think an execution was occurring. It turns out she was using him to get back at her ex-boyfriend, but when Oliver is bullied by her ex as a result and chooses to defend her honor, she falls for him and their erratic relationship begins. Oliver's other struggle comes by way of his parents, played by the brilliant Sally Hawkins ( Happy-Go-Lucky) and Noah Taylor ( Almost Famous), a terrific actor who I fear may never get his due. They both care deeply for Oliver but are completely incapable of giving him the kind of attention and inspiration he needs, possibly because they are too busy struggling with their own grief. Oliver realizes, through some quirky ingenuity, that his parents have not been intimate for some time. His father seems depressed and disconnected from the world, and his mother appears to be enamored by their neighbor Graham (Paddy Considine); a wacky mystic guru who performs seminars where he tries to convince people that they are prisms, and each person projects a colourful aura. Maybe I'm imaging it, but it often feels like these colors are used in the movie to represent types of characters and emotional states. Graham's ridiculous nature only makes the bitter realization that his parents are unhappy more difficult for Oliver to swallow.
Such struggles could make for an especially bleak movie, and even though the film takes place under the gloomy veil of Wales overcast skies, Ayoade never demands pity for his main characters, and the movie refrains from wallowing in its sadder aspects. It does this by counterbalancing the forlorn elements with a barrage of charm and wit. Tate's ideas of how to be a responsible lover and son are amusingly offbeat and naive in a way that I've never seen in a movie character. He would give Rushmore's Max Fischer a run for his money in a duel of eclecticism. The two films would make an excellent double feature. Some of the movie's best laughs come from Paddy Considine as Graham. Dressed in all black and flaunting a mullet like it's the hottest new fashion statement, he brings some fun and aloofness to one of the film's dramatic conflicts. This amazing balance that Ayoade maintains keeps things contemplative instead of depressing, and the quirk factor never overstays its welcome. The wide array of filming techniques used keep the movie fresh on a visual level, and much like the films of Edgar Wright, the editing has a comedic sense of timing on its own. Submarine is a comedic, dramatic, and stylistic success, and if Ayoade can pull this off with his first film, I'm thrilled to see what he'll do next.
Submarine arrives courtesy of Anchor Bay on BD-25, using just under 20 gigabytes for the entire release. So it comes as a bit of a surprise that the picture quality is actually quite good. This is a 1080p/24 (AVC) transfer with plenty of noticeable inconsistencies, but they're isolated to the various filming techniques used by Ayoade and company. Though filmed in 35 mm, a small number of scenes have a distinct Super 8 appearance, complete with full-frame cropping and rounded corners. There's a lovely grain texture to most of the film, usually showing up more in foggy outdoor scenes or dark interiors, but barely noticeable at other times. The films colour palette is mostly natural, but the foggy overcast weather of Wales keeps most of the colours from being too exuberant. Indoor scenes are shot dark with a warm lighting. Certain shots are illuminated only by fireworks or flares, and this transfer does a wonderful job of capturing the harsh gradations of bright lights fading into deep blacks without any intrusive compression artefacts. I did notice a stray scratch mark here and there, but none last more than a frame.
This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 gets the job done quite well, but it is never particularly dynamic. Surround channels are only used for some ambient noise, be it the waves gently washing up to shore or just the sound of a breeze rattling the trees. That said, the sound has a lot of depth and the soundtrack from Alex Turner (lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys) sounds terrific. The music has a relaxed 60's vibe. It's not something I'd find myself listening to outside of viewing the movie, but it fits the film like a glove. The original score from Andrew Hewitt is also very good, sometimes featuring a lively sinister organ playing during more mischievous scenes. So while I can't recommend this audio track for those looking to show off a new 5.1 system, it does do a great job of recreating the theatrical experience of the film and its modest technical ambitions.
I was disappointed to find that this release does not include the commentary track with director Richard Ayoade that is on the UK Blu-ray, but we still have some deleted/extended scenes and a brief but likable "making of" segment.
Deleted and Extended Scenes (12:53, SD): There are nine of them total. One scene is footage of Jordana talking to a news camera about Tate's imaginary death. There is some extended footage of Graham's seminars and an awkward dinner table scene in the Tate home, to give you some examples. The movie moves at such a rapid pace that its difficult to see how these raw scenes might have possibly fit into the big picture.
Making of Submarine (10:57, SD): This is a short but enjoyable feature. It's mostly just the cast members talking about how much they liked working with each other and they're feelings on the characters they play in the film. It's a good watch, but I found myself yearning for a more in-depth and informative extra.
Submarine, with its abundant wit and charming performances, is one of the year's finest offerings. Ayoade's love of classic movies is contagious instead of distracting, and hopefully it'll be the first of many feature films for him and the talented young actors. Anchor Bay gives the film an excellent video transfer with an acceptable audio track, but loses points in the extras department for lacking solid features from the UK release.
* Note: The above images 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 Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 4th October 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: The Making of Submarine, Deleted Scenes
Easter Egg: No
Director: Richard Ayoade
Cast: Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine
Genre: Comedy and Drama
Length: 98 minutes
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