Universal // 2006 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // May 26th, 2009
As the sound of the playgrounds faded, the despair set in.
Ancient Greek philosophers would often discuss the idea of immortality. Without a religious structure that guarantees eternal life, they had to face the fact that the end of their lives really was the end. Yet, even with this morose knowledge, it didn't stop people producing art, teaching, philosophizing, or generally trying to make names for themselves. For these thinkers, whose work we still pour over, immortality is granted through society's descendants, who remember the work and keep their names alive. If he was real, Achilles died thousands of years ago, but we still make movies about him. Socrates, of whose work nothing survives, was immortalized by his student, Plato; the Socratic Method is still a common idea. What happens, then, when there isn't another generation? If we are the last of humanity, than what is the point of doing anything?
The year is 2027. Eighteen years ago, the last baby was born. The world became infertile in 2009, and while this may sound like a beautiful dream of blissful airline travel, society has devolved. The efforts of science fail and soon, when people realize that there is no future for the human race, they break into violent factions at war with one another. In a sparkle of hope, a revolutionary group called the Fishes has come into contact with a young girl who actually is pregnant. For the sake of humanity, the group wants to get the girl to a sea-based group called the Human Project, dedicated to solving this problem. The leader of the Fishes (Julianne Moore, Safe) recruits her ex-lover and a former revolutionary himself (Clive Owen, Shoot 'Em Up). Unwilling though he may be, he must risk sacrificing his own life for the sake of the next generation.
Judge Gibron has already written a spot-on analysis of Children of Men for the standard definition release, so read that. I'll just write a few brief words on Cuarón's spectacular piece of dystopian science fiction.
This is the kind of sci-fi I can get behind. There are no other worlds and no alien races invading our own. The England of Children of Men, and the rest of the world we don't see, may not understand the reason of their infertility, but the effects of that fact are solely the fault of man. This is the scary side of the genre, the all-too-real and often prescient sci-fi that sticks in your craw. The comically monstrous thought police of Brazil; the media-addicted junkies of Videodrome; the aging, frightened, reactionary citizens of Children of Men. All of these contain the kernels of truth that give the best science fiction its importance and gravity.
Children of Men is far from a stale cautionary tale, however. Cuarón's story, adapted from the novel by P.D. James, is as relevant as it can be, but is focused just as heavily on keeping the action moving at a steady clip. The only scenes that are stationary and somewhat slow are utterly necessary for character and story. Cuarón knows just when to break from these scenes and get us back to the action. What really amazes me about its pacing, though, is that the biggest action set pieces, those that in other movies are edited into a hyper mess, are presented virtually without cuts, giving us minutes-long takes that place us in the center of danger for an incredibly visceral experience that gets better with multiple viewings.
On Blu-ray, Children of Men excels. The film was actually my first HD-DVD purchase, way back when that was still a viable format, as an SD/HD flipper disc, but has finally been released to the winning technology. While this release is identical to the previous, it couldn't have come soon enough. The transfer looks absolutely brilliant and is a huge upgrade over its SD counterpart, which was a sub-par effort. The stark landscapes are beautifully rendered and the colors are rich and full, even through the cold grays and blues Cuarón employs for atmosphere. The details in the picture are superbly crisp. In the home of Jasper, the old hippy played by Michael Caine (Blame It on Rio), the edges of every leaf of his pot plants are clearly define and it's shockingly easy to read the small print in the newspapers and advertisements throughout the film. The 5.1 DTS surround mix is equally fine. The sound design in the film is outstanding to begin with and the separation in this mix is near perfect. All the dialog is very clear and is differentiated throughout the channels to good spatial effect. When the action gets cooking, though, so do your speakers. The initial explosion inside the coffee shop absolutely rocks and the ensuing mayhem is appropriately chaotic. The real kicker is afterward; as the commotion dies down, we're left with a ringing, as though our speakers have developed Tinnitus. It's fantastic in every way.
My only complaint, and it's a small one really, lies in the extras. There's nothing inherently wrong with them, and some are very good, but they are exactly the same as the original releases. Nearly two years have passed and there's nothing new to say? As it goes, the features, presented in standard definition, start off with a series of deleted scenes that don't add a lot to the film. The featurettes, however, add plenty of depth to an already thought-provoking film. Some deal more generally with the production and the performances, while others are very specific about the processes of some of the longer, more harrowing shots in the film. A brief discussion with Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek is one of the rare special features to demand a certain level of intelligence and critical thought from its audience, which is a refreshing change. The features not available on the SD release, but which did exist on the HD-DVD version, are included in Universal's "U-Control" feature, which allows for picture-in-picture discussion of the film and extended looks at the videos and commercials that so beautifully pollute the background.
Children of Men is an amazing film and the best picture of 2006. Relevant and intelligent, with great performances and sharp dialog delivered at a heart pounding pace, this is near perfect science fiction. While it's too bad that all the versions of the film on DVD are the same, the brilliant picture and sound more than make up for the lack of added features. Children of Men on Blu-ray is absolutely worth the upgrade.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (German)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes