Warner Bros. // 2006 // 96 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // May 30th, 2007
"It's all done except the last chapter. I want you to help me. Finish it..."
Darren Aronofsky (Pi) had been attempting to make The Fountain for several years. He finally managed to get the film made, and the resulting reviews fell into the prototypical "love it or hate it" category. The film has an almost 50/50 split out of almost 180 reviews on rottentomatoes.com, and now that the film has finally been released and is out on video, how does Aronofsky's vision look in high definition?
In this story from Aronofsky and collaborator Ari Handel, Tom (Hugh Jackman, X-Men) is a scientist who is on the cusp of a medical breakthrough in curing cerebral cancer. However, in all of the time he is spending to do this, he is neglecting his wife Izzy (Rachael Weisz, Constantine), who is dying of a brain tumor herself. Neglecting might not be the right word, he refuses to accept his wife's pending death, although she has gotten to the point where she accepts her fate. She is an enthusiast on and studies the Mayan people, and has even written a story about a Spanish conquistador who is sent to find a "Tree of Life," which was referenced in the Bible and guarantees eternal life to those who drink its sap. However she hasn't finished the novel, and wants Tom to finish it. That's probably as safe as I want to get in describing the film before I start spoiling anything.
Many people might not remember The Fountain, but probably do remember that at one point several years ago, Brad Pitt grew out a hippie-like beard for the role in Darren Aronofsky's labor of love and follow up to Requiem for a Dream. Unfortunately Pitt bailed (he and proposed co-star Cate Blanchett would go on to play a married couple in 2006's Babel), the studio shut the project down, and Aronofsky came back several years later with a reimagined script and new lead actors.
Sadly, it's regrettable that some people may remember the events before the film more than the film itself because technically, Aronofsky has managed to do something that few people have been unable to accomplish. He's able to weave powerful moments of emotion and drama into a film that has elements of the past and future, and has truly made the first science fiction/romance film with which both men and women can emotionally connect to. With ruminations on mortality and coping with the loss of a loved one, the larger discussion about death being a "disease" or another phase of life is also one of the film's themes.
In glancing over some of the negative reviews, the buzzword through most of them seems to be "pretentious." I'd be willing to concede this in some scenes, though I'm not entirely sure how a 90-minute film can be considered pretentious. If the bone of contention involves watching three separate incarnations of Jackman over the span of several centuries, I'd say that perhaps they're missing the point. Any elements of science fiction could be distracting people from the main story, which is that Tom tries desperately to cure Izzy of her disease, and loses focus of the important thing, which is that to live forever might not include a physical sense, that living spiritually might be a little more powerful and lasting. With the offer of finishing her book, Izzy puts Tom in a personal position to determine the ending, not unlike what he's doing at work. And yet the story still shows that eternal life might not be what it's all cracked up to be.
It doesn't hurt the film that the performances also turn out to be stellar. Jackman has to carry three different characters and make them all worth watching, which he manages to do rather well. With Tom being the predominant one, this is probably his best work yet. As Izzy, Weisz gives her a confidence, grace and a well-timed mixture of strength and vulnerability that few actresses manage to pull off. She also appears in the other period scenes, though she seems a little bit too aloof in those positions. It's a minor qualm which is the only reason that I'm not giving the film's acting performances a perfect score.
Technically, the 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks excellent on high definition. There are a lot of shots that focus on the detail of the characters, and everything looks sharp. Any colors that are exhibited through the film appear rather lush and the depth provided makes them look like artistic prints that take on a life of their own. The Dolby Digital Plus sounds excellent as well, and normally, you'd have to overcompensate on dialogue, spoken or muted, but there's no need here, everything sounds clear and audible. From an extras point of view, the showcase feature is "Death and Rebirth," an hour-long look at the making of the film comprised of six featurettes. First is "Australia" and Aronofsky's thoughts on the project and the interviews he does with the crew while doing location scouting. "The 21st Century" focuses on the production post-studio shutdown as things pick up in Montreal, and the intention of the production design. "Spain -- 16th Century" focuses on the era that was shown in the film, and shows some of the footage that was shot during that time. Switching gears to "New Spain," it's really nothing more than more production scenes focusing on that particular era along with rehearsals of a battle sequence. "The Endless Field" shows the conquistador in a key moment in the film, while "The Future" covers just that, with Jackman in all his hairless glory, while Weisz and her fiancée (Aronofsky) discuss how to shoot one of the scenes. The HD side of the disc has some exclusives on it, starting with an interview/discussion between Weisz and Jackman on the last day of principal photography. Jackman recalls meeting Aronofsky for the first time and how he was attracted to the role, and other random thoughts on the film. Next is a visual effects breakdown of a half dozen shots that appear in the film, and then a scene to storyboard comparison of a chunk of footage. Some of the macro-photography art which serves as a background for the film runs for about five minutes and is set to the film's score and oddly enough, makes for a nice high definition screen saver if you could loop it. The trailer completes both sides of the disc.
Like Judge Bill Gibron, I was also disappointed that there wasn't more participation on the supplements from Aronofsky, a commentary track being first and foremost on the suggestion list. It not only would have helped shed some light on his thoughts on the whole experience, but to hear how he adjusted to it all and the moral he takes going forward. Criterion should look toward to throwing their weight behind this one.
The best way to experience The Fountain is to come into it with very little expectation or assumption, and I firmly believe that you'll be rewarded with a visual and philosophical message unlike few you've seen. It will stay in your mind for days, even weeks after you've watched it, and you will want to watch it repeatedly to get as much out of it as possible.
Not guilty. The court orders those present in the courtroom to experience The Fountain for themselves.
Review content copyright © 2007 Ryan Keefer; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 96 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Inside The Fountain: Death and Rebirth -- Gallery of Six Featurettes Exploring the Movie's Various Periods and Settings
* The Interview
* VFX Step by Step
* Inside the Director's Mind: Scene to Storyboard Comparison
* Peter Parks Bonus -- Macro Photography Loop
* Standard DVD Review
* Official Site