Few films have touched me the way Aronofsky's The Fountain did.
After a few quick discussions with acquaintances about the film, I really didn't know exactly what to expect when my eyes focused on the screen in preparation for this. Darren Aronofsky's potent attention to detail and emotive angst works like glorious shots to the face and flushing arsenic to the nerves, as evident from his masterful creations Pi and Requiem for a Dream. However, this was a science fiction love story packing together two of Hollywood's flavor-of-the-decade stars, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz. Take into mind that both of these performers consistently impressed me in the past, meriting a higher-than-expected quality from a thoughtful, time dancing drama.
It was a detour of style, to say the least. However, Aronofsky's penmanship and directorial style surmounted any of my grievances and wavering expectations about the plot. Once the film's initial, potently beautiful chords struck, however, thus started The Fountain's smattering upon my own heart and senses. Opening with wide-eyed ambition and sweeping shifts in time and narrative, the amber essence of the film's mystical, timeless nature swirls and envelopes the viewer in a shimmering field, refusing release for nearly two hours.
Essentially, The Fountain is a tale encapsulating a similar narrative across three periods of time. Mankind has searched for an answer to eternal life since the dawn of intelligent existence. It's a forever quest for the physical and metaphysical Fountain of Youth. Broken into three segments that equally blur the line between fantasy and reality, as well as past and future, Aronofsky's head trip of a romantic drama takes us on a flooding journey across these lines in a frantic, wretchedly dire search for an answer. It's a search branded with an epic, unfathomably magical narrative vast enough to rack and challenge the mind and soul for days to come. All the segments touch upon differing points, differing mentalities, but all amidst a journey for the same reward.
This search spans across time for such an answer, from the unwavering gallant resolve of a 16th century Spanish conquistador to the modern day struggle for prolonged longevity in the eyes of a thoroughly enamored doctor (Hugh Jackman). Starkly potent and lush parallels fume from The Fountain in glistening, awe-inspiring mysticism. As if the two existing narratives lacked the punch and flavor to deliver any kind of philosophical couth, consider the beautifully rendered settings within the vast expands of the far future. Floating towards a glistening resolve with a tree within a bubble, a balding monk-ish soul searcher travels towards the rich, glistening plateau of the universe with his beloved in his thoughts and prayers. In fact, each of these periods in time exhibit an enamored female inspiration (Rachel Weisz).
Yeah, The Fountain's a complex work. But by God, it's a sumptuous, wholly engrossing experience that's entirely worth the focus and engagement on all the splendid nuances.
It's a complex process to even formulate precise thoughts on how this film achieves such a fluent, sweeping scope. However, the potency of the film as a piece of cinema reflects one of the messages within the film - All the right pieces fall together, even amidst the strife and turmoil of life's numerous hindrances. Aronofsky's piece has seen the lion's share of difficulties too, ranging from production completion to casting plummets. Interestingly enough, with the final cast assembled in this beautiful sprawling drama, there's nothing empty or lacking in potency to be found around any corner. Honestly, word for word and nuance for nuance, The Fountain accomplishes everything that it possibly can with faultless elements in play, especially from its key players.
Both Jackman and Weisz had to tackle not one, but three separate roles across this tale. Each character embodied unique demeanors and desires, but all with similar goals. It's within differing nuances that The Fountain's segmented narrative works as well as it does. The charisma from these two leads doesn't splay across the narratives, but feels segmented and quite solid in their own rights. Both Jackman's conquistador and Weisz' matriarch stand strong echoing the modern days' Tommy and Izzy. Rachel Weisz is nothing short of enchanting in almost all of the films that she surfaces in. As is such, her graceful, silky presence in The Fountain is quite expected. However, there's something achingly potent about her Izzy that jerks upon the senses to such a wondrously vast degree that the sympathy that you feel for her almost feels as natural as it would towards another human being. Weisz constantly achieves calculated, saccharine breadth, but does so impeccably well here.
Where the surprise lies, in these eyes, is with Jackman's poise in the lead. Famed from his portrayal as a comic character with alloy claws protruding from his hands, his strength with roles of focused depth also peek in both Christopher Nolan's The Prestige and, in speckles here and there, Woody Allen's comedy Scoop. There's a charismatic, personable air he exhumes, both with deeper and lighter demeanors. In The Fountain, he's detrimentally concentrated and brashly wild amidst his search. His dire thirst for the rapturous fluid of youth isn't seen, but felt. There's an air of overplay within his scenes that proves to be more beneficial than damaging to his portrayals of the steadfast Spaniard, the lovestruck doctor, and the complacent holy man. His woes are undoubtedly aided by the quality support cast, including Aronofsky favorite Ellen Burstyn as a supportive, strong-willed superior to the research doctor Tommy. In short, Jackman grips his respective parts by the rungs and thrashes with intensity through the film in unabashed velocity.
Jackman's performance ensnares the true nature of The Fountain's demeanor: unabashed, mesmerizing velocity. There's a contemplative and wholly symbolic nature about this film that might not align with everyone else's speed, however. Many of the layers of this film take hardcore effort to pry open, crowbar in hand and treasure in sight. Individual interpretation is the key to enjoying this fluttering beauty. However, once discovery is achieved, there's something wholly satisfying about the experience. You learn something deep that echoes deep. What will be learned, however, will depend upon the viewer.
Thankfully, The Fountain also provides ridiculously powerful visual and aural energy to accompany a demanding ride. Aronofsky dances about with visual style, from his frenetic editing in Requiem for a Dream to a brash black and white grittiness in Pi. Here, he's swinging the bat with a golden, shimmering whirlwind of lavish flavor. Instead of the brash winds of a horrible storm, the aural accompaniment is an exercise in acute, delicate scoring from composer Clint Mansell that offers as equally splendid audible experience reflecting off the visuals. Dark, glimmering, and flickering like a gentle flame, this chosen style is something other worldly.
As it should feel as such, since this is an other-worldly film with complicated dissection and metaphysical analysis. Don't expect a simple exercise in cinema from this film, because you'll probably end up disappointed. However, in all its complexity and knotted mysticism, The Fountain holds a very strong capacity to seep into the heart and soul if the viewer is willing. Hinged on a strong fantasy base with a romantic glistening heart, this is a truly enchanting display of beauty amidst the harsh search for eternal vivacity. Most importantly, this is a beautifully complete film that teased and enchanted my heart for many days afterwards.
The Fountain is presented from Warner Bros. in an standard keepcase DVD with attractive coverart and interesting, symbolic discart.
The Fountain is, by far, one of the most beautiful films of the year. Such a visual standout could make for a dreamy DVD, even by standard definition benchmarks. Sadly, however, this transfer for the film doesn't come close to presenting the film in complete splendor. By no means is The Fountain a bad transfer: it's anamorphic and packs a decent punch with detail and color saturation. Most of the color tones were well defined, and sharpness appeared to be quite adequate at times. However, there are some scuffs and bruises along the way. Most apparent is a digital graininess that pops up in densely detailed areas. Where some textures exhibited an adequate level of detail, other scenes can't shake off this hazy and pixelated essence around faces and clustered details. Edge enhancement pops up a few times to a noticeable degree, as well. Where the main problem exists is The Fountain's overall lack of a solid grasp on black levels. They're not terribly pixilated or blocked; they just don't reflect the depth of the theatrical presentation. Alas, it's two sides of a coin that claims a moderately pleasing presentation. This image should scream brilliance, but instead lightly whispers in a barely above average tone.
However, a fair amount of screaming can start about this Dolby 5.1 aural presentation. You hear the statements claiming a film is a "quiet movie" a lot, thus boasting the fact that there are not a lot of sound effects and such. That comes into play with The Fountain as well. One of the central pieces of this film is the incredible score from Clint Mansell. Here, every note and nuance of this composition sounds splendid. Wispy and detailed, the musical accompaniment stringing together all the scenes majestically tickles the ears. All the film's dialogue murmurs and gracefully jumps through the speakers quite well, too. It's not a powerhouse audio presentation, but the clarity and crispness of what's provided serves the film's demeanor well. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish, and French, while a separate French track is available as well.
A prolific multi-disc set could probably be made discussing each and every point of the highs (and extreme lows) of making The Fountain. It seems to have been a problematic and tumultuous path. What we are given here is a multi-portion Making Of gallery. Within each portion, there is an ample range of topics discussed and materials disclosed, from character motivation and minor special effects to the concept artwork involving the Mayan ruins. The segments are as follows:
- 21st Century
- Spain - 16th Century
- New Spain
- Endless Field
- The Future
These featurettes can be played in sequential order with a "Play All" button, or viewed as individual segments. The Australia segment is one of the more compelling features since it discusses the version of The Fountain that never was. Visually interesting is the Endless Field segment, which highlights the conception of the tree and all its components. There's a lot of Aronofsky featured in these pieces, and rightfully so since this film has been his absolute baby since he began work on it. Many discussions about lighting, shooting, camera angles, and the breadth within each of the segmented scenes are covered in this material. Though individually segmented materials covering each of the production elements would've been a nice edition (at least garnering a second disc), the material provided here is quite fitting.
A Theatrical Trailer also highlights this package. It's a safe watch before the film, giving a tense, atmospheric overshot of the film that doesn't reveal much of the internal wonder within.
Will The Fountain stay with everyone the same way it sat with this reviewer? Very doubtful. It's a tricky narrative with a massive suspension of belief required, as well as a thorough focus on whimsy and outlandish points. However, all this left me breathless, speechless, and packed to the brim with incredible swirling thoughts quite a while after my viewing. With this DVD, there's a few quality issues regarding the video presentation, but the musical and verbal quality sounds quite elegant. Undoubtedly, The Fountain comes exceedingly Highly Recommended for film quality alone, and though a little more would be desired in regards to extras and video quality, the disc only trots behind the film's quality by a few steps.
Thomas Spurlin, Staff Reviewer -- DVDTalk Reviews | Personal Blog/Site