Does the state of the world scare you? Terrorism, fanaticism, the price of gasoline? It could be worse. Look at Children of Men. It envisions a world where most of the earth is in complete chaos. The few places that have kept social order, such as Britain, have become fascist states that round up immigrants and put them in detention camps. And to top things off, the human race has become infertile. Yeah, and you thought over $3 a gallon was a raw deal.
Children of Men follows Theo (Clive Owen), an apathetic ex-activist who now wishes to live at the bottom of a whiskey bottle. As the film opens, the youngest person on earth, dubbed "Baby Diego" (Juan Yacuzzi) has died, prompting entirely new levels of depression for an already oppressed populace. Theo is unexpectedly kidnapped by his ex-wife, Julian (Julianne Moore), who now works for an activist group called The Fishes. They have in their possession the first pregnant woman in 18 years, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), and is charged with taking her to safety. Can he overcome his malaise and help her? Will her baby be the thing to unite humanity, or divide it even further?
Children of Men tackles a lot of weighty subjects, but not all successfully. The movie starts off shockingly, with Theo getting coffee and moments later watching the coffee shop explode as he's right outside of it. From there until the introduction of Kee, the movie really clicks. Cuaron's vision of the year 2027 is brought vividly to life with slight adjustments to the world as we know it. There are wonderful lines that point to the state of the world and the culture and the interplay between Michael Caine and Clive Owen go a long way to making everything feel natural and believable.
Once the plot really kicks in, the movie lost me. Well, "lost me" may be a bit strong, but my interest level definitely waned as things became more about getting Kee to safety and less about living in the world. Still, Clive Owen manages to carry the film admirably. As long as he's on the screen, I can't complain too much. Julianne Moore doesn't really get the chance to show off her chops, as she isn't the focus of the film, but it's always good to see her. Michael Caine is sublime in a part that's very much against type. So on the acting front, I have no problems.
Similarly, Cuaron's visual sense is equally enjoyable. Since Y Tu Mama Tambien, Cuaron has been developing his visual style to greater and greater effect. It was one of the many heights in Harry Potter and the Prisoner and Azkaban and it's even more impressive here. A lot of the film is done in single takes, with fluid shots, and some of the shots venture into "How did they do that?" territory (which actually gets examined in the special features). Cuaron understands what's important in a scene, and how to make an audience sit up and take notice.
Overall, Children of Men is a very watchable movie with a lot of potential. The fact that it didn't quite meet the potential shouldn't be held against it, as the final product is still very good.
The HD DVD:
Universal presents Children of Men in a 1.85:1 VC-1 transfer. There's a lot to admire about this transfer. It's got a very high level of detail. You can see stretch marks on Kee's stomach, the slightest detail of piercings that some of the Fish have, and more. The color palette is often oversaturated, but even then I didn't see any blooming or color bleeding. Nicely done.
Continuing its policy of shunning lossless codecs, Universal offers up a Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track for this disc. The sound design was really engaging, with a lot of details coming through against some of the bigger sounds (such as the coffee shop explosion or gunshots). The climax is practically alive with sound all around you. Also available is a French 5.1 track.
Children of Men is a combo disc, with the film in HD on one side and in standard definition on the other.
U-Control: The HD side of the disc features U-Control, Universal's HD-exclusive interactive supplemental feature. This particular U-Control contains PiP commentary, a closer look at some of the posters that pop up throughout the movie, and the full video of all of the ads seen throughout the picture. The PiP commentary doesn't provide enough information, but the feature is worth it for the commercials alone.
Deleted Scenes: Three scenes, all superfluous, all good candidates for the cutting room floor. They have a very unfinished look to them.
The Possibility of Hope: A puerile half-hour documentary shockingly directed by Cuaron. The piece collects several experts to discuss things like globalization, global warming, and cultural alienation. The whole thing quickly dissolves into anti-globalization propaganda, with the interviewees being very pedantic and frankly annoying. I'm sorely tempted to downgrade the extras rating for the inclusion of this.
Commentary on Children of Men by Slavoj Zizek: One of the participants in the Hope documentary, Zizek discusses why the film is so effective. His comments show little insight and, in fact, a later extra on the art design does a better job of saying what he's trying to say.
Under Attack: A brilliant featurette on the fluid camera techniques employed in the film. It focuses on two scenes: The mob attacking the car and the coffee shop explosion. The car sequence is particularly fascinating, as it shows how the crew built a brand new piece of machinery to allow the car scene to be shot in one take without any cuts.
Theo & Julian: A discussion by Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, and Alfonso Cuaron about those two pivotal characters.
Futuristic Design: Another excellent piece, this time about designing the look of the future. Interviews with many different crew members explain Cuaron's philosophy, from graffiti to clothing to architecture. This extra further cemented my opinion that the best part of the film is the world created.
Creating The Baby: A concise moment by moment recreation of how they created the baby birthing scene. They did such a good job that I had no idea the baby was entirely CGI.
Children of Men was praised by many as the best film of 2006. While I can't agree with that, I do feel that the movie is very much worth seeing, if only for experiencing the environments created by Cuaron and his team, and the strong performances by the actors. This HD DVD has admirable picture and sound, making it the preferred presentation. Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.