Darren Aronofsky makes films that you'll either love or hate, there's
little middle ground. Breaking on the scene with the thought provoking
Pi (1998) he followed that up with the graphic Requiem for a
Dream (2000) which earned star Ellen Burstyn an Academy Award nomination.
He was pretty quiet for a while after that. He started a project,
had the plug pulled after the star walked off, rewrote the script, and
eventually securing more financing and acting talent. The result
was 2006's The Fountain, a film, like Aronofsky's first two movies,
that is a bit opaque and hard to grasp. If the effort is made to
decipher the clues and understand the themes that are woven through the
movie however, viewers will be rewarded with an intelligent and entertaining
movie that is visually stunning.
through three stories, all taking place in different times, this is a tale
of love, desire, and the search for immortality. The first story,
chronologically, involves Tomas (Hugh Jackman) a Spanish Conquistador who
has traveled to present day Mexico in search of the Tree of Life, the only
thing that can save his country and the Queen (Rachel Weisz) he loves.
In the present day, a research doctor, Dr. Tom Creo, (Hugh Jackman again)
works tirelessly in order to discover a cure for a certain type of brain
tumor. After having a flash of inspiration, he tries an extract from
some tree bark that was discovered in Central America. In monkeys
the serum reverses the ageing process, but he could care less. He
needs to find a cure for this brain growth before his wife (Rachel Weisz)
In the final story, taking place sometime in the future, a lonely monk
(Hugh Jackman) is traveling through space in a bubble with a large, dying
tree. He's taking it to a nebula where he hopes it will be reborn.
three stories, intertwined like a vine growing on a tree, all tell the
same tale, of a man desperately trying to save the thing he loves.
This is a complex, philosophical film which looks at the nature of love
and loss, and how you can lose sight of what you want while trying to get
the gold ring. While occasionally the film becomes a little too overt
delivering its MESSAGE, especially at the end, it is generally subtle.
The film takes its time and unveils its meaning slowly and with deliberate
There is a lot in this movie, and it would undoubtedly hold up well
to multiple viewings. There are many themes and much visual symbolism
that run through the film, some of them fairly subtle, which would become
more apparent on repeated viewings. One of the themes was how trees
are illustrated throughout the movie. When Tomas talks to Queen Isabella,
she's standing behind a beautifully carved gate of intertwined branches,
and when she moves in front of it for the first time viewers can tell that
her gown is covered with a design that resembles the roots of a tree.
In the future tale, Tommy keeps track of how long he's been traveling by
tattooing lines that encircle his arms, just like the rings of a tree.
The film is filled with underlying details like this, (my favorite is how
the movie goes from dark sets to bright light as the story progresses,
illustrating the character's intellectual awakening) and that makes it
a rich source of things to think about and discuss with friends.
In addition to the multilayered story and thoughtful direction, the
movie has a strong cast. Hugh Jackman is revealed as a powerful actor
who is destined for great things. While he was fine in the X-Men
movies (and okay in Van Helsing,) I was surprised at the depth and strength
of his performance. Playing a triple role can't be easy, and he managed
to make each of his three characters seem like different and distinct people
but with similar traits and personalities.
1.85:1 image is about standard for the recent BR releases, which is to
say it looks very good with only a few defects. This is actually
one disc that is hard to judge the video quality since the movie intentionally
has some very soft scenes and overly bright images where the light washes
out details. One of the themes of the movie is Thomas' journey from
darkness into light. The film starts out very dark with lots of detail
obscuring shadows but as it progresses the images have more and more light,
and in a couple of scenes, as I mentioned, this washes out many of the
details. This is what the director and DP were trying to achieve
and the disc reproduces those effects well.
There are some scenes that pop off the screen with incredible detail.
Many of the future scenes with the tree traveling through space are magnificent
looking. The jungles of "New Spain" are green and lush and look like
you could reach into your television and touch the plants. The picture
has a slight green push during the story that takes place in the past,
but this was most probably intentional. Other scenes are not as vivid
however. The hospital scenes, while being reproduced well, tend to
look a little flat and lifeless. The level of detail is generally
good too, though some of the scenes could have a little more fine detail.
Those are the exception however, and some sequences, such as where Tomas
meets the Queen are stunning in their intensity.
On the digital side things look very good. There was a touch of
mosquito noise in a very few scenes, and one or two instances of light
posterization, but these defects were rare. Overall this was a very
nice looking disc. Since this is such a visually dynamic film, I'd
strongly recommend that anyone thinking about a purchase spring for the
BD copy. I'm sure the added detail makes the movie much more enjoyable.
This film comes with a 5.1 DD soundtrack as well as a French dub, also
in DD 5.1. It is obvious that director Darren Aronofsky paid as much
attention to the aural aspects of this film as he did to the visuals.
The soundtrack is very impressive. Like the video, there isn't just
one style of mixing employed here; some of the scenes have multiple layers
of dialog piled one on top of the other, sometimes the things people are
saying dominating the mix, while in other parts of the movie the whispers
are competing with ambient noises. All of these different styles
come through loud and clear, (though there are some parts that are intentionally
muddled and hard to discern.) The full soundstage is used to very
good effect too. While there aren't many fancy front-to-back pans
where a sound bounces around the room, the movie does put viewers in the
middle of the action with its excellent use of the surrounds and subwoofer.
Localization is very good and the dynamic range is just fine. I do
wish that a lossless PCM track was included, but you can't have everything.
There are subtitles in English, French, and Spanish.
This disc has a nice selection of bonus material, but it does feel like
there could be more. There is no director's commentary for starters,
but the 6 ton elephant in the room, as far as the bonus material goes,
is the fact that the original version of the movie is barely mentioned.1
I would have been interested too hear about the differences in the script,
what Brad Pitt didn't like about the original, and how the decreased budget
affected the story itself. None of this is addressed unfortunately.
The meat of the extras is the hour + featurette Inside The Fountain:
Death and Rebirth. This is video diary-type feature which is
split into six sections (there is a 'play all' button) and covers various
parts of production. The first part does mention the original version
of the film and shows some behind the scenes shots on location in Australia
and they show when Aronofsky told everyone that production was halted,
but they never explained why or gave many details at all. The other
sections deal with restarting the project and each of the three time periods,
editing, music, etc. The behind the scenes sections were intercut
with interviews with the crew and it was pretty interesting overall, though
it did drag in parts.
The Interview is a 12-minute discussion with Hugh Jackman about
the film and philosophy. I wasn't too enthralled by this piece, but
those who are interested in Jackman's outlook on life will eat it up.
Inside the Director's Mind is a 16-minute reel of storyboard-to-film
comparisons (in black and white) which quickly grew old. Step
by Step is a look at how the special effects were created, one step
at a time, and the Peter Parks Bonus - Macro Photography Loop is
basically a screen saver with some nice images set to music. There
is also a theatrical trailer.
Though it took years to get to the screen, The Fountain was worth
the wait. A fine film, this is a show that people who like looking
for hidden symbolism and piecing together the meanings of seemingly unrelated
events will enjoy. If you're looking for a straight forward narrative
or a film with a lot of action you should pass this one by. But if
you're looking for a movie that doesn't talk down to the audience and is
a bit opaque at times in additon to being visually stunning, this would
be one to check out. Recommended.
1) The film first went into production in 2002
with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the lead roles, ans with a $75 million
budget. After large sets were built and much of the preproduction
completed, Pitt and Aronofsky had irreconsilable creative differences and
Pitt left the project. Without the big name star, the studio pulled
the funding and the production stopped. After that Aronofsky rewrote
the script over the period of a couple of years and eventually acquired
more funding (though this version only has half the budget of the original
production) and two name stars.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.