Within our lifetimes we've marveled as biologists have managed to look at ever smaller and smaller things;
And astronomers have looked further and further into the dark night sky, back in time and out in space.
But maybe the most mysterious of all is neither the small nor the large; it's us, up close.
Could we even recognize ourselves, and, if we did, would we know ourselves?
What would we say to ourselves? What would we learn from ourselves?
And what would we really like to see if we could stand outside ourselves and look at us?
- Richard E. Berendzen
Intimate science fiction films are few and far between, and that Another Earth exists at all is a testament to the talents of director Mike Cahill and actress Brit Marling. Another Earth uses a newly discovered planet as a catalyst for its heroine to make amends for taking the lives of two strangers. The first of two films about rogue planets to hit this year - the other being Lars von Trier's haunting Melancholia - Another Earth skillfully mixes heavy drama with sci-fi undertones to craft a satisfying tale of redemption.
High school senior Rhoda Williams (Marling) celebrates her acceptance to MIT on the night that a new planet first can be seen from earth. Rhoda's dreams and the lives of three people are destroyed when she drunkenly plows into the front of a BMW. The father (William Mapother), a musician and college professor, is comatose for days; his wife and child die at the scene. After four years in prison, Rhoda returns to her family and begins working as a janitor at a local school. The planet, called Earth 2, is now a brilliant mirror image of our own planet and hangs prominently in the sky.
Marling, who is most known for Boxers and Ballerinas, a documentary she co-wrote with Cahill, plays Rhoda with beautiful, open acceptance of the pain she has caused Mapother's John Burroughs, who now lives in squalor in his decaying farmhouse. Rhoda goes to the house to apologize but instead pretends to be a maid and offers to clean up his mess. She makes a habit out of the job, and becomes close to John, who does not know Rhoda's secret because she was a minor at the time of the accident. Contact is eventually made with Earth 2, and it is discovered that life there is some alternate version of life on Earth.
Shot for only $200,000, Another Earth is impressively polished, with a pulsating soundtrack from Fall on Your Sword. The science fiction themes subtly bolster the central conflict, and it all comes together remarkably well. What better way for Rhoda and John to find peace than in the promise of an Earth 2 self that never had to experience such pain and loss? It sounds bizarre, but Cahill keeps the action so focused that Another Earth never loses its way amid celestial posturing. Instead, it is content to hint at its heritage, as in the scene where John plays an alien invasion-esque melody by taking bow to saw.
Mapother and Marling carry Another Earth on their shoulders, but are assisted by a tight, Spartan script. Only in one moment of release did Rhoda's actions feel phony, and Marling walks the fine line between punishing herself for past misdeeds and looking toward a brighter future. Another Earth asks many questions but provides few answers, and I suspect some will not love its final note. Another Earth is a rare wisp of science-fiction poetry, and such a unique film deserves to be seen.
Another Earth was shot in 720p on a shoestring budget, but the Blu-ray's 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer has some impressive moments. The film's digital origins lead to some life-like detail, especially in close-ups. Marling's blue eyes sparkle, and the confines of John's home are deep and clear. Of course, noise can be heavy, especially in outdoor scenes, and crush runs rampant in a few darker shots. There is also some aliasing and jagged edges, but the bold, blue-tinged color scheme is impressive.
The film's 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is perfectly serviceable if not especially immersive. Dialogue is clear and balanced well with the film's rhythmic score. Ambient effects are present but only occasionally wind up in the rear and surround speakers. The LFE kicks in during a party and a couple of more jolting scenes, but this is a somewhat subdued mix. An English DVS track is also available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Another Earth arrives as a 3-disc set from Fox that includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film and a digital copy disc. A slipcover that replicates the striking cover art wraps the hinged Blu-ray case.
The extra features are not nearly as impressive as they first appear. The music video for "The First Time I Saw Jupiter" by Fall on Your Sword (3:19/HD) is an interesting mashup of images set to a pulsating club track. In the deleted scenes (9:20/HD), viewers get a glimpse of Rhoda's concerned parents and some unused effects footage. Fox Movie Channel Presents: Direct Effect with Mike Cahill (4:17/SD) is a short piece about the director in which he reveals the challenges of shooting with almost no budget. Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Brit Marling (4:22/SD) features a few remarks from the actress about her role in the film, and Mapother also discusses his character in Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with William Mapother (4:22/SD). The Science Behind Another Earth (2:39/HD) provides no useful information despite the input from an astrophysicist, and Creating Another Earth (2:29/HD) is too short to cover much ground. The extras conclude with the film's theatrical trailer, a blurb on the soundtrack and a sneak peak of Atlas Shrugged: Part I.
While it is not the only film about a newly discovered planet to be released in 2011, Another Earth is a uniquely haunting drama with science fiction elements running through its veins. Actress Brit Marling shines as a young woman trying to make amends for the terrible mistake that sent the life of William Mapother's college professor into a downward spiral. Director Mike Cahill's film is moving and accomplished, and deserves to be seen on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.