British director Michael Winterbottom is a favorite of mine, as his efforts, while not always successful, are at least always interesting. He also manages to change up subject matter greatly in his films, really going after something different each time out, from the journalists in the Bosnian war in "Welcome to Sarajevo", to the working-class Londoners of "Wonderland" to the goldminers of "The Claim" to the music scene in "24 Hour Party People". "Code 46" is another vast departure - a sci-fi film somewhat similar to Andrew Niccol's wonderful "Gattaca" and a companion piece to Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind". While the film doesn't boil its ideas down to their essence quite as well as Niccol's film did, this is still a very thoughtful and interesting film that mixes sci-fi, romance and drama well.
The film takes place in the not-too-distant future, where documents govern where people can go in most areas of the world and when, engineered viruses can give people new things, like added empathy, and finally, genetically similar couples can not procreate. The film opens with married investigator William (Tim Robbins) in Shanghai trying to sort out a crime. A potential suspect, Maria (Samantha Morton) comes across his path, and he falls for her almost instantly, eventually falling into bed with her. The only problem is that their mating is considered a Code 46 violation, forcing the two to forget about each other - her mind being erased of the whole incident, due to regulations. Once back, he finds out that there's trouble related to his journey to Shanghai, he must go back - and will run across Maria again. I won't give away any further elements of the plot.
Shot in a series of different locations around the globe (London, China, India and the United Arab Emirates) at a budget of only $7.5m, "Code 46" looks simply stunning - every building, every road, every place has such a silky, dreamlike flavor and texture that the whole movie is simply amazing to take in. Add to it all a hint of noir feeling, some other interesting touches (the characters speak a language that is often a mixture of languages) and the movie has a perfectly constructed atmosphere - pleasantly, done without the aid of CGI. Performances from Robbins and Morton may not be the best work ever from either, but both actors do offer excellent performances that don't underplay too much, which certainly could have happened, given the material. There's a bit too much narration from Morton's character, but the majority of it works fairly well for the story and the feel of the film. Despite a quiet, almost dreamlike quality, the film maintains a nice pace - I never looked at my watch.
The story of "Code 46" doesn't always gel together, but it's an utterly gorgeous sci-fi offering that, while not always successful, remains ambitious, thoughtful and entirely involving. The movie really didn't get much of a release at all in the US - hopefully, it will do better on DVD.
VIDEO: "Code 46" is presented by MGM in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture quality is quite good, if not flawless. Overall, it's another in a solid line of well-done efforts from the studio. Sharpness and detail are first-rate throughout much of the film, aside from a couple of wide shots that seem slightly softer by comparison.
The picture did present some grain, but it appeared to be an intentional element of the photography. The picture appeared crisp and clean, free of print flaws such as marks, scratches or other signs of wear. Some light edge enhancement appeared, but it didn't cause distraction. No pixelation or other faults were seen. The film's fascinating, often cool color palette looked well-rendered, with nice saturation and no smearing.
SOUND: "Code 46" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The film's soundtrack is fairly low-key, with surrounds not really offering anything more than light-to-mild ambience throughout the proceedings. Still, it works, as the material really doesn't call for much more than that sound-wise. Dialogue remained clear and easily understood throughout, and the audio seemed crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: I would have liked to hear a commentary from director Winterbottom and/or his usual screenwriter, Frank Cornell Boyce. Unfortunately, we don't get one, but there are some supplements included: we get a 17-minute "making of" documentary, 4 deleted scenes, the film's theatrical trailer and promos for other MGM titles.
Final Thoughts: "Code 46" got a bit of a mixed reaction when it was given a minor release, but I thought it was an intriguing, thoughtful and beautifully filmed mixture of sci-fi, romance and drama. The performances were very good, as well. Hopefully, the picture will find more of an audience when it hits home video. MGM's DVD doesn't offer much in the way of supplements, but audio/video quality is more than satisfying.