The Last Circus
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // $29.98 // October 18, 2011
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 9, 2011
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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R E V I E W S
Graphical Version
"A clown with a machete -- you'll scare the shit out of them."

I've tried. I've failed. There really isn't a way to write any sort of conventional review for The Last Circus and capture just how truly, entrancingly bizarre it is. It's a fever dream, propelled by demented imagery, visceral emotions, and a surreal premise that really only makes some semblance of sense in context.

If I try to churn out a standard issue plot summary, it'll sound impossibly disjointed. "...and then, during the Spanish Civil War, a clown is drafted into a battle that explodes so quickly that he doesn't have time to change out of his dress, hacking apart rebel soldiers with a machete." "...but his son is destined to be a Sad Clown because he's known nothing but misery throughout his young life, and the sole way around that is to exact revenge, only it backfires and the kid's pop gets trampled -- over and over and over -- by a horse." "...and then the Happy Clown, consumed with rage and jealousy, whacks the Sad Clown in the stomach with an oversized mallet until the bell rings and he gets his prize." "Oh, yeah, and then the Sad Clown, following a dehumanizing stint as the colonel's hunting dog, bleaches his face with a vat of sodium hydroxide, mashes a scaldingly hot iron against his cheeks and lips, and carves off his own flesh so he'll be forever scarred with the grisly visage of a clown." No. Álex de la Iglesia weaves his story together almost entirely visually, so I guess I might as well do the same:

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However insane a film you're expecting The Last Circus to be based on that visual onslaught, I promise you it's darker and more depraved than that. I can't help but marvel at a movie so mercurial that it's impossible to predict what demented turn it'll take next. Despite the surreal bent to its visuals, unflinchingly graphic violence, and a similar collision of sex and violence that defined de la Iglesia's Perdita Durango, the emotions are sincere. The Last Circus isn't simply some visually inventive technical exercise; I found myself swept up in its story which, at its core, is a love triangle...about two very different men transformed -- "disfigured" might be a better way of putting it -- by love...by obsession. Its three central characters are drawn with more complexity than most any other film would likely allow, not content to disinterestedly sketch Javier (Carlos Areces) as the good one, Sergio (Antonio de la Torre) as the bad one, and Natalia (Carolina Bang) as the supernaturally gorgeous woman caught in the middle. The three of them are severely damaged before the scars start to show on the outside, and there are no heroes or villains to be found. Your sympathies will likely shift as The Last Circus screams forward. This is a film that is in every way entrancing: brilliantly acted, stunningly photographed, utterly unpredictable, and melding together a blend of cacklingly dark humor, horror, tragedy, and romance. The Last Circus is an experience like few others, and by any conventional logic, a movie this defiantly strange should not exist. It's the sort of unexpected discovery that makes me thrilled to be a reviewer. It's a movie I'm desperate to force onto my friends who have the same off-kilter tastes I do. It's a movie that I can't find the words to recommend enthusiastically enough. Highly Recommended.


Video
Fucking gorgeous. Hand to God, you could pause The Last Circus at pretty much any point, slap a frame around it, and hang it on your wall. This is a film that's driven intensely by its visuals, and bolstered further by cinematography with such a painterly mindset to it, it's never not breathtaking...from the deft interplay between light and shadow in its earliest moments to the subdued but striking colors once the setting shifts to 1973. The texture of the digital photography is consistently silky smooth throughout. Contrast remains wonderfully robust in every last frame, and the level of detail ranks among the most impressive I've yet experienced on Blu-ray. Even in particularly challenging sequences -- the heavy strobing around halfway through the film, for instance -- the compression never once stutters. No edge enhancement or heavy-handed noise reduction rear their heads either. In a word, it's perfect.

The AVC encode for The Last Circus spans both layers of this BD-50 disc. The film arrives on Blu-ray at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1.


Audio
I'm every bit as much in awe of The Last Circus' 24-bit, six-channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. Starting with the film's very first frame, the distinctness and clarity of every last element in the mix is nothing short of astonishing. The score by Roque Baños roars from every speaker, with an immediacy that makes it feel as if I'm sharing the room with a full orchestra. The sound design is consistently lush and organic throughout, seizing full advantage of the 5.1 setup. Most memorably, cracks of gunfire and thunderous explosions attack from every conceivable direction, but even The Last Circus' more subdued sequences are wonderfully immersive. The Spanish dialogue is balanced flawlessly in the mix as well. The craftsmanship behind the film's audio is exceptional, and it comes as little surprise that the work here was among The Last Circus' many nominations at this year's Goya Awards.

Though The Last Circus correctly defaults to its original Spanish soundtrack, an English dub has been provided as well, also in DTS-HD Master Audio. A variety of subtitles are offered in English: one traditional stream, another captioned for the deaf and hard of hearing, and a third, narrative track.


Extras
  • Making of The Last Circus (15 min.; SD): The disc's primary making-of featurette opens with Álex de la Iglesia explaining how he gradually constructed a movie from a number of completely disparate images he couldn't quite shake from his head. From there, the featurette breezes through how each of the actors crafted their performances, the grisly prosthetic make-up effects, cinematography, art direction, costume design, the sort of sensory overload its director craved, and just how grueling and dangerous it is to make a film under de la Iglesia's direction.

  • Behind the Scenes Segments (7 min.; SD): A handful of clips that were presumably making the rounds online have been compiled here, teasing about what kind of movie The Last Circus is with brief peeks behind-the-scenes. Intended to intrigue rather than explain, there's very little in the way of narration or conversation.

  • Visual Effects (10 min.; SD): After quickly rattling off some statistics about the scale of the VFX work, the remainder of this featurette is a montage of raw footage, the fully-polished effects in the film, and different render passes. There's no commentary or narration to go along with it, but that's not really the point.

  • Trailers (4 min.): The only high-def extra in the set is a domestic theatrical trailer. An international teaser and trailer have been included as well, though at a lower resolution.

The Final Word
Artfully crafted and entrancingly deranged, The Last Circus easily ranks among the most wonderfully bizarre films I've ever experienced. By design it's not comfortable or readily accessible, but for cineastes with the right sort of adventurous spirit, this Blu-ray disc is essential viewing. Once enough people clue into the fact that The Last Circus exists, it will be a cult classic, so why not place yourself ahead of the curve and give it a look now? Highly Recommended.


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