Another Earth's science-fiction element is moderately self-explanatory: a recently-discovered second world, just like ours, exists within a distance to Earth that's close enough to travel. In the realm of indie cinema, filmmakers often go small-scale when handling something like this to purposefully tiptoe around budget-sapping set pieces or glitzy visual effects, instead holing up in the weighty drama that thrives in the scope they're able to achieve. Writers Make Cahill and Brit Marling clearly relish their boundaries as they operate under those parameters, where a scientific oddity seamlessly integrates into our known world as both a curiosity and a vital narrative element. What they've created is robust, assertive personal storytelling that uses its outer-reality concept as a pivot point for musings on regret and the healing power -- and damaging effects -- of social isolation, as well as an ample source of metaphysical contemplation behind a second, potentially human-inhabited world.
The filmmakers at the core of Another Earth wear several hats during the production, as is normally the case for indie projects: Director Cahill doubles as cinematographer, giving the film a harsh but compelling and intimate vibe, while Brit Marling's acting chops bring the central character, Rhoda, to life. After serving four years in jail for manslaughter due to a drunk-driving accident that killed all but one family member in the opposing car, Rhoda reemerges as a shell of the girl she was when she went in. Once a prospective college student with an eye for astronomy -- a radio broadcast about the newly-discovered planet was the distracting catalyst to her wreck -- she now elects to work remedial cleaning jobs that keep her away from people, yet she can't avoid hearing about "Earth 2" and a writing contest that will send one deserving person to the planet. Haunted by her mistakes, she considers the possibility of leaving this earth and going to the other, but not without revisiting her past beforehand.
Cahill and Marling don't shy away from the science-fiction elements in Another Earth, even if it means exposing their story to gaps in logic as they construct their big picture. The real head-scratcher, a large one, comes in the swift discovery of another planet that's of identical properties -- resources, atmosphere, even people -- to Earth's, a place within travelable distance that astronomers haven't stumbled upon until now. The pair of writers sells the idea though, thoroughly, and the meditative perspective they create around the planet's discovery compensates for that, namely with starting a new life in a place that's almost exactly like Earth's and what the mirror planet's thinking in terms of cordial communications or volatility. Perhaps Earth 2's quick emergence is something more ethereal and divine, something that the story offers a hint towards later on. There's interpretation to be found in the script's viewpoint, without question, and it's compelling and ambitious enough to leap-frog plot holes.
Another Earth's reflection on the science of dual worlds provides the environment for Rhoda's melancholy journey towards rediscovering normalcy, not merely the film's pure thrust. Cahill and Marling are more interested in her psychology and the choices she makes once she seeks out the remaining member of the family she killed -- the father (LOST's William Mapother), an ambitious composer who has all but dropped off the face of the earth after awaking from his coma, who has no idea of Rhoda's identity. In lesser hands, the dramatic developments that ensue might've felt inauthentic and far-fetched, but Brit Marling's captivating, barefaced presence elevates them to a haunting level that allows us to ignore any doubtfulness and instead embrace the raw, tough emotional context. Marling navigates the guilt Rhoda feels over her transgressions and, ultimately, conflict over her semi-anonymous companionship with John with an evocative poise that's well beyond her years.
Emotional heft becomes the impetus driving Another Earth, which smartly explores the philosophical connection between a mirror-image Earth and the prospect of running away from one's mistakes. Subtle dramatic developments between Rhoda and John in the walls of a dark, dreary house render the film quietly harrowing, with Cahill's direction and photographic eye emphasizing the narrative's quaintness through self-assured, hushed close-ups that encompass them in deftly-felt human energy, gloomy as it may be. Once it reaches a somewhat alarming middle-point, where, after an attempt at radio communication, the truth comes out about what (and who) inhabits Earth 2, the way it provokes thought about the nature of remorse and second-chances escalates its melodrama to a mysterious and potent stratosphere. There's complexity at-play within Cahill and Marling's intimate exploration of the unknown, of both mental and dramatic types, that skillfully creates a convoluted emotional testing ground within the gravity of stripped-down science-fiction.
Fox Home Entertainment send Another Earth into the stratosphere within a three-disc Blu-ray presentation: Disc Two being a bare-boned DVD, and Disc Three being a digital copy disc. First pressings of this Blu-ray arrive with a cardboard slipcover that replicates the front and back artwork exactly, while each of the discs inside offer interchanging disc designs that appropriate fit the film's components.
Video and Audio:
Grainy, gruff, and sporting torched contrast at times, Another Earth's 1.85:1 photography reflects both the indie film's meager budget and an abrasive thickness rooted in artistic intent. Instead of glamouring the film's coarseness up for high-definition by overtly spit-polishing these elements with contrast doctoring or noise reduction, Fox's Blu-ray treatment confidently preserves them: sharp grain that makes black levels appear noisy, blooming light that swallows the screen, and the occasional edge jaggedness. While the black-levels intermittently encroach on details that should likely be visible and the grain stands a shade too thick due to chaotic compression, not to mention periodic edge halos, it doesn't prevent the cinematography's strength of detail -- brash close-ups, knits in clothing, to the glistening of color and light in gummi bears and the swirling dust in a room -- to hammer home a number of engaging visual treats. It's a confident and robust treatment.
Similar points can be made for the front-heavy, workable DTS-HD Master Audio track, which hones in on a clearer emphasis on musical components and dialogue. Any sound effects you hear are mostly present just because they accompany the fabric of dialogue-driven scenes: the stifled crinkle of Rhoda's cleaning suit, footsteps against hardwood floors in his house, the rumble of a truck, and the twang of a bending saw. The things of note come in the dialogue, which remains pleasingly crisp and audible at most times -- with the occasional weighed-down yet still-audible stream here and there. Perhaps the most vigorous elements arrive in the evocative, hauntingly aggressive scoring from Fall On Your Sword, which rings true from the front-end of the surround stage with a wealth of sweep-you-up power. There's an unavoidable hiss that accompanies several scenes, assumedly rooted in the production's recording, and you won't be able to avoid some heavier, less-clear points, but Fox's sound offering for Another Earth achieves what it needs to at all times.
Fox Movie Channel Presents (SD):
First and foremost, we've got a series of three pieces orchestrated by Fox Movie Channel, which mostly center of surface-level discussion -- but you'll glean some interesting bits from the interviews. Mike Cahill: Direct Effect (4:17) reveals how he and Brit Marling "cracked" the story and got started with their pennies-on-the-dollar budget. In Character With Brit Marling (4:22) focuses on the young filmmaker chatting about her passion and fear in the role, alongside how it intertwines with acting and wearing several hats. And In Character With William Mapother (4:22) goes in a similar direction, elucidating his attraction to the project and got his hands dirty with the character of John.
The Science Behind Another Earth (2:39, HD):
Mike Cahill and Brit Marling sit down with astrophysicist ... to discuss the validity and nature of the science in Anoteher Earth, where they restate some of the film's obvious contemplations. About twenty minutes of discussion amongst the three would've been, I believe, insightful and hopefully at least a little bit confrontational; however, we're only given a small taste that's on the level of a press-kit blurb.
Creating Another Earth (2:28, HD):
Along the same lines as "The Science", this bit features director Cahill and Marling having a conversation about how they were able to "stack the dominoes" and make the film work on a minuscule budget -- and where/how they shot around Cahill's stomping grounds. It's a short but enjoyable glimpse that proves a commentary with the two about the full run of the feature would've been great, since they have a great rapport.
Fox have also included a series of Deleted Scenes (9:46, HD), most of which center around Rhoda interacting with her family and some extended exposition about the film's contemplations (and a few outtakes), as well as a Music Video: "The First Time I Saw Jupiter" (3:19, HD), by Fall Under the Sword. Finally, we've also got the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:19, HD).
Just try and push the fact that Another Earth is a piece of science-fiction to the back of your mind; instead, acknowledge that element as a backbone for the weight that Mike Cahill and Brit Marling pour into what's first and foremost a captivating drama, focused on regret, second chances, and the concept of there being an alternate version of our lives under different circumstances. Unanswered questions about its science aside, it's a realized portrait of troubled characters that possesses a gripping serrated edge, with a fine double-duty turn from writer/actress Marling giving the film its stride. Fox's Blu-ray stays true to the independent film's artistic intents, occasionally lacking in traditional high-definition luster bunt beautiful nevertheless, and contains a handful of interviews and other mild explorations in the supplements. Highly Recommended.