* Results May Vary
Mark Wexler's How to Live Forever (2009- ) is neither an instructional video nor a tongue-in-cheek contradiction of its lofty title. It's more of a clever sidestep that examines the nature of mortality while introducing us to a few lively centenarians, several young pups still in their 90s, and scientific minds convinced that humans will eventually break though the aging barrier. Wexler's mother, an accomplished painter, died several years before How to Live Forever was conceived; naturally, this planted the seeds for what would ultimately become a poignant and life-affirming project. Featured participants include Ray Bradbury, Willard Scott, Jack LaLanne, Ray Kurzweil, Suzanne Somers, Phyllis Diller and many more.
This star-studded list of names can be deceiving, yet these familiar and not-so-familiar faces make the most of their limited time. Fitness fixture Jack LaLanne---who died last year at the age of 96---shares his infectious love for nutrition and exercise, all while practically forcing carrot juice down Wexler's gullet. Englishman Pierre "Buster" Martin---who also died last year at the disputed age of 104---runs marathons, even though the grizzled chain-smoker claims to drink beer instead of water. British gerontologist Aubrey de Grey takes a more scientific approach (as does Ray Kurzweil), promoting the idea of extended life through regenerative medicine. More limited contributors include Suzanne Somers (who champions hormone supplements), practitioners of "Laughter Yoga", comedienne Phyllis Diller and celebrated author Ray Bradbury (who, eerily enough, died only last week, roughly an hour after I requested this title).
For better or worse, How to Live Forever is a "full-circle" documentary; it tries valiantly to explore a number of perspectives, yet it's not designed to provide concrete, undisputed answers. The answers we do get are usually contradicted or, at the very least, questionable: on more than one occasion, the words of wisdom feel more like sales pitches. Yet How to Live Forever remains entertaining, wholly enjoyable and thought-provoking during most of its 93-minute lifespan, enough so that it'll undoubtedly get passed around and talked about. Content-wise, the only ill-advised segment features an elderly porn star; it doesn't add much and may prevent the film from being shown in a classroom setting.
Docurama's DVD follows suit with past releases, pairing a decent (but not exceptional) A/V presentation with a few film-specific extras. It's a nice effort for this offbeat and deserving documentary, whether you're genuinely interested in the subject matter or just looking for something a little different.
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for 16x9 displays, How to Live Forever looks good with mild reservations. The film's natural color palette holds up well, and only a small amount of artifacts and edge enhancement can be spotted along the way. The main drawback, unfortunately, is that the image has not been flagged correctly for progressive playback, which causes a distracting amount of interlacing from start to finish. Thankfully, the older footage shot in 4x3 format isn't cropped to fill the frame. Overall, it's a fine presentation in some respects, but there's room for improvement.
The default Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track---also available as a Dolby 2.0 Stereo down mix---is fairly low-key but still has its moments, especially within genre boundaries. Separation is fine and "talking head" interviews come through clearly---and when they don't, forced subtitles are usually provided. Music cues are consistently strong without having to fight for attention. Unfortunately, no optional subtitles or Closed Captions have been included during the main feature or any of the extras.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
Seen above, the static menu designs are basic and easy to navigate. The 93-minute main feature has been divided into a dozen chapters, while no obvious layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a standard keepcase and includes no inserts. My only nagging complaint about the disc authoring is the studio's continued insistence on disabling the timer function, making it difficult to watch in more than one sitting (or to remember where all the highlights are).
The main attraction is a heaping portion of Deleted & Extended Scenes
(19 clips, 41 minutes), which don't reveal many great truths but are still worth watching at least once. Highlights include additional time with Ray Bradbury, Suzanne Somers & Ray Kurzweil, a brief recollection of Buster Martin's mugging a few years back, a chat with Michael "Monty Python" Palin and an extended visit to the Anti-Aging Convention. Presented in 480p, these look and sound about as good as the main feature.
Also included is the Theatrical Trailer, a statement About Docurama and a collection of other Trailers. All extras, like the film itself, are 16x9 enhanced and do not include Closed Captions or subtitles.
How to Live Forever is a poignant, curious examination of mortality from a capable director who seems temporarily uncomfortable with his own life. More often than not, it presents us with facts, theories and words of wisdom from scientific minds, snake-oil salesmen and...well, elderly people who act half their age. Though not without a few missteps along the way, Mark Wexler's film is enormously entertaining and one to be shared, mulled over and discussed. Docurama's DVD package carries most of its own weight, pairing a decent technical presentation with a few thoughtful bonus features. If you've got a few hours to spare during your remaining lifespan, give How to Live Forever a shot. Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey from Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs and writing in third person.