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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray)
Beyond the Black Rainbow (Blu-ray)
Magnolia Home Entertainment // R // September 11, 2012 // Region A
List Price: $29.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted September 16, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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looking down now at some of the words scribbled across my notepad.

Tarkovsky. Scanners. The Star Child sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey. LSD. Altered States. Brakhage. THX 1138. Tangerine Dream. Blue Sunshine. Rorschach blot. Fever dream.

Beyond the Black Rainbow defies any sort of vaguely conventional description. The film is all but a two character piece. There's precious little dialogue. Its premise is threadbare and largely inconsequential, fleshed out just enough to form a framework to support this unparalleled visual and auditory experience. The closest I can come to capturing Beyond the Black Rainbow in a textual review is to list some of the other films, artists, and imagery it evoked in my mind and hoping you can imagine their psychedelic head-on collision.

Writer/director Panos Cosmatos sets Beyond the Black Rainbow in a future that might have been envisioned in its stated backdrop of 1983, with the wardrobe, unfortunate hairstyles, and command line computer
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terminals to match. A beautiful, mute teenaged girl (Eva Allan) is imprisoned within the Arboria Institute, a research facility that stands on the bleeding edge of medical psychology. A scientist at the institute (Michael Rogers) is hopelessly obsessed with his most gifted of patients, tormenting young Elena with predatorial glee, and he then untethers her psychic arsenal to see how she'll react when in a position to fight back. Elena eventually seeks out some sort of exit from the endlessly sprawling facility, but Dr. Nyle refuses to ease his chokehold, shedding every last trapping of humanity to possess her the only way he can.

I'm not altogether certain how accurate a synopsis that is, not that it ultimately matters anyway. Beyond the Black Rainbow is an onslaught of entrancingly strange and wonderful imagery, and all other concerns are secondary. I hesitate to describe it as dreamlike because I've never witnessed anything quite like this, awake or asleep. The film favors long, lingering shots...double exposures...reflections...oppressively tight close-ups. Its barrage of surreal imagery is so hypnotic that the underlying premise slipped out of my grasp. I found myself escaping so deeply into Beyond the Black Rainbow that I'm content to approach it purely
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as an experience, not something to be analyzed or autopsied. This is a film that has to be approached on its own terms...one that's so violently disinterested in convention that most will have a hard time stomaching it. Even many of those sufficiently adventurous may be turned off by its deliberate pace; Beyond the Black Rainbow prefers to slowly revel in this waking nightmare rather than breathlessly rush forward.

In all honesty, I've yet to determine if I like Beyond the Black Rainbow or not. I can't draw any metaphors or greater messages from a single viewing, and I'm not certain if there's any substance to be gleaned in the first place. The closest thing to criticism I can muster is that as fiercely unconventional as Beyond the Black Rainbow is for so much of its runtime, its final moments settle into the sort of stalking-and-slashing that was inescapable in drive-ins in its setting of 1983. I'd come to expect something less ordinary, although even then, the inevitable denouement refuses to follow any of the established rules. Although my mind is too busy reeling from the experience to contribute anything all that meaningful here, I will say that I'm in awe that a film as challenging as Beyond the Black Rainbow even exists, let alone lavished with this sort of wide release on video. I just...I feel a compulsion to watch it again. This is an experience I've already decided to force on several of my closest friends. As elusive as the film is to me in so many ways, that infectious sort of reaction is a rarity, and I'm left with the sense that Beyond the Black Rainbow will prove to be a deeply rewarding
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discovery on Blu-ray. Recommended.

Fair Warning
Beyond the Black Rainbow might be the single most frustrating Blu-ray release I've ever had to endure. Something about the way the menus are authored makes navigation at best excruciatingly slow and at worst unusable. When I first started spinning the disc, my Blu-ray player effortlessly made its way through all the introductory trailers, through the AXS-TV promo, and even successfully loaded the menu animation and background music. The elements I'd expect to see -- "Play Movie", "Special Features", and all that -- were M.I.A., and just about every button on the remote was ineffective. I mashed 'Stop' and started all over again. This time the menu loaded in full, but when I finished watching the trailer, the menu elements vanished again. Stopped. Restarted. I gave the 'Ballistic Head Dissolve' extra a quick look, and it took literally several minutes to return to the menu. I went to play the movie afterwards, but it locked up following the DTS fanfare. The only way I could get the movie itself to play at all was to use the "Scene Selections" submenu. Even when the menus are accessible, navigating from one selection to the next is painfully slow, sometimes taking multiple seconds for a button press to register. I can't recall ever having these headaches with any of the 1,400 or so other Blu-ray discs in my collection. Maybe it's just some strange fluke with my player, but consider yourself warned.

Beyond the Black Rainbow is defined by its intensely stylized visuals. It isn't merely set against the backdrop of 1983; Panos Cosmatos ensures that the film looks as if it had been shot thirty years ago, all the way down to the optically-inserted appearance of its credits. The photography looks as if it could have been filmed on gritty 16mm stock, and that grainy texture remains wholly intact on Blu-ray. The lighting and choice of palette -- dominated by cold, clinical blues and reds -- feel rooted in a '70s/'80s perception of the future as well. Because this is such a stylized film, it can't be evaluated by the usual standards. Many shots are dazzlingly sharp and detailed; other times, Beyond the Black Rainbow immerses itself in a soft, grainy haze.
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Saturation is reined in, and contrast is often left deliberately flat, striking me as era-appropriate on both fronts. The bitrate is modest for a film with such a challenging texture, but the AVC encode seems to shoulder it adeptly enough regardless. Though Beyond the Black Rainbow is hardly the traditional sort of high definition eye candy, a film with a visual eye this consistently entrancing demands to be experienced in high definition, and this is as perfect a presentation as I could hope
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to see.

Beyond the Black Rainbow arrives on a single-layer Blu-ray disc and is presented at its original aspect ratio of 2.39:1.

The film's hypnotic visuals are complemented by a brilliant score by Jeremy Schmidt, and Beyond the Black Rainbow would be an entirely different experience without that bank of spacey analog synthesizers whirring away. The synths roar from every channel, engulfing every square inch of the soundscape and reinforced by a robust low-end. To further the film's sense of verisimilitude, the recording of the dialogue deliberately dates itself by limiting the frequency response. A number of lines aren't quite discernable, and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if that were intentional as well. Those mesmerizing synthesizers form the focal point of the soundtrack in any event, and they come through gloriously well.

There are no dubbed soundtracks, audio commentaries, or remixes on this Blu-ray disc. Subtitles are offered in English (SDH) and Spanish.

I'd argue that the elusive, ambiguous Beyond the Black Rainbow is better off without any explanation or context, so I don't see the near-total lack of extras as a minus.
  • Deleted Special Effect (3 min.; HD): The only
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    'real' extra is an effects shot of a wax head slowly melting. The footage is unexpectedly in 4x3 but is definitely HD.

  • Trailer (2 min.; HD): Also included is a high-def theatrical trailer.

The Final Word
Beyond the Black Rainbow is a fiercely experimental mindfuck...the sort of sci-fi drug trip that hasn't found its way into theaters in decades. Its substance-as-style approach demands an adventurous spirit, and I'll confess that I'm still not all that certain what to make of it. Beyond the Black Rainbow is a movie I'm desperate to experience again, though, and at the end of the day, what higher compliment is there than that? Recommended.
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