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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » The Theory of Everything (Blu-ray)
The Theory of Everything (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG-13 // February 17, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted March 1, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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The Theory of Everything Blu-ray Review

The Theory of Everything is a docudrama film based on the true life story of Stephen and Jane Hawking. Adapted from the memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen Hawking by Jane Wilde Hawking, director James Marsh (Man on Wire) tells the story of the brilliant and young Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) as a physically-active student pursuing his education and scientific dreams when he receives a horrifying diagnosis (at age 21) of having motor neuron disease. The disease will not affect his mind's abilities but will leave him in a state of paralysis where he loses the ability to walk, speak, and carry out other functions he was previously able to do with ease.

Stephen Hawking did not allow for this news to defeat him. Instead, Hawking was remarkably strong-willed and continued his educational pursuits and decided upon a thesis at college that concerned the way time exists and interacts with the universe. He studied and theorized on an array of ideas related to time (including the study of black holes). Even despite the failings of Hawking's body he continued to find the spirit to persevere in life. Jane Wilde (Felicity Jones) was already in love with Stephen Hawking. Indeed, the two cared deeply for each other. Jane stayed by his side following his diagnosis and they married and had children together.

The adaptation and telling of this story largely focuses on the periods of time as occupied by Jane Hawking. As this film is based upon her own memoir, a large part of the film focuses primarily on Jane's struggles to be able to care for her disabled husband and their children. During the course of their relationship Jane also struggled with her husband's bleak outlook concerning God. Jane was a devout Catholic and she cared deeply about her religious beliefs while Stephen did not believe in God. Over the course of their relationship, both grew distant to one another and Jane began to befriend a widowed pastor Jonathan Jones (Charlie Cox) who was someone who began to help Jane care for Stephen and the children.

Stephen Hawking is almost more of a supporting player in this film. However, Hawking is still a centrally important part of the story. The film ebbs back and forth between exploring personal matters between the family and Stephen Hawking's continued scholarly ambitions (which ultimately led to expanded lectures and a famous novel entitled A Brief History of Time).

Determination and perseverance (alongside the essential care provided by Jane Hawking) helped for Stephen Hawking to continue to pursue his mind's education and to expand his scientific research concerning the workings of time. Hawking managed to create some of his greatest theories later in his life and he also became an inspiration to countless others throughout the world.

Eddie Redmayne (Les Miserables) is at the heart of the production. Redmayne gives his best performance to date as Stephen Hawking. Not only did Redmayne spend the time needed to be aware of the stages of deterioration that Hawking's disease caused for him in real-life but he delved into studying the behavioral results of how the disease impacted his functioning and movements. Redmayne's performance does not feel like the work of someone merely out to imitate the harsh relativities of someone with such a condition. Instead, the performance feels like the work of an accomplished actor hoping to be as faithful to telling the story of Stephen Hawking as possible. The detail and craft in this performance astonishes. It is also wonderful from an emotional-perspective as Redmayne puts a lot of heart and soul into the performance.

Felicity Jones (Cemetery Junction) is immensely important to the film as well and gives one of her strongest performances to date. Stephen Hawking's life and journey would have been an immensely different one were it not for the love and care of Jane Hawking. Jane's life is also unquestionably impacted by her decision to stay with and care for her husband for so long. In exploring the life of Jane Hawking, both Jones and the filmmaker's make the story focus upon her own struggles and questions in life. Jones is capably up to the challenge and gives a strong performance that measures up to the demands of the role.

The cinematography for the film was done by Benoit Delhomme (1408, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). From a technical perspective, The Theory of Everything looks excellent and has a genuinely high quality production sheen. It was primarily filmed using a Arri Alexa camera. Flashbacks were filmed using Super 16mm. Unfortunately, I was drawn out of the film by its cinematography at times.

 I was not particularly fond of how Delhomme used the lighting in the production. Many scenes were given a soft afterglow effect to emphasis the passage of time in a unique way. It was clear the idea was to convey these sequences as memory. However, it felt like a gimmick to me. One which was not effectively realized in the filmmaking. I was not fond of how these scenes were filmed visually. I did not enjoy the tinkering done to these moments. Light was also almost always blown out and strangely emphasized. White light in foreground objects was often obscured and it gave a strange feeling to some scenes. Perhaps other viewers will be more forgiving of the stylistic choices for The Theory of Everything but I found the cinematography distracting and considered it to be one of the film's drawbacks despite the technical excellence.

Jóhann Jóhannsson composed the original score music. If one were to describe it with one word that word would undoubtedly be "beautiful" as that is exactly what comes to mind from hearing the music. This is a terrific score from a composition standpoint. It's electrifyingly good and will inspire a lot of audiences on its own merits.  Jóhannsson has crafted something tremendous here.

The score does not always seem to perfectly fit the film, though. Some scenes have vibrant score that accompanies passages in a way that feels out-of-place. Some moments would have worked better with the emphasis on silence. If the Academy considered the best music as the deciding factor for the Best Original Score award I imagine Jóhannsson would have won for The Theory of Everything. However, Jóhannsson's beautiful score is not always well matched to the emotion of the scenes. Its complimentary to the film at times but also unevenly structured and it's the structure of film composition which often helps the best scores to ultimately stand out most.

The production design was done by John Paul Kelly (About Time). This was an excellent production. The sets and aesthetics of the film's production are quite strong throughout. Everything has a notably high quality and style visually. Kelly did a terrific job at this undertaking.

The costumes by designer Steven Noble (who also did the costumes for The Two Faces of January in 2014) are some of my favorites of the entire year. Truly outstanding work was accomplished in the costume department. Noble should have been nominated for both the costumes of The Theory of Everything and The Two Faces of January. While Noble has done several other films costumes (or has worked on other productions in different capacities), 2014 should prove to be regarded as his breakout year. I am actually a bit flabbergasted by the level of quality done on two very different films this past year.

The screenplay by Anthony McCarten (Death of a Superhero) works well at combing moments from both the perspective of Jane and Stephen Hawking. It is unsurprising that many scenes seemed more focused on Jane Hawking given that the source material that was used for the adaptation was a memoir written by the real-life Jane Hawking herself. I would have actually liked to see more moments showing how Stephen Hawking approached living with his disease but was not surprised by the scripts approach. It's something that mostly works quite well for the production. The script has a great sense of rhythm and flows well between scenes. I did find that some of the dialogue was overly simplistic but the performances by Redmayne and Jones helped for it to work. (Having not read the memoir the script is adapting from, perhaps the dialogue was reflective of what Jane Hawking describes.)

James Marsh (Man on Wire, Shadow Dancer) does a generally commendable job with directing duties. The film is never a bore and his stylistic flourishes of framing are impressive. He also is capable of bringing forth stunning performances from his actors and helped bring Redmayne to his Academy Award winning performance in this film. The film works largely because of the performances and Marsh helped ensure that these elements were in place effectively. While certain other elements of the production give me some pause (and can be attributed in part because of the director) I was pleased with his style and thought the film came together.

Stephen and Jane Hawking have important stories to share with the world. This film is a reflection of that. The film not only shows a dramatization of a brilliant scientist but the humanity and life that these individuals have lived. It is inspiring and heartfelt to see the struggles and triumphs that both Stephen and Jane Hawking have gone through. For that reason, The Theory of Everything is a film well worth seeking out and exploring.

The Blu-ray:


Video:

The Theory of Everything arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning 1080p High Definition presentation which accurately preserves the film's cinematography style with impressive clarity and depth. It doesn't disappoint on a technical level. Colors are strong and the detail is as good as one would expect within the parameters decided by cinematographer Benoit Delhomme (meaning that the film looks sharp and detailed during many sequences but in the moments of softness and other forms of digital tinkering the aesthetic look artistically decided on is presented as it is intended).

Presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen, The Theory of Everything should satisfy those looking for a splendid PQ presentation of the film. The encode bit-rate is remarkably healthy and consistently in the upper 30 mbps and the 50 GB disc ensures a good encoding rate was utilized for the whole film.

Audio:

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio presentation is absolutely stunning for its clarity and depth. When it comes to presenting the score composed by musician Jóhann Jóhannsson, this is a lovingly designed sound mix that places a great deal of importance on the music score. In presenting this aspect of the audio in fine quality, the sound design is terrific. Other audio components in effects and surround usage are somewhat minimal but effectively used as occasionally needed. The dialogue is always crisp, clean, and easy to distinguish.

Subtitles are provided in English SDH (for the deaf and hard of hearing), Spanish, and French.
 

Please Note: This is a Blu-ray / DVD / Digital Copy (iTunes/UV) combo pack release.

Extras:

Feature Length Commentary on The Theory of Everything with director James Marsh, in which Marsh discusses his technical approach to directing various moments, the process of working with the leading actors, the cinematography, and other production elements.

Deleted Scenes (11 min.) are provided for the film with optional director's commentary included.

Becoming the Hawkings (HD, 8 min.) is a short behind the scenes making-of which focuses primarily on the emphasis of the performances. The piece includes interviews with director James Marsh and leading actors Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. There are also words shared by Stephen Hawking himself. The lengthy process of Redmayne's research and his practice to accurately portray the stages of Hawking's disease and degenerative stages was discussed.

Final Thoughts:

The Theory of Everything tells an important story and is highlighted by some impressive production elements and two extraordinary performances which are delivered by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones. It is an inspiring and heartfelt viewing that comes with a enthusiastic recommendation.

The Blu-ray release by Universal Studios is high-quality. The picture and audio quality are both remarkably impressive. The supplements are a bit on the brief side but the commentary should certainly be a worthy listen for fans of director James Marsh. This is certainly a worthy release that fans should appreciate.

Highly Recommended.

Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema, and a student who aspires to make movies. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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