The Sea Of Trees
Lionsgate Home Entertainment // PG-13 // $24.99 // November 1, 2016
Review by Ryan Keefer | posted November 9, 2016
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The Movie:

On election night, I watched a movie about a guy who lost his wife, and he flew to Japan because it was the perfect place to commit suicide. I don't really have anything to add to this, nor did I have a horse in either two-horse race, I'm simply saying how I spent my night, is all, with some surprisingly recognizable actors and a well-known director.

Arthur (Matthew McConaughey, Mud) is a Massachusetts professor who is shattered by the death of his wife Joan (Naomi Watts, The Impossible). He decides to go to a forest in the shadow of Japan's Mount Fuji to kill himself, as the forest is known for its high number of suicides. As he is in the woods planning to do so, he encounters a Japanese businessman named Takumi (Ken Watanabe, Godzilla) planning to do the same, but then decides he wants to leave. Arthur and Takumi get lost in the woods, and in the process Arthur has a bit of self-discovery about himself in the process.

Written by Chris Sparling (Buried) and directed by Gus Van Sant (Milk), the film has some soft spoken moments of emotion. Arthur's intent his revealed before his motivations are, and rather be one who is set on fulfilling what he wants to do, he decides to help the man, and this opening of optimism of sorts helps Arthur regain some sense of balance or normalcy, whether he liked it or not. And his evolution through his emotions is a nice journey to witness.

Everyone likes to label McConaughey as the party guy who is kind of crazy, maybe your drunk or stoned childless Uncle who is maybe 45 if you're lucky. But quietly The Sea of Treesis another installment in the ever evolving emotional range and depth of Matthew McConaughey's talent. Playing off of that, Watanabe doesn't give him a lot to work with, he's the guy who helps Arthur return to a more normal timeframe, with the help of flashbacks from Arthur's perspective on his life with Joanne.

The scenes with Joanne, while nice, are a little mundane, and McConaughey doesn't lift the material up on his own. Watts' presence in the film is too brief, and as the third act moves along, things become haphazard and a tiny bit silly, at least as it relates to Joanne. I'm not entirely sure if it is related to choices that Van Sant could have been involved with, but it wouldn't surprise me. My experience to Van Sant's work has been brief, but I don't understand the fascination with it. It feels remarkably average.

Not knowing what to expect coming into the forest within The Sea of Trees, I kind of wanted to leave as much as McConaughey and Watanabe did. Or maybe, just maybe, considering when I watched this, I wanted to stay there.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

Presented with an AVC encode, the 2.40:1 high definition of The Sea of Trees looks good from Lionsgate. The forest branches and foliage possess a fair amount of foreground and background detail, and the green and grey within the land looks natural. Image detail on McConaughey is good whether it's his broken glasses in the woods or his shirts in class, the black levels are consistent and present a quality contrast to them. Lionsgate gives this sleepy arthouse flick a quality presentation.

The Sound:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack conveys the environmental effects quite well, thank you very much. Forest sounds and the sound of rushing waters are clean as can be, as is the thud of someone landing on the rocks. A car crash later on possesses good range with broken glass quietly prevalent sonically in an example of channel panning. Dialogue is consistent and well-balanced and overall the disc was a better technical experience than expected.

Extras:

The only thing here is "A Story of Beauty and Tragedy" (8:13), where the cast and crew share their thoughts on the story and the characters being portrayed, and what it's all about.

Final Thoughts:

The Sea of Trees is an enigmatic story, executed poorly largely due to Van Sant's execution, subpar work from Watanabe, and Watts not be used to nearly enough effect that the film could have afforded it. McConaughey's performance is fine yet unspectacular, and doesn't emerge from the morass of the story. Technically the disc is good, but could have used an extra or two. If it's on TV, give it a look I guess?



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