Slime molds. They're weird, kind of gross sometimes too. But they're an integral part of our planet and they have an unusual relationship with mankind. The Creeping Garden, a feature length documentary directed by Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp, explores this in quite a bit of detail. The end result is a movie far more engaging, and trippy, than you'd probably expect given the movie's subject matter.
Those expecting the kind of movie you might get in a high school science class are going to be taken aback pretty early on in this picture (although archival clips from some vintage educational films are used here and there). Yes, there are a few scientists her to ramble off all sorts of interesting facts and figures and to provide the movie with the context it needs, but the real highlight of this picture is the visuals. Loads of time lapse and macro photography is used throughout this feature to show us how the various molds move, how they eat, how they live. Grabham and Sharp take their gear into various locations where slime molds are studied and grown such as the Royal Botanical Gardens and show us firsthand how these organisms slowly eat things and essentially leave behind a trail of slime. It's bizarre stuff, but completely fascinating.
This is all set to an absolutely awesome (and occasionally genuinely disturbing) soundtrack created by Jim O'Rourke. Somehow O'Rourke's compositions seem at their most intense when the documentary explores how slime molds are used in robotics and computing, where the living and the mechanical enter into an unorthodox symbiotic relationship. But again, the visuals are what really sell this picture. If you've ever wanted to see a slime mold navigate its way through a plastic maze, this is the movie for you. And let's face it, you do want to see that, even if you didn't realize it before.
At eighty-four minutes in length The Creeping Garden manages to maintain a nice pace from start to finish. This could have easily gone off into ‘talking heads' territory or gone overboard with the tech and science speak, but it doesn't. The interviewees are clearly super intelligent and experts in their fields but you never feel like they're talking down to us. The information that they deliver is interesting and completely relevant to the visual side of things. The editing is quite strong, giving the movie a nice flow that manages to keep us involved from start to finish. As such, production values remain strong for the duration of the movie.
At times this feels more like a strange horror or science fiction picture than it does a documentary, but what we see is all very real. This makes The Creeping Garden even more compelling than it would be otherwise, and it really is one of those odd features that should appeal not only to those with an affinity for science documentaries but also cult movie and fringe cinema fans as well.The Blu-ray:
The Creeping Garden arrives on Blu-ray from Arrow in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen on a 50GB disc. The image is pristine and shows excellent detail, all those close up shots of strange molds really look almost hypnotic here. This is one movie that you'll definitely want to see in HD, just to take in how much the image really pops. There are no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement and color reproduction is excellent. Black levels are nice and deep as well, but never to the point where any detail is crushed out. It's hard to imagine anyone taking issue with the video quality here, this is an excellent transfer by anyone's standards.Sound:
The only audio option on the disc is an English language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track with optional subtitles offered up in English as well. There's some good left to right/right to left channel separation here, mostly in terms of the score placement. Dialogue is clean, clear and easy to follow while the levels remains nicely balanced throughout. There are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note and all in all, the audio quality here is just fine.Extras:
Extras on the disc begin with an audio commentary featuring directors Tim Grabham and Jasper Sharp. This is a pretty interesting track as they not only cover how and why they came to make this movie in the first place but they also cover some of the difficulties involved in dealing with the various schedules of the molds needed for the shoot, their thoughts on the importance of O'Rourke's score, some of the time lapse photography required and quite a bit more.
From there, we move on to the video supplements starting with Biocomputer Music, a short film by Grabham on the first biocomputer music system, the first device of its kind to allow a two-way musical dialogue between humans and mold. In this piece we spend six minutes with Eduardo Miranda and Ed Braund, the guys who came up with this thing, to learn how and why they did it. Return To The Fungarium is a three minute featurette that takes another look at some of the strange and fascinating things on display at the fungarium at Kew Gardens. In Feeding Habits Of Physarum we spend two minutes learning about how certain mold strands eat with Professor Andrew Adamatzky. The two minute Angela Mele's Animated Slime Molds segment is basically her animation work used under the credits presented without any text overtop of it.
The disc also includes three Cinema Iloobia short films: Milk (2009), Rotten (2012), running only a minute each, and the nine minute Paramusical Ensemble (2015). The first two are really just strange little visual trips, the third is a bit more substantial and interesting in how it blends music and visuals together to create something utterly bizarre but kind of beautiful in its own strange way. Each of these is worth checking out.
Outside of that the disc also contains a theatrical trailer for the film, a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. Inside the clear Blu-ray case alongside the disc is an insert that contains an essay by director Jaspar Sharp. As this is a combo pack release there's also a DVD version of the movie included in the case alongside the Blu-ray and a CD containing the film's complete soundtrack (don't let this pass you by, the soundtrack for this movie is excellent!). All of this is wrapped up in some nice reversible cover art.Final Thoughts:
The Creeping Garden is fascinating stuff, a beautifully shot and strangely compelling picture about a fringe topic that shouldn't be anywhere nearly as interesting as it is. Once you put this on, however, you won't want to turn it off. Arrow's Blu-ray release is impressive, offering up a gorgeous transfer, very solid audio and a really nice selection of extra features too. Highly recommended.