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Blu-ray Review: Children of Men

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The Film

It’s the year 2027. Humanity has devolved into chaos. All women have mysteriously become infertile. Britain has become a totalitarian police state, and it’s the most stable country left. Soon mankind will be extinct.

Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men isn’t the most unique or challenging dystopian film ever made (my money’s on Brazil) and when boiled down to its core elements, it’s a fairly straightforward chase story, but its execution is surprisingly visceral, thanks to a near-cinéma vérité approach that heightens the film’s immediacy considerably. It’s riveting from start to finish, and the sheer inventiveness of many of the technical elements ensures its status as a film that warrants multiple viewings.

Clive Owen stars as the haggard Theo Faron. The world is going to hell in a hand basket around him, and one gets the feeling he could barely manage a shrug. Theo is thrown into the familiar “ordinary guy in an extraordinary situation” when out of the blue, his ex-lover Julian (Julianne Moore) shows up in his life for the first time in 20 years. Julian’s a leader of the Fish, a freedom-fighting organization that the government has labeled as terrorists, and she has something extremely important she needs Theo's help with. Theo discovers Fish has with them the first pregnant woman in 18 years, Kee (Clare-Hope Ashitey), and he needs to help her get out of the country to connect with shadowy organization The Human Project.

Children of Men could have turned out very ordinary – the persistent bleakness of the film wouldn’t have been enough to make it stand out. Instead, we get a thoughtful examination of themes of humanity, crisis, and violence married with a dynamic visual approach that manifests itself most obviously in three elaborate, long-take scenes – the coffee shop explosion, the roadway attack, and the city siege near the end of the film. These are all risky shots that clearly required a lot of planning, and by placing one in each act, Cuarón establishes cinematic markers of this particular style at key moments. His camera often feels incidental, like it just happened to be there, but the action it captures never feels stale, he doesn’t need quick edits to establish tone.

Aside from these memorable shots, the film is also successful almost everywhere else, with the always-welcome Michael Caine turning in an entertaining performance as an aging hippie and Cuarón bringing plenty of other fresh ideas to the table, like a car chase sans the use of engines. Children of Men is an excellent example of decent material transformed into greatness by an artist who is at the top of his game.


The Blu-ray Disc

Children of Men is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Fans of the film need to own this in high def as the picture is spectacular throughout with superb clarity and sharpness. The dingy, downtrodden production design results in a dank color palette that features notable grays and blacks. The lack of color though hardly makes the picture seem any less vibrant. Skin tones and black levels are consistent across the film, and even the scenes with the smallest amount of light retain a crisp feel without any apparent grain.

The audio is presented in Dolby DTS-HD, and it’s a highly active mix, with frequent ambient sound and subwoofer work thanks to the barrage of explosions and gunfire, especially in the second half of the film. Front channel dialogue is clear, and the entire mix maintains a strong level of consistency even across dramatic volume changes.


Special Features

All of the special features from the previous DVD release have been carried over, and remain in standard definition. The only new features are the rather pointless BD-Live and the dreaded Universal U-Control, which brings the extras into a picture-in-picture format while the film plays. The extras are pretty solid all around, with some – two featurettes that mostly feature interviews with prominent philosophers – that focus on the themes of the film and some – a look at the production design, an examination of the long-take scenes and a fascinating piece on how they created the birth scene – that are more technical in nature. The only throwaways are three short deleted scenes and a short featurette on the characters of Theo and Julian that doesn’t have much to say.


The Bottom Line

Children of Men has lots to sink your teeth into, and the excellent Blu-ray transfer means it’s a must-add to the shelf.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.