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DVD Review: Equilibrium

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Several years ago I dated a girl who had an older brother with an expansive DVD collection. From time to time she would let me borrow some of his DVDs, and one time we watched a science fiction/action movie called Equilibrium. I so thoroughly enjoyed this movie that she bought me a copy of my own, and it quite possibly will go down as one of the crowning hallmarks of our relationship.

Receiving a limited theatrical release on December 6, 2002, Equilibrium is the directorial debut of Kurt Wimmer. Wimmer also wrote the script, and even invented the incredibly unique fighting style on display throughout the movie known as the Gun Kata.

Equilibrium
is set in an Orwellian future where human emotion is outlawed. The film fills in the reasons for this drastic step for the audience over the opening credits, but basically after World War III ends humans realize that they cannot afford World War IV. As a means to an end, any sort of content that invokes emotion is outlawed, and the citizens of this new society take designer medication with robot-like precision several times a day to rid themselves of emotion.

Music, movies, television, paintings, and essentially art of any sort are rated “EC-10” for emotional content (a subtle jab at the MPAA ratings system) and are to be destroyed on sight. In the first scene, police raid the home of a group of resistance fighters and find the original "Mona Lisa," which they proceed to incinerate with a flame-thrower.

Christian Bale stars as John Preston, a member of the elite Grammaton Cleric. The Grammaton are practitioners of the aforementioned Gun Kata, and their job is to seek out and eradicate sense offenders, as they are called in the film. Bale really shines as he portrays a full range of emotions as Preston. He begins as a cold, emotionless (literally) servant of the state. As the movie progresses his human nature slowly takes over, and he manages to portray the onslaught of emotions quite well.

A good example is the scene when Preston hears music for the first time. Wimmer chose the first movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for this scene, and its powerful impact is readily apparent on Preston as well as the audience.

The movie has merits other than Bale’s performance. The cinematography and music all help to set the proper tone. Taye Diggs and Sean Bean do not disappoint in supporting roles. The action is very tightly knit and well choreographed. On-screen combat is filmed in such a way that viewers can actually see what is happening. Despite some elaborate fight scenes, no wires were used for any of the stunts. This gives the finished product a classic B-movie feel, but this is definitely a good thing in this case.

One of the biggest problems with Equilibrium is a glaring example of unfinished visual effects late in the movie. I understand the movie was made on a budget, but such an oversight is just unacceptable in a major motion picture. There are a few minor plot holes towards the end as well, but these are definitely overshadowed by the technical flaw.

The DVD includes very meager special features, but there are two entertaining commentaries that are full of interesting information. Kurt Wimmer really poured himself into both writing and directing this film, and his passion is apparent even in his commentary track. There is one behind-scenes-featurette that is fun but not outstanding.

Equilibrium is a well-done sci-fi/action movie that is underappreciated. It has drawn comparisons to Gattaca and Blade Runner, but it is in no way a cheap derivative. The Gun Kata is a wholly original form of combat that will offer plenty of awe-inspiring moments. All things considered, this movie is definitely not offensive to the senses.

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