Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Children of Men (DVD) (2006)

One of the Oscar-worthy films not in running for a Best Picture Oscar

It is a rare occasion that a film could be nominated for 2 of the most prestigious Oscar categories, and yet not see a general release in cinemas here. I speak of Children of Men. Consider its nominations for best adapted screenplay and editing - by all means, it means that this is simply one of the best written and filmmed movies of the year. In fact, it's an even rare occasion that a film nominated for writing and editing would not receive the automatic third nomination for Best Picture as well, so don't take it as hyperbole when I say that this movie is one of the most underrated and underappreciated gems of last year. Perhaps the short shrift given to Children of Men might come from the fact that it's a science fiction flick, and therefore not a serious movie. LOTR may have broken ceilings, but its anomalous success at the Oscars is the exception that proves the rule that fantasy, sci-fi and horror movies aren't serious enough to be seen as legitimate contenders for the Best Picture award. Watching this DVD though, it becomes apparent that Children of Men deserves more than it got; it deserves to be watched.

Children of Men is a sci-fi flick that takes place in a dystopian future world where for reasons unknown, humanity has lost its ability to reproduce. No new babies have been born for decades, not because people don't have the time to have them, but because women simply stopped getting pregnant no matter how hard they tried. Of course, society has been greying and birth rates have been falling for decades, but imagine if that were irreversible! Dystopian fiction is one of the major tropes of futuristic science fiction, but from the start, this movie already shows it's not going to be the same old, same old. For one, you'll notice that Children of Men takes place in a world that's not too far different from our own, whose politics aren't very much different from what we see around us, except that it's a world that's in the middle of the slow apocalypse, the extinction of mankind. That's a set of concerns that are as far removed as possible from the standard, almost required, dystopian lineup of authoritarian regimes (Sleeper, Brazil, 1984, Gattaca) and their political screeds on the struggle between individuality and freedom against dictatorship. It's a set of concerns that shepherd the movie towards the real and the realistic, to show ordinary life as it is lived in a world that's seen better days, away from the surface razzle-dazzle production set-focused sci-fi films of late.

Cuaron employs his favourite road trip narrative to accentuate the shift towards realism and the nitty gritty in his sci-fi film. After a heavily pregnant refugee woman is found, several underground groups must ferry her to a safe refuge where an almost mythical organisation of scientists work to restore the viability of the human race. The road trip, of course, is merely a launching point for the Cuaron to direct our attention to his broad sweeps of a society living within the slow apocalypse, visiting various factions like the apolitical citizenry, the privileged elites, the disaffected revolutionaries, the corrupt and the selfless. It's an almost documentary-like approach that is well served by his choice of cinema verite cinematography and astonishing use of very long single takes. Up front, what is more terrifying than the apocalypse or living through it, is the idea that mankind will be just as full of follies, hopes and ugliness as before; humanity won't be much changed for the better or for the worse by the prospects of its impending decline and fall.

Most sci-fi films end on by either overdoing the bleakness and despair, copping out on a sugar-coated Pollyanna-ish ending, or an orgy of revolutionary chaos. It is evidence of the brilliance of Cuaron and his scriptwriters that Children of Men may well be one of the rare sci-fi films that has a completely ambiguous ending where you won't know if there's a happy, sad, or nihilistic ending. That, plus the incredible talent displayed in its screenplay, camerawork, and editing, is reason why you should rent or even buy this DVD.

DVD Review

Typical of recent movies, the DVD of Children of Men was rushed out shortly after the Oscar nomination list was announced. What's good about this is that audiences all over the world get to see a film that may not have been released in local cinemas; what's bad is that audiences all over the world tend to get a DVD that has no extras whatsoever - and wonder why the major disappointment, given that far lesser movies (#1 in US box office for all of 2 weeks) get DVD releases with the full set of extra features (including director's commentary audio tracks!) barely 3 months after their run in the cinemas. What's promising abou the Children of Men DVD is the inclusion of one extra feature, a documentary that dwelves into the top-class cinematography used in the movie.

It's best to watch this feature ("Men Under Attack") immediately after finishing the movie - only then will you realise that the movie was so well-told that the camerawork - even though it was impressive - may have gone largely unnoticed. Of course, the feature provides the shock and awe so you can marvel at just how well-filmmed this movie is.

First published at incinemas on 9 April 2007

No comments: