Children of Men Review
When Children of Men came out in the autumn of 2006 it received quite the mixed reaction. By and large it was championed by critics but there were quite a number of film fans who took an immediate dislike, perhaps turned off by the overly left-wing political tone and lack of conventional narrative. There are times when the central message of Children of Men is overbearingly rammed down your throat, but if you look beyond the heavy-handed tone there’s a film of tremendous humanity seeping out.
Set in a dystopic future where women have long been infertile and the human race faces extinction within a century, the world has been torn asunder by social apathy and civil unrest. Only the United Kingdom appears to have maintained a semblance of social order, but the government has turned it’s ire on the millions of immigrants who seek solace on its shores, locking them away en masse in internment camps. Theo Faron is a former political activist who now lives a rather apathetic day-to-day live working in an office job in London, bur is world is shaken up when his ex-wife gets in back in touch. She’s the head of a notorious terrorist group who are seeking to smuggle a young girl named Kee out of the country and needs Theo to sort out the transit papers for them to do this, but as conflicting political goals tears the terrorist cell apart, Theo finds himself on the run and having to protect Kee from not only the newly reorganised cell, but also the British government.
Children of Men plays much more effectively when you go into it knowing as little as possible, mainly because Alfonso Cuarón has crafted it in a way where there is next to no exposition and his handheld camera flies around each location in seemingly endless one-take shots that reveal the bare information you need from the peripheral mise-én-scene. This turns the viewer into a raw witness of events, a limiting context which Cuarón uses to create some really shocking bursts of action where we feel the entropy and violence of this “new world” first hand. It’s remarkably effective at times, at others it feels a little too unsubtle, but either way it serves to make Children of Men a genuinely unique experience as an action film. What really makes the film work for me is the emotional journey of its central character, he starts off as this atypically disillusioned, almost smugly cynical man, then his whole world is ripped out from under him as the events he is forced to witness really take him on an emotional journey into a more determined hero. Cuarón’s direction brings the most out of this setting, but Clive Owen’s performance is really remarkable, proving as ever that he is far more at home in naturalistic, sardonic roles.
The Disc: Universal have done a great job with this 1080p 1.85:1 transfer, Children of Men is a beautifully shot film and looks absolutely gorgeous on Blu-ray. Colours and skin tones are naturalistic, grey and earthen tones tend to dominate but at times Cuarón throws some bold colours up on the screen and this transfer handles it all with aplomb, with no bleed and no noise. Likewise shadow detail and black levels are excellent and in general brightness and contrast levels are absolutely spot on; there are times when the contrast seems a little high and blacks crushed, but that appears to be the intended look.
The print used is in excellent shape, only minor specks appear in the image and detail is very strong, as close ups exhibit pleasing fine detail and long shots maintain excellent clarity. The handheld approach does mean there’s a fair bit of motion/panning blur, but that’s all down to how Children of Men was filmed. Grain is omnipresent in the image, but only on a relatively light to moderate layer; the grain in this film is sharply defined and looks very nice, I personally feel it actually improves the cinematography at times. Nevertheless, the level of grain is certainly less than I’ve come to expect from Super 35, but there are no obvious signs of DNR or Edge Enhancements, or other signs of artificial sharpening. Compression on this VC-1 encode is very good, there’s a little noise here and there in the image, usually in blacks or dark areas with very fine detail, but it’s nothing you should spot during regular viewing.
The English DTS-HD 5.1 audio is similarly impressive; it’s a delicately balanced soundtrack that succinctly uses every inch of the soundstage. Dialogue is always audible and clean, and bass is tightly defined. The dynamics are also excellent, and when the action does kick in the audio is really meaty.
The extra features present on this disc aren’t really substantial enough for such a technically complex and innovative production. Universal have basically provided all the featurettes from the DVD release and added some cast/crew interview footage and the various future commercials that appear in the background during the film, both of which can only be viewed via the U-Control picture-in-picture feature – which of course makes viewing this footage a drawn out pain in the backside. Of the DVD featurettes the main feature is the The Possibility of Hope mini-documentary that, given its title, is ironically ridiculously alarmist, I struggled to take it seriously. The production featurettes are quite good though and should have been longer, a director’s commentary would also have been very welcome.