Melancholia (Blu-ray)

March 28, 2012 9 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Is it me or are there a growing number of films that involve another planet in them? Last fall I saw a trailer for a film called Another Earth in which there was, literally, another Earth! Director Terrance Malick also gave us a very surreal film in his Best Picture nominated The Tree of Life. I hesitate to say that acclaimed filmmaker Lars von Trier “hopped on the bandwagon” with his latest film, yet it does strike me as very odd that three such films of similar nature would come out in such a short time span. Nevertheless, it’s a moot point. And while I’ve not seen all of von Trier’s films, several of them have had a lasting impact on me. His Dancer in the Dark amazed me as did his collaboration with Nicole Kidman in 2003’s Dogville. Best-known for 1996’s Breaking the Waves, he’s always had a certain unique style and nowhere is that more pertinent (and potent) than with his latest effort.

On the surface, Melancholia is a simple story about the anxiety, depression, love, life and death. That’s the surface. Just below it lies the true meaning of the film and I’m afraid that the message isn’t all too positive. The film is broken into two segments and opens with the first, aptly-titled Justine (Kirsten Dunst). Justine has just been married and her brother-in-law, John (Kiefer Sutherland) has footed the bill for her extravagant reception. Her husband, Michael (Alexander SkarsgĂ„rd) couldn’t be happier and seems to go along with Justine’s somewhat eccentric behavior. The happy couple arrives a few hours late and they seem oblivious to the guests. Justine seems aloof. As the night progresses, her behavior becomes more erratic. Be it sex with a guest in a sand trap or disrobing to take a quick bath. All the while, Justine notices a little red star that seems somewhat out of place. By the end of the evening, things have happened that will affect the remainder of Justine’s life.

The second part focuses on Justine’s sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), the more grounded of the two. Though it never really says, I would assume the second half takes place a few months after the first. If the first part focused on the emotional side of things, then the remainder is the physical. Justine is in a near vegetative state, even needing help to bathe. She’s staying with John and Claire and the threat of a nearby planet crashing into the Earth is now more real than ever. As the possibility of the end of the world beckons, Justine seems to embrace it. It’s said that a person’s true colors emerge during a time of crisis. I can’t think of any crisis more severe than the planet being destroyed. The change in Justine in the second half of the film is what makes it work and, without giving too much away, it’s a sight to behold.

Melancholia isn’t going to be a film for everyone, none of von Trier’s movies are. But I tend to gravitate towards the eccentric when and even days after viewing it, I can’t get some of the images out of my mind. Kirsten Dunst truly gives the performance of her career and it’s a shame that she wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award for her work. To be honest, it’s kind of upsetting that this film wasn’t nominated for any Academy Awards despite the numerous accolades the movie garnered. Dunst is the heart and soul of this film – make no mistake. While other seasoned actors play their parts well, she’s the glue that really cements the film together. The only other person who comes close is Charlotte Gainsbourg in the role of Claire. As I mentioned, this movie won’t be for everyone, but I’d say that if you’re feeling a bit risky to give it a chance. Remember, you never know when the world might end and you don’t want to die with regret, right?

Video: How does it look?

I’ve seen a lot of movies in my day, a LOT. I’ll come out and say that this is one of the most hauntingly beautiful films that I’ve ever seen. From the opening 9 minute montage of these surrealistic images to the utter destruction of the world, these images leave a lasting impression. The 2.40:1 AVC HD image is one of the most pristine live action films that I’ve had the pleasure of watching. I’ve watched the opening sequence at least a half a dozen times and the super slow-motion images seem to speak to me the more I see them. The entire film has a clarity that I’ve not seen in most films. There’s no sign of any artifacting, detail is impeccable and once you get used to it, the visual tone of the film makes a lot more sense. Oh and if anyone out there has been clamoring for a fully nude Kirsten Dunst, well then we’ve got that as well. This is a perfect transfer in every sense of the word.

Audio: How does it sound?

I’m going to keep mentioning this opening montage not only for the visual quality, but the audio is off the charts as well. Set to Wagner’s “Tristan und Isolde”, each speaker simply resonates the operatic score and makes you feel like you’re right there. This continues through the film and again comes in at the closing moments. Dialogue is crystal clear as well. Surrounds seem very active during some of the “in between” sequences but I keep coming back to the first ten minutes of the film. Amazing. There’s really nothing else to differentiate this soundtrack from others aside from the tone of the film. I really can’t picture this movie being associated with anything other than classical music. Fitting, I believe. Very fitting.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The only area in which the film falls short are the supplements. I don’t review a lot of Magnolia’s discs, but after a bit of research it seems that there’s a UK version out there with several more features and even a commentary track by Lars von Trier – that’s not present here. What we do have are some featurettes on the film, the look and feel and of course, the visual effects. We start off with “About Melancholia” as Lars von Trier, Dunst, Gainsbourg and psychologist Irene Oestrich give us a crash course of the film and the themes contained within. “Special Effects” give us some raw footage of some of the sequences and different elements that were ultimately combined to make some of the images in the film. “The Visual Style” focuses on Lars von Trier and the D.P. as they talk about the visual look and feel of the film. “The Universe” is a more of the same, though it focuses on the science behind the film (i.e. “is it possible?”). “HDNet: A Look at Melancholia” gives us a montage of clips from the film and a few scattered interviews, though if you’ve watched the other supplements, this one is kind of redundant. There are two theatrical trailers as well as some other releases from Magnolia Home entertainment.

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