"Blindness" on DVD

Miramax/Buena Vista
Movie •••½ Picture •••• Sound •••• Extras ••••
The end-of-the-world movie has evolved into a genre of its own, with its swirling mix of horror, sci-fi, and pointed social commentary. Those of us with a particular fondness for kitschy examples from the 1970s (such as The Omega Man and Soylent Green) may be a little slow in warming to the far more sober Blindness. Easy to admire but difficult to love, Blindness arrives with two daunting pedigrees. Director Fernando Meirelles was the visionary behind City of God, which just might be the best film of this century so far. And José Saramago, author of the novel on which this movie is based, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. It's the latter pedigree that comes into play more, as Meirelles freely admits in the disc's interview footage that he was completely obsessed with making a movie that's 100 percent true to its source, a movie that the author would warmly approve of. The results are brittle, bleak, and sometimes oddly uncinematic, if consistently original and powerful. In Saramago's tale, an inexplicable, apparently contagious blindness strikes the denizens of a mega-city (the film was largely shot in São Paulo). The initial victims are herded into a "quarantine" that is more like a concentration camp, where they're left to their own devices. The anarchy and extreme cruelty that ensue (as well as the blindness itself) are intended to reflect today's world in all its mechanized, depersonalized glory. The movie's relatively sunny final act is much easier to watch, but I suspect that the happy ending plays better on the printed page. Playing very well here are the actors, including Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, and Danny Glover.

This DVD-only release delivers all the movie's squalor and disarray in startlingly fine texture and detail. And the minimalist Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, featuring a memorable score by Marco Antônio Guimarães (a.k.a. Uakti), fits the visuals like a glove.

Five brief deleted scenes add little to what has come before. However, a stylish, 55-minute making-of documentary is almost strong enough to stand as a film on its own. In fact, it serves as a model for how to avoid the dreaded "promotional featurette" aesthetic.