DVD Review: Children of Men

Movie •••½ Picture •••• Sound ••••½ Extras ••••
A baby hasn't been born on Earth in more than 18 years. Sterility is universal in 2027, and scientists can't figure out why. Working from P.D. James' novel, Children of Men director/cowriter Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mamá También, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) has crafted a beautiful movie that's intriguing on a lot of levels. Still, it's oddly unsatisfying. We're shown that things aren't good in and around London, where illegal immigrants are rounded up, caged, and dumped in refugee camps - all in the name of homeland security. When a woman (Claire-Hope Ashitey) mysteriously gets pregnant and her child becomes a potential last shred of hope for a dying populace, we're also shown that the times they may be a-changing, which brings good guys, bad guys, and revolutionaries with questionable motives out in search of the expectant mother. But there are a lot of questions left unanswered, particularly concerning how our near future turned into this dystopia.

Cuarón uses this complex setup to present a series of imaginative images and set pieces. From London streets to safe houses in the country, everything wears a patina of grime and disarray. These are dark times - and shot to look like it, with lots of handheld camera work and a slightly grainy look that's meant to punctuate the urgency and up the authenticity quotient. Fortunately, the transfer offers a fine level of detail amidst the shadows, and no digital distortion worth noting when the camera jumps around. For similar artistic reasons, Cuarón keeps the color palette fairly compressed, eliminating any bright, bouncy hues, leaving images of subdued tones and lots of grays. Again, the disc is more than up to the challenge.

Sonically, too, the disc excels. There's the usual flurry of surround-channel activity during the chase scenes and boffo action sequences, and it's all quite involving. However, I was most impressed with the subtlety of the sound design. Raindrops and nature effects, street sounds and off-camera dialogue all pop in and out of the mix with a great degree of realism - and lots of spacing between the channels, both front and rear.

The extras are more involving than most - particularly for those who love the nuts and bolts of filmmaking. Five different featurettes that cover production design and special effects also provide fairly comprehensive deconstructions of two of the action sequences. When interviewed, costars Clive Owen and Julianne Moore avoid the usual Hollywood drivel and actually talk a bit about their characters. There are also three deleted scenes that don't add much, and a short feature wherein some noted academics and "futurists" discuss the themes in the film. [R] English, French, and Spanish, Dolby Digital 5.1; letterboxed (1.85:1) and anamorphic widescreen; dual layer.

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