One of our most visionary filmmakers, Spike Jonze delights in showing us the unexpected. In Her, his most daring script to date (he won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar), Jonze imagines a future in which romantic relationships no longer require two humans. Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer of other peoples’ love letters, acquires a cutting-edge operating system. Possessed of artificial intelligence, his OS assumes the female persona “Samantha” (Scarlett Johansson), with whom Theodore falls in love. Phoenix is brilliant in what amounts to a one-man show, delivering a richly detailed character study of the dark, introverted geek. In many ways, Johansson has the more difficult task, portraying a new and constantly evolving being, who, lacking physical substance, must define herself through words alone.

Filming Phoenix and his intimates against neutral, almost monochromatic backgrounds serves to intensify the vibrancy of the central characters’ colors. Edge definition is natural and without intrusive enhancement. Skintones lack saturation, echoing the emotional restraint of the film’s hero, while black levels and contrast are muted but, within their range, correct. Better still is the resolution of fine detail as can be seen, for example, in snow, sand, and the textures of clothes.

714her.box.jpgAlthough small-scale movies rarely exploit the capabilities of modern digital audio, Her is a welcome exception, treating its audience to an accurate and harmonically complete rendering of subtle sounds and spatial cues. Dialogue articulation approaches perfection, demonstrating the excellence of this Blu-ray master. Jonze relies heavily upon music to tell his story. The real surprise here is how effectively the surround channels are employed. Whether in office scenes or in the midst of milling crowds, listeners are subtly aware that they’re immersed in a live, ambient soundspace. As long as you don’t expect blockbuster-level bass heft or dynamic impact, Her will make your sound system shine.

The trio of extras proved a complete waste of time. There’s a making-of documentary, an overproduced, artsy montage that tells us nothing about the creation of this film. Worse yet is “Her: Love in the Modern Age,” a pedantic exploration into the complexities of contemporary relationships that has little to do with the movie. An interesting hybrid of chick flick and science fiction, Her offers a thought-provoking if unbelievable glimpse of the future.

Studio: Warner Bros., 2013
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 126 mins.
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Spike Jonze
Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams, Rooney Mara