Southland Tales (2006)

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Released 30-Apr-2008

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Featurette-Making Of
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2006
Running Time 138:49
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (79:38) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Richard Kelly
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Dwayne Johnson
Seann William Scott
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Mandy Moore
Justin Timberlake
Nora Dunn
Case Amaray-Opaque
RPI $34.95 Music Moby


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

"This is the way the World ends. Not with a whimper, but with a bang."

    Writer/director Richard Kelly had an unreasonable weight of expectation hanging over him as he created Southland Tales. For a significant part, however, it was his own fault. His debut feature, Donnie Darko, was a bona fide masterpiece and had become the first genuine cult success of the new millennium. Kelly had begun talking up his next feature almost immediately and talking it up BIG. Years passed without any sign of movement on the picture and, rather than dismissing it as the vapourware it was turning into, critics and fans alike lapped up the further promises of the glory that Southland Tales would be (seemingly ignoring Kelly's involvement with the disastrous Domino). By the time the film premiered at Cannes in 2006, 5 years after Donnie Darko, anticipation was peaking and international distribution was assured. Shortly after the premiere everything changed.

    Southland Tales scored the lowest reviews in the history of the Palme D'Or, averaging a 1.1 out of 5. The general consensus was that the film was long, convoluted, confusing and above all pretentious (enough to inspire one of Entourage's funniest moments), though a handful of influential critics hailed it as a masterpiece. Distributors rapidly pulled out in the wake of this disastrous reception and the film was left in limbo. Kelly was able to find new distribution for the film, but with strings attached - an extra $1 Million for improved special effects and a guarantee to shorten the film's near 3 hour running time by half an hour. It would be another 16 months until it saw theatrical release in the US and a full 2 years before heading straight to DVD in Australia.

    Given the film's history, it's hardly a surprise that the final version of Southland Tales we have been given is going to elicit wildly differing reactions from different viewers. It is a film that viewers will love and/or hate, with little middle ground. I certainly fit in both the love and the hate category. The film treads a fine line of self-aware self-parody combined with extreme pretension. For the most part it works as a self-parody, but occasionally crosses the border into incredibly pretentious territory. The story doesn't entirely make sense (deliberately so, according to Kelly) and is filled with red-herring characters that further add to the confusion. While that may be good enough for David Lynch fans, anybody looking for a coherent sci-fi parable will be dumbfounded - though likely in a way that they want to talk the movie through rather than outright reject it.

    The biggest failing of the movie is that elements of the story fall back to very similar ground to that covered by Donnie Darko. This alone doesn't necessarily make for a failing, rather the failing is that it doesn't do the concepts the same justice that Donnie Darko did.

    Southland Tales is the sort of film that will be rediscovered in years to come. Whilst it won't be recognised as a masterpiece, it will rightfully be acknowledged as an overly ambitious and undeniably interesting failure. There will almost certainly be director's cuts and documentaries that examine the film's philosophy and theology. Don't let that put you off watching it right away.

    Like Donnie Darko, most viewers will get the most out of Southland Tales if they watch it once knowing very little about it, then read about it and watch it again. With that in mind, here is the general idea of the plot:

    The world is heading towards the apocalypse. In an alternate 2008, as the presidential race is hotting up, the USA is at nuclear war with half of the middle east following the detonation of two nuclear devices in the Texas. America itself has become a right wing police state following the expansion of the patriot act and the formation of USIDent, a new big brother agency for domestic security.

    A new, environmentally friendly, form of energy called Fluid Karma has been developed by an American corporation owned by a group of sinister scientists led by Baron Von Westphalen (Wallace Shawn). Not only is the supply of energy limitless, but it can be transmitted wirelessly across vast distances. Less publicly known, Fluid Karma can also be injected as a drug though one that offers prescience rather than a conventional high. Like all good chemicals, it has been secretly tested on the military - including the film's narrator Private Pilot Abilene (Justin Timberlake).

    Boxer Santaros (Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson) is an A-list action movie star, married to the daughter (Mandy Moore) of a senator who is running for the oval office, who has been missing for three days. He reappears with adult film star cum media personality Krysta Now (Sarah Michelle Gellar) trying to sell a script about a conspiracy to hide the fact the rotation speed of the Earth is very slowly decelerating and sending its inhabitants crazy.

    A group of radical neo-marxist terrorists are plotting to use Santaros as some kind of pawn in a war against the state. They arrange to pair him with Roland Taverner (Seann William Scott), who is impersonating his own twin brother as a police officer, in a ride along in preparation for his movie. The pair witness the execution of two neo-marxists at the hands of another officer (Jon Lovitz) and flee the scene, each embarking on a separate but related journey through the conspiracy surrounding the execution.

    What is it really about you ask? (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Southland Tales is an adaptation of the Book of Revelations from the Bible, translated into an alternate version of 2008. By many accounts it does a reasonable job of representing the word of the book. The movie doesn't entirely make sense because the source material itself does not make sense. In this modern age, where a good proportion of the population aren't terribly familiar with the actual text of the bible, this connection will likely be lost on many unless it is explicitly pointed out. Knowing this connection gives an added depth to the film, though to know it before initial viewing will have viewers focussing too intently on these parallels to soak up the full film.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and is 16x9 enhanced.

    The video looks excellent on every level. The image is sharp, free of distracting film grain and low-level noise. The colours are bold, vivid and reasonably natural (where not intended to look deliberately artificial). There is an excellent level of detail in blacks and shadows.

    There is no sign of compression artefacts or film artefacts in the film.

    White English subtitles are available. They appear to be both accurate and well timed.

    This is a RSDL disc. The layer change occurs at 79:38, but was not noticeable on my equipment.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    A single English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384 Kbps) audio track is present for the feature. Despite its lower than average bitrate the soundtrack is exceptional.

    The dialogue is clearly audible in the mix and well synchronised to the video.

    The film makes excellent use of music throughout. It features a magnificently moody score by Moby, much of which would be further worked into tracks on his Hotel album, and a number of other memorable rock tracks (including Pixies, The Killers and Blur) that are put to very specific thematic use in the film (though at times it is rather tangential to the plot).

    The soundtrack makes excellent use of the surrounds and subwoofer. The surrounds are used with a considerable degree of finesse (sans big, blunt pans) to create an immersive sound field. Similarly, the LFE field gives the subwoofer more than dull thumps to work with - among other things creating one of the most impressive nuclear explosion effects I have seen and felt.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Making Of Featurette (33:42)

    The sole extra for the film is a making of featurette. At least it's a pretty good one. As well as the usual puff and fluff there is a bit of exploration of the film's themes and ideas. Whilst the featurette is reasonably comprehensive, it is almost guaranteed to leave fans wanting more and rightfully so for this kind of complex cult film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 release is identical to the Region 2 release (right down to having a UK classification rating on the anti-piracy clip). The Region 1 edition features all the content of the Region 2 and 4 releases as well as an additional short film entitled This Is The Way The World Ends, making it the current version of choice (though this film is ripe for future special editions and director's cuts).

Summary

    Southland Tales is an impressive failure of a movie. The kind that will be rediscovered at some point in the future and recognised for its cult appeal. It is the sort of film that audiences will love, hate or both love and hate. Few viewers will be indifferent to the film and even the haters will see it through to its end.

    The video and audio presentation on this disc is excellent. There is a single extra, a 'making of' featurette, which is of a high standard and fairly substantial.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Adam Gould (Totally Biolicious!)
Friday, May 16, 2008
Review Equipment
DVDSony Playstation 3, using HDMI output
Display Samsung 116cm LA46M81BD. Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderPioneer VSX2016AVS. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Digital Video Essentials.
AmplificationPioneer VSX2016AVS
Speakers150W DTX front speakers, 100W centre and 4 surround/rear speakers, 12 inch PSB Image 6i powered sub

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