Road, The (Blu-ray) (2009)

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Released 26-May-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-(11.33)
Featurette-Making Of-Walking into Darkness (13.53)
Gallery-Photo
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 111:33
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By John Hillcoat
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Viggo Mortensen
Kodi Smit-McPhee
Robert Duvall
Guy Pearce
Molly Parker
Michael K. Williams
Garret Dillahunt
Case ?
RPI ? Music Nick Cave
Warren Ellis


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 (4608Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Coca Cola featured but direct from book.
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

  Adapting a Pulitzer Prize winning novel like The Road for the screen is an unenviable task. Expectations are usually set so high that the visual medium cannot possibly compete with the depth and nuance of the written word. Whilst Cormac McCarthy's spare but ornate prose works well on the page where the reader can stop, absorb and move on, the cinema is no place for such studied repose. McCarthy, already filmed to middling success (All the Pretty Horses) and to all-out acclaim (No Country for Old Men) doesn't write easy books. No Country for Old Men is surely amongst his most accessible - heaven help Todd Field who has signed on to direct the gore-soaked, pitiless Blood Meridian. Ridley Scott was originally slated to direct Meridian but apparently decided that it was "too hard" and should be left as a novel.

Many classics of literature have been described as unfilmable. Some are simply too introspective to form a narrative and others, like A Confederacy of Dunces, seem to have a curse that prevents filming. David Cronenberg succeeded in making an "accurate" film version of The Naked Lunch whilst the film version of Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions hit against the rocks.

All of this is to perhaps preface why the film of The Road has received mixed reviews and did little business at the Box Office, barely recovering its investment. The Road, as a book, is almost anti-cinema, its aim being to drain the life out of the reader into a cold, hopeless ball. It combines direct, flat dialogue and descriptions with the adorned wordplay of Faulkner : He rose and stood tottering in that cold autistic dark with his arms outheld for balance while the vestibular calculations in his skull cranked out their reckonings. To match the feelings of the book the film must also slow time, letting each painful, slow footfall resonate on the earth. A hard ask for a cinema-going audience.

The story of The Road can be summed up in a few sentences. A Man (Viggo Mortensen) and his Son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) are travellers in a post-apocalyptic American wasteland. They have a ceaseless journey, travelling South, to an imagined better world. Their meagre possessions and scraps of unimaginable food are stored in shopping carts which the Man pushes like a ghastly mockery of a 21st century shopper. All the while the roads are travelled by pitiless marauding cannibals, semblances of their human past. All is dead, ash covers every surface, whether from the apocalypse or subsequent fires we are never told.

On their travels they meet the occasional wayfarer, usually as fatigued, bedraggled and godless as them. The Man drives himself and the Boy south relentlessly in the hope that they as "torch bearers" for all the good left in the World will find or create salvation.

McCarthy strips the humanity of these two down to the bare minimum; they are dirty, they are cold and, through hunger, they are slowly dying. They are still "good people" and hold out hope that amongst the lost there will be other good people, but every encounter with strangers is fraught with danger.

As said, a relentless, sometimes hopeless, slog through a dead wilderness sounds an unenterprising premise for a motion picture. Fortunately in scriptwriter Joe Penhall and director John Hillcoat, McCarthy has found kindred spirits. Hillcoat, who directed the almost-as-bleak western The Proposition and the prison movie Ghosts of the Civil Dead, manages to find the core of the novel, the bond between father and son and keep it compelling throughout the film.

There is probably no better actor working today to carry off the role of the Man than Viggo Mortensen. His emaciated frame conveys volumes yet he also brings a deep humanity and love to his role as a man trying to guard and strengthen his son for the challenges ahead, knowing that each day brings him ever closer to his own demise. Australian actor Kodi Smit-McPhee was a revelation in Romulus, My Father and continues his fine work here. There are few other roles. Charlize Theron plays the Man's wife in flashback and Robert Duvall and Guy Pearce pop up as fellow wayfarers. The Wire's Michael K. Williams plays another struggling, amoral traveller.

In adapting the book to the film Penhall and Hillcoat opt to expand the backstory by including far more sequences in the past. This gives a good contrast to the present day though fans of the book might find it jarring. No doubt the director wanted to give the viewer some respite from the unspeakable horrors on the road. And horror there is. Readers of the book will have memories of shocking moments and most of these moments find their way to the finished film. Even for those who know the book well the sense of dread is all encompassing. There are a few other changes to the book (including a voice over narration) but this is a fairly literal translation.

As a film The Road can't move out of the deep shadow created by the book, but it still stands as a major work of art in its own right. Those who were left drained by the book might well feel that the film doesn't reach the emotional depths plumbed by McCarthy. It would have taken someone like Tarkovsky to attempt a accurate rendition of the book. The film would have been in monotone colour with no soundtrack, no credits and no voice-over.

If there is a notion left really unexplored in the film and the book it is the question of whether the struggle of the long years in the wilderness has really been worth it. Should The Man simply have given up like so many others? That he does not do so is due to his love for his son and his all-consuming resolve to see him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

A caveat for all that the film is depressing and a hard slog. It has particular resonance with those with children who must ponder what they would do when faced with a similar terrible decision.It is set in the future and it contains horrific moments but it is neither sci-fi nor horror. At heart it is simply a story of love against the odds in a harsh and desolate world.I wonder how it will be perceived in 5 or 10 years?

Highly recommended.

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Transfer Quality

Video

The Road was shot on Super 35 and projected at the cinema in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. This Blu-ray replicates that aspect ratio.

The film was shot by master Spanish cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe who has shot a number of visually distinctive films like Il Mar Adentro (The Sea Inside), Habla Con Ella (Talk To Her), The Others and the last (and the next) Twilight films.

The film is visually stunning to look at with ashen, blasted locations providing a sombre backdrop to the drama. There is a deal of post-production that has gone into the film to make it perpetually gloomy (in the second extra Hillcoat says how his cinematographer threw Spanish curses to the almighty whenever the glorious sun came out!). As a result there is a real textured look to the film with a light grain throughout. The flesh tones are accurate in a haggard, sickly way.

The only way to assess the colours in the film is to look to the infrequent flashbacks where everything seems a little too bright. The present day is greys, browns, blacks and everything in between. Colour is drained from the film so that even the sea looks a sickly dark mass.

It all looks very real for the reason that Hillcoat tried to avoid CGI wherever he could, using real deserted and dilapidated locations to give the film the ring of truth. There are no technical problems with the transfer.

There are subtitles for the Hearing Impaired which give a good account of on screen action.

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

Audio

   The Road carries two soundtracks, a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio lossless audio track and, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track running at 256 Kb/s. It is not clear why this disparity in tracks exists. Conventional wisdom would dictate that this may have been allocated for a director's commentary track but it is simply the ordinary soundtrack for the film.

The core track is a strong, immersive track. The dialogue can generally be heard clearly although it must be said that the actors are playing cold, tired, hungry and occasionally it is difficult to make out the dialogue through the distressed mumble. This is not a fault with the soundtrack.

The post-apocalypse world is pretty silent and sound is generally used for great effect such as trees falling (73.27) and earthquakes (27.26). At these times the sub-woofer gives the room a good shake. The surround track has a nice ambience.

The score for the film is by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. These two musicians formed a bond which extended beyond their involvement in the Bad Seeds and it becomes one of a number of film projects they have now scored. To my mind the score for The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford is their high point, matching the visuals and mood with the vintage sounding violin. Some film critics have been unconvinced by this score ( J Hoberman calling it "obtrusive"). The truth is that like other introduced aspects of the film, the voice-over and the flashbacks it becomes another interruption to the naked power of the book. In the perfect world there would be no soundtrack, no explanations and perhaps no audience by the end.

As it is the music had previously been available on the White Lunar CD last year. The themes are sad and meditative. I didn't find it obtrusive at all but I understand why others do.

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

Extras

There are two reasonably brief extras on this Blu-ray, together with a photo gallery. They are:

Making of the Road (11.33)

What promised to be an interesting Making of soon degenerated into an annoying puff piece. If there is a least favourite category of featurette it is this type of Making of , where the studio just collects a series of snippets of actors/directors etc saying how much they liked working together and padding it out with oceans of footage from a movie we have just watched. Nothing of real value here.

Walking Into Darkness: John Hillcoat and The Road (13.53)

This featurette has a little more substance, but only just. Director Hillcoat is interviewed at some moderate length about the background to the film and the shooting process. Interesting tidbits? Hillcoat was sent the manuscript for The Road before it was published and the most obviously CGI'ed shot in the film, of two fishing boats sitting on a freeway, was merely a treated version of a real photo of the after effects of Katrina. Worth a watch but still nothing special.

Photo Gallery

A series of 30 odd photos from the production.

This film also comes in a Special Edition with a copy of the CD soundtrack.

R4 vs R1

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

   The Region A version of this Blu-ray apparently contains Deleted Scenes and a Directors' Commentary. Until it is released or reviewed I cannot confirm this information but, if correct, it is to be preferred.

Summary

    With the Pulitzer Prize and perhaps the greater American endorsement, featuring on Oprah's Booklist, The Road has become one of the defining books of the last 10 years. If you haven't read it, do so now. It is arguable that no film could ever capture the icy desolation of the book, but this film comes close. It is often a gruelling experience but it is worth experiencing nonetheless.

This Blu-ray is a fine presentation of the film. It is well acted, well directed and well shot. The lack of decent extras is, however, a disappointment.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer BDP-LX70A Blu-ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayPioneer PDP-5000EX. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationOnkyo TX-SR605
SpeakersJBL 5.1 Surround and Subwoofer

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