The Road (2009)

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Released 26-May-2010

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Making Of-The Marking of The Road
Featurette-Walking Into Darkness: John Hillcoat's The Road
Trailer-Trailers for other Icon films
Rating Rated MA
Year Of Production 2009
Running Time 107:01 (Case: 106)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (68:54) 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 $34.95 Music Nick Cave
Warren Ellis


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/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 for the Hearing Impaired Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

     Any film adaptation of a prize winning novel, such as Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, raises questions about how effectively the film reflects the themes, feel and mood of the book, and whether one needs to have read the book to review the film effectively. Some of the difficulties of translating The Road to the screen are covered in Trevor D’s excellent review of the Blu-ray release of The Road on this site here. So I should say from the outset that I have not read the book, so will review the DVD solely as a cinematic experience.

     An unexplained holocaust has engulfed the world, leaving human beings mired in dirt, misery, violence and cannibalism. In this bleak, winter, colourless landscape of abandoned cars, derelict buildings and dead, leafless trees walk a father and son pushing their possessions in a shopping trolley. They are heading south towards the coast because the man (Viggo Mortensen) believes that there will be hope for safety and a better life for the boy (Kodi Smit-McPhee) there. Along the way they encounter ample evidence of the inhumanity of the few remaining humans who prey on other victims, but they also find rare moments of humanity, such as in their meeting with the old man (Robert Duvall). In the end they reach the coast, but the destination is not quite the end the man expected.

     The Road could easily have been a bleak, unrelenting film. It certainly displays enough of the horrors post apocalyptic mankind has descended to, including robbery, rape, murder and cannibalism. Even the humanity of the Man is questioned: to what lengths will he go to protect and save his son? Will his actions result in him become as evil as the people he confronts? Will he remain a “good guy”? As the man, Viggo Mortensen is seldom off camera and he turns in a powerful, emotional performance, in turns caring, vulnerable, resolute, worn down by worry and his responsibility for his son. Kodi Smit-McPhee is also good as the boy forced to grow old early, and make decisions well beyond his years. Indeed, it is his voice that provides hope; where the man is worn down, suspicious and negative, the boy retains some positives and will not totally capitulate to the nihilism of the present. “What’s on the other side?” the boy asks his father when they finally reach the sea. “Nothing”, the man replies; to which the boy responds “there has to be something”. In the boy, and others like him, the film offers the hope of a better world and a future for mankind.

     John Hillcoat is a very visual director, using landscape powerfully as a character and rejecting extensive use of CGI. In The Proposition, the barren plains and rock outcrops of outback colonial Australia helped to set a tone of bleakness and isolation. The Road uses the bleak, post apocalyptic ravaged landscape of rural American, beautifully photographed in Pennsylvania, Oregon and Louisiana by director of photography Javier Aguirresarobe, equally to telling effect. And while the score by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis has been criticised as obtrusive, to my mind the haunting, minimalist arrangements of piano, strings and pump organ perfectly enhance the feeling of isolation and alienation so powerfully portrayed by the vision.

     The Road is a bleak, powerful film with stunning images, a haunting score and a wonderful central performance that is ultimately life affirming. I don’t know about the book, but as a film The Road is a stunning cinematic experience that deserves to be seen.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Road is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 which is the original theatrical ratio. It features a very dark, desaturated colour palate with browns and greys dominant, with the only primary colours occurring in a couple of pre-apocalypse flashbacks.

     The video renders this bleak landscape very well. Within the palate, colours are faithful, blacks are rock solid and shadow detail exceptional, which is just as well given that many scenes are in diffused light or darkness. Sharpness does vary, but this may have been a deliberate artistic choice. There is some grain evident occasionally, especially in the beach scenes towards the end of the film, but I did not notice any artefacts.

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

Audio

     Audio is a choice between English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448 Kbps) and 2.0 (192 Kbps). The 5.1 track is a very good immersive experience. The surrounds are constantly used for music and ambient effects although panning effects are not frequent. There is not a lot of action in the film but the subwoofer is used very effectively to support thunder, rain and falling tree effects.

     On a number of occasions the dialogue is delivered in a whisper or mumbled and I was not able to make it out; however, the English subtitles can be enabled. They are in a clear white font and seem to follow the dialogue well.

     There are no lip synchronisation issues.

     As noted, the minimalist music by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, with a little aid from a J.S. Bach sonata, is a wonderful, effective support for the film.

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

Extras

     Note: after the copyright warning the DVD continues with trailers for Edge of Darkness (2:35), Triangle (1:49), Precious (2:25) and Heavy Rain (1:53) that must be skipped individually. I like trailers but prefer to pick when I want to see them and I find this force feeding an unwarranted throwback to the days of VHS tapes!

The Making of The Road (11:33)

     This is not really a “Making of”: it is more a look at the book and plot points with lots of film clips; then various people say how great everyone else was. Comments come from Viggo Mortensen and Michael K. Williams (actors), John Hillcoat (director), Nick Wechsler (producer) and Joe Penhall (screenwriter). The most interesting bit is footage of author Cormac McCarthy on set.

Walking Into Darkness: John Hillcoat’s The Road (13:52)

     A more interesting piece, this is an extended interview with director John Hillcoat about his intentions, the shoot and his comments on actors and crew. Again it includes a lot of film clips.

The Road: A Gallery

     36 mainly behind the scenes stills. They are presented without music and the remote must be used to advance to the next still.

R4 vs R1

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

     Various sites advertise that the DVD includes an audio commentary by director John Hillcoat. This is not the case. Instead, like his earlier film The Proposition, Region 1 receives his very good audio commentary and Region 4 does not. A win to Region 1.

Summary

     Films with a post apocalyptic theme are always of interest when done well so with excellent films such as The Road and the Denzel Washington vehicle The Book of Eli the genre is currently in good hands. The Road is a powerful and ultimately life affirming film with a magnificent central performance by Viggo Mortensen that deserves to be seen. The DVD is presented with excellent video and audio, but limited extras.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Saturday, June 05, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

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