Tree of Life, The (Blu-ray) (2011)

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Released 7-Dec-2011

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Featurette-Exploring the Tree of Life (29.54)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 2011
Running Time 138:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 4 Directed By Terrence Malick
Studio
Distributor
Icon Entertainment Starring Brad Pitt
Sean Penn
Jessica Chastain
Hunter McCracken
Laramie Eppler
Tye Sheridan
Fiona Shaw
Jessica Fuselier
Case Standard Blu-ray
RPI $54.95 Music Alexandre Desplat


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English DTS HD Master Audio 5.1
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 1080p
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    

We would like to remind patrons that The Tree of Life is a uniquely visionary

and deeply philosophical film from an auteur director. It does not follow a traditional linear narrative approach to storytelling.

We encourage patrons to read up on the film before choosing to see it, and for those electing to attend,

please go in with an open mind and know that the Avon has a NO-REFUND policy once you have purchased a ticket to see one of our films.


Sign outside a US cinema showing The Tree of Life.

     The winner of the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival is often a controversial choice. This year was no different. The winning film, The Tree of Life, had screened to both boos and cheers when the competition began. It made little impact on the box office and is likewise destined to perform poorly on home video. Nevertheless, you must buy this film.

     Director Terrence Malick has made just five films over a 38 year career. Each has been met by differing measures of acclaim and criticism: Badlands, Days of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The New World and now The Tree of Life. How often could it be said that a genuine auteur of the cinema could have earned his place based on so meagre an output?

     With The Tree of Life Malick has created a deeply personal work that is as captivating as it is confusing and life affirming. Almost bereft of a narrative it is a meditation on the eternal questions of life and our role within all things - the tree of life of the title. Those who demand rigidity in their narratives are warned to stay well clear. This film will distract and annoy anyone with expectations of forward motion and belongs almost in the realm of experimental cinema. It has the ability to cause considerable debate. In his review for the New York Times critic A.O. Scott describes the film as an aspiring, difficult work of art that shares kinship with the great works of American literature - Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Herman Melville's Moby Dick - not because it is perfect but because it is visionary, pushing the reader or viewer forward "toward a new horizon of understanding". High praise indeed, yet a reader disagreed -
Terrible! It isn't even a film. The fact that there is charming music, brilliant visual images and actors put altogether on a cinema screen doesn't make it a film. It's only a collection of bland didactic statements. Its like, "Now, let me tell you what you should know. No. 1... No.2... No.3... .

     Taken from different standpoints they are both right. The Tree of Life is a perfectly imperfect creation principally because it allows us to create our own journey through the images. It doesn't come ready packaged with motivations and grand revelations. Early on, in a move that could, and perhaps should, evoke both praise and ridicule Malick depicts nothing less than the journey of creation from a giant nothingness to the moment of a character’s birth.

     As said,The Tree of Life does not really have a plot in the most formal sense of the word however it does comprise a series of events. Jack (Sean Penn) is an architect living in a city of steel and glass. He is deeply unhappy and the film consists of memories of his growing up in Waco, Texas in the 1950s. Young Jack and his two brothers live with their loving yet authoritarian father (Brad Pitt) and nurturing mother (Jessica Chastain). In an opening narration Chastain talks of the two paths through life - the way of grace and the way of nature. At its most simplistic thematic level the film pits these ways against each other. Pitt, the failed inventor, has put aside his desires to be a musician for the comfortability of engineering and regrets each moment of lost time. Chastain is a symbol of all that is grace and beauty. The boys, two newcomers, experience the joys and pain of growing up. The film exists as nothing more than a series of events, often minor, in their lives. Any greater attempt to describe the plot will just diminish the experience.

     Performances are strong throughout though the film is almost wordless. In hushed narration characters describe their innermost feelings on the nature of pain, loss and the Almighty. The manner of shooting is angular, elliptical and elegiac. It is equal measures pretension and insights, an imperfect gem. So why do I suggest that this is an indispensable purchase?

     There are numerous reasons. Firstly, no one is making films like this, on this type of scale. It sits almost alone as a transcendental, semi-experimental work where the camera simply seems to follow the characters creating life from the everyday. Sean Penn, for his part, had some criticism of Terrence Malick, saying that the director never really explained to him what he was supposed to be doing and he felt that a stronger narrative would not necessarily have hurt the aesthetic intentions of the picture. Penn is an actor who needs a strong anchor and his part is adrift. Why is he so devastated by the ages old loss? We never know. As it is, however, this is a film which creates images and moments from which we the audience can reflect on our past and ponder the imponderables. An obvious comparison is 2001: A Space Odyssey but whilst Kubrick looks at man in the future, where we are going, Malick confronts us with the past and the present and perhaps the future of the soul.

     Secondly, in the Blu-ray format, The Tree of Life is one of the most visually stunning movies it has been my pleasure to watch or review. It is a showcase for the format.

     This is a film which will endure beyond the present and continue to provoke and inspire for ages to come.

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Transfer Quality

Video

     The Tree of Life comes to Blu-ray in the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Taking a quick look at the IMDB information regarding the filming of the movie immediately reveals the audacity of the project-combining 35mm and glorious 65 mm film as well as High Definition Digital Video using the RED Camera.

     The result is beyond stunning. The images are some of the most beautiful that have graced my home theatre system and at times the only comparison I could draw was with the film Baraka which combined stunning imagery with beautiful music.

     The qualities of this transfer are to be found everywhere. The level of detail and sharpness of the image in the 1950s sequences is superb as is the sharpness of the modern city. Malick coaxed special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull out of retirement to work on special effects for the "origin" ocean sequence. He believed that the old-style effects that Trumbull used in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Blade Runner looked better than modern CGI. He was right. The sequences created in water tanks by Trumbull are stunning. It is in fact the case that the least effective images in the film are those of the CGI dinosaurs. As good as they are they simply cannot compete for beauty and grandeur with the film work.

     The colours are bright, clear and very accurate. Though the film is long there is not a hint of compression or artefacts to be found. It is a peerless transfer.

     There are subtitles in English 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 Tree of Life carries a single soundtrack being a DTS HD Master audio 5.1 surround track.

     The exceptional visual quality of the film is matched by the sonic transfer. That is with two minor caveats below. The film has very little dialogue however it is heavy with music, particularly classical music. The soundtrack is simply ravishing in its quality and choice of music. All eras are covered from Bach and Couperin from the Baroque Era, Brahms and Berlioz of the Romantic Era as well as modern composers like John Taverner and Zbigniew Priesner. The music is unsurprisingly full of religious overtones and the use of the Berlioz' Requiem in the final moments is powerful and sublime. It is almost an afterthought to mention that the film has its own dedicated score from Alexandre Desplat which contains numerous strong and moving themes.

     The surround work in the film is sublime and beautiful. The choral work is spread across the channels. So too are the sounds of nature - the crashing waves, the gentle breeze and the noises of the environment.

     The caveats? Dialogue plays an unusual role in the film; in voice-over it is often hushed and whispered, in conversation it is often mumbled and can be difficult to understand. Whether this harms the movie is difficult to tell because much of the dialogue is not really essential to understanding or enjoyment of the film.

     The other problem may be simply a matter of settings. The subwoofer is used frequently in the film. In fact, the bass rumble is so deep in some sequences that it caused vibration throughout my theatre room. Although this is often an attraction in big budget blockbusters in this film it did tend to draw attention to itself.

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

Extras

Exploring The Tree of Life

     There is only one extra included with this Blu-ray however it is a fairly interesting. Terence Malick is well-known as a recluse and will never be interviewed for his films or provide an audio commentary. Therefore he is nowhere to be seen in the making of featurette. Instead it is left to directors Christopher Nolan and David Fincher to explain what Malick has meant to them over the years. The featurette gathers in key cast (with the exception of Sean Penn) to talk about working with Malick and the filming process. It is perhaps no surprise that Malick approached his producers with copious notes and some photographs rather than a traditional script. The production process sounds all the world as if the director and his cinematographic crew simply gave the actors some basic ideas and then followed them as the story took shape.

     An interesting, fairly lengthy making of featurette.

R4 vs R1

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

    A reader has pointed out that the Region A version has a 7.1 surround track. Given that this audio track is close to perfection it is difficult to imagine that it could be improved. But for those with 7.1 capacity they may want to pick up the overseas version. Not sure if it is Region Locked though ...

Summary

     There is no doubt that The Tree of Life will continue to divide audiences. Devotees will see it as one of the most profound considerations of the eternal questions whereas others will see it as a pretentious mess. I fall into the former camp despite a lack of traditional faith.

     The Blu-ray is reference quality and profoundly beautiful both in sound and vision terms. The extra is an interesting insight into the making of the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Monday, December 05, 2011
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. 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.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
R4 vs R1? - REPLY POSTED
R4 vs R1 -
7.1 Soundtrack -