Pi (1998)

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Released 15-Nov-2001

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio & Animation
Audio Commentary-Darren Aronofsky (Director)
Audio Commentary-Sean Gullette (Actor)
Deleted Scenes-4
Theatrical Trailer-2
Notes-Soundtrack
Music Video
Production Notes
Biographies-Cast & Crew
Trailer-Amores Perros; The Bank; The Most Fertile Man In Ireland
Trailer-Mullet; The Shadow Of The Vampire
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 80:12 (Case: 85)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Darren Aronofsky
Studio
Distributor
Harvest Filmworks
Madman Entertainment
Starring Sean Gullette
Mark Margolis
Ben Shenkman
Samia Shoaib
Pamela Hart
Ajay Naidu
Joanne Gordon
Stephen Pearlman
Case Soft Brackley-Transp
RPI $32.95 Music Clint Mansell


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (256Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.66:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Many times in the past and probably many times to come in the future, I have made it quite clear that if you want some spice in your film diet you need to look away from the Hollywood studios and seek other pastures. Hollywood is so far up itself that imitation is not only the sincerest form of flattery, but it is also the only form of inspiration in a studio and star system that basically has lost the plot completely and has become completely self-serving. So instead of just continuing to digest the latest over-hyped piece of Hollywood dross, we have to look elsewhere for the new, the different, the envelope-pushing and the plain exhilarating in film. We see it in films from our own industry, we see it in films from Europe and Asia, we see it in films from Africa and South America. But if you do need to keep to the films of America, then what you are talking about are the independent films - those films made by people with passion and enthusiasm, people with ideas if not money.

    Pi is just one of those films. The debut feature of Darren Aronofsky, it is a film that certainly created a stir of interest and indicated that the man might well be someone to watch very closely in the future. Of note is the fact that his follow-up feature, Requiem For A Dream has been even more critically praised than Pi, and the man has been basically given the task of resurrecting the moribund Batman franchise in feature films after Joel Schumacher buried it under a pile of manure. Not bad for an independent director whose debut feature had a total budget of US$60,000 - and has grossed something over $3 million at the US box office alone. Not bad at all - and certainly all those people who put up their $150 to finance the film or took their percentage as opposed to being paid are more than likely to have got their money back. The film certainly indicates that there was no budget to speak of, but not in the obvious ways. Some day someone will remake the film with a sizeable budget, and I can virtually guarantee that no matter how many bucks they throw at it, it will not be any better a film than we have right here, right now. It might be cheap film making, but it is impassioned film making - film making where technical inexperience is overcome by sheer bloody enthusiasm and will.

    The result is a film that is still not entirely understood - and I am dead certain that Darren Aronofsky is probably ecstatic that people still cannot pigeonhole what is going on in Pi. Written by Darren Aronofsky and Sean Gullette over a lengthy period, it stars Sean Gullette as Max Cohen, a brilliant mathematician who is seeking the order in chaos - in the most chaotic system on earth, the stock market. The search has reduced him to a virtual hermit bordering on the brink of total insanity, whose only real contact with the outside world is his mentor Sol Robeson (Mark Margolis). Whilst his pursuit does mean Max has no chance of forming any sort of relationship with his attractive next door neighbour Devi (Samia Shoaib), he nonetheless meets some interesting people. Amongst them are Lenny Meyer (Ben Shenkman), a numbers man from the Kabalah sect who are trying to unlock the numerical code locked inside the Torah, and Marcy Dawson (Pamela Hart), the front person for an aggressive Wall Street firm desperate to get the secret of the numbers when Max unlocks it. But the unlocking of this mystery, to bring order to chaos, is pushing Max beyond his endurance and the intense migraines and hallucinations are just a part of the problem and solution.

    This is gritty, stark, real film making that exposes the fine line between sanity and insanity unmercilessly. And it may not be Max who is the insane one. Superbly crafted as a story and as a film, the highlights are obvious. Debutante actor Sean Gullette realises the role of Max as only someone who has lived with the story and character for eight months can. His performance is terrific and you are left in no doubt that he is Max Cohen. The mainly subjective narrative style of the film has been heightened by his great monologues as well as the ways in which Darren Aronofsky worked to highlight the subjective aspect of the film. This is highlighted by the use of the "Snorricam", which is basically a camera hung off Sean's chest facing back at him. It makes for some unusually intense point of view shots that would otherwise have left the film stripped of its subjective style. Added to the subjective "Snorricam" are other techniques such as a vibrating camera shot that provides a gorgeously jarring effect in the visuals, effectively highlighting the introspective point of view of Max, as well as making his migraine attacks really obvious. It is truly amazing what people can do with a whole lot of ingenuity and not much money. The film won the director the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Festival and basically launched what could be a long and distinguished career in feature films.

   I have now watched this film a few times and I cannot say that I truly understand it - yet. But I can say that every time I have watched it, I have been engrossed by the film. It might not be mindless entertainment, but it is intelligent film making of a kind long since departed from Hollywood. If you fancy a bit of spice in your film diet, or even just want to see what the buzz was all about, I would urge you to get your hands on this DVD (and then on Requiem For A Dream). If you are happy with the tedious rubbish from Hollywood, then avoid this like the plague - you will not enjoy it at all.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    It is very grainy, it is very stark and it basically looks the way you feel the morning after the night before. In other words, Darren Aronofsky aimed for something very different in style and succeeded superbly. And it is a DVD author's nightmare. Let's be honest, the look of this film means that even a lousy transfer would do little to disrupt the film. In actual fact, Madman have given us a very good transfer, but the film still looks like rubbish and we are all happy about it as it is supposed to look this way!

    The transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.66:1 and it is not 16x9 enhanced. Semi-complicated mathematics would probably indicate the reason why 16x9 enhancement of this ratio film would not be of much use - but the simple truth is the look of this film makes it of little use. The film is supposed to look gritty and stark and if the lack of 16x9 enhancement means that it heightens the effect on widescreen displays, so much the better.

    The film was shot on a variety of film stocks, with the predominant being black and white reversal film stock. This stuff is very difficult to film with apparently, and creates a very grainy, gritty, stark look - a look that the filmmakers were trying for. They succeeded. So whilst there are periods of relatively normal looking film - nice and sharp, clear and bright, free of grain - the main look is terribly grainy, not very sharp and at times enormously diffuse. You certainly cannot approach this film with any normal expectations of clarity, definition and detail. What we see here is precisely what was intended, and in many ways is the complete antithesis of the Hollywood film. The more grain the better and if there is any low level noise here, you cannot see it and it would in any case only enhance the look of the film.

    You can forget normal conceptions about colour here too. Filmed in black and white obviously, we have a lot of intense stuff on the very extremes of the spectrum of black and white. At times suffocatingly bright white, at times hellishly absorbing black, what we see is the extremes that the director was looking for. It does make for a most interesting picture.

    Given the nature of the look of the film, this transfer could be riddled with all sorts of MPEG artefacts and film-to-video artefacts and basically we could neither see them nor be annoyed by them. Thankfully, the transfer is not so blighted and is a very good effort. About the only noticeable issue with film-to-video artefacts is some aliasing, most notably at 6:35 in the shoulder of the cafe owner. There are some film artefacts floating around but again they blend right in to the nature of the transfer anyway and are not the least bit intrusive.

    There are no subtitle options on the DVD, which is a little disappointing given that the film is horrendously monologue-driven and much of that is at what might be termed variable levels. Hearing impaired viewers are going to have some problems here methinks.

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

Audio

    There are three soundtracks on the DVD, all being Dolby Digital 2.0 efforts: English and two English Audio Commentaries.

    The dialogue comes up quite well in the transfer and is reasonably easy to understand, but with some sections that will tax those with slightly poorer hearing. There does not appear to be any audio sync problems with the soundtrack at all.

    The original score comes from Clint Mansell and a stunner it is too. Rather retro-techno in feel, much like the feel of the film, this is a good example of a score very effectively underscoring the feel of the film without really overpowering the film. The lack of an isolated music score is all the more regretted.

    The soundtrack really has nothing much to do apart from carry the dialogue and the music for much of the film. It does this very well, and the nature of the film is such that a 5.1 soundtrack would have been a complete waste of time and money in my view. The soundtrack does get some chances to shine, such as in some of the hallucinated segments in the subway.

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

Extras

    Had this been released by one of the major studios, you can rest assured that the Special Edition tag would have been slapped all over this package. In some respects it is nice that Madman have been restrained enough not to so emblazon the package and blow their own trumpet.

Menu

    Some somewhat in-your-face style of main menu animation, with some heavy audio enhancement, really sets the tone for the film. Thankfully, the other menus are not quite so in your face and the overall package has a uniquely distinctive feel to it. I cannot help but feel that someone at Madman saw this as a labour of love.

Audio Commentary - Darren Aronofsky (Director)

    Personally, I found this to be a bit of a disappointment overall. I was perhaps expecting too much from someone who is obviously very involved with this film in every aspect. Whilst there is still some merit in the commentary, the fact that he does not perhaps illuminate some of the artistic choices made as much as I would like means that we are to some extent left in the dark as regards the objective of the choices. Still, I have heard far worse, even if silence does have its moments.

Audio Commentary - Sean Gullette (Actor)

    Also something of a disappointment overall when compared to expectations, with again a curiously detached feeling to the commentary, even though he obviously spent a lot of time working on the story. Again there are patches of silence, but on the whole a reasonable effort. The start seems to be somewhat cut as Sean says who he is.

Deleted Scenes (4)

    All are presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced with commentary by the director in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The presentation is even worse than the main feature, but that is somewhat to be expected, and the scenes all have the time coding information in the top of the frame. The scenes are: Ubermensch (0:32), Farroukh (0:37), Slinky (0:38) and Camera Test (2:06). Obviously the latter is not so much a deleted scene, but its inclusion is interesting enough. Slinky suffers from a touch of moiré artefacting, but otherwise nothing new is noted technically speaking. The reason for deletion is quite obvious.

Theatrical Trailers (2)

    The two trailers are billed as Original (1:14) and Theatrical Trailer (1:30), sort of reflecting the pre-Sundance and post-Sundance situations of the film. Both are presented in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing truly remarkable about either of them, but nice to have them in the package.

Notes - Soundtrack

    Basically a one page promotion of the soundtrack CD.

Music Video (2:49)

    A rather non-descript promo video featuring some of that pulsating techno music from the film and some images from the film, with the added touch of some colour footage of ants. The significance of the ants is never really adequately explained by the director.... Presented in the same format as the main feature, it is naturally grainy as well as being a bit truncated at the end.

Production Notes

    Thirteen pages of notes about the making of the film.

Biographies - Cast and Crew

    Some informative notes about some of the main people involved in the film. Seems odd that an independent distributor can give us up to five pages on feature film debutantes when major distributors cannot even give us bios!

Trailers (5)

    Going by the title of Madman Propaganda, which is horrendously misspelt as progaganda in the menu itself, this is simply a collection of trailers for recent and upcoming Madman releases: Amores Perros (2:08, 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0), The Bank (1:58, 1.78:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0), The Most Fertile Man In Ireland (1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0), Mullet (1:57, 2.35:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0) and The Shadow Of The Vampire (1:28, 1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0). Amores Perros is decidedly darkish, The Most Fertile Man In Ireland is obviously pan and scanned since the credits are chopped off left and right, as well as being grainy but otherwise the quality is reasonable across the board.

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 misses out:

    The Region 1 release misses out:

    The only essential difference between the two versions is the behind the scenes montage, which I actually found quite interesting even if the technical quality is very much on a par with home video stuff (which it really is I suppose). The look of the film to me seems to be slightly better in the NTSC Region 1 release, being perhaps a little grittier. Overall the call would be very marginally in favour of the Region 1 release content-wise but price-wise, Region 4 would have to be the clear winner.

Summary

    Definitely not your average Hollywood film, Pi is about as gritty and stark as they come. It is a perplexing film in many respects, but to my mind one of the best independent films out of the USA in the last five years. The presentation is superb, even if the look is intended to be pretty ordinary. Madman are to be congratulated for this release and it deserves to have a wide audience. Put you mind into gear and check out real film making - a definite case where the whole is a lot more than the sum of its parts.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Saturday, December 01, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
Brilliant - Anonymous
R4 vs R1 cover art - Guest