The Tree of Life [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andy James & Noor Razzak (27th November 2011).
The Film

"The Tree of Life" is just about as far away from a "typical Hollywood" film as you could get (but starring two of the most respected and well known Hollywood actors). This year's Palme d'Or winner at Cannes, it had played to some polarised audiences. And, evidently the audience (when I watched the film originally in theaters) was unsure what to expect either as there were a number of walk-outs - notably in the last 2 minutes of the film.

To be fair, I'm not entirely certain what my own expectations for the film were but knowing Terrence Malick's previous work, I was sure there was going to be a focus on nature and large digressions around that. Well, "The Tree of Life" has that and then some. It is a beautiful film, with long moments that can only be described as cinematic poetry. There comes a point where you just have to give yourself up to it and let the wonder wash over and around you. These periods of visual trippiness and beauty easily give Stanley Kubrick's "2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968) a run for its money. In fact, the centre-piece of the film is the bravura sequence that includes the creation of the earth, the shaping of the planet, pre-history, dinosaurs before finally leading up to the birth of the O'Brien's first son, Jack.

"The Tree of Life" is not a narrative film in the often seen sense of the word. There is no strong narrative throughline, instead the body of the film is taken up with Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien (an uncompromising Brad Pitt and an ethereal Jessica Chastain) and there three boys growing up in 1950's Texas. Brad Pitt takes the role of Mr. O'Brien - a bastard of a father, he who must be feared and respected - and completely owns it. His physicality is impressive, saying much with just a hunch and the set of his jaw. Chastain too is impressive as the more kind-hearted and all too-often put upon mother and she carries a difficult role with grace. Which is fitting, as this is (as far as I can read) what she represents. Dichotomy and binary opposition are in constant play and reflection throughout the film: selfish nature and self-less grace; Mrs. O'Brien and Mr. O'Brien; the micro and the macro; the natural world and the city; the past and the present.

As great as the two adults are, it is the three boys who are at the centre of it all and they are impressive. Malick has pulled off the trick of capturing boys... just being boys: they run and play and fight and get in trouble. But they are also boys whose eyes, especially when their father is around, dull a little. Hunter McCracken as the young Jack (later Sean Penn) is an especial marvel, carrying no sense of being a "Hollywood child" and instead just quietly carrying a lot of the film.

The film isn't perfect, and you could argue that some of it veers towards the unintelligible and pretentious. What you cannot call "The Tree of Life" (and Malick) is unambitious. Malick constantly pushes the camera in and out, always creating a sense of movement and filling the film with small surprises. Each shot, each frame is a small work of visual art, as they often are with Malick's films. This is a film of beauty and wonder, sadness and life, nature and religion. I look forward to seeing it again.

Video

Presented in 1.85:1 high definition 1080p 24/fps mastered in AVC MPEG-4 compression, Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki have crafted a film of splendid beauty and striking images that come together in what is one of the finest looking films I've seen this year. Malick previously worked with Lubezki to great success on "The New World" (2005) and he does it again on "The Tree of Life". Similarly to "The New World" this film was also shot with natural lighting, giving the film an magnificently real look, shot in both a combination of 35mm and IMAX 65mm the image is super sharp, wonderfully vibrant and clear. There's not a flaw that I can detect, the photography is splendidly lit, colors are beautifully balanced, skin tones are natural and black levels are deep, bold and inky. Grain is evident and maintains that filmic look, a weighted feel to the overall transfer that comes as a most welcomed sight that the Blu-ray technicians didn't scrub it clean with DNR. It's a brilliant looking image that deserves to be seen in its full HD glory on a giant screen.

Audio

Two audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit and an English Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film it's its DTS-HD 7.1 track, and while this film is mostly a contemplative and overall somber film, there are grand and sweeping moments that whisk the viewers away with a brilliantly complex and balanced soundtrack. Dialogue is clear and distortion free, ambient and environmental surrounds are wonderfully natural and feel like they belong. The film's score by Alexandre Desplat, who delivers a stunning and immersive addition to the audio track. This is a robust, sprawling, deep and wonderful audio track.
Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Fox has released this film is a sparse collection of extras, we get a single documentary, the film's original theatrical trailer, as well as additional versions on DVD and a digital copy. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

There's only a single, yet well crafted extra on this disc, the "Exploring 'The Tree of Life'" documentary (1080p) that runs for 29 minutes 56 seconds, while the disc lacks any other meaningful supplements such as an audio commentary, deleted scenes, etc. this feature is worth exploring, a surprisingly in-depth making-of that delves into the production from various aspects as key cast and crew are interviewed. Sadly the film's director is nowhere to be seen throughout this feature, which is expected considering he never does press and remains away from cameras.

The film's original theatrical trailer (1080p) is also included on this disc and runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds.

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a standard definition DVD version of the film

DISC THREE:

This is a digital copy version of the film.

Packaging

Packaged in a Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The film review was originally published on the blog Rockets and Robots are Go! by Andy James. The A/V and supplements were reviewed by Noor Razzak.

The Film: B+ Video: A+ Audio: A+ Extras: D+ Overall: C+

 


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