The Lost City of Z [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Broadgreen Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (20th July 2017).
The Film

Based on the bestselling partially-fictional book by David Grann, The Lost City of Z is the story of Major Percy Fawcett (Pacific Rim's Charlie Hunnum), a career military man who has spent his more recent years training soldiers at a barracks in County Corke as of 1905. "Unadorned" and unlikely to advance due to his "unfortunate choice in ancestors" (i.e. a father who drunk and gambled away two family fortunes), Fawcett is content with his independent-minded wife Nina (Foxcatcher's Sienna Miller) and young son Jack, but secretly yearns for action. Sent to London for an appointment with the Royal Geographic Society, Fawcett finds himself assigned to map the border between Bolivia and Brazil as a neutral third party in hopes of preventing a war for control of the area's lucrative rubber trade. The promise of exploration in a difficult territory and resulting soldierly decoration as well as a chance to reclaim the family name has Fawcett accepting the assignment even though it will mean years away from his wife and son. His first meeting with Henry Costin (Cosmopolis' Robert Pattinson), the sole respondent to his advertised position of an aide-de-camp, is not encouraging but the laid back man proves to be well-traveled and technically capable. Tasked with finding the source of the Verde River, Fawcett, Costin, and Corporal Arthur Manley (In the Heart of the Sea's Edward Ashley) who initially contacts them on behalf of the British government with the advice to abort the project because of growing tension along the border but ends up accompanying them must procure an Indian guide and a small team of men willing to undertake the treacherous mission, requiring Fawcett to reluctantly deal with the Inca Mining Company president Baron De Gondoriz (Django's Franco Nero), even though the man implicitly pressures him to map the border in a manner favorable to his interests. As the team makes their way up the river with no timeframe, food supplies dwindle, and the men become mutinous as they come to believe that Fawcett cares more about the mission than their survival in the aftermath of a combined attack by natives from the shore and piranha from the below the surface. Fawcett believes that their guide Tadjui (Pedro Coello) has also gone mad as he tells stories of the end of the river and a land of gold and maize never seen by the white man until they finally reach the source of the river and he discovers pottery shards underfoot.

Fawcett returns to England a national hero and finds himself invited into the influential sphere of wealthy biologist, former Antarctica explorer Sir James Murray (Titus' Angus Macfadyen) who listens to his tales with great interest despite warnings from the Royal Geographical Society's Sir George Scott Keltie (A Clockwork Orange's Clive Francis) about "elevating the capability of the native beyond reason." Fawcett's beliefs in an El Dorado-esque lost city he calls Z (or zed) for the "last piece in the human puzzle" which challenges imperial beliefs about the "savage" indigenous people, is greeted with derision by his colleagues but he holds his ground and wins over the crowd with the backing of Murray who wishes to accompany Fawcett, Costin, and Manley on a return trip up the Amazon. Nina, who discovered a crucial document at Trinity College by a Portuguese explorer, also wishes to accompany him on the expedition but it takes more than his beliefs about the physical inequality between men and women to convince her that she is needed at home with two sons who barely know their father. The second expedition is all but an unmitigated failure as Murray proves to be even less physically capable, close-minded about the native peoples including a tribe of cannibals who have no interest in eating them and an increasing danger to the safety and survival of the rest of the team before he is sent back with a leg infection. Forced to abandon the mission due to dwindling supplies just as Fawcett is sure he has found the entrance to the city, he returns to accusations from Murray of abandoning him to die in the jungle; whereupon Fawcett resigns from the Royal Geographical Society rather than apologize on Murray's degrading terms. Fawcett resolves to press on independently, but World War I takes him away from Nina and his family again, including resentful teenage Jack (The Impossible's Tom Holland). In the traumatic aftermath of the war, renewed American interest in Amazonian exploration provides new avenues to Fawcett (including the sponsorship of John D. Rockefeller a little less than half a century before Michael Rockefeller disappeared on an expedition in Papua New Guinea), but can he leave his family again on a mission from which he may never return?

Gorgeously-photographed in 35mm Panavision on location by the great Darius Khondji (Stealing Beauty), The Lost City of Z adorns an interesting story with attractive period detail and experimental scoring by music arranger Christopher Spelman (The Immigrant); but, the "epic" film suffers from an overfamiliarity in its methods of storytelling and a lopsided story structure which has Fawcett on three separate occasions throughout the film questioning how he could ever have chosen (repeatedly) adventure over his loved ones and never matches later in the film anything like the "dark night of the soul" scene thirty-five minutes into the two-hour-and-twenty-minute running time (the World War I scenes also play as a "sequence" to be gotten past rather than as a plot turn that could actually have any bearing on the rest of the story). Visually and aurally, director James Gray (We Own the Night) seems more interested in "recreating" (admittedly stunning) painterly images of the period while never achieving the sort of sensory, almost tactile, immersion into the story and the landscape of older examples of endurance in the jungle from the works of Werner Herzog whose Fitzcarraldo is referenced in the Baron bringing opera to the Amazon for entertainment on his plantation or even more mainstream works like Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, The Mosquito Coast, or The Mission. It does not help that Hunnum is not a particularly compelling lead, Miller strives to make something more of her worried wife awaiting word from her husband role (her discovery of the Portuguese document is an embellishment of the script as it was actually found by Fawcett at the National Library of Rio de Janeiro), while Pattinson, Holland, Macfadyen, and even Nero in his cameo make more of an impression with less. The end result is nice to look at, but a documentary on the subject making more use of the research in the book might have been more interesting.


Shot in 35mm Panavision with high speed Kodak stock deliberately over- and underexposed to accentuate grain (as well as intentionally fogging the film for some scenes), Broadgreen's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.40:1 widescreen encode of the film seems to preserve the look of the film with sometimes sickly yellows and greens in British and Irish scenes and more vibrant greens and browns in the jungle scenes (in which most of the characters also sport a healthier pallor). Oddly, while Broadgreen's contemporary release of merits a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release, the one announced for this film has been cancelled. The film did undergo brief cuts to achieve a PG-13 rating but it is currently unknown as to whether the versions in other territories is more complete (the BBFC lists the UK theatrical release as 140:57 versus the Blu-ray's 141:14 which may include the Broadgreen logo).


Audio options include English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Spanish DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles as well as English subtitles printed onto the image for some Spanish, Portuguese, and German dialogue (with the Spanish subtitles appearing above the image for these bits). The 5.1 mixes make full use of the surrounds during the jungle scenes as well as some of the city and party scenes back in England while source music also has a sense of space in the mix that is distinguishable from the score (with the opera music sounding believably "distant" in the mix before we realize that there actually are opera singers in the jungle).


Extras start off with an audio commentary by director James Gray who reveals that he first started developing the project in 2010 as a vehicle for Brad Pitt who then signed on for World War Z, whereupon he was replaced with Benedict Cumberbatch whose then-pregnant wife did not relish giving birth in the Amazon. He initially did not even entertain the prospect of Hunnam because he had only seen him on the show Sons of Anarchy and believed him to be an American actor. Gray also "wrote" the screenplay, in that the source book is actually a non-fictional account of author Grann's research and his own visit to the Amazon, and so the story is heavily fictionalized. The discussion of the scene choices, character motivations, and all of the liberties he took not only with what there was of the source material but also of historical details that would be deemed "mistakes" is quite enlightening. Featurettes include the EPK talking head interviews "Adventure in the Jungle" (2:21) with Gray, Hunumm, Miller, Pattinson, and Holland, as well as "From Novel to Screen" (3:10) with the same as well as Grann who gives some background into his research which included access to Fawcett's secret journals provided by his granddaughter. The "Expedition Journal" featurette is actually not excerpts from the real journals but a stills gallery of promotional images from the film itself. The disc opens with a trailer for The Salesman.


The Lost City of Z is a visually- and aurally-stunning treatment of one of the twentieth century's most compelling unsolved mysteries, but its dramatic treatment is unfortunately lacking.


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