Children Of Men

Children Of Men (2006)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor
Extras: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Interviews

When the HD-DVD version of "Children Of Men" landed on my desk earlier this week I hadn't even heard of this film before. I went to the Internet movie Database to take a quick look at the movie's specs to find an 8.2 user rating. That's pretty impressive and I decided to give the disc and immediate spin.

Directed and written by Alfonso Cuarón, "Children Of Men" is a dark science fiction film about the impending doom of mankind. In the year 2027 all women of the world are infertile and it has been almost 20 years since the last baby was born. Gradually, one person at a time, the human race is dying out. And the world looks accordingly. With civilization in shambles the world seems a place of anarchy, a place of civil unrest in which police forces are barely able to keep a lid on the boiling pot.

After losing his son to a flu pandemic many years ago, Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is living a hopeless life. He has nothing to live for and while he doesn't have the strength to put an end to his miserable life, he is simply drifting along, hopeless, numb, and without aspirations. The only light in his life is his friend Jasper (Michael Caine), sort of a hippie relic, who tries to teach him to embrace some of the beauties of life.

Then one day his former wife, Julian (Julianne Moore) shows up, out of the blue. She is the leader of a political underground movement with a proposition. She asks Theo to work his contacts to get transport papers that would allow one of their members to travel to the coast through police controlled area. With $5000 as an incentive Theo accepts, gets the papers and travels with the group to take the young woman to the coast. But then something remarkable happens. He realizes the woman is pregnant! She is a walking miracle. She is carrying the only hope of mankind. The only baby in 20 years and through it, she becomes the target of every political group and every ambitious revolutionist. Suddenly not only the safety of the young woman is in his hands but the future of all mankind!

"Children Of Men" is an interesting film working with an intriguing premise. Dark, seedy and gritty there is not a single frame of beauty or pleasure in the entire film. As such it is a very brooding experience, especially combined with the graphic violence that splatters the screen – and the camera lens – continuously.

I am not sure where the 8.2 user rating comes from. While it is not a bad film, personally I certainly wouldn't rank it so highly. The plot is full of action and violence – and that is probably the main reason for its popularity – that is marvellously put into images. The film creates an amazing reality. At any given moment the viewer feels as if they're part of the action, right there next to the characters, creating a rather strong rapport if you will that keeps the viewer on the edge.

On the other hand however I found the characters to be flat and distant. We have no idea for people's motivations, their backgrounds or their ideals. Nothing in the film really made me care about any of the characters, including Theo or Kee, the young mother. Frankly, I was glad when Julianne Moore's character left the story and the only true highlight of the film is Michael Caine in a part that is much too small. Overall it is not a matter of poor acting but an underdeveloped script that leaves the viewer detached at all times.

I was always looking for a moment of revelation, where I get the sense that pieces fall into place, or a sense of relief that everything may be alright or even a sense of dread that things might not turn out so well in the end. Sadly I didn't get either and even when the movie's end credits started to roll I couldn't really care for the film's outcome. So all in all, while it was fun to watch, it was fun only while it lasted and without provoking any thoughts or further emotions.

Universal Home Entertainment sends "Children Of Men" in the high definition race with a great-looking 1080p transfer in the movie's original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The film's gritty and stark look is nicely reproduced here without any flaws or blemishes. Extremely strong contrasts make out the movie's image as well as undersaturated colors that give the world a bleak look throughout. The beauty of the English countryside is nicely captured during the travel while always maintaining that look of a ravaged civilization. Blacks are rock solid, creating deep shadows that are impenetrable at times without ever breaking up. Highlights are bold without bleeding.

The feature presentation is accompanied by an aggressive Dolby Digital Plus audio track that makes great use of the surround channels. Given the level of war-style action the track has ample opportunity to bombard the viewer from all directions. Bullets and grenades are flying through the surrounds, screams, cries and debris fills the sound field, giving the movie a very realistic sound stage. Dialogues are a bit undermixed and sometimes too low in volume compared to the music and sound effects and I found myself jumping for the remote control a few times.

Coming as a dual layer HD-DVD disc the release also contains a number of extras to supplement the feature film. The meat of it consists of a number of featurettes covering the making of the movie. Director Alfonso Cuarón discusses the metaphors he used in the film as they relate to modern day society in "The Possibility Of Hope." "Under Attack" takes a closer look at some of the film's most dangerous scenes. It is an interesting piece that shows how the filmmakers got the momentously volatile atmosphere in which you really got a sense that anyone could drop dead in a split second while trying to keep the actors safe.

The best featurette on the disc is probably "Creating the Baby." The scenes with the baby in the film are pretty explosive and this featurette gives you a very good glipmse at how they have been put together.

Three deleted scenes and interviews with Clive Owen and Julianne Moore are also included but they are all of dubious value. The featurette "Futuristic Design" examines the individual steps to bring Cuarón's dark, brooding vision of the future to life.

This release also features Universal's "U-Control" feature which gives yo uthe chance to look at some bonus materials while the film is running. Curiously it is pretty slim here with not much on offer but a few images and super brief interview snippets.

"Children Of Men" is a cool film, no doubt, but not a lot more. It is entertaining and offers good action that looks and feels entirely different from traditional Hollywood fare. That alone makes it worth the view the film even if it falls a bit flat in the script department. And then, seeing Michael Caine with a long white mane playing air guitar while being stoned to the eyeballs alone is worth watching this film.