"The Fountain" is without question a fascinating subject to tackle and I certainly couldn't believe some of the negative reviews it received upon its release. They were simply vicious. "Heaven's Gate" vicious, in fact, this movie seems to have been despised by some. That's what I love about home video, though, as now this film has a chance to be reborn.
The ambitious themes of death, transcendence, immortality, spiritual enlightenment, ecstatic self-flagellation, eternity, sorrow, alternating realities, reincarnation, time travel, mystical transcendence, love and chaos are the kind of topics that make studio executives' eyes roll. And rightfully so. Many filmgoers certainly don't feel like taking on such far reaching and provocative topics that cause introspection. They want to escape - which is fine. I love the ability to escape into a film. However, this film is a little different. It is very much an inward experience, and that, people tend to either hate love. I wouldn't take my niece to watch an Ingmar Bergman film either, not to mention watch a film by Alejandro Jodorowsky (why won't anyone sit through "El Topo" with me?).
The movie certainly deserves the attention it has received - negative and positive. It is one provocative piece of work that is not easy to digest. I am surprised it was even released at all, in fact. I especially enjoy the negative responses and I do feel sorry for some theater patrons who expected something different from "The Fountain." It has two famous movie stars and it had some questionable marketing campaigns promoting it either as an adventure movie, or a love story. And of course, it is both of those, and so much more.
I certainly appreciate and applaude this film. It is one audacious and complicated puzzle and it stirred up some debate. Some viewers went in expecting something they didn't get. It is, after all, just a movie. But what exactly did they expect? Well, I'm sure they got that elsewhere, because this film truly stands on its own. In the mean time, now that all of the awful promotional hoopla has run its course, this film appears on home video, in this case on HD-DVD, and it is certainly worth contemplating. It is a film that demands quite a bit of discussion and challenges the audience and poses some very lofty questions about fate, death, immortality and acceptance. It makes the viewer question reality, and while I may find that entertaining, you may not.
It is exquisitely edited and paced at about 1 hour and 40 minutes and I am almost certain we will never see - nor should we - a 'Director's Cut'. The most important aspect about the movie is that it is most definitely not something you watch without being prepared. This isn't a popcorn flick. I have watched it twice, and am here to tell you about it.
The movie has three different 'storylines' in three time periods, all of them with a main character played by Hugh Jackman.
The Past is in Spain, his character is named Tomas (with a beard and longish hair), a violent conquistador who instead of assassinating a deadly inquisitor is given a mission by the captive Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz) to find a 'hidden' pyramid in Mayan land that has a mythical Tree Of Life that will allow her to live forever and defeat her enemies. These scenes are always beautiful to witness, the action is very intense, and the costumes, jewelry and background are mesmerizing, to say the least. Many times it is very reminiscent of certain later Dali paintings. Very dark, with some extremely deliberate lighting that is actually part of the underlying theme of the film. The story is told in many ways with the lighting, as strange as that sounds.
The Present is in North America, and in this reality Jackman plays an obsessed doctor (well groomed) named Dr. Tommy Creo. Creo is looking for a cure for the love of his life, Izzi Creo (Rachel Weisz) and is testing out certain tree extractions on monkeys in a frantic and desperate attempt to save her failing life. This is the main storyline, and Jackman's performance is quite simply the best of his career. He truly conveys the full spectrum of human emotion, and sometimes he does it with just a facial expression. His sadness and devotion are rendered so thoroughly that I can imagine no other actor doing this role. He owns it. Ellen Burstyn also gives a standout performance as Dr. Lillian Guzetti. All of these scenes are filmed very dark also, and with a cold medical feel that can be jarring. Once again, the lighting is used to very deliberate effect.
The Future will take place within a ship that appears as a bubble (like an ecosphere slipping through the cosmos) carrying three passengers: the tree of life, the constantly appearing ghost memory of Izzi (whom he doesn't seem to know and triggers Déjà vu), and a bald spiritually supercharged astronaut named Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman) from earth towards a dying star within a nebula that represents the Mayans' underworld and that the Mayans' foresee holds the essence of immortality. The destination is also where the tree will be reborn.
That is a basic rundown of the plot structure, a little simpler than it may sound, actually. It's really no more deep than a Kurt Vonnegut novel, it's just that this type of experience hasn't been attempted that many times on film recently. Even the fact that Aronofsky tried is amazing, especially in this age of attention deficit disorder. The story behind it is as fascinating as the movie itself, like the making of "Apocalypse Now". It comes as no small surprise that David Bowie was a huge inspiration, considering not just his music but his role in the brilliant "The Man Who Fell To Earth." This is a film to be experienced for its mind-boggling cinematography. Hugh Jackman's performance is truly something all filmgoers should take notice of. What I take out of it, is that it is futile to try to prolong our existence, even for the sake of love, because we end up trading that which is the most important, time (which is limited). This film is an intoxicating poem, a low-budget science fiction romantic masterpiece.
It truly may not have performed well at the box office, and I'm sure many didn't expect it to, but this is a must have HD-DVD, where it arrives in very good condition, if not perfect. As I've mentioned, this is a very dark movie, deliberately so. And most of the dimmer scenes are very detailed and retain a dimensionality and depth that we have come to expect from high definition releases. For the most part it retains this level of detail. There were only a couple of times when the scenes appeared to be a little soft, but as I mentioned, this is a very dark movie and it truly puts any format to the test. The HD-DVD holds up nicely, especially upon comparison to its standard definition counterpart, which is conveniently on the other side of this combo release for those who want to take a look. High definition is the only way to go for a release like this, and the special effects sequences truly shine and come across amazingly. I could go on forever about the unique special effects, you'll just have to see them for yourself, Aronofsky and company didn't use CGI for this film, they opted for a more 'organic' approach that Aronofsky felt would make the film more timeless. It truly has to be seen to be believed.
The sound is also rendered amazingly; we have a Dolby Digital Plus track that has a very wide sound field and the surround speakers are constantly in use. This film sounds amazing, especially the music, which is one of the reasons this film works so well for me. The score, composed by Clint Mansell and played by the excellent Kronos Quartet is often hypnotic and haunting and so perfectly matches the film that I find it hard to believe it was actually composed before filming even began. The music is a crucial reason this film is so effective and it is represented very well on this disc. I am of course disappointed that we don't get a Dolby True HD track, but the Dolby Digital Plus track is quite sufficient and this is a great sounding film, filled with eerie sound effects and otherworldly sonic textures. It is really quite a trip.
In the special feature department our first and most interesting addition is a thoroughly fascinating series of six featurettes called 'Inside The Fountain: Death And Rebirth' (50:36). The making of this film is just as thought provoking and fascinating as the film itself, and this excellent gallery of features shows us all the way back to Australia, where the film actually was starting production as a 75 million dollar production. Then the film gets dropped by the studio after Aronofsky and Brad Pitt have "creative differences." All of the tremendously expensive sets get auctioned off and from here the story of how this troubled production finally comes together is simply mesmerizing from beginning to end. I had no idea this film took so many years to finally get made, and it actually takes on a whole new meaning after watching these documentaries. Its quality is on par with 'The Hamster Factor' documentary from Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys", and it is definitely not something you'll not want to miss. It is in non-anamorphic widescreen. We also have the theatrical trailer, which is actually quite great. 'The Interview' (13:08) shows us Rachel Weisz interviewing a mentally and physically exhausted Hugh Jackman and is definitely worthy of attention. 'VFX Step By Step' (8:37) shows us the extremes the visual effects crew went through to pull off some of the visuals mostly without any CGI, which is almost unheard of these days. 'Inside The Director's Mind: Scene To Storyboard Comparison' (15:31) shows us the director's obsessive attention to detail. 'Peter Parks Bonus-Macro Photography Loop' is truly a special feature that stands out because it plays some very sad piano music from the film to some very hallucinatory montages that are really quite stunning, I wish I could put it on a constant loop and hang the TV above the fireplace.
So, obviously this is a movie the filmmaker wanted to get out there and against all odds his artistic vision shines through and works out quite well on HD-DVD. It is a film that truly deserves repeat viewings and is clearly a project that all involved truly believed in. They have crafted something extraordinary and should be proud of themselves.