Wednesday, 28 March 2007

DVD: Children of Men

Lowdown: In a future with no future, a fight is waged for the future.
Review:
As films go, science fiction is the best genre. Sure, I'm biased, but I can't help it: from Blade Runner through Star Wars to Terminator II, science fiction rules. And when you expand the genre to include Lord of the Rings like fantasy the issue becomes an open and shut case.
Enter Children of Men. The premises are relatively simple, as far as science fiction is concerned: we have ourselves a 12 Monkeys like plot set in its own uniquely detailed world. In the very near future, all sorts of calamities fall on humanity: disease, war, you name it - a dirty bomb in Munich, a nuke in New York. England, it seems, is the only place in which something close to business as usual still take place, but even England has deteriorated into a police state. The worst, however, is that this future world does not have a future: for some reason - no one knows why - women stopped have children. And so, by the end of this century's twenties, the youngest people alive are in their twenties. The world has no future, and it shows.
Enter Clive Owen, the film's hero. Or rather anti hero: he buys a drink of coffee at a Fleet Street (London) coffee shop, and as he leaves a terrorist bombs the place; he goes back to his office.
Things heat up for him, though, when a blast from his past meets him and he is asked to arrange for counterfeit papers that would see a woman he doesn't know leave England. Circumstances mean that things don't go according to plan, and quickly enough he learns this woman's story: she is pregnant, about to give birth to the world's first human baby in twenty years. In a world such as this she is priceless; she has to be taken to a place where her secret can be unveiled, and Owen has no choice but to become the hero that tries to get her there. On the way, though, he has to fight the corrupt and racist government that is on the crusade against foreigners and the terrorist groups that want the woman in order to promote their political agendas.
Children of Men is one of those films that is so rich I can go on talking about them for ages without running of proper things to say. The richness starts with the film's striking visuals: just like Blade Runner created a distinct Los Angeles world you could feel as you watched the film, Children of Men achieves the same with England. Both worlds are bleak and corrupt, but both are also rich.
Every shot in Children of Men is packed with information. It's not just the main events taking place at the forefront, you have to be on your toes and notice all the slight cues in the background to get the film's full impact. Certain key scenes are shot with very long cuts, often incorporating complicated effects and action that must have been hell to synchronize; the effect of those is just amazing as it all feels so very real. Shots like a car being ambushed - we watch events unfold from inside the car as all hell breaks loose around it; lengthy battle scenes inside a refugee camp that reminded me a lot of the good old days in the West Bank, incorporating tanks and soldiers and a lot of plenty of action; and the coffee shop explosion scene set in mid London - all these shots deserve a place in cinema's hall of fame for being true masterpieces.
The actors do a fine job themselves in delivering the message. I have noted here before how much I like Clive Owen for his ability to portray a tough hero that also has a sensitive side and a thinking side; here he does it again, excellently, and he's aided by others who do a good job beside him - most notably Michael Caine.
But if hard pressed and asked to cut to the chase, I will say that what I liked most about Children of Men was its message. Our world will easily fall apart if we don't do the right things, and it's our future and the future of our children that's at stake. The film's political views are made pretty clear: it despises the war on terror and its polarizing effect on people, it is against the consumerist decadence that rules the West, and it cautions us to be very careful with what we do with our planet and the way we go about abusing it. It's a stark warning, but there is still a lot of optimism in it. And this makes Children of Men a science fiction social statement of the first degree: rich, detailed, and thought provoking.
Best scene: The best scene is the car ambush scene I have already mentioned, for the masterful way it was shot. If asked, however, to choose from the more conventional bits of the film, I would go with the scene in which the heroes arrive at the foreigners' refugee camp and get themselves a hospitality that reminded me of the descriptions I have heard from Holocaust survivors describing what took place when they arrived at the gates of Auschwitz. We should indeed be very careful with the way our leaders manipulate our xenophobic tendencies.
Picture quality: It's all very bleak, but that's what a world with no future will look like. As far as the technical DVD qualities are concerned, the picture is very good, bordering the exemplary.
Sound quality: While on the subtle side of things for my taste, the sound is very effective in creating an atmosphere. I have to add that the music soundtrack - the choice of songs used throughout the film - is not only first rate, but each of the songs fits the context perfectly.
Overall: I was swaying a bit, but the closing credits' song sealed it for me, providing the ultimate answer to the question posed by Midnight Oil - Who's running the world today?
5 magnificent stars.

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