CHILDREN OF MEN
Directed by Alfonso Cuaron
Produced by Hilary Shor, Marc Abraham, Tony Smith, Eric Newman, Iain Smith
Written by Alfonso Cuaron & Timothy J. Sexton and David Arata and Mark Fergus & Hawk Ostby
Director of Photograpy Emmanuel Lubezki
Music by John Tavener
Cast: Clive Owen, Julianne Moore, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Claire-Hope Ashitey
2006/110 mins/Color/Dolby Digital 5.1
1.85:1 anamorphic/English/USA/NTSC Region 1
Review from Universal Studios Home Entertainment DVD
"I believe the children are the future.", Whitney Houston once sang in her famous song. And people are always saying that we should conserve today so that our children will have something tomorrow. But, what if there weren't any children tomorrow? What if humans suddenly stopped having babies? What would the world be like then? That's the question posed by the bleak futuristic thriller CHILDREN OF MEN.
CHILDREN OF MEN is set in the year 2027, and, as noted above, infertility has struck humanity and there hasn't been a child born in over 18 years. Our story takes place in London, where the city is torn asunder by rebel group, such as The Fishes, who fight the government -- which has cracked down on foreigners and illegal aliens entering the country. Theo Faron (Clive Owen) is a mild-mannered office worker who simply lives day-to-day, trying to get by (and survive terrorists bombings). One day, he's kidnapped by a The Fishes, and is surprised to learn that his ex-lover, Julian (Julianne Moore), is one of their leaders. Julian reports that her group is helping a young refugee cross the country and they need for Theo to use his connections to get her the proper documents. Theo is shocked to see Julian again, but he agrees to help.
Theo is able to secure the papers -- through a cousin -- but they stipulate that he must escort the young woman. So, Theo finds himself and Julian traveling with the woman, Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey), an older woman named Miriam (Pam Ferris), and their driver, Luke (Chiwetel Ejiofor). The party is attempting to reach the coast so that Kee can board a boat and flee England. They experience some difficulties along the way, and are forced to make several stops. During this time, Theo begins to learn the truth about the political factions involved, and more importantly, he discovers the important cargo which Kee is carrying. Theo then realizes that it is up to him to help preserve the future of humanity.
CHILDREN OF MEN is a film which I predict will really divide audiences. Not because, as one would suspect, because of the politically-charged subject matter, but because there are essentially two movies going on here. Exploring them both will help to illuminate my point.
First of all, this movie is an amazing technical achievement. Director Alfonso Cuaron, director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki, production designers Jim Clay and Geoffrey Kirkland, and set designer Jennifer Williams have worked together to create a film which is a visual feast. The locations and sets look fantastic, as they present a world which looks much like ours, save for the fact that there is at once more visible technology (mostly in the form of video displays) and more decay. The film has shied away from what we typically consider a "futuristic" look, and, according to one of the DVD's featurettes, has instead gone for an "anti BLADE RUNNER" feel. (Many times I found myself wondering where the film was shot due to the long streets showing urban rot.) Into this realistic setting, Cuaron has infused the film with some of the most stunning shots which I've ever seen. There are several very long takes which involve many extras and a lot of action. I can only imagine that Brian De Palma looked on in wonder at the car-chase scene which is comprised of one shot. This approach only adds to the realistic feel of the film and really draws the very into the action. This also lends tension to the scene, as we find ourselves waiting for that cut which should bring some relief, but it doesn't come. CHILDREN OF MEN is worth seeing for the photography alone.
Which brings us to the other aspect of the film -- the story -- which isn't quite as impressive. Cuaron, plus four other screenwriters, are credited with bringing author P.D. James novel to the screen. So, it's surprising that with five writers on board that the film doesn't have a more compelling and coherent story. At the outset, we get the basic facts of the film; humanity has been cursed with infertility, political upheaval is everywhere, and a fascist government is in place. (No exact cause for the lack of babies is given, but there are some subtle clues.) From there, we meet Theo and the other characters, and the trip with Kee begins. But, from that point on, the story becomes very murky. The political intentions/affiliations of some of the characters is confusing, the exact point of the plan to transport Kee becomes lost in the mix, and the ending is ambiguous. This fuzzy plotting makes the heart of the story difficult to embrace and at times, the motivations for what is happening is unclear. And while the film takes a somewhat unique look at the future, several scenes made me think of ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
I realize that my opinion posted above is going to be an unpopular one with many people, and some will say that I didn't "get" the film. Oh, I understood every bit of it, but given the buzz about the movie, I had suspected to take away more from it. I've read several on-line comments about the film's "subtext" and that there is no "literal meaning", and that's fine, but this isn't a David Lynch movie. 80% of the film has rhyme and reason, so it's not out of the question for me to criticize that lapses in the story. Aesthetically, the film is nearly flawless, as the photography is outstanding, the art direction is awe-inspiring, and the acting is top-notch. But, a movie of this caliber should have a greater effect on the viewer. This is one child which I didn't mind babysitting, but I wouldn't adopt it.
CHILDREN OF MEN is brought into this world on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks very good here and truly supports the film's rich visuals. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a small amount of grain and no defects from the source material. Overall, Curaon has given the film a stark, barren look, and the transfer does a fine job of reproducing this. The grays and blacks look fine, while the random splashes of color, such as the green fields, really stand out. I noted some mild video noise at times. The DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is even more impressive. The surround sound here really stands out from the front and center channel sound and adds another dimension to the action sequences. The subwoofer really packs a wallop as well. These effects don't drown out the dialogue which is always clear and audible.
The CHILDREN OF MEN carries a few extras. There are 3 DELETED SCENES which run just over 2 minutes and are all short incidental moments. "The Possibility of Hope" is a 27-minute documentary directed by Cuaron which uses comments from experts and political scientists to focus on current world issues, such as over-population, global warming, and globalization, to talk about the future. In "CHILDREN OF MEN Comments by Slavoj Zizek" (6 minutes), the philosopher and cultural critic discusses the film's subtext. In "Under Attack" (8 minutes), we get a behind-the-scenes look at how the long-take shots were achieved. This focuses mainly on the car chase, which is very informative, but I would have also liked to have learned more about the final battle scene. Owen and Moore's characters are examined in "Theo & Julian" (5 minutes). "Futuristic Design" (9 minutes) lets us in on how the film's look was achieved, from the initial ideas to the creation of the locations. Finally, "Visual Effects: Creating the Baby" (3 minutes) gives us a detailed look at the many layers which went into creating one shot.
This Film Features:
Review by Mike Long. All Right Reserved. 2007. ©