The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: 20th Century Fox - 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 139 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 1.85:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Starring: Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, Hunter McCraken, Sean Penn
Written & Directed by: Terrence Malick
Music by: Alexandre Desplat
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: October 11, 2011
"Grace and Nature."
This stunningly original triumph from visionary director Terrence Malick stars Academy Award Nominee Brad Pitt and Academy Award Winner Sean Penn. The epic, yet intimate, story follows the life journey of Jack O'Brien (played as an adult by Penn), the eldest son of a fractured Midwestern family. Pitt delivers a powerful performance as the cataclysmic force of nature in Jack's world, his complex and rigidly authoritarian father.
Through stunning cinematography and raw emotional power Terrence Malick's The tree of life excavates answers to the most haunting and personal human questions through a kaleidoscope of the intimate and the cosmic, from the raw emotions of a family in a small Texas town to the wildest, infinite edges of space and time, from a boy's loss of innocence to a man's transforming encounters with awe, wonder and transcendence. An impressionistic story of a Midwestern family in the 1950's, the film follows the life journey of the eldest son, Jack (played as an adult by Sean Penn), through the innocence of childhood to his disillusioned adult years as he tries to reconcile a complicated relationship with his father (Brad Pitt).
I haven't seen a lot of Terrence Malick's work but I am familiar enough with it to know that he is far from a traditional storyteller. Of all that I have seen The tree of life is by far the best example of his lack of convention. This certainly isn't a shortcoming however it can sometimes make his work a bit difficult to digest. First, this is a beautifully constructed film both visually and narratively speaking. It's obvious this is a personal creation that he would like the audience to see through his eyes. The story, about a 1950's Texas family, centers on the eldest son, Jack, a conflicted boy, who grows into a conflicted man. In the film broad narrative strokes and abstract symbolism are used in a non-linear fashion to detail aspects of Jack's childhood and the familial dynamic that surrounds his relationship with his mother, brothers and more specifically his authoritarian father. It explores elements of faith and family and how the two aren't always congruent. To that end The tree of life succeeds admirably and features powerful performances by Brad Pitt, Jessica Chastain, and young Hunter McCraken. Beyond that I must admit to finding this to be a frustrating film experience.
Much of the story is poured out in fragmented snippets some of which are never defined. There are periods in the film with no dialogue between the characters, which might not be a problem were it not for the already abstract nature of its design. There were times where I found myself asking aloud what does that mean? or where is this going? On occasion those questions were simply not answered. Terrence Mallick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki use stunning and stark imagery that range from nature based photography to breathtaking visual effects sequences derived from outer space. These are thematically juxtaposed with the storyline however the context is ambiguous at best. This is consistent throughout the film which requires an open perspective in order to absorb the conglomeration. I was torn by the time the film ended. I liked it but couldn't get by the things that I found to be annoying. I decided to look at the film from both aspects. As a pure cinematic work designed to convey the vision of its filmmakers The tree of life is indeed impressive. As a dramatic film designed to draw the audience in via its compositional elements it succeeds but asks quite a bit in return. Those familiar with writer/director Terrence Malick are sure to appreciate this ambitious and superbly crafted film. Others will more than likely find its ambiguity and non-traditional style frustrating, slow, and ultimately distasteful.
The rating is for thematic material.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
The tree of life comes to Blu-ray Disc from 20th Century Fox featuring 1080p AVC encoded video that has an average bitrate of 35 Mbps and lossless DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio sound that has an average bitrate of 5.1 Mbps.
This is a high bitrate and reference quality high definition transfer that looks spectacular. At times I found the visuals to be breath taking. The film utilizes a reserved chromatic palate that sets the thematic tone for the 1950's era familial drama. Clothing, interior design etc. are kept within the scope of the time frame which means lots of browns, grays, greens and blacks. Such isn't the case when director Malick takes us on a journey of the boundless musings of his vision of earth and beyond. The nature defined colors look terrific as the deep, vivid, reds, succulent blues, and resplendent earth toned hues leap from the 1.85:1 framed video. The digitally created images of space boast a resplendent array of brilliant color with deep, image penetrating blacks and spot on contrast. Brightly lit sequences are equally rewarding and feature gradational grays and crisp, delineated whites. Images are exquisitely detailed, with a near infinite sense of depth regardless of the camera's perspective. Resolution is strong as the vastness and scope of the imagery both digital and real is fully realized and appears lucid, dimensional, and artifact free. Any minor nits that I found to pick didn't warrant a deduction in my opinion so I won't mention them. I thought this looked amazing.
The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is an impressive one that makes use of the entire surround platform. It's a sophisticated design that occasionally rewards with activity that is intricately placed within the sound field so as to provide a feeling of total immersion. I found this audio presentation to be highly detailed with excellent dynamic range which enables it to be authoritative at one moment and intricately nuanced the next. Dialogue is definitive and appreciably lucid through the center channel as it reaches far into the room. It's located just slightly in front of the left/right speakers within soundstage. I never had any trouble distinguishing even the slightest changes in the pitch or inflection of voices. Front channel separation is excellent which draws out both large and small sound elements allowing their directional correlation based upon the onscreen events to be definable. There isn't perpetual use of the rear channels and subwoofer however when applied the effects are involving and surreal.
- (HD) Exploring the tree of life - 30 minute featurette
- (HD) Theatrical trailer
- Bonus DVD of The tree of life
- Digital Copy Bonus Disc
From the mind of critically acclaimed filmmaker Terrence Malick The tree of life is an ambitious and intricately crafted dramatic film that tells a conventional story of family in an overtly non-traditional fashion. It left me in a quandary as there were aspects of it that I enjoyed but others that left me scratching my head. As a pure cinematic work designed to convey the vision of its filmmaker The tree of life is indeed impressive. As a dramatic film designed to draw the audience in via its compositional elements it succeeds but asks quite a bit in return. I suspect that those familiar with Terrence Malick's work will appreciate the tone and depth of his vision. Others will more than likely find its ambiguity and non-traditional style frustrating, slow, and ultimately distasteful. Like the film or not there is no denying that it looks gorgeous and sounds splendid in this high definition Blu-ray offering from 20th Century Fox. There isn't much in the way of bonus content but the 30 minute featurette Exploring the tree of life is worth checking out and offer insights from the cast, crew and other filmmakers who are fans of Malick's works. I can't recommend this as a blind buy. If you're curious a rental is the way to start.
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