I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing me pontificate about what a wonderful film CHILDREN OF MEN is, but the recent DVD release gives me another chance to step up to the pulpit, so here goes…
Universal Pictures has released the film on disc in three forms: a Widescreen DVD Full Screen DVD (ASIN: B000N6TX1I), a Full Screen DVD (ASIN: B000N6TX1S), and a DVD/HD-DVD Combo (ASIN: B000N6TX22 – one side offers High-Def DVD; the other is a standard DVD that plays on ordinary machines).
The Widescreen DVD presents the film in a nice 1.85 letterboxed transfer, with English, Spanish, and French 5.1 Dolby Digital stereo (the dubbing seems high-quality, in terms of sound recording and the matching of lip movements). The running time is divided into 20 easily accessible chapter stops, including one named after the wonderful King Crimson song “In the Court of the Crimson King,” which plays under Theo’s visit to the Arc of the Arts.
These consist of three short snippets; without individual access of chapter titles, the run continuously.
1. Theo gives cigarette to a street person while some low-tech dental surgery goes on in the background.
2. Theo’s landlord bugs him about being four months behind on his rent, indicating that he does indeed need the money that Julian’s group offers him to help get transit papers.
3. Theo and his cousin Nigel walk down a corridor in the Arc of the Art, discussing the self-portraits hanging on the walls. Although the scene was deleted, one line made it into the film, in slightly altered form. Here, Nigel says “That thing in New York was a real blow to us,” indicating some kind of violent holocaust that wiped out most of the arts, prompting Theo to reply, “Not to mention the people.” In the film, the exchange is overlaid as voiceovers during the lunch scene, except that “New York” is changed to “Madrid” to connect more smoothly with the rest of the conversation. Of the three deleted scenes, this is the only one that offers much of interest.
The remaining bonus features consist of behind-the-scenes featurettes, a short documentary, and analysis of the film.
“The Possibility of Hope” is a documentary by CHILDREN OF MEN’s director, Alfonso Cuaron, which illustrates some of the underlying concerns in the film’s subtext. Seldom referencing the feature film directly, the documentary instead intercuts footage with philosophers expressing concern for the future, which is threatened by over-population and global warming, which could create conditions similar to those seen in CHILDREN OF MEN.
· “Children of Men Comments by Slavoj Zizek” offers thoughtful insights by the philosopher, who argues that the film’s environment is its real story; that CHILDREN OF MEN is less about an apathetic hero who re-engages the world than it is about the world itself, with the hero as a prism through which we see that world obliquely. To illustrate his point, there are several shots from the movie that display the director’s technique of panning off Theo to pause and look at the world around him.
· “Under Attack” examines Cuaron’s penchant for filming the major action sequences in single (apparently) uninterrupted takes. Cuaron explains the effect he wanted was to replicate the feel of someone with a home DV camera running after the characters and capturing everything that happened. Two scenes are examined in detail: the attack on the car, when Julian is killed, and the opening explosion in the coffee shop. Behind-the-scenes footage shows the car scene being achieved with rig mounted atop the car, which allowed director, camera operator, and other crew monitor the scene from above while the camera inside the car was moved by remote control. The featurette makes no mention of the digital post-production work that must have been necessary to put the missing roof back on the car and (most likely) to combine multiple takes into a seemingly continuous shot. Also, the film’s most ambitious extended take action-scene, the length chase through the battle near the end, is conspicuous by its absence, suggesting that there must be plans for a later “special edition” DVD that will include what is missing here.
· “Theo & Julian” offers Alfonso Cuaron an opportunity to praise Julianne Moore and Clive Owen,” whom he calls “my co-writers” on the film. Much is made of the portrayal of Theo as the atypical movie hero, a clumsy “veteran of hopelessness” who is “like a zombie,” according to Cuaron, while Julian is the catalyst for his reawakening.
· “Futuristic Design” tells us that Cuaron wanted his film to be the “anti-BLADE RUNNER” – that is, the concept was not to go for a spectacular vision of the future but for something more run-down. Cuaron specifically directed his design crew to avoid “great” ideas in favor of real life references: saying that he “tried not to see the future but to recognize the present.” This featurette mentions the copy of Michaelangelo’s David, seen briefly in the Arc of the Arts, but does not bother to explain the rational behind including Pink Floyd inflatable pig in the same sequence.
· “Visual FX: Creating the Baby” is a visual illustration of the step-by-step process used to create the birth scene, beginning with two live-action takes that were seamlessly joined together into an apparently continuous shot, which allowed the character of Kee (Claire-Hope Ashitey) to walk into a room, go off-screen for a few seconds, and next be seen in a prosthetic rig that simulated giving birth. With almost no behind-the-scenes footage, this featurette simply shows the footage first as it was originally shot, then with the various layers of digital effects superimposed to replace the inanimate prosthetic baby with a computer-generated one that kicked and cried. The only explanations come in the forms of subtitles pointing out the additions and identifying the processes. Although terms like “sub-surface scatter” and “ambient occlusion” are never defined, the featurette nonetheless does a great job of revealing how this marvelous sequence was achieved. It is also the only point on the DVD where there is any acknowledgement that some “continuous uninterrupted shots” were actually multiple takes spliced together digitally – a process that was probably used in some of the other scenes as well.
Overall, the initial DVD release of CHILDREN OF MEN offers a good presentation of the film and some interesting extras. Especially appreciated is the attempt to offer some analysis and some background for the philosophical foundation on which the film’s vision of the future rests. Nevertheless, it is easy to imagine a more exhaustive DVD package that would offer more in-depth coverage of the film’s making, especially the virtuoso street-fight battle sequence near the conclusion. A film as rich as CHILDREN OF MEN raises many questions: no doubt, leaving many unanswered creates a certain mystique and allows viewers to supply their own answers; nevertheless, it would be nice to pin Cuaron down on a few more details (like the balloon pig).