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Children of Men

(2006) *** R
114 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Alfonso Cuaron. Cast: Julianne Moore, Clive Owen, Michael Caine, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Charlie Hunnam.

"When mothers talk about the depression of the empty nest, they're not mourning the passing of all those wet towels on the floor, or the music that numbs your teeth, or even the bottle of capless shampoo dribbling down the shower drain. They're upset because they've gone from supervisor of a child's life to a spectator. It's like being the vice president of the United States." —Erma Bombeck

Even celebrity mom Erma Bombeck couldn't have imagined the nightmarish future dystopia posited by P.D. James in her novel Children of Men, in which children have vacated in a big way. The world is an empty nest: it's been nineteen years since a child was born, and the rapidly graying population indeed feels—globally and personally—the unsettlement of power. As brought to the screen by celebrated Mexican filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón (Y tu mamá también, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), Children of Men traces a grueling journey through a scary post-postmodern landscape.

2027 London—a plausible extension of today's teeming, incipient panglobalism—is at war with itself: there, a totalitarian government busies itself rooting out illegal 'fugees (refugees from countries that have already succeeded in tearing themselves apart) to protect national interests. Clive Owen plays Theo, a poker-faced London bureaucrat who has buried his activist tendencies in an attempt to stay safe and sane.

Theo's safety and sanity are immediately threatened, first by an urban terrorist bombing (on the occasion of the death of eighteen-year-old "Baby Diego," the world's youngest human) and then by the brusque return of Julian (Julianne Moore), Theo's former fellow activist...and ex-lover. Julian wants Theo to facilitate the smuggling of a strategically important rebel 'fugee named Kee (Claire Hope-Ashitey); for love and money, Theo reluctantly agrees. But events conspire to draw Theo further into danger, activism, and what may be the world's last hope for survival.

In Cuarón's highly-skilled hands, Children of Men continuously threatens to develop into something more fascinating than it is. A fetchingly Kubrickian tone—despite its emotional numbness—serves the film's ticklish dystopian vision: an "Ark of Arts" museum that lines up Michelangelo's David, Picasso's Guernica, and Pink Floyd's Animals; howling, snapping pop music dubbed "zen music"; and sinister signage that would be at home in either Orwell's 1984 or Terry Gilliam's comedic reinvention of it, Brazil ("Report Any Suspicious Activity," "Infertility is God's Punishment," "Quietus: You Decide When").

The rueful humor reaches its apogee with the introduction of Michael Caine as a hippie rebel living in the countryside (the veteran actor once again proves why he's one of film's most precious unrenewable natural resources), but the film is defined by a grim bleakness that sets us up for the conclusion that, despite it all, humanity will find a way to persist. The film's final image promises that, no matter how bad things get, hope of renewal springs eternal, but the image is so unnecessarily blatant as to leave an unintended, bitter aftertaste to the film.

Still, Children of Men is an uncommonly well-made adult entertainment. Cuarón's impressive craft (he also co-wrote and co-edited the film) is abetted by his invaluable cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki. Viscerally, the film pivots on a harrowing, twelve-minute, apparently single-take action sequence experienced from within a speeding car. Elsewhere, the camera hovers and swoops and fields blood spatter as Theo navigates all-too-common settings: an Abu Ghraib-like refugee camp and bombed-out city streets under fire. The film's most persistent imagery, however, likens man to animal—one more amongst cats, dogs, chickens, sheep, and deer—with one key exception: we can build our own arks and, in doing so, perhaps repopulate those empty nests.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 5/26/2009

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

On Blu-ray, Children of Men looks just as it did on the big screen, only better. Crisp, clean and sharply detailed, this transfer features spot-on color, contrast, and shadow detail to make the gloomy visuals pop like nobody's business. Just as unimpeachable is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix, which handily recreates the immersive theatrical experience.

Universal's patented U-Control this time has three in-feature bonuses: Commercials (popping up with "the full commercials, billboards and ads of the future"), Info (focusing on the futuristic society of the film), and Picture in Picture, with the usual combination of behind-the-scenes footage and cast and crew interviews.

Also here are the previous DVD bonus features, beginning with a brief couple of "Deleted Scenes" (2:22, SD).

"The Possibility of Hope" (27:16, SD) is Alfonso Cuarón's own documentary "on how the revolutionary themes in Children of Men relate to our modern-day society." Interviewees include philosopher/cultural critic Slavoj Zizek, anti-globalization activist Naomi Klein, philosopher/historian Tzvetan Todorov, sociologist of human migrations Saskia Sassen, philosopher/economist John Gray, scientist/futurologist James Lovelock, and geographer/professor Fabrizio Eva.

"Children of Men: Comments by Slavoj Zizek" (5:44, SD) allows critic Zizek to expound upon the film.

In "Under Attack" (7:36, SD), Cuarón, Clive Owen, producer Eric Newman, camera operator Frank Buono, Julianne Moore, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and stunt coordinator Steve Dent discuss the film's signature sequences, illustrated further with behind-the-scenes footage.

"Theo & Julian" (4:40, SD) finds Cuarón, producer Marc Abraham, Owen, and Moore discussing the leading characters.

"Futuristic Design" (8:38, SD) looks at the film's production and costume design with producer Hilary Shor, set designer Jennifer Williams, production designer Jim Clay, Cuarón, Abraham, and costume designer Jany Temime.

"Visual Effects: Creating the Baby" (3:06, SD) pulls back the curtain on the birth sequence, showing the layers and tricks involved in its assembly.

Last and, well, least, Universal provides its customary My Scenes and BD-Live features.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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