Sunday, June 10, 2007

"The Fountain": indie soft-scifi

Subject: Cinema
I saw Darren Aronofsky's "Pi" a few years back; well most of it, as I surfed into it on cable TV. Low-budget B&W indie with a slightly twisted narrative and a slightly-gimmicked editorial style, it was okay but nearly as headache-inducing as the lead character's on-screen predicament. I didn't take much else away from it since I was really just casually watching it and wasn't really into it otherwise. Maybe if I were still in film school...

There were a lot of articles written about "The Fountain" just before it was released, and it seemed interesting. It was originally slated to be a big-budget project with A-list stars and large epic battles and such. One thing led to another and the big names dropped out and the production needed to be drastically cut back. So Aronofsky returned to his "roots" as a low-budget wrangler and made a much more intimate, and likely smaller, story.

There's an old maxim that tiny budgets and/or hard constraints tend to bring out the most creativity, and it seems to have helped a bit here. There are a number of wonderfully-realized visuals, and a strong undercurrent of design motif to tie the three distinct time periods (and the non-linear narrative flow) together. I'd bet this one was a treat to look at on-screen, and it will likely make a nice HDTV release (as the DVD was very nice in itself). And reading about the "old-skool" photo techniques used for the nebula that wound up being far less expensive (and far more organic) than CG would have been made those sequences interesting to watch. (Would they have held up on their own if I didn't know about it? Hmm, good question...)

Now, for the narrative and the story, well, I'm a little more ambivilant. I'm more than satisfied with the many fine, well-crafted moments that are interspersed throughout. And not only just the visually interesting ones (walking through Queen Isabella's palace with little suspended candles throughout the darkened expanse, like travelling through stars, go figure), but the occasional performances really came through. Hugh Jackman really can get his eyes to transmit quite a bit, and he was understandably central to the entire story, so that helped a lot.

Rachel Weisz -- coincidentally, Aronofsky's significant other -- maybe not so much. That's not entirely fair, as she did alright, and there were moments with her as the present-day "Izzie" worked pretty well overall. But I wound up unintentionally giggling a bit at the traces of Brooklyn (Jersey? LI?) accent that crept in during her Queen Isabella monologues. And in a lot of ways, you could palpably feel that Aronofsky was perhaps seeing her through biased eyes and worshiping her just a little much. Very sweet and romantic for them, I'm sure, but for the rest of us, well maybe a little boring. Well, for grouchy old codgers like me, I guess.

And overall, the attempted poetic and spiritual tone that it tried to convey seemed kind of stilted by alternating incursions of claustrophobia and melodrama. But not so much that it's ruined -- it just falls a little unsatisfyingly short. When the climax happens, it's "well, okay, that was clever, I get it", but you don't really get to feel it because getting hit over the head with the somewhat predictable melodrama beforehand put up my defenses a bit much. Again, I invoke the grouchy old codger defense.

But overall, I think it'll be a "buy" for me once the HD disc format war settles out. But I think otherwise its rewatchability is a bit low, so I'm not in a hurry for that time to get here.

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