The Tree Of Life [Blu-ray]
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Writer/director Terrence Malick is an enigma. Over his now 42 year film career, he has only managed to craft a mere five films, but these five are each masterfully crafted pieces of cinematic art, often critically held in the highest regard. His latest, The Tree Of Life, may just be his magnum opus. With his visual partner in crime, cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick has created an astoundingly beautiful film that flows with a never ending stream of visually magnificent, organic imagery, and a story that's scope moves effortlessly from microscopic creation to cosmic inception, all with his signature style of naturalistic environments and introspective ponderings. It's a film that is nearly impossible to describe in words without filling an entire book.
For the first hour we are introduced to heart sick characters and remarkable images, but they lack any grounding placement. About an hour in, after a lengthy segment that features the forming of our planet, the film finds itself starting to follow something resembling a normal narrative form. At its core, the story follows the creation of a suburban family based in Texas during the 1950s. Brad Pitt leads as the stern and structured father, and Jessica Chastain plays his exact opposite as the love and empathy that holds their family together. They have three boys. The oldest, Jack, is played by newcomer Hunter McCracken. In the future as an adult, Jack is played by Sean Penn, who in a moment finds himself looking back at his life, the death of one of his younger brothers, and the seemingly unimportant moments that shaped him into the man he is today. The family's story intermingles with the story of Earth itself. There are some big topics at hand here, and like any great artist, Malick let's his work meld around the eye of the beholder.
With this film, Malick manages to speak on cosmic creation, family structure, the failure of the American dream, human faith and the questioning of god in the face of tragedy, the beginnings of empathy, and most importantly and prominently, the experience of what it is like to be a child experiencing things for the first time. Jack's many learning experiences feel wildly intimate, whether it be being introduced to his new born brother for the first time, or the first time he commits a purposefully wrong act which he immediately feels immense regret and shame for doing. Malick's greatest achievement is in his capturing of the feeling, and the time period in which he manages to continue to produce such feelings. From birth we see Jack learning, adapting, and reacting, and it is in these small moments that we find deep, personal impact.
Matching the artistry of the film, Fox has put together a stellar Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo package. Thankfully, the AV presentation is on par with Malick's creation both visually and aurally. The HD image looks impeccable. Vibrant colors absolutely pop off the screen, while back lit bodies are presented with the utmost clarity and detail. In the many low or single light scenes, detail is still intact, and black crush is non-existent. The massive lossless DTS-HD 7.1 master track is a walloping behemoth. When a film starts with an intro card stating the producers of the film recommend that you watch the film with the volume cranked, you know you are in for something intense. The film is nearly completely lined with large scale classical music that builds with intensity and grace through all channels, and during the lengthy Big Bang sequence, there is plenty of room rumbling low end pumping through the subs. Amongst all the loud music and intense soundscapes are the whispered voices of the characters' inner thoughts, each cut through the mix with complete clarity. For extras there is unfortunately only a trailer and a lone 30 minute featurette on the film that features the actors, who describe their experience with the notoriously reclusive director, and other modern directors who speak on their appreciation for Malick and his work. It's a nice piece, but I would have liked to have seen more. The 3 well designed discs come packaged in a standard Blu-ray case with a dust jacket that matches the artwork from the film poster.
The Tree Of Life is one of the rare films that genuinely needs to be experienced. The grandeur of scale, the striking visual beauty, and the head full of questions you'll be left with is like no other. This is without a doubt the most important film released this year, and thanks to Fox's impeccable release, if you missed it on the big screen, you can now screen it in the comfort of your own home where you won't have to immediately get up and drive home, putting other drivers at risk while you numbly question your own existence.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: October 11, 2011