While "The Fountain" ran into trouble when stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett departed the production a few years ago, writer/director Darren Aronofsky wasn't going to give up: the film was reassembled and re-envisioned with two new leads. The film follows drug developer Tom Creo (Hugh Jackman) and his wife, Izzi (Rachel Weisz). In modern day, she's a writer with an inoperable brain tumor and he's desperately at work on a cure for her, telling her that he's too busy when she asks to take a walk with her through what may be her last first snow.
In the lab, Tom has just found a stunning result when using a South American tree-based material in test treatment of a monkey. Izzi is busy trying to finish a novel that she's been working on. The film also follows two other time periods: in 16th-century Spain during the Inquisition, conquistador Tomas (also Jackman) is ordered by Queen Isabel (also Weisz) to find the Tree of Life in order to save her from the Spanish Inquisition. Finally, in a future story, a man (Jackman again) floats through space in a bubble with the dying Tree of Life, searching for a star in the galaxy that the Mayans believed was the key to the underworld. I'll stop there and leave further details unspoiled.
The movie cuts back-and-forth in-between the stories, with the writer/director certainly challenging the audience, with no real explanation of what's going on, leaving the audience on unsteady footing as they try and piece together what's happening across the three different tales. The film's main issue is that, while it gets its themes (life, death, rebirth, eternal love) across basically, it doesn't explore them in the kind of rich, epic detail that it feels like it's trying for in the span of only 96 minutes (it's rare these days that I actually wish a movie would have been longer.) After watching the movie, I keep feeling as if I want to see the longer director's cut I'm not sure exists.
The original production was a larger, more expensive effort before Pitt left, and one wonders if the writer/director tries to fit too much into this streamlined version, which may have actually felt a little brisker (as is, the picture does feel a little sluggish in the middle) had the story and characters been filled out a little more. The picture certainly still looks gorgeous on a smaller budget, however, with stunning cinematography from Matthew Libatique (Aronofsky's usual cinematographer) and impressive use of more practical effects like micro photography instead of CGI.
The performances are terrific, as Jackman offers three different and equally powerful efforts as past, present and future characters. He's especially strong in the modern day role as a man fighting to conquer the terminal illness taking further and further hold of his loved one. Weisz, as the object of affection for all three characters, isn't required to do much, but it's a surprisingly moving performance for one that really doesn't require a great deal. Ellen Burstyn is also excellent in a supporting performance as the head of Tom's lab.
"The Fountain" isn't without some issues (mainly, the feeling that too much had to go when the film proceeded with a smaller budget or the picture was streamlined too far), but this is still an ambitious production that builds towards a powerful and emotional ending. It's certainly not going to be everyone's cup-of-tea, but it's a visually beautiful, often fascinating movie, despite its faults.
VIDEO: "The Fountain" is given a stellar 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation by Warner Home Entertainment. Sharpness and detail are terrific, even in the film's darker scenes. Some slight artifacting was spotted on occasion, but the picture otherwise appeared crisp and clean, with no print flaws, edge enhancement or other concerns. Colors looked subdued throughout much of the film, although bolder colors occasionally show through well.
SOUND: "The Fountain" is presented by Warner Brothers in Dolby Digital 5.1. The audio presentation isn't particularly aggressive, nor does the material require it. Surrounds do come into play at times to deliver sound effects and ambience, but the audio is otherwise largely spread across the front speakers. Audio quality is superb, as Clint Mansell's rich, haunting score sounded crystal clear, as did dialogue and effects.
EXTRAS: "Inside The Fountain: Death and Rebirth" is a 6-part "making of" documentary included on the DVD. The presentation does a pretty remarkable job taking the viewer through the film's long and troubled history, starting with an exploration of Mayan ruins. The most haunting and sad part of the documentary comes early on, as we see Aronofsky face the fact that the studio was shutting the production down, despite the fact that sets were being constructed in Australia. While he maintained some hope that the project could go ahead, the sets were eventually broken down and sold off. Aronofsky re-imagined the film and the budget was dropped to about half of what it was originally. From there, we watch as the film heads into production, getting a solid behind-the-scenes view of several major scenes being filmed. There's also a good deal of explanation regarding how the film's enjoyable effects were accomplished. Overall, this was a solid piece that offered good info on the production.
Final Thoughts: "The Fountain" is certainly not going to be everyone's cup-of-tea, but it's a visually beautiful, often fascinating movie, despite its faults. The DVD offers very good audio/video quality and one major extra. A recommended rental for those in the mood for something quite different.
The Film B