Black Swan Blu-ray Review
Black Swan comes to US Region-Free Blu-ray with a 1080p High Definition video presentation in the movie’s original theatrical aspect ratio of widescreen 2.40:1. As something of a companion-piece to Aronofsky’s earlier The Wrestler, and given its docu-drama style depiction of another artistic/sporting profession, it’s no surprise that the director adopted a very similar filmmaking style – indeed using the same Super-16 cameras for both productions. It’s clear that this wasn’t a monetary issue, as he had no qualms about taking things in a different direction for the somewhat ineffective The Fountain, and that here it was a wholly intentional aesthetic that the wanted. The end result, some would say, was never going to have the pristine clarity of top notch 35mm efforts – with more apparent softness and a potentially higher noise quotient – and it could be criticised for that, but I would argue that it lends the movie a more dream-like quality, the heavier-than-normal filmic sheen of grain giving is a hazy element which plays to the more fantastical elements in the nightmarish story.
As is, there really is little to complain about with this video presentation – once you’ve accepted that this is the intended look of the film, it really does come across as exceptional work: the close-ups display exceptional detail, but have a life-like quality to them that simply wouldn’t be present if the movie was shot in slick Transformers-esque style. The colour scheme is also very authentic, representing realistic tones at all times – but this does not mean that things are all sombre and plain, with the nightclub sequence (and some of the dancing scenes) showing off a much broader range of vivid, powerful colours, whilst remaining true to the natural look of the movie. This can mean a little bit of bleeding, but again I think this is intentional for the production. Black level remain remarkably strong, and contrast is spot-on, with some of the shots even having a twinge of 3D pop about them (although in part this is thanks to the excellent dimensionality adopted in some of the specific shots – the mirror shots, and the corridor sequences stand out). Overall it is a superb visual rendition which, unusually, I would suggest is demo quality despite the way in which it has been filmed. What you’re seeing is every bit what the director intended you to see.
For as much as the excellent video presentation perfectly renders the nightmarish visual quality to the production, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track provided works wonders with the powerful aural accompaniment to the movie. Dialogue gets keen representation, largely dominating the fronts and centre channels wherever appropriate. Effects allow for some decent atmospheric quality, with directionality playing a pivotal part in making the viewer feel suitably uncomfortable – as sounds perfectly follow the visual maelstrom; whether sparking up from the corner of the room to shock you, or spinning around the array to disorientate you further. Clint Mansell’s superior score, however, really gets the best presentation – just like it did when I saw this baby at the cinema – and the beautiful but often disturbing soundtrack enhances the emotional vibe throughout, playing up to the fantastic side of the proceedings and pulling you along for this nightmarish journey from start to finish. A great, demo-quality effort, and also one which has some of the best rear presence that I have come across recently.
Metamorphosis – A behind-the-scenes documentary with Darren Aronofsky
This 49 minute documentary is split into 3 segments: New York, Purchase NY and The FX of Black Swan. It charts the formation of this production, intersplicing a great deal of behind the scenes and b-roll footage of the movie being shot with interview clips explaining the background. The director talks about how he never realised Swan Lake followed two versions of the same character, and how that split-personality idea inspired his film; his crew further expand on Swan Lake themes interspersed amidst the narrative; and the actors (including Portman, Cassel, Kunis and Ryder) expand upon the roles and what they brought to the proceedings. The second section heads towards the more dance-orientated side of things, looking at the dance school shooting location; and the final segment looks specifically at the effects – in particular the swan metamorphosis, complete with varying degrees of CG effects breakdown. Presented in 1080p High Definition, it is also interesting to contrast the clinical, slick filmwork here with the obviously intentionally grainy final film footage. It’s well worth checking out this massive, comprehensive behind the scenes documentary, getting insight into the original shooting script, the set design, the casting, performances and the end result.
Ballet spends just two minutes on the subject-matter. Here the filmmakers (both cast and crew) offer up very brief interview snippets to cover the narrative of the movie, basically giving us a promotional overview of the film.
Production Design takes a further 4 minutes to look at the film’s costume and production design, the sets, the grainy looks of the movie, and the important use of mirrors; complete with interview offerings from the relevant crew members.
Costume Design focuses on all the outfits worn, with the director and the costume designer taking us on another brief, 4-minute expose on the work they did to make the characters come to life, and look both real and surreal.
Profile: Natalie Portman gives us just 3 minutes of insight into Portman’s Nina Sayers character, with the actress briefly noting how long this production has been gestating, and the extensive preparation both she and the director went through to make it a reality.
Profile: Darren Aronofsky takes a similar 3 minute look from the director’s point of view, where he relates this production as a companion-piece to his earlier The Wrestler, how they shot it using the same type of film stock, and the same ideas of following a perfectionist performer. He briefly notes the horror elements used to make this a darker journey, and the featurette is over all too quickly for my liking.
A Conversation with Darren Aronofsky and Natalie Portman is split into two sections: Preparing for the Role and Dancing with the Camera. The first is just 4 minutes long, with the director and star sitting opposite one another and talking about their backgrounds before the production, what they brought to the piece, and their experiences on-set. Portman relates her background in ballet dancing, and how they had some basic techniques to build with; explaining the difficulties training and performing so hard and acting at the same time. The second section, which really should have just been incorporated into one slightly bigger interview segment, is only ninety seconds long, as briefly touches on the way in which the dance sequences were shot as if the character was ‘dancing with the camera’.
Fox Movie Channel Presents gives us four character profiles. In Character with Natalie Portman as Nina spends 6 minutes with Portman in interview explaining her role, and the character she had to play; complete with plenty of final film footage. Similar 3-4 minute offerings for Winona Ryder, Barbara Hershey and Vincent Cassel follow suit. Direct Effect then looks at the role of the director, Darren Aronofsky, with him in interview discussing his project for 6 minutes. Much of the same material is covered here as was dealt with more thoroughly in the documentary, and there’s far too much expositionary material, just talking about the narrative, but fans will still want to skim through these promotional Fox offerings.
Finally we get the Theatrical Trailer, as well as Previews for Never Let Me Go, Street Kings 2, Conviction and Casino Jack.
Darren Aronofsky’s follow-up and companion-piece to The Wrestler cleverly pitches Natalie Portman in the lead role as a sweet and innocent ballet dancer who has to tap into her dark side in order to achieve the perfect performance; taking you on a voyage of utter despair, paranoia and self-destruction, all bound together within a world infused by surreal illusions and volatile competition. Using the same gritty, realistic composition he wielded so effectively in The Wrestler, Black Swan also has a touch of David Lynch (or even David Cronenberg) about it, and Arnonofsky has created a majestic psycho-drama which will likely leave you both disturbed by the visionary work and exhilarated by its captivating, enchanting and quite twisted beauty. Another powerful notch on the director’s resume of often-haunting dramas, this also marks one of the first films where the once old-before-her-time Natalie Portman has managed to simply become the character, making her performance here one that simply should not be missed.
Released on US Region Free Blu-ray not that long after the UK theatrical debut, fans get to enjoy excellent visual and aural representation, as well as a hefty selection of extras where the real depth comes in comprehensive documentary form. It’s a highly recommended purchase, and not just for those who already know and love the film – this one will sit proudly in your collection whether you’re a ballet-lover or not, as a tour de force directorial offering that boasts and Oscar-winning (and, more importantly, Oscar-deserving) central performance from an unmissable Natalie Portman.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.79
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