Fish Tank - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Fish Tank comes to Blu-ray courtesy of a Criterion transfer approved by the Director herself. Apparently this new digital transfer was created from a new 2K master taken directly from the original 35mm camera negative and, quite honestly, it is the best looking 1.33:1-framed ‘fullscreen’ production that I have ever seen on Blu-ray. 1080p High Definition does wonders for the video, detail is standout throughout, impossible to fault, with absolute clarity and perfect contrast levels. There are no distracting signs of edge enhancement, with no digital artefacting, and certainly no unintentional noise – the movie still maintaining a nice filmic grain level which is totally suitable for the gritty setting. The colour scheme is somewhat limited by the setting, but a few brightly coloured outfits, and other stronger tones stand out, and all of them are represented authentically, with healthy skin tones, lovely sky blues and solid pastel colours throughout. Black levels are strong too, and there’s no sign of bleeding or blocking. It’s a picture perfect rendition of this movie, and another reliably excellent offering from Criterion.
Criterion have also worked a fair amount of magic on the aural side of things – the surround track remastered at 24-bit from the original digital audio master. Dialogue is maintained clearly and coherently throughout, largely emanating from the frontal array. Since this is a predominantly dialogue-driven effort (despite the large lulls where you simply absorb the images), that’s half the battle. Effects are entirely of the atmospheric, ambient variety, and which can be somewhat restrictive at times, giving the surrounds a little to do, but offering a restrained rear effort, with little noteworthy directionality or rear support. The song tracks peppered throughout, which are almost as important as the dialogue, with their own hard-to-miss messages, are given great presentation too, but also largely come across through the fronts and centre channels. Whilst this is a near-perfect representation of the material on offer – with absolutely no defects – the material itself is still quite limited and, with no bass and little surround activity to report, it’s impossible to regard this as a demo-quality effort.
Criterion have once again pulled out all of the stops to provide a comprehensive selection of extra features. Sure, there’s no director’s commentary which – in my opinion – is a crying shame; and yes, it would have been great to have some input from the main star, Katie Jarvis, but the inclusion of all three of the director’s earlier short films goes some way towards making up for any absences.
This video piece features actor Kierston Wareing, who was interviewed exclusively for the Criterion Collection in London in the fall of 2010.
Here Wareing spends 15 minutes chatting about the movie’s messages, the central protagonist, the realism of the characters, Wareing’s own role as the trapped single mother, her own Essex background, and other aspects of her work on this production. The interview is often overlayed with production stills, and sometimes even a few clips from the film itself.
This audio conversation between David Schwartz, chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, and actor Michael Fassbender took place in Queens, New York, on January 6, 2010, as part of the museum’s Pinewood Dialogues series.
Although Fassbender only gets an audio interview, does last a fairly hefty 27 minutes, and covers a great deal of ground in a commentary-style. He discusses his involvement in the production, how he is normally used to heavy preparation for his roles – but here he allowed Arnold to provide scripts at the last minute to improve spontaneity – and what his expectations were having seen the director’s previous works.
These auditions for the pivotal role of Mia reveal the array of talent available to director Andrea Arnold during the casting of Fish Tank.
Here we get ten minutes of audition footage showcasing a number of different actresses trying out for Mia. Although all of it is dance footage – set to music – it’s interesting that you can discern even from this limited element that none of them were as suitable as Katie Jarvis in the role. They were all far more showy in their dance routines – more sexual, and far too obviously choreographed – where Jarvis’s dancing was far more natural: internally relevant rather than designed for outward consumption.
Here, we present all three of Andrea Arnold’s short films: Milk, Dog, and Wasp, the last of which earned an Oscar for best live-action short film.
Milk is a ten minute short film which personally I couldn’t get a handle on. It’s a brief story about a young couple who suffer a tragic failed pregnancy. Although some of the ideas are fresh and emotionally resonant – aspects which can be related to the main feature – Arnold is clearly still honing her talent here, and I thought her symbolism was too clumsy and, frankly, too unpleasant.
Dog is also ten minutes long and has many parallel themes and characters with Fish Tank, albeit taking us on a more resoundingly bleak journey. It tells the story of an unhappy council estate teenager and her destructive, nihilistic would-be boyfriend. Although it’s hampered by an utterly awful, completely unconvincing performance from the actress who plays the girl’s single mother, it is otherwise a great little piece.
Wasp is certainly the most accomplished work, the 25-minute short film that won Arnold the Oscar. Here we follow a young single mother with four children to handle, as she manages relationships with fellow parents, deals with feeding her entourage on a budget of nothing, and tries for that one chance at some personal happiness, with potentially terrible consequences. Closest in tone to Fish Tank, it too is driven by a strong female lead performance, and, despite the thankfully limited presence of the consistently dire Danny Dyer, is well worth checking out.
This gallery of photographs documents the production of Fish Tank. The pictures are by Holly Horner, the film’s set photographer.
With over 52 photos in this selection, there is almost a story in itself to be told here, many of the shots focussing on Jarvis’s Mia mid-dance, but also with some nice publicity shots of the family, and quite a few abstract shots of the environment.
There’s also the 2-minute theatrical trailer for the feature, which offers up a few too many key moments, but still has most of the main sentiments left intact.
The Criterion booklets always offer excellent reading and this is no exception, with film scholar Ian Christie offering his views on the significance of Fish Tank with his essay An England Story.
I’m all for a decent British social realist drama, capturing the striking, sometimes desolate underclass culture living within council estates, existing on benefits, and yearning to break free of the trappings of their poverty, but often filmmakers can craft overly bleak, disheartening representations which purport to be ‘real-life’ but only focus on the bad side of things. Director Andrea Arnold’s award-winning sophomore feature film, Fish Tank, manages to exist within this world, and indeed portray the same ‘kitchen sink’ realism, but with a glimmer of redemption and maybe even hope to it, making her work so much more engaging, and perhaps even more true-to-life. Bringing out of her actors – headed up by untrained teenager Katie Jarvis – the most breathtakingly authentic emotional responses, Arnold crafts a superior snapshot into their lives, taking us on a mesmerising voyage through troubled times, broken dreams, shattered hearts, as experienced through the lead protagonist, Mia, a strong female protagonist, forced by her circumstances to take a perpetual aggressive-defensive stance, whilst displaying a very appropriate genuine teenage vulnerability beneath it all. Powerful and poignant, this moving masterpiece should not be missed.
The Criterion Collection have once again given us a superb package, complete with pristine video, solid audio, and a welcome selection of extras including three of director Andrea Arnold’s earlier short films – also all compulsory viewing. Seriously, if you’ve never heard of Fish Tank, give it a shot – it’s a blind buy that you will not regret. Highly recommended.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.77
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