If there was ever a film where pristine, crystal-clear visuals were of paramount importance, it’s The Tree of Life. Thankfully this release does not disappoint in that respect. The movie comes to Region Free US Blu-ray complete with a flawless 1080p High Definition video presentation in the film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. There really is very little to fault with this rendition, it is perfect on all counts, with superior detail throughout, allowing you to take in every single one of the director’s majestic shots, and simply no digital defects, artefacts, edge enhancement or unruly DNR. There’s a nice, healthy grain structure, organically introduced through the location shoot and predominantly natural lighting (Malick loves his natural light, c.f. Days of Heaven), which has been maintained from the film’s 35mm shooting print; and the spectacular, microscopic detail Big Bang sequences (which were shot for eventual IMAX distribution) look just as stunning, and just as flawless.
Perhaps more so than the majority of films that I get to review, it is clear from having seen this beauty at the cinema, that what we have on Blu-ray is exactly what the director intended; having shot hours of footage and culled it down to these perfect shots, there is nothing here that could be argued to be unintentional. The colour scheme is rich and vibrant throughout, yet, again, always feels natural rather than glossy and aggrandised – his skin realistic and authentic, rather than inexplicably tanned or photoshopped; his scenery naturally gorgeous rather than digitally enhanced in post-prod. It’s stunning to behold. Blacks are solid and deep without any signs of crush, allowing for fantastic shadowing and strength even during the lower-level lighting shots. One of the best movies of the year; one of the best looking movies of the year; and now one of the best video presentations of the year. Easily reference quality, this one gets a definitive perfect 10.
It’s not the first time that Malick has had a text note placed prior to his home entertainment releases advising that viewers play the movie at a loud volume (Criterion’s release of The Thin Red Line came with the very same hint); his films are often populated by flowing images, disjointed, sometimes whispered narration, and haunting background music, and clearly, to get the full experience, it’s necessary to turn this baby up to 11.
The aural accompaniment comes presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 flavour that is, much like the video, sheer perfection. Certainly not a bombastic action-packed extravaganza, Malick’s vision is still (as with his entire filmography) one hell of an experience, and the stunningly-designed soundtrack is just one of the many superior ingredients that go towards the collectively amazing whole. Dialogue, the majority of which comes in the form of the aforementioned, fractured narration style, is presented clearly and coherently – even at its quietest moments – from across the frontal array, never smothered by other elements. Effects are extremely well-observed, perhaps most obviously during the powerful Big Bang sequence, which offers up all the wild extremes of nature in all their, often overwhelming, glory. However, the quieter, more atmospheric moments are just as well presented, the surrounds used to great effect for all the subtle touches and all the soundscape’s natural elements. The soundtrack, which may not have gone down as a resounding success for all those who enjoyed the movie itself (certainly its more operatic elements were a bit grandiose, even for Malickian sensibilities), is nevertheless presented perfectly from across the array, dominating wherever necessary, and coming with an undercurrent of thrumming LFE usage which brings it some serious resonance. Excellent all-round perfection.
Perhaps the only true area of disappointment comes on the extras front. And if you count the long-rumoured and hopefully upcoming extended cut as an extra, then things are even more disappointing for this release, which feels a little bit like a double-dip-in-the-making. Still, it’s not quite a bare-bones release, with just two extras: a Featurette and the original Theatrical Trailer.
Exploring the Tree of Life takes us behind the scenes for a 30 minute exploration of the production, which features contributions from many of the filmmakers – both cast and crew – although, as you might only have expected, there’s no input from the director himself. It’s great to hear from most of the people who came together to make this the beautiful work of art that it is (the cinematographer deserves particular credit) and the void from the director’s absence is somewhat made up for by having a number of other quality directors – namely Christopher Nolan and David Fincher – on hand to discuss the influence that Malick’s films has had on their own work.
Terrence Malick’s existential exploration of faith, life, and the very world around us is a magnificent, eye-opening voyage which will leave you at once in awe of his majestic imagery, and also contemplative of your own life, and the lives of those around you. Offering up a non-linear snapshot-style narrative about an average family living in 50s America, his acute observations of life – and of human nature – will touch each and every viewer in a different way. It’s a very personal odyssey, a unique experience, a bold and daring film project, and an unquestionable masterpiece. After a summer tainted by average weather, and average blockbusters, why not try a little food for thought instead?
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation … while the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?”
On Region Free US Blu-ray this release of the Theatrical Cut of The Tree of Life comes to us as a pretty-much bare-bones disc, and, as fans of the movie will already know, we are likely to get at least one subsequent superior release somewhere down the line (hopefully through Criterion, and thus boasting a more expansive set of extras) to provide us with the rumoured longer cut, as well as the IMAX-edit of the Big Bang sequence. It may be a long wait, however, and in the meantime this release is still a worthy one for your collection, with reference quality video and audio which perfectly represent the stunning visuals and superior soundtrack that both play such a vital part of this particular film’s overall ‘experience’. If you haven’t yet had the chance to see this beauty then it comes highly recommended.
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