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Downsizing (2017)

Paramount Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 3/20/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/7/2018

Marketing a movie should be easy, right? Here's some story, here's some stars, now come on down to the theater, grab some popcorn, and let's have some fun. But, history has shown time and time again that promoting a film, and getting the proper message across in said promotion, is not easy. Sometimes the advertisements give too much away, or sometimes they don't give us information about the story. And, on some occasions, the marketing gives us the wrong idea about the film's plot and tone. When this occurs, you can expect strong backlash from the audience. Which is what may happen when you watch Downsizing.

As Downsizing opens, Norwegian scientists make a breakthrough in their efforts to shrink living organisms. As the years pass, the scientists introduce and promote the idea that humans consume too many resources and take up too much space, but, if they are shrunk down to about 5 inches, the footprint will be greatly reduced. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) lives in Nebraska and works as an occupational therapist, and is married to Audrey (Kristen Wiig). They have a quiet, content life, but they wish for more. While attending a reunion, Paul runs into Dave (Jason Sudeikis), who has chosen to be shrunken and lives in a small community called Leisureland. Paul and Audrey are intrigued by this and when they learn that their middle-class salary will translate into millions in Leisureland, they decide to go through the procedure. But, Paul soon learns that being small can still lead to having big problems.

Downsizing comes from Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne, who has given us films like Sideways, The Descendants, and Nebraska. Payne has become a master of the bittersweet comedy, as his films have a decidedly dramatic slant, but they can make you laugh out loud as well. (Some of them are downright depressing and still have funny moments.) He also has a knack for presenting us with characters which feel real, complete with quirks and idiosyncrasies. And his film undeniably take place in the real world. Which is why itís so surprising that Payne would breakaway from his traditional view and do something like Downsizing, whose premise certainly presents us with some heavy sci-fi elements. This isnít Blade Runner or Star Wars, but the film contains a fantastic idea and it doesnít shy away from delivering some of the details.

Now, we must ask the question, was it this trip outside of his comfort zone which got Payne (and his writing partner, Jim Taylor) off-track, because Downsizing is a mess. To be fair, the first act works for the most part, as it takes its time introducing the idea and goal of the shrinking movement, and itís actually several minutes before Damonís character is introduced. But once Paul shrinks (and we get a great visual joke), the movie takes a very dark, dramatic turn. This could have been OK, but Payne just continue barreling forward, making the film darker and weirder with every passing moment. The third act goes completely off the rails, landing in a finale which is needlessly depressing.

Again, things quickly change in the second act, and the movie diverging in a distressing manner. At this point, Downsizing splinters off into a completely different movie, one which actually has little to do with the shrinking. Yes, the characters are still little, but Payne abandons the idea of shrinking and Downsizing becomes the story of a manís search for his purpose and a true reason to live. This is certainly a reliable movie premise, but this story could have been told about normal-sized people. We sit through the discovery of the shrinking science and how it will effect the world, only to have this take a back-seat to a truly uninteresting story in which Paul becomes Jesus or something. Itís almost as if Payne has forgotten everything which he knew about storytelling. Not only does the plot lead to nowhere, the pacing is awful. The shrinking sequence not only contains way too much unnecessary detail, but must have cost a fortune as well.

And here we get to the real heart of the matter. Downsizing was marketed as a comedy, but itís not. No, far from it. There are a few humorous moments in the first act, and, again, the second act opens with a classic, but after that, the movie becomes a dark drama. And I wasnít surprised to see that Payne and Taylor were producers on the film, because otherwise, someone would have stepped in and said, ďWhat are you doing?!Ē The sudden shift is jarring, as Leisureland seems rife for some playful social commentary, but we get nothing like that. There is so much wasted potential here. The shrinking idea is intriguing and has so much potential, but Payne throws it all away to make a movie which wants to be political, but simply ends up being a mess.

Downsizing offers very little on 4K UHD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an HEVC 2160p transfer which runs at an average of 65 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The all-white scenes in the lab show good balance and they contrast well with the bold colors in Leisureland. The level of detail is excellent and the depth works quite well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. Being a drama, we donít get a ton of dynamic effects here, but there is a nice use of surround sound to illustrate sounds coming from off-screen. Also, the moments in the lab provide a good amount of bass. A party scene delivers palpable subwoofer effects.

The Downsizing extras are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. "Working with Alexander" (12 minutes) allows those involved in the film to give their views on Payne, and allows Payne himself to discuss his approach. "The Cast" (12 minutes) then takes a look at the actors and lets them discuss their characters and their involvement in the movie. "A Visual Journey" (14 minutes) takes us on-set to examine the look of the film and the creation of the sets. "A Matter of Perspective" (9 minutes) shows how the miniature visual effects were done. Matt Damon is profiled in "That Smile" (6 minutes). "A Global Concern" (7 minutes) looks at the socio-political themes in the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long