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Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/13/2014
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/6/2014
When we think of modern-day directors who have a distinct style, several come to mind, such as Wes Anderson, Sam Raimi, David Fincher (although I don't think The Social Network looked like one of his movies), and Spike Jonze. And when we think of directors whose films have created a recognizable look, we automatically assume that they have a deep catalog. However, since his feature film debut in 1999 with Being John Malkovich, Spike Jonze has only made three other movies, with his latest being Her. (He does keep busy with music videos, shorts, and documentaries.) How does this new offering fit into his canon?
Her is set in the not-too-distant future, where we meet Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix), a writer who crafts faux handwritten letters for other people. Despite Theodore's skill at crafting very emotional letters, he himself is quite lonely, as he's in the process of divorcing Catherine (Rooney Mara). He spends most of his time by himself, occasionally conversing with his neighbors, Amy (Amy Adams) and Charles (Matt Letscher). Theodore purchases a new operating system for his computer, which promises artificial intelligence. The program, which calls itself Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), is accessible through Theodore's cell-phone like device, so he can take it anywhere. He immediately finds himself conversing with Samantha and he impressed with the program's personality and drive to learn. Soon, their conversations become quite intimate and Theodore begins to think of Samantha as his girlfriend. Can a human really love a machine?
Before we get into our discussion of Her, let's get something out of the way. How did this win the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, when this story isn't very original? The notion of humans and computers having relationships goes back to at least 1964 with the "From Agnes - With Love" episode of The Twilight Zone (which was directed by Richard Donner). This idea was re-visited in 1984's Electric Dreams, and we saw Raj fall in love with Siri on his iPhone on The Big Bang Theory. Now, I'm not implying that Her ripped-off any of these previous projects in any way, but the fact that this sort of idea has been done before sort of negates the "Original" portion of that award. (To be honest, there are similarities with Raj's storyline and this film.)
OK, now that we've tackled that, I've only seen each of Jonze's previous three films one time a piece. But, looking back, I really don't think of him as being a filmmaker who attempts to send a message with his work. (Again, having not truly studied those films, I could be wrong.) However, he is certainly sending a message in Her, and you'd better wear a helmet, as he is going to beat you over the head with it. This movie is all about how humans don't communicate with one another in the modern world due to our reliance on technology. From the fact that Theodore writes letters for others to the legions of people who pass him on the street, eyes glued to their handheld devices, Theodore lives in a world where people don't talk very much, therefore it makes sense that he would only want to talk to Samantha.
And while this is certainly a topical and important notion, Jonze has decided to frame the entire film with this idea, leaving little room for anything else. Jonze style focuses on what he finds he finds important and ignores the rest. Therefore, we don't get much detail about what the world (in whatever year this is) is like outside of what Theodore does. As for Theodore, we don't get a lot of background on him either -- just enough to propel the film forward. As stated above, the relationship between Theodore and Samantha makes a sort of sense given the world in which he lives and his emotional state, but that doesn't mean that the audience is going to buy into it. Jonze is one of those directors who doesn't seem to grasp that we aren't in tune with his brand of weird. (Tim Burton is the worst offender of this sort of thinking.) Therefore, portraying Theodore's love for Samantha as "normal" may fit the world of the film, but it's going to be off-putting to some.
Maybe it's just me, but I found myself distracted during most of Her, as I kept thinking to myself, "Samantha is going to be the foundation of Skynet." And I'm pretty sure that the ending proved me right on that. Of course, if that had truly happened, it would have made for a much more interesting movie. As it stands, Her is a nice experiment in pushing the boundaries of human-computer love, but it's also a one-note movie which begins to feel redundant after a while. At this point in his career, it's difficult to judge performances by Joaquin Phoenix. He can certainly play dour and weird, but when he's happy in Her, it doesn't feel organic. (In his defense, he does show off some impressive dance moves.) In the end, Her is one part new take on an old idea and one part Spike Jonze oddness, but the mixture simply doesn't compute.
Her showed me that we will all dress poorly in the future on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 24 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably pastels, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good as we can make out textures on objects and the depth is pleasing. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. When Theodore is on the street, the surround sound effects are nicely done, and there are times when we can pick out individual sounds. The stereo effects show nice separation and the film's music, while too hipster for my taste, sounds very good as it fills the speakers.
The Her Blu-ray Disc contains a sampling of extra features. "The Untitled Rick Howard Project" (24 minutes) (which was the film's shooting title) is simply "fly on the wall" behind-the-scenes and on-set footage which shows the cast and crew at work. We see many of the key scenes being shot, as well as some footage from production meetings and costuming. Other than some random things said to the camera, there are no interviews here. Lance Bangs documented explored how people reacted to the film and got their views on today's relationships in "Her: Love in the Modern Age" (15 minutes). (You'll recognize some of the people here.) "How Do You Share Your Life With Somebody" (4 minutes) is simply a reel of clips from the movie mixed with some behind-the-scenes footage -- it's pretty pointless.
Review Copyright 2014 by Mike Long