Text Box: dvdsleuth.com

Text Box:   


DVDSleuth.com is your source for daily DVD news and reviews.


Melancholia (2011)

Magnolia Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 3/13/2012

All Ratings out of


Review by Mike Long, Posted on 3/18/2012

When we last saw Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, he had brought us Antichrist, a very disturbing movie which featured one specific close-up which the viewer wouldn't soon forget (if ever). That movie played like a nightmare from beginning to end and while it (sort of) had a central story, there wasn't a lot of logic involved and the movie seemed to rely too much on symbolism. von Trier's latest effort, Melancholia, opens in a way which makes the viewer think that this maverick filmmaker may be turning towards more of a traditional narrative style, but it doesn't take long for art to get in the way of the story.

Melancholia opens at the wedding reception for Justine (Kirsten Dunst) and Michael (Alexander Skarsgard). The lavish event is being held at the home of Justine's sister, Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose husband, John (Keifer Sutherland), is quite rich. Justine works in advertising, and her boss, Jack (Stellan Skarsgard), is in attendance, as are her parents, Dexter (John Hurt) and Gaby (Charlotte Rampling), who are divorced. As the night goes on, Justine's behavior becomes more and more bizarre, and she appears very depressed on what she be a very happy occasion. (It's also obvious that her mother has some mental health issues.) She keeps leaving the party and she's very rude to Michael and Jack. Soon after, she suffers a complete breakdown and is left in the care of Claire. While all of this is happening, it's announced that a newly discovered planet, called Melancholia, is heading towards Earth. While scientists ensure the public that it will simply pass by with no problems, John begins to prepare for the worst. As Melancholia draws nearer, the relationship between John and Claire grows more strained, while Justine seems to be oddly at peace with what is happening.

Again, at the outset, it appears that Melancholia has a concrete story to tell, albeit in a distinctly European manner. (Following an arty montage, the movie's opening treats us to a long scene in which characters to which we've yet to be fully introduced try to get a stretch limo around a corner.) Once the reception begins, we meet the main characters and begin to learn a little about them. However, it soon becomes clear that Melancholia is going to be yet another dense, ambiguous movie where the characters do things for little to no reason. We watch these proceedings with far more questions than answers, and most of the questions revolve around the fact that we don't know why Justine is going through with this when she seems so miserable. We watch her do one bizarre thing after another, and we are forced to assume that she is mentally ill. But, is that fair to us or her? We shouldn't have to judge characters so harshly when von Trier could easily let us in. The remainder of the film sheds little light on these questions, but, of course, the movie's focus begins to shift as it goes on.

My youngest daughter is the kind of person who begins telling a joke and about half-way through says, "Did I mention that he's a robot?" That's the same feeling that I got while watching Melancholia. We are watching this character study about Justine and Claire, when the movie suddenly becomes a science-fiction piece about the possibility of a newly discovered planet colliding with Earth. OK -- von Trier has thrown us a curveball here, but we can deal with it. The movie is now going to be about how these people deal with the impending tragedy, right? Well, sort of. They talk about the event and there's a lot of "will it or won't it happen?" debates, but the movie still seems more concerned with presenting us with a lot of arty visuals. von Trier is clearly a gifted filmmaker when it comes to "painting with film" and there are some great shots here. However, a movie like this should use the visuals to convey emotion and that never happens with Melancholia. I felt that I A) knew so little about the characters, and B) didn't like what I did know, that I didn't care if they died in an intergalactic incident. von Trier's work often comes across as nihilistic, and he seems to forget that if you want the audience to make an emotional commitment to the movie, then the film must do a little work as well.

I can't help but compare Melancholia to Another Earth, as they have somewhat similar stories. Both open with very emotional and tragic events and then begin to deal more with a planet approaching Earth. And while Another Earth was overly dramatic at times, at least it was trying. Melancholia presents us with some interesting characters (at first), an intriguing premise (what would you do if the world was ending?), and some great visuals, but it also keeps the viewer at arm's length, seeming ambivalent about whether or not we truly care about what is going on.

Melancholia made me wonder why Justine simply didn't marry her horse on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is quite sharp and clear, showing only trace amounts of grain at times and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the green grass of John's estate. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is notable, as we can make out the textures on objects. The Disc contain a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The effectiveness of this track comes through early on, as we can hear many minute sounds coming from the right and left speakers during the reception. We also get good surround effects here and the audio is nicely detailed. The scenes portraying the approach of Melancholia deliver an effective subwoofer rumble.

The Melancholia Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "About Melancholia" (12 minutes) contains interviews with von Trier, the cast, and a psychologist who talk about the film's story and themes. "Visual Effects" (7 minutes) is a reel showing some concept art and storyboards for the visual effects. This is accompanied by examples of how live action shots and effects were layered. We also see how von Trier got footage of the Northern Lights to use in the film. Von Trier and Director of Photography Manuel Alberto Claro talk about the look of the film, and how it was influenced by music, in "The Visual Style" (10 minutes). "The Universe" (4 minutes) is a discussion of the real science which went into creating the story in the film. "HDNet: A Look at Melancholia" (5 minutes) is a brief featurette which offers many clips from the film, as well as some of the comments which we heard in the earlier making of. The extras are rounded out by two THEATRICAL TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long