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The Circle (2017)
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/1/2017
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 7/18/2017
NPR recently did a story about modern movie theaters. The piece focused on how most cineplexs no longer use film and how movies are delivered on and projected from digital devices. Today, with the press of a button, an entire day of programming can be set into motion. In the old days, a projectionist would have to monitor films (which were on big platters) and change the reels at designated times. For the most part, this went off without a hitch, but occasionally, the reels would get switched and the movie would lose its flow or stop making sense entirely. This was the feeling that I had while watching The Circle, a thriller which switches gears in the middle...into reverse.
Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is a twenty-something who is drifting through life, looking for a big opportunity. This occurs when her friend Annie (Karen Gillan) gets Mae an interview at The Circle, the world's largest tech and social media company. Mae aces the interview and is hired in the "Customer Experience" department. She is overwhelmed by the scope of The Circle's vast campus and awed by their advances in technology, with the latest being miniature cameras, which can be placed anywhere in the world. At first, her place in The Circle is simply a job, and the others question why she isn't engaging in all of the online activities. She begins to appreciate her position, especially when the company vows to help her father (Bill Paxton), who has MS. But, Mae is also concerned about the company's growing power and their ability to invade privacy, and she's not sure if she can trust company head Eamon Bailey (Tom Hanks).
The Circle is a movie which is a lot of things at once, and yet, has no idea what it wants to be. The film is based on Dave Eggers' 2014 novel, which ran nearly 500 pages in hardback. I have not read the book, but I get the feeling that Director James Ponsoldt and Eggers (who are both credited with the screenplay) tried to cram as much of it as possible into this 110-minute movie. The result is a lot of ideas, but few resolutions and even fewer thrills.
At the outset, The Circle plays like a combination of The Firm and The Internship, despite how odd that pairing sounds. As with Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in The Internship, Mae finds herself working at a Google-esque company which is more like a playground than a workplace, and everyone is happy and engaged. And, like The Firm, there seems to be a sinister edge underneath the company's success, wealth, and perks. The first half of The Circle plays like the movie which the trailers promised -- a thriller in which a young woman goes to work for a company where everything is too good to be true.
But then, about halfway through the movie, The Circle turns an odd turn (not a twist) and becomes something more like The Truman Show. I don't want to give anything away (not that there's much), but the thriller aspect goes away almost entirely and the story focuses more on Mae's immersion into the company. Subplots which were introduced in the first half, included a disgraced senator, another senator who has partnered with The Circle, and a massive underground digital storage center, are abandoned completely, and the movie becomes more of a drama. Then, in the last five minutes, the thriller aspect returns.
There is so much irony going on here, that it's nearly unbearable. For a movie which is all about cutting-edge technology, every plot point is definitely telegraphed. And, for a movie where the word "transparency" is said over and over, what is going on most of the time is never terribly clear. Why did Mae keep changing her allegiance? Was Eamon really a villain? What happened to most of the plot? Also, the title is very appropriate, as the movie just goes round-and-round, never getting anywhere. I also feel that Emma Watson was horribly miscast in the lead role. We are supposed to believe that Mae comes from very humble roots, but all that I could see was Hermione and a person who went to Brown in real life. In other words, there is nothing humble about her and her accent slips several times. The Circle has so much potential to be a terrifying prophetic thrillers, as it focuses on how technology is infringing on our personal freedom. But, that point gets lost in the incredibly muddled story. Do yourself a favor and simply watch the movies that The Circle is borrowing from.
The Circle certainly gets around on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Lionsgate. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transer which runs at an average of 36 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no noticeable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the constant use of red, and the picture is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is very good, as we can make out textures on objects, and the depth works well, especially when Mae is walking through the campus. The Disc carries 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 mix does a nice job of blending in the voices coming from around Mae when she is at work. These sounds come from the front and rear channels, emulating the fact that she's surrounded. A chase scene offers a few subwoofer effects.
The Circle Blu-ray Disc offers a few extra features. "No More Secrets: Completing The Circle" (31 minutes) is a making-of featurette which is broken up into four segments. The piece contains comments from the cast and the creative team, as well as a nice amount of on-set footage. It starts with the source novel and we get a few words from Eggers. From there, the piece looks at the themes of the story and follows the production and the set design. "The Future Won't Wait: Design & Technology" (11 minutes) looks at the use of on-screen graphics and how they were incorporated into the story. "A True Original: Remembering Bill Paxton" (14 minutes) has Hanks reminiscing about working with Paxton on Apollo 13, and then sharing other anecdotes about the late actor.
Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long