127 Hours Blu-Ray Review
|REVIEWS - BLU-RAY REVIEWS|
Danny Boyle's take on a true story of terror proves its Oscar worthiness...
Having read about Aron Ralston’s ordeal soon after it happened, I knew going in to 127 Hours what was going to happen, so the obvious question to me was, “How do you make a movie about a guy stuck in a narrow canyon for five days?” Well, given that he survives by cutting his own arm off with a dull knife and that the movie was to be directed by Danny Boyle, I pushed that aside in favor of a more specific question, “How does a director known for an ultra-kinetic style keep something like this visually interesting?” By entrusting the picture to the hands (or hand) of James Franco, one of today’s more interesting actors.
Though he’s quickly solidifying his place as a nudge-and-wink nutjob, Franco takes everything he does seriously, no matter how serious the project isn’t (with the possible exception of this year’s Oscar telecast). He’s handsome without being distracting and competent without being showy - pretty much perfect for a movie where he is the sole actor for a large portion.
Boyle avoids the pitfalls (no pun intended) of making a static film by front-loading the picture with as many of his directorial trademarks as possible: kinetic digital camerawork juxtaposed with languid vistas, thorough attention to music (both digetic and non-) and there’s even a visual nod to Trainspotting for good measure. By the time Ralston is trapped in the center of the middle of the asshole-end of nowhere with less than a liter of water and a forty cent burrito to sustain him, it’s sort of a welcome change in tone.
This brings me to one of my favorite mental exercises about film: what would it be like to see this movie without knowing anything about it? Even when a movie is based on something that really happened, screenplays are still written to capitalize on the surprise factor of unforeseen events. They’re constructed (generally) without consideration for what the trailer is going to tell you or even spoil for you, or what a synopsis will include or what a review might say. In essence, movies are written with the unfortunately erroneous mindset that all you know is what they tell you, as they tell it to you.
This is, of course, completely antithetical to how the movie business works or even how the process of recommending things to friends does, for that matter. When marketing a film or suggesting one, the first thing that comes out of the target’s mouth is, “Well, what’s it about?” Unless you’ve built a relationship with your mark to the point where they will accept your advice without question, anything you say (unless unbelievably hazy) will run counter to the basic process of how a movie unfolds.
Pretty much the same goes for trailers: too vague and no one will see your picture, but if you show too much, you get the old, “Well, I just saw the whole thing in the preview.” In the case of something like 127 Hours, which is set up as though the prospective audience doesn’t know the protagonist will, sooner rather than later, get his arm pinned between a rock and a hard place, the difficulty comes from knowing the sensational story you’re trying to tell has already been told on CNN, Fox News, Time magazine, Outdoors and a zillion other news outlets, not to mention a bestseller written by the protagonist himself just a few years ago.
Since there’s really no way around it, the only way to proceed is in a typically Boyle-ish fashion, say “fuck it” and move forward. Made a wacky romantic comedy no one saw? Fuck it, move forward. Your first big Hollywood picture bombed, in the process ruining your relationship with your usual leading man? Fuck it, move forward. No one saw your big, depressing space-movie? Fuck it, move forward! Eventually, you’ll get an Oscar!
Though 127 Hours lost all its Oscar nods, that’s neither here nor there. Boyle has made a tight, relatively suspenseful movie about courage and keeping one’s self together in the face of seemingly certain death bolstered by the fact that this actually happened to some poor bastard who lived to tell the tale; sort of like a Disney version of The Descent. Franco most certainly deserved his nomination, and carries the film with ease, despite sounding like he had a mouth full of cotton most of the time, which was kind of weird.
On the technical side, the cinematography is excellent before and after Ralston’s entrapment (including some locations I recognized from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and interesting during - a combination of high, low, front and back shots with occasional footage from a handi-cam he records his goodbyes on. Sound is impeccable and the prosthetic effects are anatomically top-notch. Of particular note is the canyon set, which never gives itself away as anything other than rock. About the only problem is going in knowing what happens, which is not the film’s fault, but the total lack of surprise keeps it from completely working. As it stands, it is still an extremely well-made movie and well worth seeing.
As for the disc itself, the picture was crystal-clear and the sound well-mixed (Franco’s voice aside). The extras, though spare, were pretty damn fantastic and obviously created for this release. Most of the “deleted” scenes were still incorporated into the feature, only one of which should have been included in the final version (“That’s Kind of What Soloing Is”). The alternate ending, while interesting, was way too long and reminded me too much of the end of Cast Away.
Also included are a commentary by Boyle, co-screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and producer Christian Colson. An excellent fifteen-minute short about the actual search and rescue operations revolving around Ralston is included, featuring interviews with the man himself, who also shows up on the reasonably in-depth behind-the-scenes featurette, which includes views of the set, prosthetics and interview footage of Boyle, Franco and Ralston.
Rounding out the extras randomly, but well, is the Academy Award-winning short film (Best Live-Action Short 2010) God of Love, which is not mentioned anywhere on the packaging. It’s a cute, sweet story of a musician trying to win the love of his band’s drummer, aided by a little magic. What it’s doing on this disc is completely unknown to me, since its status as an Oscar winner is coincidental to its appearance here as it was already printed and mailed by the time the award was given. Still, it’s a welcome addition and I’m glad to have seen it.
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