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Blu-ray Reviews: Melancholia

Originally published in Sound and Image, July 2012, v.25#06
Last updated 23 February 2013

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2011 - Madman Entertainment Pty Ltd
Director: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Alexander Skarsgård, Charlotte Rampling, Jesper Christensen, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgård and Kiefer Sutherland

Movie: Picture: Sound: Extras:

(The following review was published as part of a combined review with Shame.)

Art movies don't generally shoot for happy endings and satisfying resolutions. And believe me both Melancholia and Shame are indeed art movies.

And while both have a very bleak outlook, they are also very different. Melancholia is in some ways a fantasy. Although the characters are depicted with a brutal honesty, and the actors -- especially Kirsten Dunst -- deliver what is usually known as 'brave' performances. Certainly she is at times very different to her role in the Spider Man trilogy.

Likewise Michael Fassbender's role in Shame is exceptionally, well, revealing. He plays a man who is a sex addict, and who copes -- poorly -- with every stress with yet more sex. The only sex he can't have is something that might have a human connection. The R rating is thoroughly warranted.

All the performances are brilliant in both movies. The opening eight minutes or so of Melancholia is so entrancing as to make this disc worthy of purchase for that alone. It's a ballet of slow motion action accompanied by Wagner. One of the featurettes on this disc claims that the science it depicts is solid. I don't think so, but I don't care. It is simply beautiful. The sound is encompassing and atmospheric, and deeply unsettling with an underlying bass rumble.

The encoding of the picture is as close to perfection as is possible with Blu-ray, as is necessary for scenes of such imagination and beauty.

Shame is much more prosaic, and totally lacking in fantasy. Its MPEG4 AVC encode runs at a respectable 28Mbps which is plenty to capture every bit of its unstylised office and apartment interiors, and blue city exteriors. It is presented on a single layer disc in the most bare-bones possible fashion. There is only the main audio -- delivered in DTS-HD Master Audio. There are no subtitles. There are no extras. There isn't even a chapter menu. You can skip through the chapters but that's it. The lack of everything else is what permits the high bitrate. The content uses 96.3% of the total capacity of a single layer Blu-ray disc.

One special little pleasure of this movie was the use of some sections of The Goldberg Variations and The Well Tempered Clavier being played distinctively by Glenn Gould. Gould's skeletal style in these pieces somehow fitted with the character played by Fassbender.

Running time: 135 minutes
Picture: 2.35:1, 1080p24, MPEG4 AVC @ 25.16Mbps
Sound: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 24/48 3/2.1 @ 2842kbps (core: DTS 24/48 3/2.1 @ 768kbps); English: LPCM 24/48 2/0.0 @ 2304kbps; Commentary: LPCM 16/48 2/0.0 @ 1536kbps
Subtitles: English
Extras: 4 Featurettes (1080i50 - 32 mins); Documentary: 'Filmbyen: the New Mecca of Cinema' (576i50 - 54 mins); 3 Interviews (1080i50 - 16 mins); Trailer (1080p24 - 2 mins)
Restrictions: Rated (Australian rating); Locked to Region B

The following video bitrate graph was generated by BDInfo 0.5.8:

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