Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A classic movie night with a (new) classic movie

You know you really love a movie when you spend all week looking forward to watching it -- for the fourth time.

Saturday night was my fourth viewing of Children of Men, but my first in about three years. So I'd had plenty of time to work up an appetite.

My fourth viewing probably would have come sooner, except that my own DVD copy was loaned to a friend for something like a year-and-a-half (and he never actually watched it). However, having my own copy didn't enter into this viewing -- just as it didn't enter into my third viewing, when my wife and I saw the movie starting on cable, and just watched it straight through, even though we had a DVD copy sitting on the shelf nearby. Not getting great use out of that DVD purchase, I guess, but there's a value in just owning something as part of your collection, where you could watch it ... right?

There were two reasons I was looking forward so much to this fourth viewing:

1) I would be seeing it on BluRay for the first time;

2) I would be seeing it on a TV that's much, much bigger than mine.

A friend of mine had been talking about getting people together for a viewing of Children of Men, and chose this past Saturday, when his wife was out of town, as the perfect time. Not only would there be the superior image quality on the largest screen I'd seen it on since the theater, but the third person watching the movie with us hadn't seen it before. I don't know about you, but it gives me a certain giddy pleasure to sit next to someone as they discover an awesome movie. (Just watch that you don't overhype it; more on that in a minute.)

Even if the movie in question hadn't been Children of Men, I would have still been looking forward to Saturday night, because it served as an instance of a type of social gathering that's become increasingly rare for me in recent years: "movie night."

Back in the day, it used to be one of my favorite activities to go to the video store with a couple friends and pick out something to watch that night. We were seeing each other regularly enough, so we didn't consider it a sacrifice to spend two hours of our available face time watching a movie together. Not "social" in the strictest sense of that word, but a shared experience that is enhanced by the very act of sharing it.

As our lives got busier, though, it seemed like we were "wasting" our time together if we spent the time pointed forward at the boob tube. Oh, the TV was still an integral part of our socializing, but the content shifted. Now, people wanted something mindless they could talk over -- a reality TV show, Sportcenter, or a movie we'd all already seen. The point was to spend most of the time interfacing with each other, not with a moving image.

And while it's hard to criticize that impulse -- I mean, we already spend too much time using devices that deteriorate our ability to connect one-on-one with other humans -- I do miss the experience of renting and watching a movie with friends. So I jump at the opportunities when they come up.

And it being Children of Men ... well, that just made it all the better.

As I was watching this movie I love and recommend to so many people, it struck me how you can continue discovering things -- pretty big things, in fact -- about a movie, even if you've already seen it three times. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) Here are a couple of those things:

1) In addition to the two famous steadicam long takes from the film -- the amazing sequence when the car is attacked by the Fishes, and the ridiculously difficult battlefield sequence at the end -- there were two other long takes that impressed me greatly. One is when Theo (Clive Owen) and the two women are trying to escape the Fishes hideout, and Theo crawls alongside of several cars, disabling the engine of one of them, before selecting one to escape in. The shot lasts for several minutes and is more complex than it initially seems. The second is when Kee (Claire Hope-Ashitey) is about to give birth. From the time they enter the room in Bexhill until the baby is born, there are no cuts. And how the hell did they execute such a realistic baby birth? Is that an animatronic baby? Or digital? I don't know, and I almost don't want to know. (As for the two more famous shots -- we discussed both in detail for about 20 minutes afterward.)

2) Even though it's a great running joke, I had totally forgotten the detail that Theo spends the second half of the movie without proper footwear. When he finds out that the Fishes plan to kill him and take Kee for their own purposes, he executes an impromptu escape -- even though he's in his stocking feet. Even when the motley group of refugees arrives at the house of Theo's friend Jasper (Michael Caine), he can find no better fit than a pair of those cheap flip-flops. Much later on in Bexhill, he finally gets a pair of sneakers, but before then he's already had to execute several great escapes in significantly inferior footwear. In fact, I can't be 100% sure he actually gets to wear the sneakers -- I'll save that for the fifth viewing.

3) I did not realize until this viewing that Theo's cousin (Danny Huston) works at a place called The Ark of Art, which is trying to collect the great artwork that still exists before the world destroys it. For some reason, I was always under the impression that his cousin was just super rich, which is why he's got the cover of Pink Floyd's Animals recreated outside of his dining room window.

4) Here's a personal one. A few weeks back, Don Handsome made the discovery that Caine's character is named Jasper -- which is the name of my son. But when I was watching on Saturday, I realized that Clive Owen's character is named Theo -- which was also a strong contender for our son's name. When I shared this with my wife, she wondered if this had been in our subconscious somewhere. A nice connection to have to a movie we love so much.

The downside of re-watching a movie you love, of course, is that there's a chance you will be more critical of it than you had been previously. And there were actually two small things that bothered me upon this viewing of Children of Men:

1) I already had one concrete complaint about the dialogue, which I thought was limited to just one scene. Early on, when Jasper and Theo are driving alongside a train full of refugees, Jasper delivers a line that amounts to an extremely on-the-nose bit of exposition about the refugees and the government's position toward them. I've noticed this line on every viewing, and I noticed it again this time. What I hadn't noticed previously was how heavy-handed I found the dialogue between Theo and Julian (Julianne Moore) when they're on the top level of the double-decker bus, arguing about their child who died years earlier. I found this exchange to be downright distracting.

2) My friend, who was a newcomer to the movie, pointed out a possible problem to which I still don't have a satisfactory response. Early on, when Theo is riding alone on the train (it's the same time you see that montage on the train's TV of all the other cities in the world falling into chaos), the train is besieged by a bunch of people throwing rocks and clumps of dirt. We couldn't say for sure because they were hard to see, but these people looked an awful lot like kids. Which is problematic, because we just started the movie learning that the world's youngest person -- 18-year-old "Baby Diego" -- had just been killed. (And what a great opening, by the way.) Because it was so hard to tell, I will forgive the movie this, but yeah, it seemed like some of those rock-throwers could have been under 16.

And so what did my friend think of his first viewing? He was suitably impressed by the film's amazing technical achievements, but overall he found it a bit too depressing. And, truth be told, he thought it had been over-hyped. That's the danger we film fans always confront -- you want to emphasize to a person that they need to see a certain movie, else you might not make it seem sufficiently urgent for them to actually prioritize a viewing. However, if you go overboard and tell them that it's the best movie they've ever seen, they almost certainly will not agree -- their expectations are so high, there's nowhere to go but down. Oh well. If he wants to have only a middling level of appreciation for Children of Men, it's his loss.

As for me ... well, I'm still in love. And the BluRay looked great. I remember being absolutely enthralled by the depth of field in this one particular shot, during the first visit to Jasper's house, when Theo has his stocking feet (remember those stocking feet for later on) kicked up on Jasper's coffee table. The image was so crisp that those feet seemed to be sticking right out of the TV into my friend's living room.

As a social gathering, it worked too. We were a small enough group that people weren't inclined to talk during the movie, though we did add a comment or two when the pacing seemed to allow a brief interjection (mostly to point out how amazing a particular shot had just been). We caught up for about 45 minutes before we started, and we engaged in another 45 minutes of post-mortem afterward.

Let's get another movie night on the schedule soon.


Daddy Geek Boy said...

Was sad I couldn't be there, but I was asleep by 9:30 (I'm a rockstar).

When I first saw Children of Men, I was so stunned by the long shots that I had to watch the extras to see how they did it. There's quite a bit of amazing movie magic there. I love it cause it's so subtle.

Vancetastic said...

DGB, you were missed. We needed one extra person to overwhelm the newbie with how good it was, so he had no choice but to agree.

Do I have those extras on my own DVD? Damn. I have to watch those.