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THE FOUNTAIN

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Hugh Jackman, Rachel Weisz, Ellen Burstyn
Director: Darren Aronofsky
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 96 Minutes
Release Date: May 15, 2007

“Don’t worry…we’re almost there.”

Film ****

Certain films remind us that the medium can do more than entertain. Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain does entertain indeed, but it also challenges the mind, assaults your senses and delivers a startling impact that places it in the highest realms in the achievement of visionary cinema. It’s certainly a piece of work that the late great Stanley Kubrick would be proud of.

Whether or not Aronofsky was aiming to make a film with a Kubrick-ian feel to it, I can certainly say that this film, like most of Kubrick’s work, is more than a film…it’s an experience that is unforgettable. It returns to the truest form of science fiction, much like that of such other great films like 2001 and, in my opinion at least, the 2002 remake of Solaris. What’s even more astonishing to note is that, as those two films were adaptations of popular novels, The Fountain is an original story penned by Aronofsky himself.

And no other film has been harder for me to describe in words. It’s one of those rare films that can best be described as an experience in itself. Aronofsky’s film unfolds in three separate but intersecting timelines. For restless viewers, the result may have you scratching your head, but if you appreciate challenging filmmaking and are willing respond to a unique narrative, you will find yourself absolutely mesmerized by the way Aronofsky lets his film unfold.

The main storyline involves the present time, where Dr. Tommy Creo (Hugh Jackman) is struggling to develop a cure for cancer. His wife, Izzy (Rachel Weisz), is dying from a brain tumor that is inoperable. After running some tests on a chimp in his laboratory, Tommy feels deadly close to achieving the impossible. Izzy believes in him even as she grows weaker.

Izzy is a writer, who is currently developing a book that is to serve as a metaphor on what she is battling. The book, titled The Fountain, provides the film’s second timeline, where a Spanish conquistador named Tomas (Jackman) is on a quest to find a Mayan temple that possesses the Tree of Life once located in the Garden of Eden, otherwise known as The Fountain of Youth. He carries this mission at the request of Queen Isabel (Weisz), who wants the prize of eternal life for her, as well as her kingdom.

The third timeline is set years in the future, where a bald astronaut (Jackman, again) is traveling in a bubble which houses a tree which grows at the center of a star. It took me some time to make sense of this storyline, and I’ve come to a conclusion. In my mind, this is mostly a visual interpretation of Tommy’s thoughts as he is dealing with the events of the present. Of course, I could be wrong, but this is one film that is open to endless interpretations.

Aronofsky and his film crew have stated that the past two films, Pi and Requiem For a Dream, were very much stepping-stones to get to this film, which has been labeled as the writer/director’s DREAM project. After seeing the film, I can very much believe it because Aronofsky has clearly made a painstainkingly-crafted piece, with some of the most astounding production designs and uses of art direction you will ever see.

Aronofsky has every filmmaking element accomplished in the most perfect manner. Cinematographer Matthew Libatique, who shot both Pi and Requiem, helps to create countless beautiful shots that words cannot even describe. Composer Clint Mansell, another frequent collaborator of Aronofsky’s, has made a remarkably haunting music score with the help of Scottish rock band Mogwai, which adds marvelous effect to the film. And production designer James Chinlund has helped to create an atmosphere that will never leave your mind, in each individual storyline.

And lastly, the performances in The Fountain are riveting and heartbreaking as the film itself. It was quite a busy year in 2006 for Hugh Jackman, who had many additions to his resume including X-Men: The Last Stand, Scoop, The Prestige and two vocal performances in the animated films Flushed Away and Happy Feet. The Fountain was another film on his 06 resume, and I honestly think it’s the actor’s most astonishing performance yet. Aside from playing three different roles, Mr. Jackman manages to display his most emotionally revealing work in each of them, which is something of an accomplishment. The same can be said of Rachel Weisz, whose beauty and personality are the driving force of the story. Who wouldn’t want to keep her alive? She’s just so precious.

It’s simply a shame that the film didn’t garner any Oscar attention in those areas, in addition to that of the poetic screenplay. My guess is either the Academy weren’t responsive enough to the film’s challenging and cerebral material, or the history of the film’s production turned them away. The production history of this film is quite interesting; it was set to start shooting in 2002, but after one too many setbacks, it was shut down. But once Aronofsky was able to attract notable actors, the studio green lit the film once again, and it ended up being made way under budget.

The Fountain, for me, is Darren Aronofsky’s most astonishing cinematic accomplishment to date, which is saying something following his last two films. Aronofsky has proven himself to be this generation’s Kubrick, and there’s no question that this strong piece of originality would’ve made the late great director proud. It’s a visionary masterpiece, and though it’s not a film for every taste, those who are open to a different kind of film experience cannot afford to miss it.

Video ****

One of the most beautiful looking films I’ve ever also happens to be one of the most beautiful looking DVD presentations I’ve ever witnessed! The stunning anamorphic presentation from Warner has already got my vote for the Best Looking Disc of the Year. The image is complete with consistently clear and crisp visual quality, and all of the astounding production qualities come to astounding life. It’s one remarkable presentation that will help stick so many beautiful images in your mind.

Audio ****

Equal praise of the audio quality. The 5.1 mix delivers one of the most amazing audio presentations to be heard on the format. The balance between dialogue, music and various effects is uncanny. And background sound is also an amazing element, popping up at unexpected places. It’s a wonderful piece of DVD audio that adds a great deal to the experience.

Features ***

There’s basically one extra on the disc, but it happens to be a hugely in-depth look at the making of the movie. The six-part documentary, titled “Inside The Fountain: Death and Rebirth” covers every stage that went into the film’s production, going all the way back to it’s ill-fated 2002 pre production. A lot is revealed, which is why I’m giving it extra bonus points! The wonderful Theatrical Trailer is also included.

Summary:

Not only is The Fountain one of the most amazing films to come out of 2006, but it’s also one of the most amazing films you will ever see. And yet describing its brilliance is so difficult, as it must be seen to be understood why it is so mesmerizing. Prepare for a beautiful and deeply moving movie experience!

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