Review by Michael Jacobson
Burrows, Salma Hayek, Holly Hunter, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Stellan Skarsgard
Director: Mike Figgis
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Standard 1.33:1
Studio: Columbia Tri Star
Features: See Review
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: December 26, 2000
As a student of cinema, I can really appreciate the amount
of hard work, dedication and effort it takes to make a great film.
In the case of Mike Figgis’ Time Code, I’m absolutely
awestruck. In all my years of movie
watching, I’ve never seen anything like it, nor will I likely ever again.
This has to be the most technically audacious picture I’ve ever seen.
Yet he, his crew, and his amazing cast of actors managed to turn one of
the medium’s most daring experiments into an unqualified triumph.
Using digital video cameras instead of traditional film
ones, Figgis was able to shoot continuously for 90 plus minutes without any
cuts, which he did not only once, but four times here. The screen is split into quadrants, and each piece of the
picture represents one of four cameras that films continuously without breaks
and in complete real time. They are
focused on separate parts of a complex story that takes place in and around a
movie studio office. All parts of
the story run concurrently, and the characters sometimes wander in and out of
each other’s frame, interacting at key or comical moments, or sometimes merely
passing each other on the way to crucial events.
To delve into the story would be to unravel the cinematic
fabric…this is the kind of storytelling that only film could relay, and to
discuss the actions in print apart from the images would be like taking the
string out of a pearl necklace: it
would fall apart. I’ll try to
The characters include Lauren (Tripplehorn), a rich woman
involved with Rose (Hayek), a would-be actress who might be cheating on her.
Lauren implants a listening device in Rose’s purse when she heads into
the offices for her audition, and spends a great deal of the movie listening in
while we get to watch both her reactions and Rose’s actions at the same time.
There is Alex (Skarsgard), a head man at the studio with a bit of an
alcohol problem, and his sorrowful wife Emma (Burrows), who has just about
decided she’s had enough. There
are, of course, other characters along the way…some who seem incidental at
first but later prove significant.
Essentially, there are four stories at work, and yet at the
same time, really only one. Films
like Nashville originally set the stage for large, sprawling character
epics where individual tales came together via the “chance” intersections of
key players. Mike Figgis has taken
it a step farther here, not by juggling the stories, but by making them all run
side by side. It’s not as
confusing as it sounds…by simple audio manipulations, we are always directed
to the key quadrant at any given time, while his impeccable sense of direction
allows other stories to relax or come to life at just the right moments to
either win or surrender our attention. But
all four screens are there for our exploration, and repeated viewings of the
movie reveal many gems.
To call this picture a technical masterpiece is an
understatement. As I mentioned, it
really blows my mind to think how difficult a film this must have been to
orchestrate…yet here it is, in technical perfection. A solid hour and a half with no cuts…yet no blown cues, no
flubbed lines, no missed marks, no miscommunications. Even when earthquakes occur in the stories, which are
strictly camera shaking effects, they all manage to start and end at the same
times, with the actors in perfect harmony.
There are even scenes where the cameras come together in singular
locations, and give us varying points of view of the same scene.
These cameras are always moving…yet they manage never to film each
other and destroy the illusion.
The more one appreciates the technical aspect of movie
making, the more one will love this film, which certainly makes no attempts to
disguise its techniques in favor of the story.
Rather, this is a case where the story (and even the characters) are
highly secondary. This is not the
future of moviemaking, in other words. We
may never see another picture like this, and truth be told, we probably
shouldn’t. This was an experiment
carried off successfully by a master craftsman, and it exists only for those who
love the art form and can savor the extraordinary achievement.
This transfer came directly from the digital video
sources…in other words, no film ‘middleman’, and therefore, no widescreen
presentation. I’m not completely
sure how I feel about this…video looks likes video, even if it’s digital,
and that can be a bit of a distraction when you’re used to looking at film.
Still, there are no real image complaints…the digital quality is a
plus, and there certainly are no problems you might expect from standard analog
video. Images are generally bright,
sharp and clear, with good, natural coloring, and the lighting is effective
throughout. Even one or two darker scenes are constructed in a way where
key information is visible (standard video tends to muddy everything out).
Film may be film, but this is still a quality presentation from Columbia
The audio may be the most crucial ingredient at work here,
and it’s extraordinary. I highly
recommend the 5.1 track if at all possible.
Most surround sounds exist to bring the experience of the film to life
for the viewer, but here, the audio is all about maintaining four lines of
action simultaneously, and the splits and surrounds are used constantly and to
perfection in order to make the balance work.
Even the musical score gets into the multi channel mix.
Sometimes, it comes strictly from the rear stage so as not to detract
from the dialogue. Other times,
when all four lines are brought up simultaneously, you get discreet action from
all corners for an excellent mix of audio.
The earthquakes even let your subwoofer in on the fun.
This is definitely the most creative and involved use of 6 channel sound
for a non-action or non-music DVD I’ve heard.
One thought that kept popping in my head during my viewing
of the film—how in the world could you write down a script for four
simultaneous scenes? I couldn’t
picture it on paper at all, but thanks to the Video Diary documentary included
on this disc, I learned the secret…sheet music.
Mike Figgis arranged his entire movie using four staff bars to represent
the cameras, and counted off his measures to represent where certain parts would
be in sync. Brilliant, and it was
just one of the things I learned from this disc. For another bonus, you get Version 1 of the film in its
entirety (the theatrical version was number 15; the last one shot).
You can compare the two versions and witness the evolution by both the
actors and the technicians over the 15 takes of the movie.
Both versions have optional commentary by Mike Figgis, a man who really
loves his work and speaks with a quiet but infectious enthusiasm.
There are also talent files, a trailer, a booklet with production notes,
and some DVD ROM bonuses, including a look at the script in musical score form.
Time Code is the kind of film I respond to in my gut: a challenging, technical marvel that amazes with its flawless execution. It never misses a beat. It may not be everyone’s idea of a good time, but anyone who appreciates the art of cinema and is excited by seeing things on screen that haven’t been seen before, this is a can’t miss masterpiece, and a possible historical landmark.