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DirectorLars von Trier
Release Date(s)2009 (November 9, 2010)
Studio(s)Zentropa Entertainments (Criterion - Spine #542)
Lars von Trier’s psychological horror tale Antichrist was one of the most-talked about films of 2009. Extremely graphic in detail and psychologically unsettling, the film garnered an enormous amount of controversy upon its initial release, splitting critics and audiences in half like few films of recent memory.
My original thoughts upon my first viewing of Antichrist were positive, but there was something initially holding me back to come right out and declare it a masterpiece. With further viewings I can now generate a more thoughtful perspective without any lingering ambiguity. The film has the uncanny ability to allow its audience to walk away from it with a variety of different perspectives. It’s so masterfully layered that it’s almost a template for viewer interpretation and applicability. One person might see it as a relatively straightforward psychodrama about a woman losing her mind over the death of her son... another might see it as a pretentious art film about the struggle between man and woman... someone else may see it as a story about a man void of human decency and that his ultimate outcome in the story is his journey into darkness. There are themes and ideas like these layered throughout and they intentionally evoke emotional responses, be they positive or negative. Whatever your interpretation may be, there’s no denying the film’s visual power. It’s a beautifully-shot esoteric masterwork that is truly a piece of modern art. It’s likely to disturb you, perhaps somewhere deep down in your soul, but you can’t take your eyes off of it. I prefer to think of it as simply a thought-provoking piece of modern cinema – one that today’s modern audiences are in dire need of, and will most-assuredly leave them pondering its meaning long after they’ve seen it.
Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Antichrist contains the original uncut theatrical version of the film, which is a digital-to-digital transfer approved by von Trier himself and supervised by the director of photography Anthony Dod Mantle. The visual presentation of this release is absolutely staggering. Shot at 4K resolution with RED One digital cameras (except for the slow motion shots which were shot with Phantom HD cameras), every last ounce of quality is on full display. Colors are deep and rich (especially blacks), contrast is high without overburdening the image, and since this was shot digitally, the image is smooth and natural-looking. It’s also worth noting that the color palette was altered with the digital grading process during post-production, which makes for a surreal-looking picture that shines beautifully in high definition. In other words, this is a jaw-dropping presentation and more than worthy of the format it’s being presented on. The audio track is an English 5.1 DTS-HD soundtrack. Because of the nature of the film, there isn’t a big sweeping symphonic score or songs of any kind (except for the opening and closing moments). The film plays quietly for the most part as the two characters spend most of the film talking to each other, but there are some good thumping LFE moments sprinkled in for effect. Whether it be birds in the forest or acorns hitting the tin roof of the old shack, there’s an envelopment process going on to suck you into the environment. It’s a far more subtle soundtrack than one would normally expect and it’s just as impressive as the image quality. There’s also a set of English subtitles for those who might need them.
There’s also some great but seemingly brief supplemental material to dig through that complements the film well and sheds some light on how Antichrist came to be. There’s an audio commentary with von Trier and film scholar Murray Smith, interviews with von Trier and actors Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg, seven featurettes with various members of the crew and behind-the-scenes footage, Chaos Reigns at the Cannes Film Festival (a documentary on the film’s world premiere), the film’s theatrical trailers and a 28-page booklet featuring an essay by film scholar Ian Christie. This may seem like a small of amount of material, but it’s a good road map for those who wish to further examine the film’s creative process. While I wish there was some artwork galleries included, this is still a very good set of extras.
In closing, Criterion’s release of Antichrist is a real film-enthusiast pleasing experience. The only thing next to equaling the quality of this release would be seeing it in the cinema... although it’s definitely not for everybody. An open mind is required to ingest this kind of material, but I believe it’s well worth it. I keep coming back to it and finding new things to think and say about it, and that means the most to me. Since its release, it has divided its viewers in half – you either revel in it or just hate it outright. Being a member of the former, I highly recommend picking this one up. Chaos reigns.
- Tim Salmons