Review: Melancholia (Blu-ray)

Magnolia gives controversial director Lars von Trier's beautifully depressing opus a Blu-ray release.

  • Director: Lars von Trier
  • Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, John Hurt
  • Year: 2011
  • Runtime: 136 Minutes
  • Company: Magnolia
  • Format: Blu-ray
  • Discs: 1
  • Video: 2.35:1 - 1080p - MPEG 4 AVC
  • Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Region: A
  • Released: 3/13/2012

Death is inevitable. It's a natural cycle of life that is ultimately inescapable and one of the few things in life that is absolute. Melancholia reminds us of this, albeit in a heightened spectacle of devastation during it's opening moments, showing the destruction of Earth in a beautiful and horrifying fashion. It's safe to say this world is divided up into a group of two when concerning this subject. Those who fear death, and those who simply accept it. Melancholia's leading ladies belong to both camps. Justine (Kirsten Dunst) is a mentally depressed newlywed with a bleak outlook on the future. Her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg) is an anxiety ridden wife and mother but is more reserved and keeps it tucked away.
Melancholia is divided into two parts, focusing on Justine and Claire. A seemingly happy Justine is attending a lavish wedding reception with her new beau Michael (Alexander Skarsgard), thrown by Claire's filthy rich husband John (Kiefer Sutherland) at their castle estate. Justine's happiness is just a facade and is short lived as she struggles to collect her emotions throughout the night, which ends in turmoil. The last half of the film deals with Claire's concern of a massive planet that's approaching Earth and taking care of Justine who's sunk into a massive depressing state that grows increasingly worse as she slips further away from reality.
Depression and loneliness is a major theme in Melancholia and features what may be one of the most realistic portrayals of this serious illness that I've ever seen. Justine is a timebomb of emotion that is executed with flawless believability by Kirsten Dunst. It's a spotlight on someone that's physically and mentally detached from her surroundings, unable to contribute or receive happiness. This leads to Justine accepting her fate and awaits the rapidly approaching planet, dubbed 'Melancholia'. "The Earth is evil", Justine coldly exclaims, "we don't need to grieve for it...nobody will miss it." Justine has nothing to live for and welcomes death with open arms.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Claire (played by the always excellent Charlotte Gainsbourg), who's frightened of 'Melancholia's' presence and is nowhere near ready to die. Claire is the embodiment of a normal human and reacts as such, frequently scaring herself into bouts of tears. Like any true Mother, she wants to see her child grow up and live happily. Like any loving Wife, she wants to be constantly assured and be guaranteed warm safety. The impact of knowing 'Melancholia' is on it's way crushes Claire's security and she slowly crumbles. Unable to cope. Unsure of how to live. Knowing that these characters will meet their doom, whether they want to or not, is a stark and heartbreaking experience.
Melancholia is a gut wrenching drama that happens to be taking place during a science fiction scaled disaster that wouldn't seem out of place in a big budget summer tentpole. Director Lars von Trier isn't interested in the science of the event but offers just enough to make it seem plausible. Knowing where this planet came from or if forces on Earth can stop isn't relevant, it's how these characters perceive it and how they can come to terms with it. It's expertly balanced and I have no qualms about calling this film a masterpiece of spectacle and a blunt look at the human condition.

  • Video
Melancholia's 1080p, 2.35:1 framed transfer is nothing short of phenomenal. The various visuals throughout the film are captivating and arresting, especially the opening scene spectacle and the cosmic imagery. The films setting sports a mixture of drab and trancing colors, with a wealth of detail that is heightened in clarity thanks to the HD boost. The cinematography is undeniably gorgeous and is faithfully represented here with a perfect transfer that should leave no one unsatisfied.
  • Audio
Melancholia's English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 makes it sound like a booming summer blockbuster. While dialogue heavy, this film boasts a harrowing orchestrated theme and many instances of bass that will have your speakers and subwoofer working into overtime. It's loud and clear without any distortion. Be sure to crank the volume up on your surround system for an excellent audio experience.

Bonus Features
  • Featurette - "About Melancholia"
Quick interviews from director von Trier, actresses Kirsten Dunst & Charlotte Gainsbourg and insight from psychologist Irene Oestrich who discuss Melancholia's tone, themes and characters.
  • Featurette - "Special Effects"
This details the films many impressive scenes by showing us the overall process of creating it through storyboards, time lapse cameras and pre viz. A very cool look at the inception to the completion of the effects.
  • Featurette - "The Visual Style"
Another quick discussion with Lars von Trier and cinematographer Manuel Claro talking about shooting the film and their goal for a unique and precise look.
  • Featurette - "The Universe"
Michael Linden is an astrophysicist who served as the films visual effects supervisor and discusses the science and disaster events of Melancholia.
  • Featurette - "HDNet: A Look at Melancholia"
Typical EPK TV puff piece that's supposed to quickly sell you on the film but just overlaps and recycles interviews/information that's already been given.
  • Trailers
Two theatrical trailers for Melancholia are included, as well as others for current/upcoming Magnolia films.