Black Swan [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Andy James & Noor Razzak (27th May 2011).
The Film

There has been much written (and that I have read) on Darren Aronofsky’s new film. More than a few people (and critics) have found themselves disconnected from the film’s events and although I loved the film, I can perhaps see why some found it so hilarious. And while it shares some DNA with Aronofsky’s previous "The Wrestler" (2008), "Black Swan" is very much its own heady mix of psycho-drama, melodrama, body horror and obsession. In short, a cinematic cocktail that can easily become over-the-top for some viewers.

However, I went with it. I loved it and found it to be an intense charting of one woman’s pursuit of perfection and her descent into madness. While simultaneously exploring creativity and the obsession that can result from it and casting a light on an otherwise little seen aspect of ballet (as opposed to "The Wrestler", with, well... wrestling). A heady mix indeed.

Natalie Portman as Nina, the perfect but passionless ballerina, gives a devastating performance. She utterly disappears into the role of the prim and disturbed Nina, constantly under the thumb of her mother and choreographer. The role is something akin to performing ballet atop a high wire – there are so many precise moments and emotions Portman has to hit, so many little suggestions she has to give us while at the same time balancing the delicate nature and psychosis of Nina, without making it absurd. And come the end, with her transformation into the confident, vengeful and sensual black swan, it is a change so convincing and so complete I was utterly stunned.

I don't think the (admittedly mad) pursuit of the unattainable perfection is what sends Nina over the edge of sanity. No, I found it intriguing that the first sign we are given of her paddling dangerously close to the waters of insanity comes before she is given the role of the Swan Queen, before the pressure and expectation are really, truly piled on. It lends a curious new dimension to the film: it is not the creative process that sends her into insanity; instead it becomes a dangerously off kilter person who is pushed further out.

To be sure, you can surmise that that pressure has always been there for Nina - in the form of her creepily obsessed mother Erica (Barbara Hershey). She was once a ballet dancer; she never made it very far and having a child obviously put paid to her career. She lives her life through her daughter - always pushing her, always wanting Nina to succeed to validate her own life. Hershey is mesmerisingly excruciating as the mother, bringing equal effect to the smallest interactions and the largest dramatic gestures.

Throughout the film, Aronofsky focuses on the duality of the white swan/black swan and Nina/Lily (Mila Kunis). He teeter’s dangerously close to swamping us with the virginal/sensual, white/black, female/male, mirrors, twins and doppelgangers imagery and themes. Mila Kunis' Lily is the opposite of Portman's Nina in just about every possible way, and this is continually pointed out to us. Aronofsky's use of visual effects to enhance proceedings is far more subtle and strong work; the CG (and there is plenty of CG) never once screams "Look at me! Look at how wonderful this visual effect is! BE DAZZLED!" Instead, Aronofsky proves himself one of the few directors with an understanding of how CG and VFX can be used to enhance rather than distract from the story. The use of a handheld aesthetic helps add to the feeling of immediacy and never once feels like an overused gimmick - which is saying something, because it kind of is nowadays. It is a fine balancing act Aronofsky has to maintain throughout the runtime. I would say he is largely successful with it, though I know others will disagree.

Ballet, to me, can often seem like a bizarre challenge/torture to the human body. The supreme, painful effort ballet dancers have to put themselves through for each performance has always struck me as a little mad. But, when they create something graceful and beautiful it all seems worth it. However truthful to the actual life of a ballerina Black Swan is or isn't, I believe it succeeds in being a dizzying mix of melodrama, body horror, creative forces and psychodrama. I know that reactions tend to fall under "loved it!" or "laughed at it!", but I will happily say I loved it and that I cannot wait to see where Aronofsky takes us next.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical ratio of 2.40:1 master in HD 1080p 24/fps using AVC MPEG-4 compression, the film was shot using different cameras to get the desired look. Parts of the film were shot in 16mm film, while other parts were shot using the Canon 5D Mark II and the 7D digital SLR cameras (these are stills cameras that have 1080p video capability). The result is a grainy image that offers a gritty aesthetic. The 16mm footage is much grainer, less detailed and with limited depth than 35mm, while the digital footage looks detailed, the low light scenes present a bit a noise. In saying that, the transfer replicates the look the filmmakers were trying to achieve. The film has a sense of immediacy and also of intimacy and the hand held photography using both these formats to shoot offer that. Colors are occasionally muted, however some scenes are wonderfully warm (the sex scene is a good example of this). Skin tones look natural, contrast is balanced well and I didn't spot any compression related issues and no annoying digital noise reduction (which, frankly would have ruined the film's transfer). Fox has delivered an image that's faithful to the intentions of the filmmakers and preserves the original theatrical experience.

Audio

Three audio tracks are present on this disc in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed at 48kHz/24-bit as well as a French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks. The sound design to this film can certainly be considered a character in its own right, the atmosphere created here immerses the viewer into the darkness of this film, it's themes and characters' lives. The surrounds are utilized purposefully and in a calculated method to create a sense of uneasiness. The mix, both subtle and complex works to enhance the images Aronofsky has created. Ambience is effective, directional sounds never feel out of place and the activity is constant and consistent throughout. It's not a action-packed audio tack, but every channel is used to help deliver an impressive audio track, with solid dialogue and the score adding a further layer, this 5.1 track is a stunner.
Optional subtitles are included in either English for the hearing impaired or in Spanish.

Extras

Fox has packed this disc with some quality extras such as a 3-part documentary, a collection of six featurettes, five Fox Movie Channel TV specials, the film's theatrical trailer, bonus trailers, BD-Live access and a second disc with a digital copy version of the film. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

DISC ONE:

First up we have the comprehensive "Black Swan Metamorphosis" a 3-part documentary (1080p) that runs a collective 48 minutes 55 seconds and takes a closer look at the film's production, shot at various stages of the process this feature takes us behind-the-scenes as viewers are granted access to see how a filmmaker such as Aronofsky works to bring his visions to light. The feature includes a wealth of footage from principle photography to post, features a host of interviews that are insightful and never seem congratulatory or false like a lot of EPK fluff we see nowadays. This is a solid making-of that covers a lot and offers fans a unique perspective. This feature can be viewed individually or with a 'play all' option:

- "Chapter One" runs for 15 minutes 15 seconds.
- "Chapter Two" runs for 21 minutes 17 seconds.
- "Chapter Three" runs for 12 minutes 33 seconds.

"Ballet" is a featurette (1080p) that runs a brief 2 minutes 33 seconds, is a clip that takes a look at the dance form and features more interviews. It would have been nice to expand on it and include more on the use of ballet in the film.

"Production Design" is a featurette (1080p) running for 4 minutes and takes a closer look at the low-budget production design for the film, influences and overall aesthetic are covered in this clip.

Next up is "Profile: Natalie Portman" a featurette (1080p) runs for 3 minutes 16 seconds, in this clip Portman comments on the film, her involvement and the level of dedication and training it took to play the character.

"Profile: Darren Aronofsky" featurette (1080p) runs for 2 minutes 48 seconds, the filmmaker comments on the film, how it started, the themes and his vision for the production and how it was shot.

"Conversation: Preparing for the Role" is the next featurette (1080p) that runs for 3 minutes 53 seconds, the director and his star talk about the role and the intense amount of work required to bring Portman's character to life.

"Conversation: Dancing with the Camera" featurette (1080p) runs for 1 minute 35 seconds, takes a closer look at filming the dancing sequences in the film and the challenges posed by the choreography and sets.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Natalie Portman" TV special (480p) runs for 5 minutes 56 seconds, this is a promo made for the channel to sell the film, it basically features the actor as they talk about the film and their role.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Winona Ryder" TV special (480p) runs for 2 minutes 17 seconds, and is another promo this time with Ryder talking about her character.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Barbara Hershey" TV special (480p) runs for 3 minutes 37 seconds, yet again, more of the same type of promo fluff as Hershey comments on her role.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: In Character with Vincent Cassel" TV special (480p) runs for 4 minutes 43 seconds, in this clip Cassel talks about his character and in playing the role.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: Direct Effect, Darren Aronofsky" TV special (480p) runs for 6 minutes 23 seconds, in this promo clip the director comments on the film on on making it.

The film's original theatrical trailer (1080p) is also included and runs for 2 minutes 2 seconds.

A collection of bonus trailers are also featured (1080p) for:

- "Fox Digital Copy" spot runs for 49 seconds.
- "127 Hours" runs for 2 minutes 38 seconds.
- "Love and Other Drugs" runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds.
- "FX Channel" spot runs for 1 minute 3 seconds.
- "Casino Jack" runs for 2 minutes 4 seconds.
- "Conviction" runs for 2 minutes 27 seconds.
- "Never Let Me Go" runs for 2 minutes 26 seconds.
- "Street Kings 2" runs for 31 seconds.

The disc is also BD-Live enabled for profile 2.0 players only.

DISC TWO:

This is a digital copy version of the film for portable media devices.

Packaging

Packaged in a Blu-ray case housed in a cardboard slip-case.

Overall

The Film: A Video: A Audio: A+ Extras: B+ Overall: A-

 


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