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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: 12 Years a Slave

Marred only by the obnoxious casting and performance of Brad Pitt as the hero’s savior—the sequence should have been better written and thought out than it is, and Pitt ought to do something, anything, other than grin like an idiot—the 2013 Best Picture Oscar winner, 12 Years a Slave, available from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, is a superbly constructed historical film, exploring details of the antebellum South that are fresh and largely free of cliché, gathered within a strong emotional narration about a man separated from his family, a heartstring plot that justifies its time spent on getting the details of the past correctly.  Directed by Steve McQueen, who was also one of the film’s producers to receive a statuette, the film is a masterful blend of incident, texture, suspense and revelation.  Utilizing the classic ‘journey’ story to explore the anguish of the hundreds of thousands of African-Americans (millions of Africans were abducted from Africa, but most were sent to Central and South America), who escaped enslavement only by death, through the eyes of one individual, who was just unfortunate to have that horrific fate befall him for a modest period of his adult life (by and large, it is a true story, based upon an autobiography), the film deftly utilizes the exception to portrait the rule.  One of the two great scars that will forever blemish the American ideal—the second, of course, is the Native-American pogrom—slavery is such an overpowering subject for a drama that it requires an exceptional aesthetic approach, lest the narrative momentum become sodden in emotional reflex to the point of inertia.  How can the beatings rise to a crescendo without deafening a viewer’s sensitivities on the very first note?  How can the random displacement of humans being distributed as property sustain a consistent intrigue of character?  How can modern actors embody any of the characters, black or white, truthfully, without going insane?  McQueen oversees all of these challenges, creating a powerful, beautiful work—no more or less violent than many great films that have addressed violence—that is entertaining and exciting throughout its 134 minutes.  12 Years a Slave bears witness to a damned institution that was in place far longer than it has been out of place, and one that created social disparities which linger still.  It is not a final word on the topic of slavery, but it is a good word, and will enlighten all who pause to share in it.

The picture is presented in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback.  The image is smooth and sharp, and the cinematography is exquisite.  The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound is also thrilling.  The cicadas, in particular, are magnificent.  There is an audio track that describes the action (“Solomon grimaces in pain, his mouth agape.  A barred window with an open wood shutter gives a view inside the darkened cell.  Behind the bars, Solomon brings his anguished face to the window.  Our view rises up the brick building’s outer wall.  Upon reaching the top, a view over the building’s roof gives us a glimpse of the Capitol Building in the distance.”), alternate French and Spanish tracks in standard stereo, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and 13 minutes of passable production featurettes about the crew supporting McQueen’s vision.  Chiwetel Ejiofor stars, with Oscar-winner Lupita Nyong’o, Benedict Cumberbatch, Michael Fassbender, and others.

One Response to “DVD Geek: 12 Years a Slave”

  1. theschu says:

    As great as the movie is (including Pitt’s scene and performance which didn’t bother me), the one thing that sort of bothered me was that I never got the sense that Solomon was a slave for 12 years. It seemed more like 2 or 3. His hair and weight seemed to stay the same throughout the whole film. His face also always seemed to be shaven. This might sound like a minor quibble but when the film is called 12 Years A Slave and the journey doesn’t really ever feel like it takes that long, it lessens the impact.

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DEADLINE: How does a visualist feel about people watching your films on a phone or VOD?
REFN: It depends on what kind of movie you make. We had great success with Only God Forgives on multiple platforms in the U.S. Young people will decide how they see it, when they want to see it. Don’t try to fight it. Embrace it. That’s a wonderful opportunity. We’re at the most exciting time since the invention of the wheel, in terms of creativity because distribution and accessibility have changed everything. A camera is still a camera whether it’s digital or not; there’s still sound; an actor is an actor. Ninety-nine percent of what you do is going to be seen on a smart phone – I know this is the greatest thing ever made because it allows people to choose, watching what you do on this format or go into a theater and see it on a screen. That means more people than ever will see what I do, which is personally satisfying in terms of vanity. But you have to be able to adapt, to accept things in different order and length than we’re used to. We are in a very, very exciting time.
~ Nic Refn to Jen Yamato

DEADLINE: You mention Tarantino, who with Christopher Nolan and a few other giants, saved film stock from extinction. To him, showing a digital film in a theater is the equivalent of watching TV in public. Make an argument for why digital is a good film making canvas.
REFN: Costwise, it’s a very effective way for young people to start making movies. You can make your movie on an iPhone. It’s wonderful seeing how my own children use technology to enhance creativity. For me it’s a wonderful canvas. Sure, I love grain in film. I love celluloid. But I also like creativity. I like crayons, I like pencils, I like paint. It’s all relative. Technology is more inclusive. A hundred years ago when film was invented, it was an elitist club. Very few people got to make it, very few people controlled it and very few people owned it. A hundred years later, storytelling through images is everyone’s domain. It’s ultimate capitalism. There are no rules, and no barriers and no Hays Code. Where does this go in another hundred years? I don’t know but I would love to see it.
~ Nic Refn To Jen Yamato