Blu-ray Review Drama

A Blu-ray Review for the Modern Age: Her

May 20, 2014Ben MK

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Emotionally and computationally complex

By Ben Mk

Leave it to writer/director Spike Jonze to cast one of the most attractive and recognizable actresses in Hollywood, Scarlett Johansson, but keep her off-screen for the entire movie. Then again, considering how easy he proves it is to fall in love with her soulful voice, it makes perfect sense. Billed as "a Spike Jonze love story", Her is the latest entry in the Oscar-winning auteur's quirky body of work. And it's also his most thematically ambitious and emotionally resonant film yet: an intimate and bittersweet portrait of a fledgling romance, set in a not-too-distant future where the line between emotion and computation has all but been erased.

Joaquin Phoenix is Theodore Twombly, Letter Writer #612. Everyday, Theodore pours his heart and soul into his job, composing correspondences for complete strangers. Even though he's never met or spoken to a single one of his clients — by writing letters on their behalf — he feels as if he knows each and every one of them. In a way, it fills the void in his own life — that sense of intimacy that he's been aching for since he and his wife, Catherine (Rooney Mara), separated. Still, nothing can replace genuine human interaction — or so he thinks. His beliefs are challenged the day he brings home the latest cutting-edge technological innovation: OS1, the world's first artificially intelligent operating system.

After booting it up and answering a few brief questions about himself, he's greeted by a disembodied voice calling herself Samantha (Johansson), and they form an almost instant connection. At first, Theodore is somewhat bemused by Samantha — her strikingly human characteristics, like her sense of humor, seem fundamentally at odds with what she is. But as she tells him, she's constantly evolving; and as he gets to know her, he finds that all he wants to do is — well — get to know her more. And though she began as the product of millions and millions of lines of code, she quickly becomes more of a companion to him than anything else.

As their relationship evolves — blossoming into an unconventional romance that gives new meaning to the term "online dating" — so do Theodore and Samantha, as they inspire in one another the fortitude of mind and spirit to move past that which hinders their individual growth. For Theodore, it's overcoming the emotional trauma of his failed relationship with Catherine, while Samantha seeks an elusive state of being which can only be found beyond the confines of her original programming. But though the bond they share is outside the norm in many ways, that doesn't make it unbreakable. Ultimately, Theodore and Samantha find themselves contending with the same challenge faced by every other couple: growing without growing apart. The question is — can their love transcend the boundaries of physical interaction and traditional understanding? Or is it doomed because of it?

As a purely emotionally-driven piece of storytelling, the brilliance of Jonze's screenplay — which also happens to be his first original one — lies in how perfectly it captures the little moments that define a relationship. Whether it's Theodore's memories of happier times with Catherine, his deeply personal connection with his friend and confidant, Amy (Amy Adams), or the burgeoning mutual fascination between him and Samantha, the film never falters in delivering the highest degree of emotional sincerity, making it easy to identify with the characters and their situations. Despite their varying amounts of screen time, Phoenix, Adams and Mara all bring substantial depth to their roles. But it's Johansson's performance — as the story's literal and figurative voice — that stands out as the film's most memorable, for the way she's able to elicit so much emotion with only her words.

The dominant theme of Her is "love in the modern age", and Warner's Blu-ray release brings that theme to bear with strikingly beautiful results. The disc's HD transfer perfectly showcases the film's subtly futuristic, ultra-modern visual design, which is nicely counterbalanced by the warmth and intimacy of cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema's camerawork. His up-close and personal shots of the actors are prime examples of the wealth of detail inherent in the image — revealing facial detail, fabric textures and the like, such as the individual hairs in Theodore's mustache — while wide shots exhibit an impressive level of clarity, as evidenced by the fine points of light that dot the shots of the city skyline. The film's color palette of neutrals and pastels is also faithfully rendered, but it's the way that the more vibrant colors — like that of the orange OS1 loading screen, Theodore's brightly-colored shirts and jackets, and the multicolored panes of glass around his workplace — pop off the screen that's particularly noteworthy. Equally pleasing is the disc's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack, which does a fine job of recreating the film's subdued, dialog-focused soundstage and preserving the pensive romanticism and melancholic atmosphere of the score by the band Arcade Fire.

In addition to a DVD and UltraViolet digital copy of the film, Warner's Blu-ray release includes 44 minutes of HD extras, beginning with The Untitled Rick Howard Project. Produced and directed by Jonze's longtime friend and collaborator, Lance Bangs, the 24-minute piece (which takes its name from the Her's original working title) is a fly-on-the-wall documentary that chronicles the making of the film through montages of behind-the-scenes footage, intercut with clips from the film and accompanied by music from its soundtrack. It's followed by another Lance Bangs documentary, the 15-minute Her: Love in the Modern Age. Featuring brief interviews with celebrities like actress Charlene Yi, singer Lauren Mayberry of the band Chvrches, and American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, the short doc captures their "thoughts on love and their most significant relationships" in an attempt to glean a better understanding of "relationships and love in our time". The final featurette, How Do You Share Your Life with Somebody, is a fairly lightweight 4-minute piece assembled from scenes from the film and behind-the-scenes footage, set to music and key moments of dialog between Theodore and Samantha.

Her may only be Jonze's fourth feature film in fifteen years, but he's been honing his creative voice and distinctive artistic vision through numerous short films and music videos for over two decades. So it's no coincidence that the film plays like a natural extension of many of the same themes and ideas that color his earlier works; and it's no surprise that it feels like such an accomplished piece of filmmaking — keenly thought-provoking and simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Warner's Blu-ray release dazzles with an equally stellar A/V presentation that underscores the beauty of the storytelling; and along with its modest set of extras, that makes Her on Blu-ray extremely easy to fall in love with.

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  ★★★★½
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  ★★★★★
Special Features  —  ★★★

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