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The Fountain

When you see a lot of movies — like, 150 a year or more — one thing becomes painfully apparent: Most movies are constructed in the same way as almost all of the other movies that have come before them, sticking to a tried-and-true formula that firmly places each within an easily saleable niche. So it's exhilarating when you run across a film that tells a unique story in a fresh way, combining breathtaking visuals with heartfelt emotional punch and refusing to condescend to the lowest common denominator. Director Darren Aronofsky's The Fountain (2006) is one such film, a beautiful tri-fold fable that uncompromisingly embraces the concepts of love, life, and spirituality without preachiness or kitsch, and that allows the viewer to be occasionally confused or frustrated as part of its deeply emotional journey. Three connected stories are told concurrently, wrapping around and folding into each other along the way. In the anchor plot, Hugh Jackman plays a surgeon desperately seeking a cure for brain tumors while hoping that his research will help his dying wife (Rachel Weisz). She, in turn, is writing a story about a conquistador (also played by Jackman) in Inquisition-era Spain who's sent by Queen Isabel (Weisz) on a mission to find the Tree of Life — which, it appears, is the very tree from which the doctor's new immortality-creating drug has been concocted. In a third intertwined storyline, Jackman also plays the guardian of the Tree, traveling in a futuristic space bubble to a dying star believed to be the Mayan underworld, on a mission to save it.

Sound confusing? Oddly enough, it's not. The non-linear nature of The Fountain demands both patience and trust that Aronofsky will tie it all together so that the connection between the three plotlines will become clear. And he rewards the viewer's patience every step of the way with drop-dead gorgeous visuals, surprising story developments, arresting characterizations, and taut, multi-textured performances from his actors. Jackman's performance in particular — in each of his three roles — is raw, urgent, and brilliant, as is the orchestral score by Clint Mansell and the Kronos Quartet. Effectively combining Mayan prophecy, historical drama, and science fiction takes some fancy footwork, and Aronfsky's ingeniously constructed film brings them all together in a cohesive meditation on the value of life and the undying nature of love. It's a tribute to the cinematic form that a director can make such a transcendent, lyrical piece of art and, truth be told, it's the sort of film that impatient traditionalists will despise.  But for those willing to suspend expectations, The Fountain delivers a challenging poem about awe, life, and the quest for the divine.

Warner Home Video's DVD release does this exquisitely beautiful film proud, offering up a stunning anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) that's about as perfect as one would hope — even the darkest scenes are and clear, and the rich, warm color palette is beautiful. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English or French, with optional English, French, and Spanish subtitles) is equally good, using all channels to full effect yet never swallowing dialogue even when the magnificent score is competing for attention. Extras include an excellent, six-part Inside The Fountain: Death and Rebirth (63 min.), which travels from Aronofsky's frustrated early efforts to sell the project, through his work to get the film off the ground, and on into filming. The theatrical trailer is also included. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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