Review: THE FOUNTAIN (2006) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Review: THE FOUNTAIN (2006)


Writer-director Darren Aronofsky's long-awaited third feature, THE FOUNTAIN has been long raised numerous curiosity among critics and genre fans alike to see whether this promising wunderkind of PI (1998) snd REQUIEM FOR A DREAM (2000) is going to shed out another masterpiece-in-the-making. The answer is never quite the extraordinary sci-fi experience Aronofsky has originally envisioned to be. Yes, it's a flawed movie that gets bogged down by a half-baked script and mostly, lacking of genuine emotions. But one can't deny THE FOUNTAIN is also one of the most visually stunning movies ever seen in recent memory, so spellbinding it's really hard to take your eyes off.

Pity about Aronofsky's highly-ambitious but largely simplified plot though: The movie is divided into three parallel stories which unfolds simultaneously in 16th-century Spain and Central America, the 21st-century United States and the 26th- century outer space. Beginning in the past, a bearded and long-locked Spanish conquistador Tomas (Hugh Jackman), who falls in love with Queen Isabel (Rachel Weisz), is dispatched by her to journey into the New World to locate the biblical Tree of Life, which is believed that whoever drinks the sap will gain immortality. The Tree of Life is fortunately discovered by a highly-enthusiastic priest named Father Avila (Mark Margolis), who claimed he has a unique knife taken from a dead Mayan priest that also doubled up as a map that will gives the actual location. The Tree of Life is located deep inisde the jungle that lies the hidden Mayan temple. Cut to the present-day, Dr. Tommy Creo (Jackman again) is a research scientist who has been working around-the-clock in desperate attempt to find a cure for his ill-fated wife, Izzi (also Weisz), in which she is dying of cancer. But he has always been optimistic, especially that he is very confident he will cure an ape named Donovan who has a brain tumor by using an experimental surgery through an exotic plant. While waiting anxiously for the result, Tommy spends some time with Izzi alone. Izzi shows him a manuscript titled "The Fountain", in which she has almost complete everything except for the ending. When Tommy starts to read the manuscript, he finds himself deeply hooked with the medieval tale of a warrior, Tomas from Spain sent to find the Tree of Life and gain eternal life by drinking its sap (how ironic is that?). Cut further into an unknown future, Tom Creo (also Jackman) has been living inside a giant bubble floating in the deep space, spends all of his time embraces the Tree of Life that he is transporting to the far nebula Xibalba, while reflecting on his lost love Izzi he just can't stop thinking about.

Originally planned as a $70 million big-budget production, Aronofsky's pet project is forced to shut down when Warner Bros got cold feet. Moreover, original stars Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett quit at the last-minute, due to creative indifference. Since then it took Aronofsky five years long to get everything made, except this time the budget is slashed into a mere $35 million. Going through numerous cuts and major re-writes, Aronofsky's finished product does have a near-quality of an epic but fails to deliver it in a considerable scope. The biggest problem is Aronofsky has seemed to be forgotten to root us deeper with these two ill-fated lovers. The characters are shallow at best, while Aronofsky's storytelling approach that deals sensitive issues of life, death and spirituality doesn't exactly lift off beyond its core surface.

Still, the movie is not a total disaster. In fact, THE FOUNTAIN, as mentioned earlier, is a visual knockout. The most noteworthy one is Aronofsky's unique vision of space, in which instead of CGI, he insists on using micro-images of chemical reactions to create a timelessness look and feel. The rest of the technical credits, ranging from James Chinlund's eye-catching production design as well as Renne April's gorgeous costumes design and Clint Mansell's mournful orchestral score sets the film's tone just right into place. And despite all the underachieving effort in term of characters development, Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz (Aronofsky's real-life partner) does their best to inject some life into their roles. Both of them really shows certain kind of affection that we really believe they're truly in love, even though connecting emotionally with them is elegantly thrown out of the window. Jackman's performance is deeply expressive and thus proving him he's more than just an actor who's forever remembered as Wolverine in the X-MEN trilogy. Weisz is equally compelling as well, though the camera seems to care more to focus on her photogenic looks instead.

Reportedly being booed off by audiences during its screening at the Venice Film Festival, only to show standing ovations a few days later, THE FOUNTAIN is hardly a masterpiece. But for all what it's worth, Aronofsky's labor of love of idolizing Stanley Kubrick's filmmaking style is pretty much evident here. How else can you explain this film has the metaphysical sci-fi feel and look of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)? There are many critics out there has been touting Aronofsky as the new Stanley Kubrick of today's generation. THE FOUNTAIN is only gets him as far as a starting point of sorts, and only time will tell from then.

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