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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Never Let Me Go

January 31st, 2011

Never Let Me Go - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

I think it's fair to say Never Let Me Go was made to win awards, but it didn't quite live up to those expectations, earning just one Independent Spirit Awards nomination and little else. Its reviews were good, but not Oscar-worthy, and while it did well in limited release, it wasn't able to expand truly wide. Should it have performed better, or were these results inline with its overall quality?

The Movie

The film starts with an intertitle, explaining to the audiences that in the alternative reality of Never Let Me Go, a medical breakthrough occurred in 1952 and by the 1960s the average life expectancy topped 100 years.

We are then briefly introduced to Kathy as an adult before flashing back to her younger self and her childhood at the Hailsham boarding school with her two friends, Ruth and Tommy. In many ways, it's a typical boarding school, with maybe a bit of a heavy emphasis on physical fitness and art. There's also a really strange sense of isolation and the kids a visibly scared of anything outside the school grounds. The newest member of the staff, Miss Lucy, also notices that this place is just a little odd. When she can't take anymore, she explains to the children exactly what is to happen with them.

Which is way too big of a spoiler to get into.

We flash forward to the kids, older now, but not quite adults. Despite the crush Kathy had on Tommy, Tommy and Ruth are a couple and all three of them are living off campus in an area called the cottages. Because of this, their friendship becomes strained...

And again we run into a wall of spoilers.

Never Let Me Go is essentially a movie in two parts, two parts that are so interwoven that neither could support the film without the other. Firstly, it's a coming of age story focused on three people involved in a love triangle since their were kids. Here the acting is amazing, especially by Carey Mulligan, and this helps elevate material that would otherwise be too familiar. Let's face it, "Love Triangle" is hardly a unique plot point. You genuinely feel for these characters, and even the slow-moving nature of the movie doesn't dampen the emotional weight.

The second part (this is a major spoiler so you might want to turn away) is about the ethics of Hailsham and what is being done there. These kids are not a little isolated, but otherwise normal boarding school kids. They are clones created for the express purpose of serving as organ donors for "normal" people. Now that that spoiler is out of the way, this plot point is both a blessing and a curse. It does add to the "life is short" motif, and the ethical dilemma of the cloning for organ harvest does a lot to help set it apart. Also, the way the film sets up a false sense of hope and then crushes it has an emotional impact that most films could never match. That said, the problems are twofold. Firstly, too much is given away too soon, while not enough is discussed in the end. Secondly, one wonders why it would be necessary to grow fully human clones. We are already working on growing body parts in labs, so in a world where human cloning is perfected, one would think we could grow vital organs without ever needing a host. Actually there's one more problem. Would people really accept this practice as anything but murder? Maybe it's because I'm a materialist and therefore think the question of whether or not these people have a soul is a little silly. If you've human DNA and you can pass a Turing Test, you are fully human. Even if you don't have human DNA, if you can pass the Turing Test, you deserve protection under the law. On the other hand, while I consider these to be problems with the story, the fact that the movie made me think about the issues shows it was effective.

The Extras

The main extra on the DVD is a 30-minute making of featurette that looks at the how the producers decided to make the movie, who they approached to direct, casting, the look of the movie, etc. It's mostly interviews and behind-the-scenes and absolutely worth checking out. There are also three image galleries, some from the movie, some used to promote the movie.

There are no exclusives on the Blu-ray, but the films looks and sounds good in high definition. Sometimes the colors are muted, but that was an artistic choice and not a problem with the transfer. The audio is clear, but not particularly complicated, which is to be expected for a dialogue driven drama like this. On the other hand, on the Blu-ray costs nearly twice as much as the DVD, which is far too much. The list price is only 33% more, which is a little higher than I would want to pay for this type of movie with no exclusives, but much more reasonable.

The Verdict

Never Let Me Go is a film that has a lot going for it, but a few too many flaws prevent it from being one of the best of the year. (The biggest problems is how much they reveal and when.) That said, the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth checking out, but unless you find a deal on the Blu-ray that is closer in price to the DVD than they are on, stick with standard definition.

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Filed under: Video Review, Never Let Me Go