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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Black Swan

March 28th, 2011

Black Swan - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

It took just two feature films for Darren Aronofsky to develop a reputation for creating award-worthy films and for Oscar buzz to start with the mere attachment of his name to a movie. His latest film, Black Swan, was by far his biggest box office hit reaching $100 million domestically and may still make it to $300 million worldwide. But how well does it rank next to previous films he's made like Requiem for a Dream or The Wrestler?

The Movie

Natalie Portman stars as Nina Sayers, a dancer for a prestigious ballet company. The director, Thomas Leroy, is preparing for a performance of Swan Lake and is looking to cast a lead. Nina has been looking to become the head dancer for quite some time and works hard at being cast as the lead, but while she has the technical expertise to play the White Swan, the director fears she doesn't have the passion to play the Black Swan. She is able to convince him otherwise, but it is a short-lived victory, as the new girl, Lily, becomes her understudy and Nina fears Lily is trying to steal her job.

Or it could all be in her head. Maybe she's suffering from guilt over replacing Beth MacIntyre, the ballet company's previous star dancer. Or perhaps it's just stress over the new starring role. Or stress from a highly dysfunctional home life. Or worse.

Compared to the previous two Darren Aronofsky films I've reviewed, this one is definitely closer to Requiem for a Dream than it is to The Wrestler, but this film does have bits of both. The hallucinatory nature of the storytelling is very reminiscent of his earlier work, while the story of a performer sacrificing everything for their craft is also a theme of the latter. The psychological horror is much greaters here than even in Requiem and at times can be over-the-top given the more grounded nature of the pursuits. (Having difficulty discerning reality from nightmare makes more sense when your four main leads are all drug addicts.) There is also more than a little touch of David Cronenberg body horror here, and the two parts add up to a disturbing whole.

Fortunately, not only does Darren Aronofsky have a handle on the visuals and the psychological angle of the film, he's blessed with not only the the best performance of Natalie Portman's career, but also one of the best of the past several years. And I'm still disappointed that Mila Kunis didn't earn an Oscar nomination for her work. She really could have won the Oscar and it would not be considered undeserved.

The Extras

The only extra on the DVD is a shortened version of Metamorphosis, which is almost twice as long on the Blu-ray.

Extras on the Blu-ray include a multi-part, nearly 50-minute making of featurette that hits on every aspect of the film marking, right from Darren Aronofsky's initial inspiration for the movie. They discuss the difficulty of working on such a small budget, as well as some of the technology that makes creating these movies so much easier today. Locations, sets, and of course the training. There are also a series of very short featurettes on the story, the set, the characters. There are close to a dozen of them, but most are just two to four minutes long. The Blu-ray is also BD-Live enabled and supports the Pocket BLU smartphone app, but neither has much to offer at the moment.

The look of the film is a little mixed for a couple reasons, partially because of the budget, but also for artistic reasons. Much of the film is shot from Nina's point of view, so they needed cameras small enough to spin on a tripod, for instance. This does lead to more than a few scenes that don't quite have the detail level as a major studio release, but it's never so bad that its distracting. The sound is better with clear dialogue and good use of surround sound effects, including directional effects that can be quite unsettling at times.

Finally, the Blu-ray is just $5 more on, which is a great price for this type of release.

The Verdict

Black Swan is unnerving enough that some might have trouble with parts of it, but it is also absolutely worth checking out. The DVD is a little light on extras, but it's good if you are only interested in a rental. On the other hand, Blu-ray is absolutely worth buying and a contender for pick of the week.

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Filed under: Video Review, Black Swan