On paper Melancholia sounds like a genuinely exciting film, it reads like a great movie on paper, and with a combination of exploring the relationship between two sisters and simultaneously letting a massive planet collide with the Earth, I honestly thought this film could work.
But no. It Doesn’t. This, Melancholia, is one of the most tediously boring and infinitely dull films ever released.
Director, Lars Von Trier (Antichrist) goes for a ‘style over substance’ method of filmmaking and rams Melancholia with a ridiculous amount of slow, “methodical”, shots to make his point. However, after making his point, it just makes the movie incredibly flabby; the first third of the film (with the wedding) could have been trimmed down considerably to progress the film quicker, but it just lingers around for a good 40 minutes.
The first eight minutes, which are filled with specifically super-slow motion shots of people and the planets floating near one each other, were quite nice to look at, but it reinforces my point; set to classical music, it just felt like watching one of those European city videos they have to accompany the classical music channel on satellite TV. It sets the standard for a pretty film to look at, but you get the feeling that it’s too classy for you (you know, just like the posh girl you fancied in high school), and with that, you know when to let go; like I did with this film, after an hour.
In terms of plot, it isn’t too complicated; after her sister Justine’s (Kirsten Dunst, Spider-Man) wedding failure and subsequent depression, Claire (Christine Gainsborough, Antichrist) has to deal with not only her sister, but the stresses of her family life and the possibility of the collision of the Earth with a giant ‘Super Earth’ planet christened Melancholia; but the ‘planet hitting the Earth’ part of the plot is poorly handled.
Despite the end of the film appearing in the opening montage, there’s unclear foreshadowing which disrupts the severity of the collision with naff shots and exposition in the preposterously clear sky (showing various planets, stars, and constellations). It kills any possible mystery in the plot and doesn’t give the audience a chance to care about the characters; since we already know their fate is sealed.
While again looking strong on paper, the cast feel very subdued working in a film such as this; Dunst does do a great job as the depressed and melancholic Justine (but it’s not particularly a role that can carry a film on it’s own), Gainsborough as the panicking mother whose life is collapsing around her is a little bit extreme, and Kiefer Sunderland (24) didn’t do anything for me as Claire’s enthusiastic, yet completely oblivious, husband. A cameo from Alien‘s John Hurt (as Justine and Claire’s father) is only really worth mentioning just to say it’s got Hurt in the film, yet despite getting a decent name like his, it doesn’t really add anything to the film overall.
Thematically, Melancholia is a rich film (Von Trier got the idea behind it after his own depressive episode and the therapy sessions resulting from it); watching a depressive person accepting the end of the world and feeling calm, when more level headed people go mad, is interesting, but it gets dragged out for over two hours and it becomes stiffling to the point where the audience isn’t interested in seeing the exploration of the theme.
Whoever edited Melancholia’s sound needs a good talking to as well, because Von Trier’s use of the classical music theme from the opera Tristan and Isolde is beyond grating; it’s repeated all the way through the film, always overly loud and comes out louder than some speech in parts of the film. Though on the up side, a good drinking game could be made by taking a shot every time the tone of the theme kicks into the big bombastic part of the music (anything to liven up the boredom).
However, the most ludicrous part of Melancholia has to be the absurd sex scene where Dunst heads outside from her own wedding and randomly has sex with a guest, in the middle of a sand bunker; where she bounces approximately two or three feet in the air whilst jumping the ‘lucky’ randomer, making him either the luckiest guy ever, or meaning she needs some practice in the bedroom.
Melancholia could be an okay subplot to one of the big disaster films from yesteryear (like Deep Impact or Armageddon), but being as overstretched and dull as it is, Melancholia will leave you feeling nothing but melancholic.
If it’s one thing this film does well it’s reproducing the clear images projected on disc. The HD format suits the slow motion introduction incredibly well and is a win for the style Von Trier is clearly trying to show. No real problems here.
In a word, the audio for Melancholia is poor. There’s a choice between 2.0 LPCM Stereo or 5.1 DTS-HD Master audio, but most of the dialogue is presented in whispers and, as previously stated, the sound options are awful with the Tristan and Isolde theme blaring out at least once every ten minutes.
There’s a few extras that took my eye; a documentary or two with cast, crew and psychologists explores how the medical condition of melancholia is represented in the film itself, and gives the effects and science of the planets are given suitable time. One mild annoyance however, was that the studio complex where the film was made (Filmbyen) is given an hour long documentary; serving no other purpose than to pad out the disc. Also included are interviews with the director and the two female leads, a theatrical trailer, a director’s commentary and English subtitles to complete the package.
The Bottom Line:
If, and it’s a big if, there was more of a focus on the planets colliding, Melancholia could have worked; the motivation behind Von Trier’s piece is solid, but it plods along far too slowly, with an over-done style which simply ruins the films effectiveness in portraying the depressive condition. Overall, the film can’t live up to its themes, and Melancholia becomes tedious, dull, and one to be avoided.