Under the Skin

 

Under the Skin

Written Jonathan Glazer & Walter Campbell

Based on the novel by Michel Farber

Cinematography: Daniel Landin BSC

Production Design: Chris Oddy

Special Effects Supervisor: Tom Debenham

Visual Effects Supervisor: Dominic Parker

Sound Design: Johnnie Burn

Editing: Paul Watts

Music: Mica Levi

Produced by James Wilson & Nick Wechsler

Directed by Jonathan Glazer

August 2013 (Telluride)

March 2014 (UK)

April 2014 (US)


Cast:

• Scarlett Johansson

• Jeremy McWilliams

• Joe Szula

• Kryštof Hádek

• Paul Brannigan

• Adam Pearson


Production Studio:

Theatrical: Nick Wechsler & JW Films

Video: LionsGate


Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Codec: AVC

Disc Size: BD25

Feature Size: 17.35 GB

Bit Rate: Moderate (16~32 Mbps)

Runtime: 108 minutes

Chapters: 17

Region: A


Audio:

English DTS-HD MA 5.1


Subtitles:

English SDH & Spanish


Extras:

• Making of Under the Skin (42:20)


Presentation:

Amaray Blu-ray Case w/ slipcover: BRD x 1

Street Date: July 15, 2014


 

Product Description

LionsGate releases this new Blu-ray edition where an alien assumes the form of an alluring female (Scarlett Johansson) and prowls the streets of Scotland, leading unsuspecting men to their doom in director Jonathan Glazer's surreal adaptation of Michel Faber's genre-bending novel of the same name.


         

 

Critical Response:

The Guardian

Jonathan Glazer's sci-fi horror is loosely adapted, or atmospherically distilled, by Walter Campbell from the 2000 novel by Michel Faber. The result is visually stunning and deeply disturbing: very freaky, very scary and very erotic. . . The heroine is an alien predator at large in Scotland. Maybe you have to be a Scot, or anyway a Brit, to appreciate Glazer's masterstroke in casting Scarlett Johansson as the exotic alien in humanoid form, with her soft London accent, tousled black wig and sexy fake fur, driving a knackered white van around the tough streets of Glasgow, picking up men. She winds down the passenger-side window, artlessly engages them in conversation, and takes them back to her place. Between encounters, she roams, gazing at streetscapes, and making them alien with that gaze – like a Craig Raine poem.


        

 

The story of Johansson's alien begins with a mysterious and Kubrickian "birth" scene in a brilliantly rendered dimensionless otherworld. The alien is transferred to Scotland's dark, rainy streets and it – she – appears to have a minder, who rides a motorbike, and secures for her a human bodyshape from a dead girl retrieved from the roadside. Or perhaps that is another expired alien whose shape is being reused. At any rate, our alien is soon up and running in her Ford Transit, seducing wide-eyed males who can't believe their good luck and are quite right not to. . .but there is a crisis, and the alien becomes vulnerable: a potential victim herself. And what is that alien doing anyway? Just eating? Or is she the advance party of a colonising power that has conquered England and is coming north? Johansson's alien has clearly hit a Hadrian's Wall of trouble in these misty lands and found that the Scots are not so easy to subdue.

 

Glazer has stylishly absorbed the influences of Nicholas Roeg and David Lynch, with something of Gaspar Noé in the hardcore moments and maybe an echo of Bertrand Tavernier's Glasgow film Death Watch. . .The quicksilver shapes of futurist bodyhorror fantasy are scuffed with social-realist grit, but modified, too, with Jonathan Glazer's brilliant flair for visual impact. . . His previous films Sexy Beast (2000) and Birth (2004) had more conventional twisty plots. This is a pure intravenous injection of mood. - Peter Bradshaw


        

 

The Hollywood Reporter 

After waiting 13 years since Sexy Beast and nine years since Birth, Jonathan Glazer's striking two previous features, it's no pleasure feeling the sense of anticipation and excitement steadily and surely slipping away throughout Under the Skin, in which the filmmaker makes a left turn into a very dark dead-end alley. Eliminating the meat, among many other things, from Michel Faber's noted and twisted 2000 novel, the legendary music video director uses the predatory pursuits of a mysterious young woman to explore disturbingly subterranean male-female issues -- or perhaps just male-female alien issues -- with results more pictorially arresting than intellectually coherent. Viewers willing to embrace a purely visual experience without dramatic, emotional or psychological substance will comprise an ardent cheering section. . .


        

 

For a while, even up to about an hour in, the sheer strangeness and virtuosity of this quiet, sinister work are enough to sustain curiosity. The ambiguous and provocative early images, of a white light, lenses and eyes, suggest the construction of a way of seeing. . . subsequent events see Glazer going places where few will be able to follow. In her next interactions, the woman seems to change and, ultimately, to make herself passive and thus vulnerable, in a human way. This may not be a good thing for her and, while the film does seem to hover over the subjects of the nature of interchange between the sexes, the potential for transformation and the sharing of traits between species, its approach to the subject is so shadowy and imprecise, and its reduction of themes raised in the novel so extensive, as to strip it of much tangible meaning at all.


        

 

As has been clear throughout his career, Glazer is a very accomplished image maker. This may not be enough to float the film, but the director's explorations with cinematographer Daniel Landin are daring and always intriguing to watch. The mood is quiet and strong, pregnant with threat, not of horror film-like violence but of unexpected images and psychosexual freakiness. An equally important element here is the score by Mica Levi (aka pop band member Micachu), an eerie, anxiety-provoking electronic work that is extremely accomplished in its own right. Johansson demonstrated early in her career, specifically in Girl With a Pearl Earring 10 years ago, that she was fully capable of holding the screen by herself and being fascinating while doing very little, and she succeeds admirably at it again here. She's been made to look as plain and ordinary as she ever has been onscreen. If the director had provided more for the audience to go on -- a sense of what drives her to the point of transformation, even transfiguration -- reactions to her, and to the film, could have been quite different and significantly stronger.  - Todd McCarthy


        

 

Image: 8

Much of the movie is shot in dark or wintery conditions, so it is with some relief to see that the transfer is noiseless in controlled blackness, which can look splendidly inky on a proper display. On location where only low-value ambient light is available, noise is minimal and to some extent, expected. Other transfer artifacts are pretty much non-existent. Effects are seamlessly blended into the “reality.” A bit soft overall.


        

 

Audio & Music: 8/9

Mica Levi’s haunting, yet subtle score is, as near as I can tell, faithfully rendered in Johnnie Burn’s sound design in LionsGate’s uncompressed surround mix. It has clarity and propulsion and, to a certain degree, enveloping placement and size, lacking perhaps sufficient delicacy and finesse to make it other-worldly. Dialogue, such as it is, feels documentary-ish, unfussy, unprocessed and, for that reason, is at times only just audible, though proportional. My one complaint is a glaring missed opportunity when the alien takes refuge in a winter cabin with glass skylights. The falling rain, however, locates itself only in the front channels. I find it hard to believe this was deliberate as the protagonist is experiencing her most intense vulnerability at this moment and at the mercy of a storm – you’d think a surrounding array of rain would be the ideal metaphor, to say nothing of the expected reality. The absence of surround at this juncture is all the more striking when compared to how well the dance club sequence was carried off with its exaggerated and claustrophobic bass – just like you were right there.


        

 

Extras: 7

A 42-minute Making-of featurette is the sole bonus item on this Blu-ray. It is curious, possibly unique, in several respects: It is made up entirely of a succession of talking heads against a textureless dark background, without music of any kind except when discussing the music used in the film. The interviews are interspersed not with the usual clips (though there are a couple) but still photos of the shoot itself, and cover key aspects of the filmmaking: (the hidden camera, casting, editing, locations, music and sound design, effects, symbology, advertising, budget and re-thinking the original script.) We hear from Cinematographer Daniel Landin, Visual and Special Effects Supervisors Dominic Parker and Tom Debenham, Hidden Camera Engineer and Technical Supervisors, Arron Smith & Louis Mustill, Production Designer Chris Oddy, Casting Director Kahleen Crawford, Editor Paul Watts, Locations Manager Eugene Strange, Music Supervisor Peter Raeburn, Composer Mica Levi, Sound Designer Johnnie Burn, Graphic Designer Neil Kellerhouse, Producer James Wilson, Writer Walter Campbell and, of course, Writer/Director Jonathan Glazer. The feature is apparently shot in SD, upscaled to HD: It’s quite soft, but not inconsistent with the nature of the movie itself. It ends with this pertinent observation: Supporting the story, supporting reality and every aspect of filmmaking is what visual effects are all about.


        

 

Comment

One of the more valuable things I came away with from a college course in Aesthetics taught by Alexander Sesonske decades ago is that we tend to have an emotional reaction to an aesthetic experience and only later do we look for rational explanations to support it. I was reminded of this this brilliant, yet elementary and far-reaching observation as I surveyed film critics’ reaction to Under the Skin. It was not just that reaction to the film was sharply divided: most either loved it or hated it – but that many writers would cite as evidence for their opinion events that didn’t actually occur in the film. We really shouldn’t be too surprised by how often this happens in film criticism, since it is a regular occurrence in “real life.” The more ambiguous the plot, especially the meaning of this or that behavior, the more likely we are to assign meaning, especially if our emotional reaction is strong.


        

 

How many of us have had the disquieting experience of having to reconsider our first reactions - and how often, if truth be told! I sit here, protected as I am by an advantage these reviewers don’t share: the ability to watch a film a second time before deadline to post. For a film as elusive as Under the Skin I would tremble in my boots to think I would be limited to one-viewing before committing myself in these rarefied public forums. At issue is not merely detail - the what happened and to whom of it? - but sufficient time and distance to allow one’s resistances to melt and allowances to mature - a process that can take months or years.


        

 

Nor is this merely a question of style or fashion. Is a “pure intravenous injection of mood,” as Peter Bradshaw sees the film, worth our time and trouble on those terms alone? Is spectacle or eye candy ever more than a diversion? What about meaning or relevance or that feeling we have when we make sense of something that heretofore has eluded us? When Todd McCarthy argues that the movie is a “purely visual experience without dramatic, emotional or psychological substance” should we question his premise or his conclusion? Is that the movie is absent substance or that he doesn’t see any? These questions are at the core of our review of any art criticism. What should be evident is the process by which the critic arrives at their conclusion, but keeping in mind that they may very well have felt first, then leapt to a value judgment and argued its defense later.


        

 

As for me, the jury is still out on Glazer’s film. I found myself vacillating between both poles of the argument, between the Bradshaw and McCarthy positions, whilst watching the movie even before I read a review from any source. After years of enjoying a certain freedom to be critical I have come to find a cautious sense of responsibility lurking in there. Most of all, I find it useful when I am uncertain about my reaction to assume that the filmmakers actually know what they’re doing, even when evidence suggests otherwise. That assumption has saved my bacon more than once, allowing me to enter a perspective other than my own bias. It’s harder than you might think to give up one’s predispositions in order to  explore how I really got where I was while watching the movie - for the first time or the seventh. But this I must do every now and then, just to keep in practice.


        

 

Recommendation: 8

It’s hard to imagine how a film starring Scarlett Johansson - as an alien no less - with a Rotten Tomato rating of 87%, was scarcely able to recoup its modest budget of £8,000,000. But such is the case due largely to its distribution as a “specialty art film.” After seeing the movie, I have no argument with that decision, but the word must have got out that Under the Skin is more or less plotless. I think I am solid ground predicting that if your only interest is, on the one hand: science fiction and alien invasion, or on the other, a frank (though that’s not quite the right word) approach to nudity – if either of these is your main motivation for seeing this film you are likely to be sorely disappointed. Ditto if you expect Under the Skin to be a logical successor to Glazer’s intensely talkative Sexy Beast which by comparison feels like it’s on a serious infusion of speed. Under the Skin is both in and out of time and space, as much despite the locations as because of them. The beginning and ending might feel arbitrary, though we are drawn to meaning since the film begins in black and ends in white, each a kind of void. Glazer acts as the narrator for a dose of guided imagery, where he sets the stage and we respond as we will. Just a thought.


        

 


Leonard Norwitz

© LensViews

July 8, 2014



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