The timing of the DVD/Blu-ray release of Clint Eastwood's film Hereafter (2010) is unsettlingly coincidental. The movie opens in Indonesia in 2004 with a computer-generated replication of the tsunami that killed so many there that year. The scene instantly recalls all the video footage of the tsunami that devastated Japan last week.
In another coincidence, Hereafter was still being shown in Japan's theatres this month. Because of the disaster, the theatres have ended the run. The movie assumes as fact that there is an afterlife, where the dead are available to be contacted by mediums who, like San Francisco's George Lonegan (Matt Damon), have a gift for bridging the divide. That might seem a comforting illusion, but with so many people still missing and so much of the crisis still unfolding, it's a safe bet viewers in Tokyo and elsewhere would have had trouble concentrating on the movie.
Certainly the tsunami scene is powerful. Although Hereafter lost the Oscar for best visual effects to Inception, it wasn't for lack of trying. The effects team matched details from hundreds of shaky reference videos shot during the 2004 tsunami. Not only is the wave that assaults the beach and resort computer-generated, but so are the people in the hotel pool. For the segment in which the ocean courses down a street, overtaking French TV journalist Marie Lelay (Cécile de France) and others, the team had to match footage shot in ocean water with scenes shot in a tank at London's Pinewood Studios.
Some of the techniques were decidedly old-fashioned. "It's amazing," Mike Valentine, underwater director of photography, observes in the DVD and Blu-ray bonus features. "We have multi-million-pound shoots with all the hundred years of cinema technology, and creating the waves is a guy with a barrel, just pumping it up and down."
But while the brief was to make the wave look real, it was also to avoid making the scene look like something out of a disaster movie. That extra floating car? Forget it. VFX supervisor Stephan Trojansky says the production team had to realize that "this is not about how cool a tsunami is. This is about the fear and the terror of a woman almost dying."
Right; the story. Having been brought back from death, Marie finds she can see into the Great Beyond. In California, George, who had a similar experience and went on to make a living as a famous medium, has rejected his gift and taken a job in a factory. "A life that's all about death is no life at all," he says. (Jay Mohr, who plays George's brother, is an old hand at this; he had a recurring role on the TV afterlife drama The Ghost Whisperer.)
A third plot strand involves identical-twin schoolboys (Frankie and George McLaren), an accident and a trail of fake psychics. The strands eventually meet, neatly woven by screenwriter Peter Morgan ( Frost/Nixon, The Queen).
And what does everyone think of the notion that the dead can communicate with the living and remain accessible as silhouettes before a white light? Morgan says in a Blu-ray-only extra that he doesn't have "a set of beliefs about this. I'm as curious as you." Damon ducks the issue. "I think people get very proprietary when you start talking about these things, because it enters into issues of spirituality and faith."
Eastwood smiles. "I mean, I'm believing it for now when I'm doing it [shooting the film] but I don't know." Mohr suggests Eastwood knows more than he's letting on. "That's a smile reserved for, like, Buddha, the Dalai Lama and Clint."
ALSO NEW THIS WEEK
The Fighter (2010) It's all about boxing, as Micky (Mark Wahlberg) fights the bouts that brother Dicky (Christian Bale) traded in for booze and drugs. But it's really all about family - a sprawling, arguing family in Lowell, Mass., with a determined mother (Melissa Leo) cracking the whip. The story and family are real, the film was shot on location, and the real Dicky kept giving the producers and director David O. Russell grief over the details. Bale and Leo won best-supporting Oscars. In the extras, the real Micky says Bale "plays a better Dicky than Dicky."
Carlos (2010) Invited to make a film about the Venezuelan-born terrorist known as Carlos the Jackal, director Oliver Assayas said it would have to be lengthy. "I had a feeling that this story only made sense in its entirety," he says. The DVD contains the 160-minute theatrical cut. The Blu-ray contains the full 330-minute, three-part version shot for television. Both follow Carlos (Edgar Ramirez) through his bloody career from 1973 to his capture in 1994, in what Assayas describes in a bonus interview as a fiction ("my interpretation") based on available facts.
Gamera vs. Zigra (1971); Gamera: The Super Monster (1980) More coincidental timing. As Japan grapples with the fallout from its damaged nuclear reactors, a DVD double bill arrives of Japanese monster movies which, like the Godzilla series, were partly inspired by the radiation from the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the spectre of mutation. That said, these films are pretty awful. Gamera is a giant flying tortoise battling winged and alien invaders. They work best as fodder for comic heckling to amuse one's buddies.