Release Date(s)2020 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)Summit Entertainment/Bron/Quadrant/3 Arts (Lionsgate)
- Film/Program Grade: C
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) is a young man who lives on an alien planet in the year 2267. He’s among the first generation of humans to be born on this New World, but all is definitely not well there. For one thing, a strange local effect results in men’s private thoughts manifesting for all to see—they literally appear in the air beside one’s head. And for reasons unknown, there are only men in Todd’s village… at least until the day that Viola (Daisy Ridley) falls from the sky in a damaged spacecraft, a crash that she alone survives. Todd has never seen a girl before and is surprised to discover that her thoughts aren’t visible. When word of this gets out, the local Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen) and Preacher (David Oyelowo) become strangely obsessed with capturing Viola. Sensing the danger, Todd decides to help the girl, and together they flee into the wilderness in search of the distant settlement of Farbranch, where they hope that Viola will be safe.
Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow), based upon the popular trilogy of young adult novels (chiefly The Knife of Never Letting Go) by Patrick Ness, Chaos Walking is an almost perfectly beautiful mess. About seven minutes in, after cleverly introducing Todd, the concept of “the Noise,” and the way it’s used by those in power to control the men of Prentisstown, the film suddenly cuts away to outer space to introduce Viola. But why break the immersion? Why not introduce Viola organically, has Todd encounters her in the story? The moment this happened, I immediately thought: “I’ll bet this is one of those situations where the production had thirteen writers but never a finished script.” And sure enough, a quick visit to Wikipedia confirmed it. I needn’t have bothered checking though, because further problems here are dead giveaways. First, while the idea that only male thoughts are exposed on this world is potentially quite dark, and offers an interesting way to subvert traditional gender roles for dramatic purposes, none of that is ever really explored—it’s simply the backdrop for a decidedly generic teens-on-the-run story. Second, the very idea of the Noise is never developed or questioned. What is it? Why does it affect only men? What science makes it possible? Convenieology, it seems. What’s worse, Chaos Rising barely even bothers to explore its own sci-fi setting. This is, after all, an alien planet. Did I forget to mention that there are actual aliens living on New World? No matter; they hardly factor into the story. The cast at least does its best to paper over these logical gaps with strong performances, and mostly they succeed. But it always feels like big chucks of narrative here are missing… and that most of the best bits were left out.
The film sure looks great though. Chaos Walking was captured digitally in a whopping 6.5K (at 6560x3100 resolution) using Arri Alexa 65 cameras with Arri Prime DNA lenses, and it was finished as a native 4K Digital Intermediate at the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. It’s difficult to know for sure, and there’s little documentation to be found online, but the VFX here may actually have been rendered in 4K as well. Extraordinary fine detail and delicate texturing are apparent in virtually every shot. (My guess is that this project was intended for a wide IMAX release before such things were derailed by COVID-19.) High Dynamic Range is available in HDR10 and Dolby Vision and while the 12-bit color space has a slight edge, both exhibit inky blacks, great shadow detailing, and gloomy-bold highlights appropriate to the film’s overcast forest environments. To be fair, that setting—and the extensive use of available natural lighting—does mean that the film’s color palette is a bit limited, which is the only thing that prevents this image from truly dazzling. Nevertheless, on a really big screen, it’s still impressive as hell.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is included in English Dolby Atmos, and this too is impressive. Though there are fewer traditional action beats here than you might be expecting, the surround and overhead channels are constantly active with subtle and smoothly moving atmospherics. Forest sounds, music cues, and the whisper of random thoughts filter in from all around the listening space, creating a true hemisphere of immersion. When the action does heat up, the dynamics are excellent, with strong bass and a full, natural tonal quality. Dialoge is crystal clear at all times—including those whispered thoughts—which is important given that the Noise has obviously been used to address various loose ends in the plot with important clues as to character and backstory. Additional sound options on the disc include English Descriptive Audio and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. Subtitles are included in English SDH and Spanish.
Lionsgate has always been good about including special features on their actual 4K discs, and this one is no exception. Here (and on the Blu-ray copy in the package) the extras include:
- Audio Commentary by Doug Liman, Alison Winter, and Doc Crotzer
- A Director’s Noise (4K – 18:10)
- Inner Thoughts with Patrick Ness (4K – 9:03)
- The Source of the Silence (4K – 7:18)
- Citizens of Prentisstown (4K – 10:09)
- Establishing Shot with Cinematographer Ben Seresin (4K – 8:03)
- The Music of Chaos Walking (HD – 4:17)
- Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Doug Liman, Alison Winter, and Doc Crotzer (HD – 7 scenes/sequences – 45:01 in all)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 2:24)
Produced by our old friend Cliff Stephenson, these extras are notable for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that many of them are presented in actual 4K. It’s also impressive that these features manage to be as compelling as the film is frustrating. As a cinephile attempting to puzzle out exactly why this project went off the rails, all the clues are there. You get to see key moments from the production, typically set to voice-over comments by Lyman, Ridley, producer Alison Winter, and/or editor Doc Crotzer. The deleted scenes are remarkable in that they’re not so much scenes, but complete and unused sections of the film—45 minutes worth. Among them is an alternate version of Todd and Viola’s visit to Farbranch, a visit that plays out differently, complete with additional characters and subplots that aren’t included in the final film. The audio commentary is worth a listen too, as it reveals the degree to which the filmmakers were essentially winging it during the production, how the story was really only discovered in editing and post, and how it was ultimately “saved” through extensive reshoots. (I use the word “saved” generously in this case, given the wild irresponsibility of spending $100 million on the production budget without having so much as a plan, and the fact that the film’s mid-pandemic theatrical release resulted in a box office gross of just $21.9 million worldwide.) Note that a Movies Anywhere Digital code is also available in the packaging.
In the end, Chaos Walking expends all of its creative capitol simply to tie up its narrative in a semi-coherent bow, and thus largely squanders its genuinely original sci-fi premise. The film is gorgeous to look at, and does just manage to get its characters from Point A, to Point B, to Point C, but it never adds up to more than the sum of its parts. High marks for the near-reference A/V quality and extras here though, so this 4K Ultra HD release might still be well worth a look for home theater buffs and UHD fans.
- Bill Hunt